Dolce Vita in town

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My dear food-lovers, how are you?

I ignored this blog for way too long, I know (like, that’s the phrase all of my blogposts start with). Last time I made a post it was about grey skies and by now we’re blessed with hot sun and long nights. So to have you pardon me my absence quickly, I will draw on some really cheap method (the one that always works, though): Ice cream!

I was working on some projects lately (damn, that sounds important), so I did not really have time to cook a lot. And when I did it was not quite worthy of being taken pictures of.  I basically ate pasta, pasta and again, pasta (Can one ever have enough of pasta?!). Food-blogger-wise, however, that’s a shame and I am so gonna change that from now on: In order to trick myself into the kitchen, I bought tons of veggies yesterday. Fingers crossed that my “no-food-waste-gene” will make sure I really use them. But before that, let’s turn to the real good stuff, the sweet and refreshing dolce vita!

This week, I had a day off. Like, off-off. It’s been the first day in ages that I did not have any obligations. So, what was I gonna do on that day to live up to its singularity? Eat shiploads of ice cream, of course! And doing so, I managed to carve out the three most awesome Gelaterie in my beautiful little town Basel (this said, I wanna mention that there really are other lovely places and that I do not claim this list to be complete!). So: Let’s go!

Glatscharia Üna

Glatscharia is the Rhaeto-Roman (one of the four vernaculars of Switzerland) word for ice cream shop or Gelateria. It serves ice cream made from organic milk and best products. Try popcorn, ovomaltine (I might say, the national drink of Switzerland) or honey ice creams!

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Now one of the main reasons for me to do this post is that I always love to get tips by locals when I travel. And recently, there have been surprisingly many tourists in my town (not only because of the famous art exhibition). They usually stumble into the bar I work at and then they do two things: 1. They smile happily when they realise that I do speak English and that I can explain them where to find all the sites they are looking for (Mostly: the Münster, the Ferries over the Rhine and the Tinguely-Fountain) and 2. they tell me how small Basel is and that they thought it was one of the bigger cities in Switzerland. It is indeed. But Switzerland is tiny. So at least they can get ice cream to get over the size-disappointment. The other ice cream shop I simply adore is at the same time in a great location that absolutely needs to be recommended: the Markthalle. Great food stands place side by side. You can get everything edible, ranging from Vietnamese to Kurdish to Caribbean. And, as I said, great ice cream:

Eisuru

Eisuru’s ice cream is produced on site, their flavours are extraordinary and the cups and cones are filled and handed out almost meditatively. Try basil-strawberry, black sesame or guava.

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The last one is my personal favourite because of it’s awesome location. It’s close to the border of the rhine where literally everyone loves to hang out in summer.

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Other than that, the small Gelateria I am talking about offers awesome food, concerts (!!!) and is vegan friendly as well. How could anyone possibly resist? Have a look at:

Acero

I have been to Acero the first time only recently and I immediately felt ashamed I did not go there earlier. It’ s on the other side of the Rhine from where I live (the Kleinbasel or little Basel) and I was simply too lazy to go there because it seemed so far. Yes, that is the point where all tourists in the world who have visited Basel may laugh at me real hard! So please go and try the vegan sesame ice cream, the lemony panna cotta or basil-flavour!

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Now with this sugar-overdose (oh, glad you ask, yes I did have a weird tummy after my big ice cream tour!) I leave you today, but I will be back soon!

In the meantime, I will be happy to receive tips for amazing ice cream places all over the world, just comment below! I’m gonna stay in my lovely hometown until the end of July and then I’ll be off to chilly Norway.

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Enjoy these beautiful days with your beloved ones! See you soon,

Sincerely, your professional ice-cream-tastress, Florence

Sweden: 3 cities, grey skies, and a shipload of sins

Hello there, everyone! Doing fine? Now as for me, the semester at university has started again and there was only one possible way to face that: Go on holidays! (To the country which, according to many Americans I have met, is exactly the same thing as Switzerland: Sweden.) And now, after a short encounter with winter winds, tons of sweets and pastry, I am back home and I guess there is no more running away from being a serious academic no more. Yet, what’s the first thing I do? Talk to you guys, of course!

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Now, let me get two things straight: First of all, don’t got to the south of Sweden in winter in times of climate change, when what used to be snow becomes rain and what used to be ice-crystal-cold becomes humid bleakness. Secondly, don’t plan to visit three Swedish cities in 6 days, or don’t plan to drive over 650 kilometers in 6 days. You will end up saying “Wow, I imagine this city must be really cool, it’s a pity we have to leave already again” all the damn time. Should have known better? Yes. But! I got to see a lot of lovely cafés thanks to that one fact that made me tell you not to go to Sweden in winter. The weather was mostly awful. A cosy 5 degrees and drizzly rain, topped with brisk wind, changing for thick snow up in pretty Stockholm. Should have known that one better as well? Yes. Anyways, it’s kinda good for you people, because I found some really warm and cosy gems up there that made everything seem very heartwarming and sweet again and that I absolutely wanna share with you.

