Landed and not stranded.

I was really looking forward to reuniting with my kin; two friendly faces at the train-station and a couple of hours later, a dinner customised by the house chef, to suit individual preferences.

dinner

dinnertable

Despite not doing anything other than grocery shopping, cleaning and entertaining, the first day of the holidays felt quite active and  passed quickly.

xmastree

As I am writing these lines, I am wishing that this couple of weeks will go by slowly, in small and mellow sips.

eveningcocoa

 

The days before Christmas have been a lovely blur of activity. The memory shutter can’t really keep up with the speed of movement.

blurr

Soon the 365 days of 2014 will belong to the past, and even though this year is ending with the bitter taste of intolerance, I have been enjoying the mixity of my circle of friends, old and new.

365tea

The weekend started with a nameday party celebration for a special guest. We ate lots of home-made food and  held our stomachs dubbling over with laughter –not indigestion.

almondcarrotballs

On Saturday a Christmas gathering followed by a Sunday birthday drink. The human fauna around me is blooming and beaming; I am happy to be part of the clan.

cake

Sleepovers, gatherings, Swiss cheese, improvised pizzas and good people. If these days did not exist, someone would have to invent them.

Second advent and I am snug. Snug as in safe, comfortable and content.

rsz_snug

What is the state of play? So far, I am have been housekeeping and lounging, counterbalancing last week’s activity. The days before Christmas are packed and that is in many ways a positive thing, considering that meeting and catching up becomes a priority, which has a nice effect on the social calendar.

ricepuddingbowl3Last week, with its late evenings and early mornings was filled with human warmth.

As I’ve said before, I consider myself lucky for having so many good people in my life, but that’s not always good enough. It is as important to create opportunities for people to get together and exchange – that’s when you experience the magic of interaction and the sense of community.

ricepudding1

pumpkinsoupcoriander2

I am holding on to that feeling of warmth with my insulating socks, fluffy rice porridge and hot soup. Once Monday is at my door, I will trade inertia for activity. I admit that I am looking forward to the coming days already. Nice things are planned and I do like action – it nurtures my cells.

First advent.

First Sunday leading up to Christmas. I like the word advent. It makes me think of anticipation flavoured with a hint of adventure and excitement. Of course, that always depends on what you are waiting for. Whether there is a spiritual aspect to this countdown or not, I guess that the holidays are per se most welcome.

Some people will of course be even more relieved once the festive season is finally over. What I also know for a fact is that December tends to come as a surprise, like a guest who arrives half an hour early while you are still cleaning up your kitchen mess before heading for the shower. It is a mystery how  October suddenly materialises into December: a quantum leap repeated year after year.

Thinking of how empty January is comparatively, I don’t understand why we still insist on celebrating Christmas on the twelfth month of the year.

origamicrane

On the morning of the last day of November I decided to take it easy. Meaning I got up and started baking…

saffronbread

I rewarded myself with late breakfast and the fragrant smell and delicate taste of a saffron focaccia.

As I do not intend to spend energy and money on commercial extravaganzas including presents,  I thought that I might as well opt for creating some nice atmosphere conducive to relaxation, joy and inner peace.

adventbreakfast1

I have to accept the fact that this annual exercise of anticipation always finds me unprepared; even so, I can still try to savour the fleeing moments.

This advent is also a time for remembering. My grandparents are very present in my thoughts. I am thinking that at this time of the year, my grandmother would put up her Christmas curtains and my grandfather would carefully unwrap the advent star and candle-holders to deck the window sills. I have probably only celebrated advent with them a couple of times, if any, but I can very much imagine how they would set everything up with true respect for domestic cosiness and tradition.

My curtains are beige and I have no advent star, not yet in any case. But my little home smells of saffron and I have some beloved people with me in spirit. If they were here I would give them a big and long hug; the kind of embrace that you really look forward to giving, counting down til that moment when your arms become a cradle of warmth, a universe filled with love.

 

Old habit re-introduced; as a teenager I used to start my day with a cup of herbal tea, or hot chocolate. Coffee came into my life much later, together with my first stable job.  I think we have all been there: gravitating around the office kitchen and a machine  destined to yield cup after cup of bad coffee. Caffeine in exchange for movement.

Coffee is now a habit of the past, and on my last visit to Thessaloniki this October I made sure to stock up on some herbs: mountain tea, verbena and sage. No fancy tea bags, no new age quotes, no frills; yet when the dry leaves, stems and flowers awaken in the steaming water,  fragrances develop that are reminiscent of  sun-bathed rocks in insular landscapes and of flourishing mountain slopes.

