It's Better to Travel than Arrive?

"To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive"

Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque, 1881.

"Robert Louis Stevenson speaks utter tosh and has

obviously never flown long haul economy class"

Kristy, first ever blog post, 2011.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Paris : Diptyque

There's an amazing Parisian store called "Diptyque" that sells luscious candles, perfumes and lovely smelly things.  I've been angling for a bottle of "Jardin Clos" EDT since I first smelled it a few years ago, and thought that a trip to Paris seemed like the best excuse to buy some at last.  You can buy all their stuff online, but I really wanted to go to the store and experience all the loveliness first-hand.

They have five locations in Paris, and I had planned to visit the Boulevard Saint Germain store.  Now, that idea was all well and good, but by the time we'd walked and walked and walked, I really didn't want to walk that extra distance to Blvd St Germain, so we headed into the Galeries Lafayette department store and to the Diptyque mini-store inside.

The girls were really helpful and there was a great range of things on display.  I looked and looked, but couldn't see the Jardin Clos EDT anywhere, so I asked if they had it in stock.  Noooooooo, they don't make it anymore!  Cue my face falling into an expression of glumness.

The boys suggested I try some different things and were very patient whilst I made them hold cardboard tester strips and I sprayed EDTs around.  After a few trial squirts I fell in love with Ofresia, a beautiful blend of Freesia and green scents - so very fresh and gorgeous.

The staff popped in a few samples of other scents and a lovely pack of Diptyque postcards as I paid, and we headed back out into the sunshine, with me a very happy girl.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Paris : Petit Bateau

A few years ago I bought my first Petit Bateau long sleeved t-shirt.  I'd been reading for ages about how they make the best t-shirts in the world, and all the fashion people rave about them etc. etc. etc.  I saw mine on sale at a boutique in the next town over from us here in Germany for €20, so I thought I'd give it a try.

I'm a huge fan of long sleeved white t-shirts in winter, I put them under everything for an extra layer of warmth - I loathe being cold.  I usually pick them up in bulk at Primark in the UK as Primark is so cheap, but I thought I'd give Petit Bateau a try - and I'm glad I did.

I guess I've worn and washed my Petit Bateau t-shirt at least 50 times over the two years I've had it, and it hasn't changed shape, colour or anything in all that time - it still looks and fits exactly as it did.  The Primark ones?  They turned up their toes and died ages ago.

A visit to Petit Bateau was on my list in Paris and I found them on the Champs Elysee (which was lucky, because I love the Champs Elysee - yes, I am a tourist!).  They have a small store and a small range for adults, but a bigger and cuter range for kids.

I snagged another long sleeved white t-shirt for €16 (which was full price, so I actually got royally ripped off when I bought my first one "on special" in Germany) and it comes folded up in cute packaging and one of those lovely paper shopping bags that I love.  Now I'll have a back-up when my original one eventually gives up the ghost - if it ever does!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Paris : Le Meridien Etoile

We spent a fab long weekend in Paris with our friend Daithi last weekend - great company, great weather, great food and great city.

We stayed at the Le Meridien Etoile, which is nicely located in Porte Maillot, an easy 10 minute walk from the Champs Elysees and the Arc de Triomph.

The hotel itself has been upgraded significantly since we stayed there in 2006 and the upgrading will continue through to August this year.  There are over 1,000 guest rooms and suites and we had one of the upgraded rooms on the 6th floor.

We found the signage to the room was either confusing or non-existent, though we got there after a few wrong turns.  Our room was lovely with a king bed, and had an opening window out onto a Parisian street view (I love an opening window in a hotel room).  No real complaints, except the brains trust who designed the bathrooms obviously decided that a soap dish or ledge in the shower would compromise their "vision", so everything has to go on the floor - YUCK.

We didn't dine in the hotel, or have breakfast there (it's easier to walk to the Champs Elysee and do some people watching over breakfast), though we did have some drinks in the bar, which were expensive, but typical hotel prices.  The James Joyce pub is about 100 metres down the street and offers much better value for drinks and atmosphere.

The Porte Maillot Metro station is about 150 metres away and the Air France airport bus stops out the front.  You don't need to be flying Air France to use it and the Concierge sells tickets or you can buy them on the bus - it's great.

We'd definitely stay there again.