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Now, my first stop was that city with the cute name (true: my family used to name our plush toys after it): Malmö. In a nutshell, a really easy going city. No fancy or thrilling sites, though, but that is actually what I really appreciated. For it meant that there weren’t that many tourists and I did not feel like rushing from one attraction to another. Now, one of the first things that stroke me, was that every single bakery not only had tons of cinnamon buns (I had expected those), but also tons of brownish balls, rolled in coconut rasps. I tried one (as I do with everything that is edible) and, honestly, I fell in love.

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Fun fact: In Sweden, the official day to eat sweets for kids is mostly Saturday. The only sweet that is allowed on weekdays is the aforesaid chocolate ball. However, I don’t really understand that, most of the time, that nasty thing basically consists of butter. Lot’s of butter. That is why I particularly fancied the one of a small café I visited, for it was vegan and no less yummy than the other ones. The Lite Off Salladsbar, by the way, also has some pretty awesome baristas.

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And I am over here working in my bar like, “your Cappuccino-foam does look a tiny little bit like a heart, tho?!”

So on the the next stop: Växjö, self-claimed greenest city in Europe and home of many students. Well, in winter it looks pretty brownish, to be frank. But what doesn’t? We stayed a little outside the city in a small hotel by a lake, and let me tell you that: Go there! Their in-house bakery and their breakfast or afternoon tea (Fika in Swedish) are well worth a quick stop-over: Toftastrand Hotell. Pure dolce vita!  

After that short intermezzo, I made my way a many kilometers further north: to Sweden’s charming capital city. Landscapes changed gradually, so did climate. The only opportunities to eat on the way were three different, equally globalized, fast-food chains. Blessed be the generous breakfast, again!

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Now, in summer Stockholm might very well become one of my absolute favorite cities. There is something relaxed and welcoming about that city. Winter, however, was brisk (except for the one evening most of my pictures were taken on – classic). Other than that, I was gifted with tons of snow and icy winds which made me start the cinnamon-bun competition: Where do I get the best ones? I can tell you one thing: there is an odds-on favorite for sure: the Fabrique. Okay, it’s a chain, but really, I have never had such a nastily delicious and deliciously nasty cinnamon bun in my whole life.

The other challenge that was going on was: how to eat inexpensive and tasty simultaneously. After days of roaming around, I accidentally ran into the most charming and heartwarming little café one possibly wish for: Bistro Matgatan 22. They serve a great selection of vegan as well as non-vegan lunches, with free salad, bread and lemonade for more than fair prices in a living-room-ish atmosphere. Awesome. And last but not least, in the very same street in Gamla Stan, Stockholm’s old town (yes, it is mostly as touristic as it sounds), I found a vegan and organic bakery with all the nasty pastry they sell everywhere but with the awesome difference that it is dairy- and sugar-free. How cool is that? Go to: Naturbageriet Sativa.

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Now, after all those treats you might imagine that I felt pretty much like going cold turkey when I came home. And as I am also opting for a vegan nutrition at the moment, what I did was an attempt at my one true love, Swedish chocolate balls, vegan edition. Here you go:

vegan Swedish chocolate balls

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ingredients:

  • 500 g date paste
  • 200 g dark chocolate
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1 cup hashed and roasted almonds
  • 1/4 cup raw cacao powder
  • 4 tablespoons flax-seed oil
  • coconut flour or coconut rasps

preparation:

  1. melt chocolate with flax-seed oil
  2. mix all ingredients and knead well
  3. form balls, roll in coconut rasps and put in the fridge for an hour
  4. enjoy with chai latte or coffee

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I wish you some sweet days, my dear fellows and a lovely beginning of spring

Sincerely, your professional chocolate-ball-addict

cats, spinach and the golden leaves of Czechia

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My dear fellows, here I am again, already! I have taken the resolution to talk to you more often, so brace yourselves! I spent my last few days abroad and I came back tired, yet inspired (what an amazing rhyme to start off this blog post!). Today, you should thus be ready for: more autumn inspiration, vegan food and bewitching Czech Brno!

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After not having seen my lovely friend in three months (a horribly long time considering she almost lives on my sofa bed) I finally managed to visit her in that city that makes my tongue go crazy because I cannot role the R properly: Brno. And seriously? I am not sure I would ever have made it there had it not been for her. Shame on me (a geography student), I had not even heard of that city before it came out of her mouth and later made it right into her heart. Not a very good beginning to convince you all to go there, really. But you should. It is, for instance, perfect to visit when you’re based in larger cities like Vienna and Prague and want some quiet time off. And I will now give you three reasons to seriously consider it:

3 reasons to have a stop-over in Brno

#1: Less tourists, more fun. 

Brno is not quite a tourist city. And that is exactly hat makes it extremely appealing to me. As a friend put it: Brno does not have any particular attractions to plan your day around, but it’s the perfect city to live in. Especially in autumn (and summer, I was told) it is simply amazing but at the same time does not make you feel like you should be running from sight to sight all day. Just chill – in Brno!

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#2: The 13th century Špilberk Castle.

