Saturday, November 24, 2007

The Best Charity Shops

I've been rather disappointed with the thrift stores, or charity shops as they are called in the UK, in Oxford. Most have a limited amount of clothing and the rest of the goods are more trinketish. I'd given up hope of good deals and fun finds while in England...until I went to Bristol
Bristol has a funky vibe not found in Oxford. The closest comparison is Cowley Rd., but even its bohemian nature can't compete with the eclectic mix of shops on Broadmead and Park Street. This could be due to Oxford's large population of affluent students who don't seem to be interested in second-hand.
But Bristol was a treasure trove of charity shops and bargain boutiques. I found the purse pictured above in a British Heart Association shop for 1 pound! Make sure to check out Blaze, a ceramics co-op that has reasonably priced, hand crafted ceramic pins, tiles, cups, etc. and Shop (on Christmas Steps), a little boutique with vintage clothing, accessories and music.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Schmap Guide: Bath

A Schmap is a travel guide, including interactive maps, photos, and reviews. Places of interest are marked on an easy to read map of the city. You can click or browse through the recommended places and read historical information, practical information, and reviews from the Schmap makers and other travellers.
Schmap's online services are easy to navigate. Go to their website and pick from thousands of destinations.
Recently, a photo from my Flikr account (the one above) was chosen to be included in the Bath Scmap guide. The photo was taken in the Assembly Rooms. Check out the Schmapplet on my sidebar to see the picture and others from this location.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Switzerland Interary: Day Six

Bundle up - it's a cold morning walk to the train station.

Grab a pastry from one of the early - opening bakeries on Bahnofstrasse.

  • I got what looked like an icingless cinnamon roll. Turned out to be a orange - hazelnut roll with a thin layer of orange glaze. Quite tasty.

Take the train to Geneva. Another beautiful ride. Takes about three hours.

If you have time, spend a few days in Geneva. Ang said it was better than Paris. I unfortunately did not have time, so I headed all the way into Geneva airport.

  • Make your way up the stairs and out of the arrivals terminal where the train station is. I flew easyJet. The Geneva airport is small and mellow, so enjoy the leisurely wait until your plane takes off.

Bid adieu to Switzerland out the plane window and settle in for a short flight back to the UK.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Switzerland Intinerary: Day Five

Matterhorn Hostel will provide breakfast for 7 CHF. You could probably get cheaper elsewhere but you'd have to brave the early morning cold and it wouldn't be all you can eat. Two nicely arranged place settings were waiting for us in the cabin like restaurant attached to the hostel. A plate of foil wrapped cream cheese wedges, honey, jams, and butter were laid out. When we arrived, our host set about cutting slices of bakery bread. Made us unlimited cafe au laits.
Head up to the Gornergrat. Don't expect to stay long. It's worth it, but be prepared to hop out, take a few pics, and hop back in the train. It is COLD up there!
Buy a sandwich at Biner Bakery (Bahnhofstrasse 23) for take-away. I highly recommend the foccacia - tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil pesto on tomato and olive foccacia.
Eat your sandwich on a bench before going on a hike. Keep going straight on Bahnhofstrasse. It will take you on the right of the river. Stay to the right and you'll see a little trail leading up the mountain. Take that to Blatten, an abandoned cow-town, and then circle back to Zermatt.
Rent ice-skates and use the outdoor rink. Make sure it's open before you do though. We tried and they were setting up for curling...
Go to the Zermatt Coop for a large selection of Swiss chocolate at cheaper prices than at specialty shops. (Make sure you get a Toblerone - they are so tasty and taste better than the ones sold in other countries). Also take home a packet of Rosti that you can make at home.
Grampi's Pub for dinner (bar on first floor, Italian restaurant on the second). Pizza was good and very large, but with the thin crust, I managed to eat most of mine without help.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Limericks by Katherine

Ever reading was Miss Emily
Of dear Anne, Emma, and Lizzy B.
Austen books she'd devour -
Feel their rapturous power -
And she'd long for a man like Darcy.
My ever so skilled housemate, Katherine, makes up limericks to help herself fall asleep. One very sleepless night she came up with one about Rachel. It was received with so much enthusiasm from all of us, she decided to write one for each Brie and I. This afternoon, I found a green 3 x 5 card stuck amidst the soup in my cupboard, decorated with cut out lace and flowers. On it was this limerick.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Switzerland Itinerary: Day Four