Le Meridien Etoile
81 Boulevard Gouvion St Cyr
75848 Paris Cedex 17
Phone:- +33 01 40 68 34 34

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chocolate Potato Cake

Look at this scrumptious Chocolate Potato Cake!  I think it was the chocolate dipped potato chip wodged into the top that really got my attention when I read the latest blog post by Ms Marmite Lover.  She runs an Underground Restaurant and blogs about it regularly, including links to her recipes and fab photos.

The recipe for the Chocolate Potato Cake came from Katie Bryson over at Feeding Boys, another scrummy blog.  She said that the orginal recipe wasn't terribly clear, so she's re-written it so it makes more sense.  Let me know if you try it out!

Oh, and has anyone ever eaten potato chips dipped in chocolate?  It sounds rather yum.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rome : Della Palma Gelato

After our great dinner at Pizzeria da Baffetto on Saturday night, we were angling to try some amazing Italian gelato and the kids hadn't stopped raving about Della Palma which they'd discovered the night before.  On our walk through Piazza Navona we stopped at Grom where some of our group ordered gelato in flavours like salted caramel and Granny Smith apple.  It all looked great, but I was holding out for Della Palma - and I wasn't disappointed.

The guys at Della Palma claim to have over 100 flavours of gelato winding around the long wriggly counter in their store, and it took me a while to decide what I wanted.  You have to pay at another counter first, and get your receipt, then you take that to the gelato scoopers who change it for frozen goodness.

After a few investigatory trips along the counter, I decided on Bounty (yes, Bounty gelato!) and Honey Sesame Seed.  Well, I wasn't disappointed, they were outrageously good, and it was a treat to walk back through Rome at night, scooping up little spoons of yum as we wandered along.

Della Palma Gelato di Roma
Via della Maddalena 19/23
Phone:- 06 688 06752

Monday, March 26, 2012

Rome : Pizzeria da Baffetto

Again, the lovely Diane had heard of this amazing pizza restaurant called Pizzeria da Baffetto, just near Piazza Navona, so we headed over there on Saturday night to see what all the excitement was about.

Let me just say, this place was positively groaning with people and it's NOT posh.  There was a line up of people trying to get in that was stretching down the street.  For my Adelaide people, this is like Ying Chow used to be; cheap, basic and yummy (it's still yummy now, but it's not cheap anymore!).

We joined the line and, after about 20 minutes, they found us a table for 8 by wedging in an extra table and pushing out the canvas sides of the outdoor eating area, so we were jutting out into a canvas bump in the street next door!  We didn't care, we were in and sitting, and that's the most important bit.

We ordered 8 different pizzas, 2 bottles of red wine, a few bottles of water and some cans of soft drink from the happy waiter and, almost before the drinks could arrive, the pizzas arrived.  They were fresh, hot and scrumptious.  Very thin with minimal topping, but absolutely great.

It's not a place to sit around and spend the night, it's definitely "get in, get fed, get a drink, and let the next lot in", and that's what we did.  Our bill for the 8 of us came to €115.  Yes, that's all!  Considering we were drinking €8 cups of coffee earlier in the day, I think dinner was a pretty big bargain.

Pizzeria da Baffetto
Via del Governo Vecchio 114
Rome 00186
Phone:- 06 686 1617

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Rome : Ciao Roma Bus Tour

Most of our group headed off on Saturday morning to watch Scotland be beaten into submission by Italy at the Rugby, but Diane and I decided that a relaxing tour around Rome on a hop-on hop-off bus in the sun seemed like a much better use of our time.

We asked the concierge at our hotel (Hotel Eden) where was the closest stop for one of these tours and he pointed it out, about 100 metres up the street - easy peasy!

There was a Ciao Roma bus ready to go, and they offered us discounted tickets as we didn't want to hop-off, we just wanted to stay on and do the whole circuit and get back off at our original starting point.  We only paid €13 per person and the loop took nearly 2 hours.

You know my love of the hop-on hop-off bus from one of my earlier blog posts, and this one was no different.  It was a beautiful sunny day, so we headed to the open top-deck and, after about 2 stops, snagged the front seats when someone got off.  We spent the next 2 hours cruising about in the sun, looking at amazing things like the Santa Maria Maggiore, Arch of Constantine, Circus Maximus and the Colosseum.  It's such a great way to see a town if you're pushed for time.

