Friday, 14 April 2017

Malta and Sicily

Last week my family and I travelled for four days to Malta and three days to Sicily for a short break during our Easter Holidays. Ryanair offers cheap flights from Eindhoven Airport (could this possibly be the easiest airport in the world?) and Malta and Catania are only a 30 minutes flight apart. Ideal combination!

We usually book a house or apartment through Airbnb, but as we wanted a total relax holiday this time around with breakfast buffets galore and lots of swimming pools... ;-), we booked a hotel. On Malta, we stayed at the Corinthia Hotel St George's Bay. Nice resort with lots of facilities, a great breakfast and very friendly staff, but a bit too far out for our liking and not so child friendly as we initially thought (indoor pool only for kids until 17h...). Better option would be to stay in Valletta or nearby Sliema.

I absolutely loved strolling around the quaint little streets and alleyways of Valletta. It really is a charming city, built high upon a rock which gives it its unique setting. It boasts a lot of beautiful churches, palaces and museums. Start your tour at the Upper Barracca Gardens from which you have lovely views (the children loved going up and down the huge elevator right next to the garden which links the lower to the upper part of the city). We also enjoyed our short boat trips to Sliema and to the three cities just opposite Valletta (we walked around in Senglea, which is lovely). Ferries are very cheap and easy to use. 

Two places in Valletta I can definitely recommend, are: 

- Gugar Hangout and Bar: quirky little café with a hippie vibe and nice vegetarian food
- The Harbour Club: more upmarket, great spot for lunch or coffee, harbour views

Malta is very small, which makes it very easy to get around the island. We visited the Blue Grotto and the lovely medieval city of Mdina (a must-see!) all in one day. We even squeezed in a little trip to the Popeye village...

So, what would my suggestion be for you regarding Malta? Book a three night trip, stay in Valletta. Visit the city and the surrounding cities and head to Mdina for the day. In Summer, a trip to Gozo would definitely be on my list too.

Next up... Sicily! We flew from Malta to Catania on the east coast of the island, ideally located as it is just in the middle between the two wonderful cities of Taormina and Siracusa.

Regarding Catania itself, I can be very short. It kind of looks like someone threw a great big bucket of dust all over the city... It all looks very old and almost rundown, but I do have to admit, the Piazza Duomo and the surrounding market area, are quite charming.

We stayed just outside the city of Catania in the Grand Hotel Baia Verde. I can believe it was grand at some point... long time ago. In all fairness, it still is a quite good hotel, but it all looks just a bit bland, although we did like the garden and pool area, the views ànd... the sweet pastries at breakfast... ;-)

By far the best thing about this hotel was, that it was within walking distance of Da Baffo, a little pizzeria down the street, run by a wonderful Sicilian 'la mamma'. Great place, great food, lovely people. I already felt like part of the family after day two. Their spaghetti Allo Scoglio was simply to die for!

Taormina is a wonderful little mountain village just an hour's drive from Catania and is one of the most charming places I've ever visited. Coming of the highway, it's easy to use the Lumbi car park from which a free shuttle bus brings you straight to Taormina. It is a delight strolling through the little streets, gardens and squares. Top things to do are definitely the Greek theatre (with amazing views on the Etna) , the Piazza IX Aprile, the Corso Umberto and Isola Bella (if you have time left). Coming down from the Greek Theatre, we enjoyed a (rather expensive) coffee with a stunning view on the terrace of the Belmont Grand Hotel Timeo.

Before heading back home, we drove south to the historical town of Siracusa. And oh my... saved the best for last. Such beauty! Especially the oldest part of town, Ortigia,  is stunning in every way. We spent a lovely afternoon there, just walking around, having gelato and enjoying a sunny lunch. Next time, we would definitely like to spend more time here and also head down to the Greek temples and theatre, which are located in another part of town.

And then it was already time to drive back to the airport. Unfortunately not in the model below, but in its younger, less sexy, brother. ;-)

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Death by chocolate

Today I want to share with you my version of an Easter-Chocolate-Oreo-Cake, aka: 'Death by Chocolate'. ;-)

The recipe is very easy (as everything I share on this blog is).

For the cake, I mixed 220 gr of soft butter with 220 gr of fine caster sugar. Then I added 4 eggs (one by one), 220 gr of self-raising flour, a teaspoon of baking powder, 40 gr of cacao and a pinch of salt. Bake for an hour in a medium heat oven.

The scrumptious filling is made with freshly whipped cream (with some icing-sugar) to which I added some Oreo's, broken into rather big chunks. I covered the cake with a lovely layer of melted chocolate and decorated with some Easter eggs, Oreo's and sweet meringues (all bought at AH).

Needless to say this cake was a huuuuuge hit in my house. ;-) Enjoy!

Friday, 31 March 2017

Holy Moly Guacamole

Freshly homemade guacamole equals pure bliss. At least in my mind it does. And it's so easy to make! 