What a great afternoon walk through golden leaves, what nice cafés on your way up (those cakes!) and what a lovely view up there! I went there twice: by night and by day. Don’t leave without having done that.

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#3: The most amazing cafés (and, yes, their beer).

So, first of all, I really tried not to list beer as a reason. That is why brackets. But after two months in Iceland it is simply incredible to get the best beer and wine for about a twelfth of the price I paid there. But this should really only be viewed as a side note. For, hold your hat: There is a cat café! Now maybe you hate cats. Or this is nothing special for you. But I had never been to one before and it was, to be frank, a dream come true. Other people have bungee jumps on their bucket list, I had the cat café instead. There were at least six fluffy kittens running around. Need I say more? Also one of my favourite places is the ultimate hipster café in town: Skog. They serve great drinks and great salads. I think in czech terms it’s rather expensive. In my Swiss terms amazingly cheap.

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Back home, I felt absolutely inspired by that yummy salad I enjoyed there. Also, I could use some fresh and healthy food after all the beer (okay, I promise this is the last time I mention beer in this post. It’s kinda possessing my mind).

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However, I did not have a lot of time to go for the big grocery shopping thing. I hate doing that. I can’t drive the car and I am pretty bad with my bike. So basically that makes me walk back like an overweight pack donkey every single time. Maybe that is why I like spinach. It’s so light! Also, it makes a great salad-basis. Very patient and flexible, for today it is topped with easy and clever left-over recycling:

Baby spinach salad with risotto-patties, caramelized curry-onions and dates

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ingredients (2 people)

  • 4 handful baby spinach
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 cm ginger, grated
  • canola oil
  • salt, pepper
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 tabelspoon agave syrup
  • risotto-leftovers (mine were from a mixture of rice, coconut milk, broth, ginger, curcuma and sweet potatoes)

preparation

  1. form small patties of the risotto-leftovers while preheating a pan with canola oil (be generous with it)
  2. fry the patties, then take out and roast the onions with curry powder and agave syrup
  3. top the baby spinach leaves with lemon juice and zest, canola oil, salt, pepper and grated ginger
  4. top with dates, onions and fried patties

Enjoy with flatbread and ginger tea (no beer for once, though!). And have a lovely weekend people!

x, Florence

northern memories, figs and autumn leaves

My dear friends, I am finally back alright – with a bag full of pretty memories and chitchat, my favourite autumn fruit (and a bunch of recipes circling around it), as well as with ultimate advice for the icy land on the 64th parallel.

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I have come home from Iceland three weeks ago already and, honestly, I thought it would be easy to get home. But it wasn’t, really. Basically, my first few days felt like an enormous sensory overload – so many houses, people, and noises. And after two months of counting seeds, cutting soil samples and collecting caterpillars while listening to the whimbrel’s ringing sound I now got my nose deep into linguistic books (time to bring my studies to an end – or, rather, graduation) and drink chai-tea while the trams rattle by.

One of the amazing things about being back – apart from seeing all the lovely people again – is cooking. I literally did not cook anything useful in eight weeks (the credit goes to the canteen on site, which absolutely made me wanna bathe in the classic Icelandic rúgbraud) ! But I did get a lot of fun food inspiration over there, although not everything is worth copying, to be sincere. From dried fish, fermented shark, liquorice-chocolate, flatbread to lamb-paste I tried pretty much everything edible and icelandic there was to try. My personal favourites (also including the food-related ones) are listed in todays special section “massive DOs in Iceland”, right after todays culinary chitchat and recipes.

With that said, let’s turn to my food star guest today: figs.

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During my last two weeks in Iceland, autumn was totally taking over, sending me back home in perfect mood for pumpkins, chestnuts, colourful leaves, spices, and, of course, figs. Let me tell you one thing: never buy figs in the stores, never! They are over-priced and often spoiled. Go take the time, grab your favourite people and do a little trip to a fresh food market nearby. It’s social, it’s fun, and, eventually, it’s also tasty.

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Having done so myself, I came back with fresh spinach, a bunch of organic carrots, flowers, sweet potatoes and Italian figs. I absolutely love their tender sweetness and variety when it comes to using them for cooking. Want proof? I have brought you three different recipes of how to use figs in your own little kitchen – in an incredibly quick and easy, healthy, surprising and tempting way. Let’s go!

#1 Spinach-Salad with figs, roasted nuts, broccoli, avocado, grilled halloumi and orange-mustard-curry dressing

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put together:

  • 4 broccoli florets, blanched
  • 1/2 avocado, sliced
  • 4 figs, sliced
  • 100 g halloumi cheese, roasted and finely sliced
  • 2 handful of young spinach
  • 1 handful of roasted walnuts and pumpkin seeds

blend:

  • 1 dl olive oil
  • juice of 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon curry powder
  • 2 teaspoons mustard
  • 0.5 dl vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove
  • salt, pepper

#2 fig-carpaccio with caramelized walnuts, feta cheese, sesame oil and basil

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put together:

  • 6 figs, sliced
  • 1 feta cheese, crumbled
  • 4 tablespoons sesame oil
  • pepper
  • hashed basil

roast:

  • 1 handful crushed walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons agave syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

#3 vegan fig-caramel with almonds and cinnamon

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simmer, then blend:

  • 1 cup almond butter
  • 1 cup maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons coconut oil
  • 4 figs, sliced

You can have this nasty beauty on your toast, apple slices, as a cake topping, or just as it is – pure, sweet, perfection.