You can book tickets online here, or just lob up at one of their bus stops and buy them on the spot.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Rome : Caffe Greco

Caffe Greco, Rome

We were all staying in the area of the Spanish Steps, and Diane had heard about the amazing Caffe Greco (sorry, the official web page is ONLY in Italian).  Caffe Greco (this is the Wiki link in English) is the second oldest cafe in all of Italy, opening in 1760.

Historic figures including Stendhal, Goethe, Thorvaldsen, Fortuny, Byron, Liszt, Keats, Ibsen, H C Andersen, Mendelssohn and Zambrano have all had coffee in the Greco.  Of course, they'll now have to add me to that astonishing list!

It's a narrow but deep cafe, a sugar lumps throw from the Fontana della Barrcaccia at the bottom of the Spanish Steps, and we all trundled in there on Saturday morning.  Paintings and photos of their amazing customers line the walls, behind the small marble topped tables and banquettes.  I know I should be impressed by Ibsen and Goethe, but let's face it, Buffalo Bill had coffee here and that's much more interesting!

Anyway, it's famous, it's located right in the tourist heart of Rome and it's EXPENSIVE.  I ordered a cappucino and it was €8!  That said, it was a very lovely coffee, and I really enjoyed it.  Considering for only €2 more we got a ham and cheese toasted sandwich in the same place, I think the coffee might be slightly over priced.  But, hey, when in Rome ...

Me and the €8 cappuccino - yes, it was a good coffee!

Oh, and just so you know, real Italians wouldn't dream of having a cappuccino after 11am - it's considered a morning drink only.  Whew, lucky I got my Greco cappuccinos in before the deadline!

Caffe Greco
Via Condotti 86
Rome 00187

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rome : Happy Travel Vatican Tour

The Vatican

We didn't have long in Rome and wanted to see a few different things, so after checking into our hotel, we headed into a taxi and over to the Vatican.  As we exited the taxi in front of the Vatican, we were besieged by tour group organisers, trying to get us to join their tour.  Hubby chose at random, a guy from Happy Travel, and he hustled us over to an office to sign us up, get our audio tour radios and walk us over to the guide, who had just started his informative spiel.

We ended up with a group of 29 over the half hour or so Simon spent with us in sunny St Peters Square.  He gave us a bunch of information on Rome and the Vatican, and then we wandered off to pay at their ticket office, before hustling us all inside the Vatican (avoiding all the lines, it's worth paying extra just for that!).

We were with him for nearly 3 hours, with lots of information sinking in as he walked (mostly backwards so he could address us all) through the amazing buildings which are absolutely groaning with fabulous artwork.

You can book online in advance here, or try your luck with the organisers on the ground when you arrive.  We ended up paying E49/person, but it was well worth it for 3 hours of information and missing those famous lines.

The Ceiling of the Sistine Chapel - absolutely breath-taking.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Chocolate, Fig & Almond Cake Recipe

I'm still on my baking jag and I've just put this amazing cake in the oven.  The house smells glorious and I managed to scrape the mixing bowls and lick the beaters, so at least I know that the mixture is fabulous!

I did make a few changes though, I didn't have any Amaretto so I used Malibu, and I used a bunch of milk chocolate that I had in the pantry instead of the 60% cocoa solid chocolate that they recommended.  Fingers crossed it all turns out okay!

Oh, and this is another of those "use all the bowls in the house" recipes.  Make sure your dishwasher is ready!


This cake is light and moist and the flavour of the chocolate and the almonds together with the texture and taste of the figs combine to make it truly unforgettable. Rachael Vingoe sent us this recipe, inspired by a cake that she bakes each Christmas.
Preparation time:20 minutes
Baking time:50 minutes
Use:23cm (9in) springform cake tin

  • 150g (5oz) dried ready-to-eat figs
  • 3 tablespoons Amaretto
  • 250g (9oz) unsalted butter
  • 250g (9oz) caster sugar
  • 75g (3oz) ground almonds
  • 100g (3½oz) plain flour
  • 4 large eggs
  • 200g (7oz) dark chocolate, minimum 60% cocoa solids, chopped
  • 3 heaped tablespoons cocoa powder
  • 100g (3½oz) whole peeled almonds

Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4. Butter and line the cake tin with greaseproof paper.
Remove the hard stalks from the figs and chop the figs in a food-processor into very small pieces. Place in a small bowl and pour the Amaretto over them. Set aside.
Cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Mix the ground almonds with the flour in a separate bowl. Beat the eggs and add a little at a time to the creamed mixture, beating gently between each addition. (If you are using an electric mixer it should be on its slowest speed.) Then add the almonds and flour a third at a time, continuing to beat gently.
Carefully fold in the chopped chocolate, the figs and Amaretto to the mixture.
Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and smooth over the top using a palette knife. Dust the top evenly with 2 heaped tablespoons of the cocoa. Arrange the whole almonds on top and then bake the cake for 40 - 50 minutes or until it is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in the centre comes out clean. Leave to cool and then use a fine sieve to sprinkle the remaining cocoa over the top before serving.
HINT: Serve with freshly chopped coconut stirred into whipped cream.

