*** This post is more than half a year late because I just realised that I had written it right after my Christmas and New Year break but it has been sitting quietly in my draft folder! Gah!!!!!***
London, December 2014/January 2015 – Our time in London was short and we had so much catching up to do. Friends and visiting old haunts were top priority. And food. Let’s not forget about the food. Hello, Heston.
Christmas market in Hyde Park, famous HK style roast duck in Bayswater, endless pints at various quintessential English pubs, freshly shucked oysters at Borough Market, shopping on a decked out Carnaby St, poking through bargains at Portobello Market, watching Miss Saigon on Broadway, romantic dinner at Dinner by Heston, ringing in the New Year with M&S Champagne and plastic champagne flutes (classy!), scaling a locked gate to a public park at midnight so we can enjoy said M&S Champagne (even classier!) and visiting our much-missed cobblestone Pindock Mews (where our lovely one-bedroom rental flat was located).
Ahhh London. Thank you for the memories. We miss you dearly.
Claviere, Montgenèvre, Briançon, December 2014 – It’s such a novelty to stay in Italy and within five minutes drive, we were snowboarding in France.
Claviere is a tiny ski village in the province of Turin, Italy, right near the border of France. So tiny, so endearing. I even attended Christmas mass in the local church and soaked in the atmosphere despite not understanding a single word that was preached. We became regulars in the local restaurant called Mi Chi? It wasn’t bad getting a taste of village life this way.
Montgenèvre however, was a disappointment. It was our destination of choice for our snow trip (sunniest slopes in the Alps, they said) and it turned out to be the worst snow season they’ve had for a while. Boo and double boo. Enough said.
Briançon was unexpectedly beautiful. Less than 30 minutes drive from Claviere, and we have a quaint French village – complete with an old town, a dried up moat and castle ruins. We shared a decadent French-style Christmas Eve dinner in a little restaurant called Le Gavroche. What a calorific celebration!
Lyon, December 2014 – The one good thing that came out of our dismal snow conditions in Montgenèvre was an unplanned overnight trip to Lyon – also known as the gastronomic capital of France. We decided that snow was not going to show up on the slopes and managed to check out a day early from Claviere and headed on a 3 hours drive to Lyon. I can boldly say that Lyon stole my heart from Paris. I enjoyed my previous visits to Paris, but Lyon just seemed more charming and more chilled out. The food (albeit only 2 main meals) were superb. We enjoyed both ends of the gastro scale – from a quiet, poshy fine-dining lunch at a seemingly up-and-coming restaurant called Le Jean Moulin where we sat next to the window looking into the tiniest professional kitchen ever, to a rustic La Famille Chabert, a crowded local tavern with hearty meals and carafes of ever-flowing wines and loud and cheerful patrons and staff.
Turin, December 2014 – Ah, back to Italy. Our favourite European destination. This time, we visited Turin, capital of the Piedmonte region. We loved, loved, loved our time in Turin – to the point when we were grounded from a cancelled flight out, we took the opportunity to sneak in one more awesome meal in a restaurant that we were wanting to visit but didn’t have the chance to. Sweet opportunistic moment!
Every corner we turned into seemed different and special in its own ways. We loved our little explorations through little side streets, sprawling parklands, busy town squares, along the gushing river Po and into suburban estates looking for the famous grocery and eatery aptly called Eataly (yes, the original one).
If you did any research for Turin, the common thing that pops out at you is Aperitivo. Makes me excited just thinking about it. Aperitivo is as the name says, a time to ‘open up your appetite’ – essentially, it’s a pre-dinner drink(s) that is accompanied usually by an array of appetizers like olives, bruschetta or even more substantial bites like pizza or pasta. From rustic style aperol spritz and potato crisps to elegant Negroni’s and salami bites – it was the hour I looked forward to with anticipation!
Our favourite meals however were at this local neighbourhood restaurant called Cianci Piola Caffe. So, so, so good we went back there twice in our 3 day visit. Expect to wait for a table in this busy restaurant but it’s well worth it. We were amongst locals (not another foreigner in sight) and enjoyed the simple, rustic dishes from the menu which changes daily. Carafe of house wine costs a mere 5 euros. Wow, right? It’s not some foul tasting plonk but smooth Nebbiolos and the like. Steaming plates of pastas, fall off the bone slow cooked meats, cold starters – every bite was heavenly…and oh-so-kind to our pockets too! What an awesome find.
Berlin, January 2015 – Colder, wetter and greyer skies greeted us in Berlin. Yes I know it’s winter, but I thought we could not get any worse than London. I was wrong. We did the typical touristy things – Checkpoint Charlie and its neighbouring Berlin Wall, Pergamon Museum, Topography of Terror Museum – all sounds rather bleak, much like the weather doesn’t it? It was the tail end of our trip and I guess we were a little flat and none too enthusiastic (especially for the food). I was also recovering from a bout of gastro and wasn’t inclined to my usual stuff-my-face antics but still, I enjoyed the typical German fare of weiners, sauerkraut, meats and potatoes and beer…lots of beer. And funnily enough, my favourite spot was a little Thai restaurant at the back of our hotel. I think I was ready to head home by then, because I was hankering for a comforting plate of Pad Thai rather than schnitzel and dumplings.
That’s our little Christmas trip to Europe all wrapped up. Till next time!