Get up and do some shopping!
  • Schuh Chocolateria for amazing truffles. I got four: Caramel, Baileys, Vanille, and Dark Chocolate. Only 4.60 CHF.
  • Merkur Confiserien for even more chocolate. This place is a chocolate warehouse. I bought 28 CHF worth of chocolate here. They have bars, cookies, and truffles of every sort. Check out the back of the store for good sales.
  • Heidi's Souvenir-Shop: I found my Switzerland charm (I collect charms for a charm bracelet from every country I go to) here. A good selection of Swiss souvenirs at a very reasonable price.

Train from Interlaken to Zermatt. Change at Spiez. If you have enough time, walk outside the station to see beautiful changing colors in Autumn.

Zermatt is a resort town. No cars allowed so hotels and construction companies use these little carts as "taxis."

Stay at Matterhorn Hostel, about 5 minute walk from the train station. Free Internet, cheap breakfast, and really friendly staff. It gets really cold at night so be prepared with flannel p.j.s or borrow any extra blankets from unoccupied beds. I used three.

Dinner at Hotel Derby Restaurant. Dining room has a mountain elegance and staff is pleasantly attentive. Soup is excellent and well priced. Comes with bread. Ang and I split the "Croƻte au fromage Valaisanne" or Cheese on toast Valaisanne style. Excellent!

Zermatt seems to shut down pretty early and our legs were feeling yesterdays adventure so we took advantage of our private (only occupants in a 8 person room) accommodations.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Switzerland Itinerary: Day Three

Enjoy the nice hot shower (with good water pressure) at the hostel (Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof).

Also take advantage of the tasty breakfast provided at the hostel: two types of fresh bakery bread, butter, individual packets of Nutella, jam, orange juice, milk, cereal, hot drinks. They make a great coffee with steamed milk. It's all you can eat.

Train to Lauterbrunnen. Bus to Stechelberg. Wander a little around Stechelberg. Small path leading over the river and up the hill a ways.

Start the gondola trip up to Schilthorn from Stechelberg. Several changes, but they are nicely timed so you don't have to wait in between rides. Just hop off and hop on.

Take in the breathtaking views on top of the Schilthorn. Plaques around the structure point out different mountain peaks that you are looking at like the Jungfrau.

Eat lunch at the Piz Gloria, a rotating restaurant on top of the Schilthorn. In honor of 007 ("On Her Majesty's Secret Service" was filmed on the Schilthorn), I had Spaghetti a la James Bond. Very good.

Take the Nordic Walking Trail from Murren through Gimmelwald to Schleg. Be prepared for some hefty down-hill walking. Catch the bus anywhere along the road or continue walking from Schleg to Lauterbrunnen.

Train back to Interlaken and collapse after a long day of walking - well worth the sore knees!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Switzerland Itinerary: Day Two

The Grand Suisse Hotel provides a nice continental breakfast for guests. If your accommodation does not, there are multiple cafes and patisseries along the Lake.
Two mile walk along Lake Geneva to Chateau de Chillon. Don't miss the surrounding are of the Castle. Walk down to the crystal clear water and along a small rock jetty near the "island."
  • We got in for free but tickets are reasonable and they offer a student concession.

Two hour self-guided tour of the Chateau. You get a pamphlet with explanations corresponding to numbers sprinkled about the property. They follow a logical order and end in the tallest tower of the Castle (where the photo was taken). Breathtaking views despite the perilous climb.

Take-away lunch and chocolate from Lucien Moutarlier, a patisserie on Rue 44. My baguette dur fromage was excellent (soft French bread with butter and thick slices of a nutty cheese) as were the "Noir" truffles.

Golden Pass train from Montreux to Interlaken Ost.

Five minute walk from the station to our hostel - Backpackers Villa Sonnenhof.

  • Really clean, friendly staff, breakfast included. Rooms are small. Day lockers for bags on the day you checkout.

Interlaken, as with most Switzerland towns, shuts down early. Walk around a little as the sun goes down. Listen to the cowbells ring.