Rome : Hotel Eden

Just back from a lovely long weekend in Rome, where we stayed at the gorgeous Hotel Eden which is located at the top of the Spanish Steps in a quieter portion of town, yet still in the middle of the city.

The friendly and helpful staff showed us to our lovely King sized room looking out onto the street.  The room had large opening windows, which I always love to see in a hotel - great to get some fresh air.  The room had all that you would expect from a 5* hotel, including gorgeous Penhaligons Quercus bathroom products.  They also provide lovely dark coloured monogramed slippers to slide into after your day sightseeing around Rome (which, of course, came home with me!).

There was wifi for a charge in the room, but free wifi in the luxurious lobby - great to sit on the plush sofas and check your email.  There was a seriously gorgeous roof terrace on the 6th floor, with amazing views out to all of Rome.  Nothing is allowed to be built higher than the cross on the Vatican, so there are no sky-scrapers to spoil the view.  We splurged on a cocktail on the roof terrace and were provided with silver dishes of chips, olives and nibbles - very nice.

If I'm looking for a negative it would only be minor, the marble bathroom has the obligatory huge shower head, but no real water pressure - it took a while to wash the shampoo out of my hair.  And, just for laughs, they have the most expensive breakfast I've ever seen in a hotel anywhere in the world, E53 for a basic hot breakfast for one person!  Of course, we didn't order it!

Hotel Eden
via Ludovisi 49
Rome 00187
Phone:- 06 478 121

Monday, March 19, 2012

Things I Like ...


I love horses.  Always have.  I've never owned my own horse, but have been lucky enough to be able to ride lots of horses owned by other people.  As a little girl, my dear friend, Danielle, had the lovely Cindy, who she kindly let me ride whenever she had her home in the back yard for the weekend (a horse in the back yard is my idea of heaven).  Danielle, her parents, and Cindy taught me a lot about horses and the value of a bomb-proof pony.

My parents certainly couldn't afford to buy and keep a horse for me, but they managed to get me a ride on any horse they could, and I appreciate it so much.

Anyway, in the vain attempt to understand more about how a horses brain and body works, I read several horse blogs on a regular basis.  I'm always interested to know more about different styles of riding, bits, bridles and saddles.  The following three blogs are the ones I read regularly.  Sometimes the posts on these blogs get very heated, and the comments fields are actually as interesting as the blogs they're attached to - these people are passionate!

So, if you're a horse lover like me, check out the blogs above and see what you think.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

"The Hunger Games", Suzanne Collins

Last weekend I finished Suzanne Collins' "The Hunger Games", which I'd had sitting on my "must read" pile for a few months.  Now, those of you who know my reading style, will know that there's no way I ever would have picked up a book that had the following blurb on the back:-

Katniss is a 16-year-old girl living with her mother and younger sister in the poorest district of Panem, the remains of what used be the United States. Long ago the districts waged war on the Capitol and were defeated. As part of the surrender terms, each district agreed to send one boy and one girl to appear in an annual televised event called, "The Hunger Games." The terrain, rules, and level of audience participation may change but one thing is constant: kill or be killed. When Kat's sister is chosen by lottery, Kat steps up to go in her place. 

I don't read "science fiction" or "futuristic" or anything like that, but I'd heard a lot of chatter on various writers forums about "The Hunger Games", and decided to trust the taste of some of my favourite authors.  I picked up a copy from, which is where I get most of my books - they have free delivery and their books are cheap.

It came as a huge surprise to me that once I picked this book up, I couldn't put it down.  It totally drew me in and I really enjoyed it.  There are a further two books in the series, "Catching Fire" and "Mockingjay" - I'll be buying them both.

Oh, and "The Hunger Games" is currently being made into a movie that'll be released in a few weeks.  

