Monday, June 29, 2009

Scottish Food

When people think of Scottish food (or even British, for that matter), they don't automatically think "yum."

At least, that's what I was expecting when I arrived in Bonnie Scotland a while back. But, like usual, I was wrong. While I admit the thought of Haggis didn't fill me with culinary anticipation, I was adventurous enough to try it and guess what? It tastes like chicken. Ok, it doesn't but it did remind me of a nicely spiced and savoury meatloaf. So there you go.

I first had proper haggis at the last meal my ex-boyfriend's parents had made us before we left. In the picture above, the haggis is the ground beefy looking things to the left and right of the ham and pinapple. The haggis to the right was actually vegetarian, which sounded more appetizing but seemed slightly redundant. It also didn't taste as good.

To go with our meal of haggis and ham, we started with a traditional soup called Cullen Skink. It's a delicious, creamy fish soup, reminiscent of clam chowder, but with a smokey twist. And a stupid name.

To make matters even more tasty, we got to dip Balmoral Bread (expensive but melt-in-your-mouth) into the warm dish.

Another great thing about Scottish food - and what reminded me a lot of New Zealand - was the abundance of tasty meat pies. Not only could you purchase these tasty morsels at any gas station, deli or cafe, but they came in all sorts of flavours.

Another type of meat pie is the Scotch Pie, which is prolific at any football match. I had my Scotch pie with a side of chippies (fries), a forkful of deep-fried haggis and one powerful pickled onion. The typical Scottish take-away meal.

One thing I didn't have, but have tried in Canada, is the Deep-Fried Mars Bar. Sounds like a heart attack on a plate, and let me tell you it is. Might explain why Scotland has such a high heart disease risk. But, oh, it's worth it.

Scots love a lot of sweets, the most famous of these being their beloved Shortbread biscuits, found in shops all over the world.

I was more found of the salty snacks such as these Hula Hoops crisps...

...and Pickled Onion Monster Munch...

And Branston Pickle, spread on everything, especially salty Aberdeen buns (I have a jar sitting in my fridge right now, though I prefer the "small chunk" version).

To wash all of that down, you should reach for a nice cold Tennents, the beer which is known as The Pride of Scotland. I can see where they are coming from too, although I am a sucker for most things "beer."

Last but not least, there is a most famous symbol of Scotland: Irn Bru. This soft drink is sold everywhere, has miraculous hangover-curing properties (or so it goes, since my hangovers are usually beyond cure), gives you energy galore and tastes like orangey bubble gum. It also prides itself as having 32 different and "secret" flavours in each bottle.

According to Wikipedia: "When McDonald's restaurants first opened for trading in Glasgow they did not serve Irn-Bru. This was seen as an insult by some Scots, and a campaign to correct this oversight was launched. After many of their restaurants were picketed, McDonalds relented and began to stock Irn-Bru alongside their other soft drinks."

Just goes to show that the Scots aren't just passionate about life, but about their food and drink too!

PS - I'm going to be doing a giveaway for a Forever 21 dress on my other blog - yep, I have another blog Anywhere But Here, a fashion-oriented one which is updated more than this one.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Salt Spring Island Market - in pictures

I spent last weekend on glorious Salt Spring Island, a holiday haunt that I have been coming to for over 20 years now (wow, that makes me sound old!). Salt Spring is the largest of the BC Gulf Islands and, in my opinion, is the best. It is immensely popular, especially in summer, which must annoy the locals, but it still offers the best of both worlds. There are numerous B&B's scattered throughout the hilly island, as well as hotels, vacation rentals and a hostel. We stay at the outstation of the Royal Vancouver Yacht Club...we just sail our boat over, hook it up to the dock and enjoy all the anemities of the island lifestyle.

Aside from sailing your boat over, you can take a float plane or the BC Ferries. There are two ferry terminals on the island, one at Long Harbour (where our boat is) and another at Vesuvius Bay and Fulford Harbour.

There are many things to do on the island and I have done them all. Climb or visit Mount Maxwell, go horseback riding, visit the sheep paddocks (Salt Spring Island lamb is on par with New Zealand lamb - SO GOOD!), go kayaking, go snorkeling, rent a boat, go fishing, crabbing, go swimming in the ocean or in the lakes, go on a self-guided drive of all the artist enclaves (studios abound on this island).