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But enough food-talk for today! As I did not really know where I would possibly start telling about my stay in Iceland I simply decided to go for a very straight forward version: The ultimate list of massive DOs in Iceland. And by “DO” I mean: really, really, really DO. I thought about including some DON’Ts, too. But then I figured that most of them are just things that you think you have to do when you are in Iceland for the first time, including me. So I guess you will do them anyways. As long as you make sure you have done the DOs, all is good:

The ultimate list of massive DOs in Iceland

#1: Go to Iceland in mid september, instead of June or July. I mean, it’s chilly there, anyways. So why not have included northern lights and amazing autumn landscapes (and a tiny, tiny, tiny little less tourists)? Especially nice in Skaftafell National Park, and around volcano Hekla (Do not go up there, though)!

#2: Buy wool and knit. It’s what me and my lovely companions did on rainy days: Sit in lovely cafés, chat, knit and feel very Icelandic (and have tourists take pictures of us).

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#3: get your holiday-reading right: pack Kristín Marja Baldursdóttir and, of course, Halldór Laxness.

#4: Go to Húsavík – it’s gorgeously cute. Actually, do go appreciate the whole north: Akureyri, Ásbergi, Myvatn. And pass the Westfjords on your way.

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#5: Participate in Réttir. It’s basically gathering all the sheep (they are everywhere!) and assigning them to their farmers. But it’s tough. Also, it is one of the most fun and Icelandic things I have done over there. Make sure you put on orange rain trousers and an Icelandic pullover. It’s THE dresscode.

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#6: Go collect wild thyme, crowberries and blueberries. At dawn.

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#7: Eat Lousiana Chicken Strips at Vegamót. Eat dessert at Grillmarkaðurinn.

#8: Check the aurora forecast. Rent a car. Drive some place where there are no artificial lights (not very hard to find in Iceland, really) and enjoy mother nature’s light show.

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#9: Buy: icelandic tomatoes, smoked haddock, blueberry skyr, flatbread with butter, rúgbraud.

#10: watch the sunset at the harbour of Stykkishólmur. On your way, stop for a hike at Eldborg, a volcanic caldera.

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#11: When in Snæfellsnes, look for Lýsuhóll hot spring and have a bath in hot fir green water. Or else consider these amazing suggestions (by one of my favourite icelandic bloggers): Drive it yourself for Snæfellsnes.

#12: Stay at least two weeks. At least. Believe me, you will need the time. You do not wanna be one of those people who try to drive around the whole island in one week.

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#13: Attend at least one concert. Even if it’s not your music style. I have randomly seen Páll Óskar and it was incredibly fun. Consider the event calendar and go to local events.

#14: Hike along Heimaey’s coastline up on Helgafell or Eldfell and enjoy the amazing view. Be prepared for wind. A hell lot of wind. And book your ferry ride there early!

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#15: Have a picnic in the warm black sand on one of the many amazing beaches of the south. But don’t try have a bath in the sea. It’s one of those things you only do once.

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#16: Make Icelandic friends. Let them show you the best places to eat out and drink. And go horse riding.

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#17: Stay flexible. Believe me, I am the very first to be stressed when I do not have things under control. So I had to learn to let all the amazing stuff I did not have in mind and did not expect happen.

With that incomplete list (I am open to any complements from your side) made of pure love for that quirky country, all that I have left to say for now is: enjoy your autumn, guys, stay curious and be open to all the amazing things life has to offer. I will do my best to be back soon, depending on how much my bachelor-exam readings are about to swallow and digest me.

Much love, Florence

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Ray, a drop of golden sun

I need sun. And I need a break. How are you, people?

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Now, to be fair: I did get some sun on the weekend. A hell lot of sun. And that’s why I need more now. Give me an inch and I will want the yard. But looking at myself in the mirror, I have to admit that it is probably not too bad that it’s raining all the time. And looking at the pile of work I gotta do, I have to say: I actually can’t use any kind of temptation. But as I am me, I had the glorious idea of packing my bags and sponateously rushing off to one of Switzerland’s most beautiful parts: the Val d’Anniviers. Under the pretext “I rent myself a room in the mountains to learn” I drove off and came back with a bad sunburn, wobbly legs (should hike more often) and a shipload of pictures in my camera. What I did not come back with, however, was a brain prepared for my finals and a finished bachelor thesis. What a surpise, huh?

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So, as I will keep the food-part short (but tasty!) today, let’s delve into that little trip of mine to the French part of Switzerland, the Valais. Well, let’s not talk about the French part in that because it is just a shame. My French is pretty much non-existent. Quelle honte! It’s a desperate mix of some French vocab from high school and – nice try – pronouncing English words with a French accent (with great hope of that very word having been one of the linguistic gifts Norman the Conqueror had brought the Brits in 1066).

