Thank you Murphy’s Law

So here we are looking forward to some warm weather as we head back to Singapore for a short break. And the weather forecast tells me that it’s going to be bright and sunny in Paris for the next week or so……

while it’s rain, rain and more rain in Singapore……

Merci bien, Loi de Murphy ūüė¶

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Eiffel Tower 365

I received a piece of disappointing news over the weekend and was seeking a way to ease some of the pain and recalled the wonderful moments in Paris over the past year. That helped. Here are some key moments of our first year in Paris captured through the perspective of that one Parisian monument that continues to take our breath away, the Eiffel Tower.

This was the view from our studio apartment when we first moved to Paris in March 2011. I had to pinch myself every morning to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.

We were walking around a lot (the best way to explore Paris!) the first few weeks and I was surprised to catch the Eiffel from this bridge, away from the usual tourist areas.

My first Paris marathon in April 2011. Paris is best explored on foot so why not run 42.195km around Paris?

A photo taken during an early morning run in June 2011.

We joined the crowds to celebrate our first La Fête Nationale (The National Celebration) or commonly known as le quatorze juillet (14 July), the French National Day. Later at night, fireworks illuminated the River Seine and the Eiffel Tower.

My very first picnic in Paris on a summer evening in early September 2011 reading¬†Stephen Clarke’s¬†book “A Year in the Merde” which is an¬†almost-true account of Stephen Clarke’s adventures as an expat in Paris. ¬†It’s a great read and if you don’t want people to stare at you as you laugh out loud in the train/bus, do not read this book in public. One year down the road here in Paris, I can add quite a few tales of my own including one about a certain H*B* bank but alas, I’ll save the story for my own book in the future (*yeah right).

A foggy autumn day in November 2011.

Our first River Seine dinner cruise in December 2011. Admiring the sparkling Eiffel Tower from inside the boat.

And finally it snowed in February 2012. I’ve been waiting for this day.

March 2012 and the BollyChees continue on our pursuit of new experiences, adventures and yummy meals around the world.

La vie est belle!

Idiot’s guide to eating mussels in Belgium

“An entire pot of mussels? How am I going to finish it?”. It’s a usual exclamation when I bring friends to eat one of, if not the¬†national dish of Belgium, mussels (or moules-frites¬†in French). For a ‘first-timer’, the 1-1.5kg full pot of mussels does seem intimidating but a lot of the space is taken up by the shells so it really isn’t that enormous ūüėČ

I’ve been told by many a Belgian, including Bolly himself, that the best time to eat mussels in Belgium (most of the mussels eaten in Belgium come from the North Sea) is during the window where the months end with “er”, i.e. September to December. In practice, the mussels season go on till about February or even March. Thankfully this was the case at one of our favourite restaurants in Brussels and we managed to each order a huge pot of mussels. ¬†Not surprisingly, Bolly chose the¬†a la cr√®me¬†version loaded with full cream while I chose the stock based on tomato sauce and vegetables. The mussels that we were served were big and juicy….yummy!

To impress those around you and look like you’ve actually been to Belgium and have been eating mussels for the longest time, instead of using the fork to get those juicy mussels out of their shells, take one of those empty shells and use that instead.

Moules without frites (fries)? Unheard of in Belgium! Belgians eat their fries with mayonnaise but feel free to ask for tomato sauce and/or even tabasco.  Perhaps waiters from more traditional (read: old fuddy duddy) establishments may frown at your request but who cares?

Table space may be tight when eating mussels as you not only receive a pot of mussels, a bowl of fries, mayonnaise (& ketchup + tabasco for some) but also a deep bowl in which you throw those empty shells.

Anthony Bourdain (chef, author and tv personality who hosts his own show on Travel Channel) had this to say about mussels in his book “Kitchen Confidential” – “I¬†don’t eat mussels in restaurants unless I know the chef, or have seen, with my own eyes, how they store and hold their mussels for service. I love mussels. But, in my experience, most cooks are less than scrupulous in their handling of them. It takes only a single bad mussel, one treacherous little guy hidden among an otherwise impeccable group … If I’m hungry for mussels, I’ll pick the good-looking ones out of your order.” It’s rather easy (not that I’ve actually prepared them myself but I’ve witnessed Bolly preparing them ;)) to prepare mussels so perhaps that justifies not eating them at restaurants. But for those (like me) who don’t really cook and crave mussels, simple common sense could save us from any messy, ugly visits to the toilet, i.e. don’t eat the mussel if you find that it’s still tightly shut and not when it looks dubious like this one below!

Except for this one nasty looking fella, we enjoyed our yummy mussels. Evidence below…

MUSSELICIOUS!!!

Three of our favourite places to enjoy mussels in Brussels (and no, please do not go to Chez Leon that is frequently mentioned in guide books):

In’t Spinnekopke

Traditional Belgian restaurant in central Brussels. It was one of my first discoveries in Brussels and I’ve brought many friends to this restaurant given its old-world charm and huge list of Belgian classics.

Le Zinneke

Not that centrally located but the menu boasts 69 ways of cooking mussels. An experience in and of itself.

La Marée

Portuguese couple, Mario and Teresa Alves run this restaurant in the centre of Brussels. Apart from the mussels, the fish soup, gray shrimp croquettes, steam skate and sole fish are also excellent choices.

Have you been to Kiribati? Wait, where’s that?