I pour some chestnut honey made by pious bees on the Mount Athos and some freshly squeezed lemon juice into a big glass of tea and  wonder how come I did not think of this earlier.  herbaltea

I also made a date with a stack of beautiful origami paper, because I have decided that, unless I really make time for it, creativity will not materialise just like that.

So I booked me up and after producing two stars, I think that I am already hooked.  Origami is delicious finger-food, I can assure you. Once I have mastered the art of folding a star with eyes closed, I’ll move on to the next challenge; it may take some time, but at least I will have a firmament of paper stars to wish upon.

origami

Grützi from Confoederatio Helvetica, a neutral state composed by 26 cantons, spanning 220 km from north to south and 350 km from east to west. Five neighbouring countries, four official languages and eight million people.

Facts are facts and who am I to  deny them? What I know is that ever since first reading ‘Asterix chez les Helvetes‘ at age eight, I have associated Switzerland to  bank vaults, muddy lake shores, Roman fondue orgies, pedantic cleanliness, the edelweiss and huge wheels of Emmentaler. So, when I found out that I was going to Zürich for work, I could not help smiling – there is a lake in Zürich, isn’t there?

Despite a hectic working week spent between a conference venue and the very centrally located Hotel Walhalla and thanks to some early morning walks, I had the opportunity to  indeed see for my own eyes how the two rivers  Limmat and Sihl run through  the city and into the Zürich See. 

GPS

I  also came to  realise that skipping room service, meant missing out on the piece of Swiss chocolate strategically placed on top of  the white  bed pillow, and that in case you feel lost, you will always  find a Starbucks and if not next to it, then just some meters away a Burger King.

reflectiononriver

Swanlake autumnalstreet

By a twist of chance, on Friday I could reunite with a friend from Thessaloniki and his Zürich based love and enjoy some genuine Balkan hospitality which started with a ride on the Dolderbahn cable car and a heartfelt dinner at  Adlisberg, a  tavern on the  Zürichberg hill.

PaokPartisan

squirrel

After a week of grey and foggy weather, we woke up to Saturday blue skies, just in time for a stroll around the old town, a visit of an Egon Schiele expo at the Kunsthaus and a walk followed by lunch at the city centre. When the rain started trickling, I was safely boarding the airport train, dry and very content.

Fountainandstatue

bubble1 chasingbubbles

circus zurichsee

 

Bike What do I take with me from Zürich?

A piece of Gruyère and fond memories of a short, but sweet visit of a city equally charming and expensive. Some of my favourite spots are located on and around  Löwenstrasse, a central street just off the main train-station. On it you will find  Babu’s bakery & cafe, and a bit further down, on Sihlstrasse 71 is the marvelous Hallenbad City swimming pool. If I had time, I would have had a drink at Bar Basso, at a breath’s distance from the river.

rsz_barbasso

market

Apart from the loads of organic food available in restaurants, stores and outdoor markets, Switzerland would not be what it is without its chocolate.

sprungli

175-year old  Confiserie Sprüngli is a living proof.  Wherever you turn, there it is, a proud ambassador of Swiss confections. However, I decided to leave it for next time.

Luckily I have rarely visited a place that I would not like to revisit;  I have therefore taken the habit of not saying goodbye but rather until next time. In this case, I’ll say auf Wiedersehen.

The past few weekends have been great and the last one was not only much anticipated but also simply fantastic. Full of those things that mean a lot in life. Two very important persons were visiting and  the flow was perfect. Apart from the feeling, I would like to share a few good Brussels addresses.

pumpkinsoup

pumpkinpiechocosauce

 

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lemonade2

Chez moi for  breakfasts, aperitif, and a  pumpkin-themed dinner composed of soup, risotto and  pie.

Chicago cafe & Le Crachin – two gems on central and picturesque rue de Flandre: a funky spacious and accessible (think wheelchairs, strollers, etc.) cafe & eatery serving great ‘home-made’ lemonade amongst other  items, and a tiny and narrow creperie sporting a rich menu of sweet crepes and savoury galettes.

Le Bozar for a temporary exhibition of flamboyant Gothic art from Sienna.

walkingthai2

Walkin thai  on Lesbroussart for good and affordable Thai food in a modern decor with splashes of bright pink.

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