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Well guys, it took me a while to get to that beautiful place, for the Val d’Anniviers is a pretty hidden corner of Switzerland. People are often laughing at me when I say that something is far away in tiny little Switzerland. But when you sit on a train with sweaty bikers, screaming kids, a teenager on her new phone and a snoring old man, train rides may seem really long. How naïve I was to think I might at least prepare my exams on the three hour train ride. I basically spent my ride hanging on my phone, like any digital native would, and eating my bunch of fresh, local, carrots like crazy.

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Thinking about it, that actually summarizes my being and my ideals quite well. I love regional food from markets and I am a great defender of public transport. So great that I don’t even have a driver’s license. I’d rather spend my money on my annual, all-inclusive, Swiss public transport ticket. I am not even sure if I use the train often enough for it to be worth the money, to be honest. But I genuinely believe in its positive effect on my travel-behaviour. Also, it makes me feel like I can use public transport for free anytime after the hurtful moment of paying the bill. I can be a really dull person, too. Dull, but environment-friendly, for most Swiss people seem to prefer building new tunnels and stuff. Okay, let’s not get started on Swiss politcs. It’s a pain in the ass, really. So, having arrived at the first of the many small villages of the Valley in the Valais, Vissoie, after an adventurous bus ride testing my strength of nerve, I checked in at a very cute Bed and Breakfast: Ancienne Poste. Apart from being a public-transport-ethusiast, I adore B&Bs. They are familial, you get great insider´s tips for activities and, especially in this case, awesome breakfast.

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Vissoie was still very sleepy, as were its cable cars. This made me walk. A lot. A lot, like: I am not used to that as a lowlander. But I walked, fearlessly, bravely, until I reached the point where slippery melting snow would stop me. Only shortly before I had reached the initially targeted destination, the Hotel Weisshorn. Never mind.

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My sister spontaneously joined me the next day and although we ended up running through half of the Val d’Anniviers because we were simply too dumb to read bus schedules properly, we had an awesome time. Or maybe it was exactly because of that. It’s the weird, funny, face-palm-moments that make something special and unforgettable, right? Conclusion: The hiking tours there must be gorgeous with enough sunscreen on, water and without snow and wrong reading of the bus schedules. Back home, 30 kilometres distance and 1500 meters in height in total made me and my wobbly legs have a very good sleep and left me permantently hungry like mad for the next couple of days.

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Hungry, that’s a good cue, isn’t it? I guess I should slowly but surely bring this chitchat to an end, do something useful now and bring some edible sun into your four walls. Sounds good, right? Well, there is a lovely organic shop just around the corner of my new apartment. Adhering to my attempt to represent an environment-friendly nature, that’s basically where I hang out. Is that what the cool kids do? I guess not. But you’d probably find me there if ever you should be looking for me. Now that sounds like an invitation for stalkers. Whatever. Last week, they had wonderfully fresh herbs and giant tomatoes. Really, I have never seen such huge tomatoes before! So that’s what came out:

organic tomatoes and mozzarella di bufala with fresh herbs, olive oil, sea salt, cumin and balsamic

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ingredients (2 people)

  • 180 g mozzarella di bufala
  • 1-2 large tomatoes (the hugest oes you can possibly get)
  • 2 handful meadow herbs
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • a pinch of sea salt

So simple and so good! By the way, did you recognize where the blog-title is from? Little hint: It’s from a movie and it’s not quite a cool-kids-thing either.

So people, I hope you will take some downtime every now and then, too. For the weeks to come I will indulge in my bachelor thesis, try to cope with geographic computer programmes, work, hopefully cook every now and then and, most importanty, prepare myself for Iceland! I’ll be going there by the end of july and staying until late september for an internship. It’s still two months to go but I am already awfully excited about it. Ég hlakka mjög til þess. Or so.

With that said: have a wonderful beginning of the summer, people! Hear from you soon!

Far north of the wall: Iceland

My dear fellows,

Yes, I did choose that title because I am one of those pitiful people who are desperately waiting for the new Game of Thrones season. Well, like pretty much everyone, right? First World problems and stuff… This post, however, is not going to be about the series in the first place. At least it shouldn’t. Well, I won’t be able to avoid making references anyway.

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Although I was suffering terribly because it takes so damn long until the new season comes out and because I am just not patient and because I really need a reason to put aside my university stuff, I could get some relief for exactly two weeks. Basically, when I stayed in Iceland in february. For that small, pretty isolated country shares quite a lot with the series everyone seems to be crazy about. Well, not necessarily the (very dominant) sexual part. And maybe it just seemed to me that Icelandic sounds a lot like Dothraki language. Or maybe I am simply going nuts.

Anyways, whenever I plan a journey to an unknown place, my first goal is to avoid classic tourist mistakes, amazingly naive as I am. This is not easy. Because tourist industry wants us to make those classic tourist mistakes for that is how they make money. And sometimes we want to do tourist stuff because it’s fun and because that’s what we are: tourists. And of course, public travel posts written by tourists containing advice for tourists won’t turn tourists into locals. But they might help the behave more decently and be better prepared.