Speaking of artists, in liu of driving around to each studio, the best way to sample them is to go to the Market, held every Saturday from April to October. We actually bought a kitten here one year, lol:

Monday, June 22, 2009

~*Bliss *~

The secluded Isle de Marguerite, just off the coast of Cannes, France.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Snapshots: Florø, Norway

My cousin lives in the self-proclaimed western-most town in Norway and I had the honour of visiting her one year. Not only was this town friendly and gorgeous but it was about as Norwegian as you can get. I hope to visit again (as well as see the rest of my immediate family) when I head to Sweden/Norway/Finland in 2010.

Friday, June 19, 2009

FRANCE -- Menton: cheap and stylish on the Riviera

A tile painting of Menton, located in the Hotel du Belgique

Located on the border with Italy, Menton is the first French destination many travelers encounter, however it is also one of the most overlooked. Most people are in a rush to get to Nice, Monaco and Cannes and zip right past this seaside town. They obviously don't know what they are missing.

Do as the locals do

More popular with French and Italian vacationing families, Menton has stayed out of the over-priced tourist riff-raff that effects most of the Cote D'Azur. Here you can stroll amongst it's many gardens (Menton is known as the "Garden Town" and it's 30,000 residents take pride in the many botanical gardens and greenery scattered amonst the town's craggy cliffside) or lie on a clean and uncrowded pebble beach.

There is a plethora of quality restaurants (I particularly liked Cafe de Paris, where the waiter brought me free vin rose on my second visit...must have taken pity on a solo, female traveler), most of which line the promenade du Soleil. Because Menton is so close to Italy, you'll find most restuarants do both French and Italian foods. The bustling pedestrian street in the vieille ville , rue St-Michel, also has numerous cafes and eateries, all ripe for people watching. Rue St-Michel also offers specialty shops featuring provencal postcards, yellow linen and lavender soap, as well as brand-name stores. And to show that Menton isn't too far off the map, they also have a McDonalds (with a McCanada burger that I found most intriguing).
Le Plage du Menton

Of course, you can't come to the Riviera without expecting to go to the beach and Menton has that in spades. From the rocky Italian border, all the way towards Monaco, the beaches at Menton are clean, spacious, and best of all, free. Grab an umbrella and prepare to spend the day lazing on shore covered in Monoi Tahiti oil or floating in the clear, azure waters. And if that ever starts to get boring, there is always the Musee Jean Cocteau, or the Menton Casino.
The Museum by the sea

Accomodation in Menton can seem daunting at first to budget travelers. There is only one hostel, Auberge de Jeunesse, and its quite aways out of town. But why pay money for a hostel when you can get a private room in a quaint hotel for the same amount? Although I've heard good things about Hotel Richelieu, I can honestly recommend the Hotel du Belgique. Despite having zero cash, knowing beginners French and being hungry, the owner of the hotel welcomed me with open arms, fed me in the hotel's onsite restaurant (a surefire way to feel French) and, most importantly, listened to me bitch and whine about the lack of currency exchanges in town (apparently there is only one and, no, I never found it), the transit strike (no trains for 3 days) and the heaviness of my backpack. He also spoke perfect English (though humoured me with my attempts at French).

It helped that the hotel itself was exactly what I wanted. Sure the room was cramped, but at $30 there was no complaining. It was homey and neat, the clean bathrooms and showers were right down the hall, I had a TV and a sink (and a bidet, in which I washed my dirty feet)right in the room, and my shuttered windows opened onto a balcony. OK, so it was just an outside area where the maid stored her cart. Still, that didn't prevent me from climbing through the window with a jar of olives and a bottle of rose wine and enjoying the view of Menton below.

Sunset over the mountainside rooftops of Menton

So, if you are planning a trip to the South of France, but want to stay in a place that is not only affordable but as un-touristed as the Riviera gets, take the train to Menton (2 hrs from Genoa, Italy, 11 minutes from Monaco, 35 minutes from Nice). And because Monaco is minutes away, it makes a great alternative to staying in the principality.

A typical Provencal-style house in the Vieille Ville

Above and right, the Hotel Du Belgique

Thursday, June 18, 2009

This makes me happy

Tarragona private bungalows Spain beach cottage

a good book - sunshine - fresh olives - cold glass of beer - heat - private cottage in Spain - sound of waves crashing on the beach - laundry drying in the sun - my camera