The receptionist recommended Des Alpes Restaurant for traditional Swiss food in a relaxed environment. Ang and I had cheese fondue. Our waiter delivered a bubbling pot of melted cheese (prepared with garlic, white wine, and kirsch) and a basket of baguette chunks. He demonstrated the proper way to eat fondue: spear a piece of bread with the small pronged fork, completely submerge in cheese, and swirl to coat. Let it cool on your plate briefly and heave ho.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

US Debate at The Oxford Union

"This house looks forward to seeing a Democrat in the White House."
I went to my first Oxford Union debate tonight. Didn't want to miss the much anticipated US Debate. I'm not sure it was a worthwhile way to spend almost four hours of my time. I probably could have finished the essay I've been putting off all day. Instead, I got to listen to a politician who embodies everything I don't particularly enjoy about politics: avoided questions, made a few marginally slanderous comments, and was pointedly rude for the sake of humor.
Tom Delay, former Majority Leader US House of Representatives, concluded for the opposition tonight. He believes that 1. Hillary Clinton will probably be elected President and 2. like the term of her husband, a Democratic executive officer will ultimately usher in a Republican majority in the House.
Aside from his overall manner, I didn't like his attitude about Hurricane Katrina. Delay said that it was the Democratic governor and mayor of Louisiana and New Orleans fault that things went so poorly in the aftermath. He cited an incident (which I don't believe is fully true and if it is I think he recast it in a weak light) where a woman Democrat leader burst into tears saying she didn't know what to do in regards to recovery efforts.
My bum had really started to hurt at this point which might have lent a more belligerent spin to my thoughts, but I was embarrassed to say I generally vote Republican after Delay spoke. I consoled myself with some B52 ice cream at G & D's...

Switzerland Itinerary: Day One

EasyJet flight from London Gatwick to Geneva - 1 hour 20 minute flight.
Open seating, but a generally nice airline. Plane was clean and has a large overhead compartment that was able to hold my large (and stuffed) backpack.

Train from Geneva airport to Montreux. Trains leave regularly.

  • I highly recommend purchasing a "half-fare" card (50% off all train/funicular/gondola tickets). They cost 99 CHF which seems a bit steep, but I recouped my money and started saving on day 3.

Met Ang at the Grand Suisse Hotel, right across from the train station. Her work conference was held at the hotel so we were able to spend Friday night in her room. Probably a bit pricey for budget travel, but if you have a cushy accommodation allowance, this has great views and location in the city.

Walk around Lake Geneva. Paved path right across from hotel. Beautifully landscaped and the water just glows in the evening light.

Dinner at La Rouvenaz.

  • Excellent Italian restaurant just a bit off the main street running along the Lake. Get reservations if you want to eat any later than 6pm (when it opens). We snagged a table before they started turning people away. Funny, efficient, and authentic wait staff. The owner circulates throughout the dining area.

Montreux is part of the French speaking area in Switzerland. Most people speak English as well, but be polite and at least say Bonjour and Merci instead of the English equivalent.


I just got back from a six-day trip to Switzerland. My future big sis, Angie, was in Montreux for work so I met her and we did a three city tour. I'm going to outline our itinerary in the next few posts. I highly recommend it with the addition of spending some time in Geneva, which Ang thinks is better than Paris. We both concluded that Switzerland was the most beautiful place we had ever been to.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Oxford Halloween

A Greek goddess (me), 3-hole punch Jim (Rachel), and a frog princess (Katherine) at Western Road's Halloween party.
Our Halloween turn out at Faulkner was rather pitiful. Only two groups of kids came knocking at our door. AND they didn't even say "trick-or-treat!" Just asked if there were any rules. We told them to go for it since Brie had bought 7 pounds worth of candy at Sainsbury's specifically for this reason. We also snuck in our left over Turkish Delights. What luck - they were the first things to go! We do have a large bowl of candy left though; I'm not counting on any of it being left over when I get back from Switzerland (11/2 - 11/7).
P.S. I made my crown out of Ivy and Hawthorn berries I clipped from trees near Sainsbury's! Katherine went with me on my snipping expedition so I wouldn't feel so creepy.