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So, as I don’t want to keep this whole chitchat in a negative tone, I’d rather recommend you what to do instead of telling you what not to do. Therefore, there will be some awesome pictures involved here, there will be some food and drink included and, of course, ultimate travel tips for Iceland with regards to culture, entertainment, accommodation, nature, weather and costs. The latter might be especially interesting for everyone amongst us who is rather on the Arya Stark or Theon Grayjoy side in terms of budget.So, to make this a little easier for the busy people amongst you, I have divided this post into subtitles that allow you to jump to exactly the topic you wanna know more about:

  1. SIZE (what to expect)
  2. NATURE & WEATHER (and what to pack)
  3. FOOD & DRINKS (and where to get the best)
  4. ACCOMMODATION (absolute must-stay-ats)
  5. ENTERTAINMENT & ADVENTURES (for sunny days and Iceland-days)

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SIZE

Size matters, right? Well, Iceland is really not that big. And its capital city Reykjavik has just about as many inhabitants as the town I come from (Basel) and, well, that’s in tiny Switzerland. So Reykjavik’s city center rather reminds of a small, charming town than a metropolis. Which I loved a lot (country bumpkin, ya know). However, as soon as you get out of the city and into Iceland’s stunning nature, be it the national parc or the Highlands or, well, actually any place other than Reykjavik and its outskirts, then the volcanic island might all of a sudden seem huge. For Iceland has no more than 3.2 inhabitants per square kilometre. It’s actually like in Game of Thrones: Pretty much all of the inhabitants are concentrated in the city centres, or in this case the centre, Reykjavik. Beyond that: Land. A hell lot of land. For comparison: Switzerland has 70 times more inhabitants per square kilometre at the same time only being 1.5 times smaller. Wow, now that’s a lot of numbers. Back to nature again: It might happen that you drive on Iceland’s main street number 1 and you do feel quite abandoned. And Iceland’s hills and plains have hardly any vegetation worth mentioning, which makes them seem even vaster than they already are. There is a saying in Iceland that every single inhabitant will be glad to inform you about: “If you get lost in the forest in Iceland, stand up.” How true.

But no worries, as soon as you start feeling a bit uneasy about yourself being out there in the sticks you will pass a tour coach crammed with tourists. Yes, even in winter. The myth that Iceland is perfect for winter holidays because there is no one there at that time of the year is simply not true anymore. Face it. But that’s okay. Otherwise me and my lovely companion would not have met anyone to pull us out of the pile of snow we got stuck in with our (not-a-4-wheel-drive) car.

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NATURE AND WEATHER

Iceland has got the real version of Jon Snow’s famously predicted winter. The temperatures are not that low, though, I guess (Gulf Stream and stuff). But there is some brisk wind blowing there indeed. This leads up to two things: First of all, it is really worth visiting Iceland in winter because it looks like your exact childhood fantasy of winterwonderland. Secondly, you really need to pack the right clothes. Seriously. So here’s a short list of things you simply mustn’t renounce:

  1. warm socks (worst case the woolen socks your granny knitted for you last Christmas) and suitable shoes (which means: shoes your feet fit into when wearing aforesaid socks)
  2. thermal underwear (there is literally no way around this, no matter how unsexy you find it. I personall like to think of myself as a ninja when I wear it.)
  3. warm pullovers (yes, you are about to do that damn layering. “Onion-ing”, as my mom likes to call it.)
  4. a ski jacket (large enough to wear thermal underwear and a thick pullover beneath it)
  5. ski pants (you will definitely want to sit into the snow and be a kid again and create a snow angel, though you most probably won’t go skiing)
  6. awesomely warm gloves and some thin gloves that fit beneath them (if you really think you can leave away the latter pair of gloves: Oh you sweet summerchild!)
  7. a beanie plus a headband (layering, layering everywhere!)
  8. damn good shoes (And even if you have them damn good shoes you might consider wearing two pairs of socks. So buy your damn good shoes at least one size bigger than you need.)

Oh and last but not least: something I heard more than once when staying in Iceland was: “But you are from Switzerland, you must be used to the cold”. Well, first of all: global climate change has arrived in Switzerland, too. The last remarkably cold and snowy winter in Basel was when I was still a child. Like, officially a child. Second of all: I am not in any way used to that damn wind that makes -1°C feel like -20°C! I really cannot mention that wind often enough. I simply shall not be uderestimated.

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FOOD AND DRINKS

Whatever you have heard about Iceland regarding food: it is true. Yes, it is super expensive. Yes, they do eat dried shark. Yes, an apple does cost a fortune. Except for the American ones that all look exactly the same, like, creepily perfect, and taste like pesticide-treated styrofoam. But wait! This might all be true but it is nowhere near the whole truth! Iceland does have some true gems when it comes to nutrition. However, it took me a while to figure that out. Until then my wallet was as flat as a pancake. And again, people might be tempted to say: “But you’re from Switzerland, you are used to expensive prices!” True that. But I hardly ever eat out at home. My parents had a point teaching me how to cook very early. And the Icelandic currency makes it all worse. Like, which sorry-broke student is able to maintain her appetite when the number behind the meal is somewhere around 3750?!