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Texas Chocolate Sheet Cake Recipe

One of the many great things about living in different countries is that you get to taste a whole bunch of different foods, and one of my favourite foods is cake.

When we were living in Detroit, my friend Kris made me the most amazing chocolate cake I've ever tasted - Texas Sheet Cake.  I begged her to make it a few times whilst we were living there, and I've been making it since we moved away - it's always a huge hit.

I'm going to list the recipe as it was given to me, so get your groceries and get cooking!

Texas Sheet Cake

Mix in a large bowl

  • 2 cups flour
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 tea spoon salt

Bring to a boil

  • 2 sticks butter
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup cocoa

Pour hot liquid over dry mixture, mix well, then add

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1 tea spoon baking soda

Pour into jelly roll pan and bake at 375f for 20 minutes.

Five minutes before cake is done, bring to a boil and stir

  • 1 stick butter
  • 1/4 cup cocoa
  • 1/3 cup milk


  • 1 pound icing sugar
  • 1 tea spoon vanilla
  • 1 cup walnuts

Frost cake immediately upon taking from oven.

Yes, I know it's a lot of butter and sugar, but it's worth it!

I use my mixer to do all the mixing, I find it works better than doing it by hand (and it's easier, and I'm lazy, so it makes sense).  For the frosting, I put the icing sugar in the mixing bowl, and add the hot ingredients, vanilla and walnuts and mix away.  If the frosting is too stiff, add a wee bit more butter (why not, your cholesterol is already soaring just looking at the ingredients).

It makes a lot of cake.  I made it today and have eaten some with a girlfriend this afternoon, cut up a wodge to go into hubby's office tomorrow and got a good portion to go to the barn in the morning for munching with friends after my lesson.  And there's some left in the fridge.

Oh, and it uses a LOT of dishes/bowls.  Here's a shot of what I used to make it.  It's one of those "lucky I've got a dishwasher" recipes!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

My Kind of Yoga

I'm working on a blog post about cake, but this should put a smile on your face whilst you wait.  This guy really is doing my kind of yoga, but instead of the cigarette, I'd have a chicken wing in my mouth.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

YUM! Slow Cooker Recipe

I don't know about you, but I'm a big fan of Slow Cookers/Crockpots.  I'd not ever used one until we were living in Michigan and I saw one on sale at Meijer.  I figured for $US25 I really couldn't go far wrong, so I took a chance.  Let me just say, coming home from the barn on a cold winters day, to a meal that's cooked and ready, is pretty darn fabulous.

When we relocated to Germany I packed up the US Slow Cooker and it tagged along, but you have to use it with a big power transformer and it takes up a lot of room in my limited-bench-space kitchen.  I did a bunch of looking around for a German Slow Cooker and found that they're not really used here.  Eventually I managed to source a Morphy Richards branded one, with a German power cord (yay!) from a company in the UK who happily shipped it here for me.  If you need to get your hands on one, please let me know and I'll give you the details of who I bought mine from.

On the weekend I tried Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken, a recipe I found on the Tasty Kitchen website.  If you're ever a bit lost for recipe ideas, just check out Tasty Kitchen, it's interesting, helpful and well laid out - very easy to follow - and they even have a Slow Cooker section!

The Slow Cooker Honey Sesame Chicken was SO YUMMY and very easy, so give it a try, but I had to make a few changes so I'll list them here:-

  • The recipe asks for boneless, skinless chicken thighs - we don't have them here.  I did it with Turkey inner breast fillets and they were a tiny bit dry, but still yum.  Chicken thighs would definitely have been better, but let's face it, I'm not going to buy drumsticks, skin them and bone them - I'd end up cutting my fingers off.
  • It looks like there's a bunch of ingredients here, and sometimes that puts me off, but the recipe doesn't require any pre-cooking, and all you have to do is pour things from bottles or jars into measuring cups or spoons - it's not brain surgery.
  • After adding the cornflour and water mix at the end, I found the sauce didn't thicken up much at all.  I ended up putting on my hot mitts and hauling out the pot and tipping all the sauce into a saucepan.  Then  I whisked in another spoon of cornflour and boiled it for about 5 minutes - it thickened up perfectly.  Easy.
  • If you're making it for a family with kids, you might want to leave out the ground chilli flakes.  It's got a wee bit of a kick, and that might be too much for little kids.

Anyway, give it a try and let me know what you think.