First things first, Kiribati is pronounced as KEE-ree-buhss, not KEE-ree-ba-tee. I was surprised when I found out about this and was told that¬†in Kiribati language, “ti” is actually pronounced “ss”. As for its location, Kiribati is located in the heart¬†of the Pacific Ocean,¬†straddling the¬†equator and comprises of 32¬†atolls. In short, it’s rather isolated.

The government tourism website of Kiribati introduces Kiribati as such:

“Kiribati is for travellers¬†– those who have a passion for exploring and discovering, people who like an adventure off the tourist trail to places where few have been before, and people who want to understand a country – not just see it. Kiribati will challenge your view of how life should be and show you a less complicated way of living where family and community come first.” (http://www.kiribatitourism.gov.ki/)

Some of my first impressions of Kiribati when I arrived after a flight from Suva, Fiji. There are very few flights to South Tarawa, the capital of Kiribati and for my trip, I had to take three flights and stay one night in Fiji before finally arriving in Kiribati.

Most houses in Kiribati are made of materials obtained from coconut and pandanus trees. The trunks are used for the structure, coconut fibre is used as strings to bind the wood together while palm leaves are used for roofing.

This was the reception desk at the hotel I stayed in. Otintaai Hotel is the only hotel in Tarawa though there are some motels and bed-and-breakfast set-ups.

Bairiki was once the capital of Kiribati.

One of the bloodiest battles of World War II, the Battle of Tarawa, took place in Kiribati. Evidence of the battle still remains.

Clear blue water. One advantage of being isolated perhaps. Less pollution and more evidence of nature’s beauty.

So how do you get across from South Tarawa to North Tarawa? Basically, one can cross the channel on foot during low tide!

In North Tarawa, tourists can choose to stay in a traditional style buia at the Tabon te Keekee, a family run property.

Time your return trip before the tide rises. When I was walking back to South Tarawa, the water reached up to mid-thigh!

The variety of food on Kiribati is limited as it depends on whether the shipments of food arrive.  There is a general shortage of fruits and I remember being told when I was there that oranges were in short supply as it did not arrive in the last shipment.  The diet of I-Kiribati, the native people of Kiribati, consists mainly of locally available products (coconut, breadfruit, fish, chicken, pork, and occasionally eggs) and imported rice.

Some shots of the kids on the island.

I was as foreign to them as they were foreign to me.

To end off, here’s one of my favourite pictures from my stay in Kiribati. Carefree children and their innocent smiles and poses. ¬†If only we all had a child’s innocence.

Wanderlust – A trip through time in Fez, Morocco

Bird's eye view of the old walled city of Fez

A 3-hour flight from Paris brought us to what many refer to as the soul of Morocco, a 1200 year-old city that appears to have thrown caution to the wind, ignored the waves of modernisation and retained its heritage, culture and way of life.

Walking through the gate of Bab Bou Jeloud, we were transported to the medieval city of Fez. The five senses were piqued by the unusual (at least to modern city dwellers) ongoings taking place within the walls of the medina and its 9000 streets, tunnels and alleyways, either leading you to streets filled with throngs of traditionally dressed and shrouded men and women and donkey carts or to nowhere as you get lost in the maze of narrow streets or find yourself suddenly at a dead-end (By the way, there are some basic landmarks which can help you orientate yourself around the medina but we found it way easier to hire a guide to bring us around.) 

Walls flowing with Arabic script line the streets.¬† Sounds emanating from behind these walls and doors, an oven churning away, kids laughing, left me wondering what was it like behind these doors. Thankfully plain ‘ole common sense held me back from pushing open the ajar doors and indulging in my ‘voyeuristic impulses’ ūüėČ

Apart from the charm of these secretive doors, we soaked in the atmosphere in each of the different souks in the medina which sold almost everything that you could think of – shoes, meat, carpets, leather products fruits, herbs, watches, lamps, clothes etc etc. The leather souk left a distinct impression on us as we were visually stunned at the manual leather manufacturing process that was still being employed in the tannery (which dates back to the 11th century!) while trying to stop breathing through our¬†noses as the smells¬†coming from the treating and dying vats were simply¬†pungent and unbearable. ¬†One word of advice, remember to bargain before making any purchase in the souks. Bolly was a natural talent at this and he never hesitated to use the ‘walk away’ strategy to get the shopkeepers to lower their asking prices. ¬†For instance, Bolly managed to bargain down the price of a Berbere silver bangle from the original asking price of 800 Moroccan dirhams (about 72 euros) to 150 dirhams (about 13.50 euros)!

I had the chance to celebrate my birthday Moroccan style at an authentic family run Moroccan restaurant,¬†Restaurant Dar Hatim where portions were huge and ¬†service was warm and attentive. ¬†We left the restaurant stuffed, once again ūüôā

What made our stay in Fez all the more memorable was the warm and friendly reception we received at the Riad where we stayed,¬†Riad Laaroussa.¬†I almost did not want to leave our suite as it felt like a home away from¬†home. Not only were we pampered with an upgrade to the largest suite in the Riad, we were also constantly served and fed Moroccan mint tea and snacks. By the end of our stay, I’d lost count of the number of glasses of mint tea I had consumed. Definitely a great address in Fez: Riad¬†Laaroussa¬†–¬†http://www.riad-laaroussa.com.