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So there are ways of dealing with all those food-first-world-problems:

  • grocery stores and bakeries

This combination of the two is especially useful for those staying at a nice hostel with a shared kitchen. First of all, there is always the opportunity of meeting some nice people while preparing your meal, or even of sharing your food. Secondly, getting some nice bread at the bakery (I personally got addicted to the rúgbrauð, which is baked in hot springs, if I’m not mistaken) makes you feel little less like a poor fellow. At least this is the case for me: I could live on nice crunchy bread, some cream cheese, herbs and cucumber for ages. An thirdly it’s quite healthy an option (depending on what you buy, though). In Iceland there are quite a lot of greenhouses running on geotheraml energy. That’s a pretty cool thing because it allows them to grow a lot of veggies and fruit that would otherwise never be found in those latitudes.

  • cafés and restaurants

This is by far my favourite option, although I must admit it is also the most expensive one (not surprising, though). However, you might like to combine all of the food-strategies to give your wallet a break from time to time but still be able to indulge in Reykjavik’s awesome food-offers.

A place you absolutely need to go, and not only for their homemade cakes, crêpes and Chai Latte, is Babalu. It looks like it had been created by Willie Wonka’s crazy grandma and it will immediately lift your spirits on a cold and rainy day.

In the exact same street with the crackjaw name, Skólavörðustígur,  there is another cool place with very fair prices and the perfect solution for cold hands and hungry stomachs: Núðluskálin. It is not as adorably quirky in terms of furnishings, but its noodle-dishes and soups are amazingly manifold and fresh. As it is open till 9pm it might also be a great option for a light dinner, not costing much more than around 12 dollars per soup.

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For those who like to live King Joffrey-style for a little while are highly recommended to visit the fancy restaurants at noon. Then, the prices are often much lower for the exact same menu or meal as in the evening. However, I must say that I am not quite a great fan of fancy restaurants that make you feel misplaced or, worse, that give you the feeling of not being able to behave according to the code and immediately being uncovered as an outsider, someone not part of that society. But there is one exception in Reykjavik: Grillmarkaðurinn. My goodness, even the toilets are worth a visit! The staff is super friendly, the meals are elegantly small but fair-priced and everything I have eaten there is definitely the best possible version of how that dish could be prepared and served. Even if it is named as commonly as “roasted veggies”. And, absolutely do have a dessert. Just do!

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Oh, yes, everything is served on wooden plates. And if you’re lucky, you’ll get some awesomely fresh bread with butter and black lava salt as an appetizer. Also I could use some of those fries now. On point, is my conclusion.

So let’s move to less perfect and sophisticated but still super charming stuff: soup in bread bowls. Sounds like something for the Theon Greyjoys amongst us. And I have not counted, but I am pretty sure I have visited Svarta Kaffið five times during my holidays. There are several reasons to do that: First of all, and most importantly, it really makes you feel at home and it is not much bigger than a living room, I’d say. Secondly, their soups are really good. I mean, in winter it seems to be all they have but it easily makes a satiating dinner. You may choose from two different thick soups, they are filled into a huge, crispy bread bowl and there you go. As simple as it gets.

Whoever feels like having a drink after dinner is highly recommended to either go to the charmingly colourful Prikið, which is also a nice café during the day. Or you might consider the small Kaldi Bar, a favourite of some locals we met. Last but not least and for those who feel like taking the floor, the Lebowski Bar is an abosulte must-go. In terms of Game of Thrones, the Lebowski Bar is the place where Cersie would venture to dance with Jon Snow while Brienne and Daario are cheering them on. I think I should leave it with the GoT comparisons for today. It’s getting a bit weird and obsessive. Well, in short: pretty much everyone from 16 to 7 and slim to well-fed gathers at the Lebowski. Cool thing. Now let’s move on.

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ACCOMODATION

After all the chatter, let’s keep this part short. For there is no need to beat about the bush. When you arrive in Reykjavik your first way must absolutely lead to the kex hostel. Lovely people, cool furnishings, many different room options (however, you sholdn’t go for the 10-bed-dorm, I have heard), nice food, a bar and very central. Well, pretty much everything is central in Reykjavik. But that’s a different topic.

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An even more budget option is the Galaxy Pod. It’s small but clean and the view from the generous lounge is stunning.

For all little adventurers renting the car and driving off into the wild: absolutely include a stop at Selfoss. Now, first of all: This is by far not an appealing town, to be frank. It’s a weird mix of sleepy (at least in winter) and attempted American way of life. KFC, Subway and Co. are happy to welcome you there. But  overlook that. Towards the outskirts of the town, there are the most awesome cottages I have ever seen for a very affordable price: Gesthus Selfoss. Even if it sounds a bit posh, DO go for the Deluxe version of the cottages. Thank me later, when you sit in your Jacuzzi, knowing you didn’t pay much more than you’d have paid for a hostel with shared bathrooms.

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Also, Selfoss is a good starting point for all kinds of tours and trips. The people working there will be glad to advise you. And they knock on your door when the Aurora Borealis is starting. Even if you fell asleep naked on your sofa.

ENTERTAINMENT AND ADVENTURES

Now the northern lights bring me to my last chapter for today. What to do. Like, actively. And I won’t advise you to do the famous golden circle. Because you will do it anyways. I just advise you to avoid Geysir. It’s not cool. I mean, it could be great, actually. Especially for a geography student like me. But this place has stopped being about nature a long time ago. Now it’s about how to make as much money as possible with a floppy sandwich. And how to try to keep tourist from burning themselves at the hot springs. But I am very tempted to tell you to go to Gullfoss, because it’s just too impressive to ignore. However, stupidly, Geysir is on the way to Gullfoss. So just believe me it is not worth stopping there and promise me you only go to Gullfoss in winter, when there are, according to locals, not half as many tour buses waiting for their Germans with thick ski suits and Japanese with Converse and skinny jeans. And also, ignore the shop and the restaurant. “Restaurant”. Just do.

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So apart from that, there is a hell lot to do without necessarily bumping into tourists. Hiking on Mount Esja must be nice in summer, people told me. We wanted to go there, too, basically to have a look only, and took Bus 15 towards Mosfellsbær. We had to get off some bus stops before that town and would have needed to wait two hours for the bus to Esja, as it was Sunday. In a rather pragmatic manner we decided to take a walk on the nearby hills there. And we honestly experiemced one of the most beautiful days. The view on Reykjavik is lovely, it’s not far to go and family-friendly. So, what’s the conclusion of all that? Stay open-minded and adjustable, guys. And if you’re not, well, have a good study of bus timetables.

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Basically, I would always recommend you to rent your own car and go discover things beyond the golden circle yourself. Well, I cannot drive the car. And I am actually an opponent of cars and try to keep my emissions low and so on and so forth. But sincerely: If you don’t want to stay in the same place you’re simply lost without car in wintery Iceland. Or in my case: without car and without lovely companion who can drive the car. So thank God (the many faced one?) I had brought along the latter. Oh and: drive carefully. Only 20 minutes after having gotten our car at the rental, we managed to maneuver the thing into a pile of snow. Thank you, nice Icelander who pulled us out!

So: A place you might like to visit is Vík, for example. It’s a lovely town and its black beach is absolutely stunning. The currency and the waves there are quite strong and dangerous, though. Driving down to Vík, make sure you stop by the Vestmannaeyjar, to be accessed with the help of a ferry. I admittedly have not been there but it’s on my to-do-list for next time! Hafnarfjörður, right next to Reykjavik, is surely a nice place to stay at for families, being quiet and having a nice harbour (and a lot of elves, if you believe locals). Also, the Western Fjords must be both beautiful and secret in summer.

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Regarding Reykjavik itself: absolutely do a walking tour! I’d always go for that on the very first day there. You might meet some locals, you will get some (tourist-adapted) insider tips and you get some fresh air. I booked this one, organised by an Icelandic blogger and travel guide. Her blog I heart Reykjavik is definitely worth a reading or two before leaving for icy Iceland.

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If the weather is bad, or I could also say, in case you get the classic Iceland and you happen to be outside Reykjavik: your bad, I hope you did listen to me and got that cottage with the Jacuzzi. If you are in Reykjavik: lucky you. I would totally recommend you to get the Reykjavik city card. With it, you can go to most museums (except for the phallus-museum, damn it) for free. Also, they handwrite the date of expiry. Just saying. Just an observation. So as everything was for free, I even went to the Safnahúsið, the Icelandic Culture house. I was a bit overstrained by some of the pieces of art. Basically because I don’t know anything about it. Which left me standing in front of every second picture saying stuff like: “Oh yeah, I how desire and cravings and feelings of the artist are caught in that image”. Compared to that, I was absolutely excited about the National Museum of Iceland . Even if you do not care about Icelandic history, that well-conserved left jaw of an Icelandic woman that lived a couple hundreds of years ago, that’s impressive! Also on rainy days, for most people the forst option is the Laugardalur swimming pool in Reykjavik. Whereas I would always prefer the old-school and charmingly wrecked Sundhöll. And I know that everyone visits the blue lagoon. I won’t judge you if you do. I was tempted, too. But I was repelled by the way it’s obtrusive presence in every brochure and on every street sign.

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Iceland is much more than clichéd tourist stuff, although this is how they make money. What remains in your heart is not how you stood next to some hot water with 356 other tourists, waiting for it to present its unspectacular “poof” for a second or two. What you will take home with you are such precious moments as getting stuck in a snow pile with your car and being torn out by a nice Icelander. Or being lulled to sleep by a tiny little earthquake in your cottage somewhere in the sticks. Or hanging around at the hostel late at night with other travellers, chatting as though you had known each other for years. Or, last but ot least, the curiosity to come back this summer and discover all the things that were covered in snow. Dear Jon Snow, I hope summer is coming, too.