All you need is a couple of ripe avocado's, a clove of garlic, a chili pepper, some chopped up tomatoes and some lime juice. The trick to make the best guacamole is to use really ripe avocados so you get that rich, creamy effect. You first cut the avocados in half and remove the seed. You scoop out the flesh with a spoon and you mash the avocados with a fork. It's ok if it's still a little bit chunky! Sprinkle with lime juice (to prevent it from turning brown) and add the chopped chili, crushed garlic, tomatoes and some black pepper. 

My kids also love Halloumi. They absolutely adore this salty cheese. So I decided to grill some to put on top of the taco shells. The taco shells just need 6 minutes in a 160 degrees oven.

Start filling! I first put some greens at the bottom before scooping in the guacamole. Decorate with some radishes and fresh coriander. Look how colourful that looks! Fiesta time! 

This is such a quick and easy recipe to make and it's just... pure heaven! Enjoy the weekend!


Thursday, 23 March 2017

10 days in Cape Town

South-Africa is my favourite country in the whole wide world. Ever since we first visited (all the way back in 2002 to adopt our oldest daughter), the country, the people, the nature, the food... it all took a special place in my heart.

We have been lucky to visit a number of times since then, first of all on two more adoption trips (2004 and 2007) to get our two other kids and then a few years ago I took my mum on a tour of the country. Last year, we decided to go back as a family to catch up with some dear friends and also to give our youngest son more of an idea of his home country. We opted for a relaxed trip and decided to stay in one place the entire time.  

I was lucky to find this amazing house on Airbnb. It was located in Kalk Bay, half an hour outside the city of Cape Town, on the way to Simonstown.

The house was spacious and had a lovely design and more importantly... a great kitchen! ;-). The small pool was of course a hit with our kids. The house also had incredible views over the bay.

Kalk Bay itself is a cute little town, packed with quirky shops and cute little cafés. I could live there, honestly, I could. And there even is a small beach, next to the railway which gives it a rather special effect.

A fantastic place to go for lunch in Kalk Bay is the famous Brass Bell restaurant which is literally set near the ocean. Sometimes the waves come crashing in over the restaurant's terrace, our kids loved it! (and the fish is lovely and fresh)

Our favourite breakfast place in Kalk Bay has to be The Olympia Café. I sneaked out several times early morning just to sit on the pavement terrace enjoying my morning coffee while the rest was still sleeping (hope my wife is not reading this blogpost...). Another nice, friendly place for lunch or dinner is Lekker.

Cape Town and the whole Western Cape area boast so many wonderful attractions, one can easily spend a couple of weeks there.

A few fun things for you to do:

- hike up Table Mountain (and come back down by cable car). We used the Platteklip Gorge Trail which is tough (especially on a hot day...) but the rewards are plentifull. Amazing views and gorgeous nature along the way. Check the weather forecast before heading up as the weather can change very quickly!

- stroll around the Waterfront area. This is of course a very touristy area, but I love it. Great for shopping and wining and dining. The amazing Two Oceans Aquarium has been a hit with our kids for years. From the Waterfront, you can also take a ferry (book way in advance!) to Robben Island, which I visited with my mum. Definitely an interesting experience as we were guided by a former political prisoner.

In Cape Town Central, Long Street and Kloof Street are both interesting. The african market at Greenmarket Square is nice too. We absolutely loved going to lunch at the Company's Garden in the middle of town. Kids can play there and it is really nice eating under the trees. When you are in the city, make sure to also head to 201 Bree Street to visit Skinny laMinx's shop . Heather Moore's inspiring designs are wonderful and make for great gifts.

- drive along the Cape Peninsula and hike from Kaap die Goeie Hoop to the lighthhouse at Cape Point.

- stroll around the colourful houses in the Malay quarter called bo-kaap. Ideal for a fashion shoot; ;-)

- do some penguin spotting at Boulders Beach We visited this place every time we went and we still love it. Such cuties!

- enjoy a nice lunch and walk at the Groot Constantia wine estate. The setting is so charming, you will love it! Other wine estates we especially love are Boschendal and Vergelegen. Talking about the Winelands. Stellenbosch, Wellington, Paarl, Franschhoek are all really nice places to visit.

- walk around or just sit under a shady tree at Kirstenbosch Gardens. During summer they also organise concerts.

-enjoy the wonderful views from Bloubergstrand. This could easily be one of my favourite spots in the whole world. I have never been to a place where the air was more fresh and 'crisp' than here. You should experience it yourself!

-head over on a Saturday morning to Woodstock in Cape Town and hang around the Neighbourhood Goods Market at The Old Biscuit Mill. Great vibe! Afterwards we had a lovely lunch at Superette (hotspot!!).

- hang out at Muizenberg beach and then go for some amazingly good pizza and burgers at Tiger's Milk. (our kids' favourite place!)

- visit a township to learn more about and meet the people living there. Last time we did a tour of Langa through a local agency and that was absolutely great.

- go for a sunset walk along Sea Point. If you are heading down there, make sure to pop in at Kleinsky's (hotspot!) for a delicious lunch.

We can also definitely recommend driving along the Garden Route which stretches all the way from Cape Town to Port Elisabeth. Knysna, Wilderness, Tsitsikamma National park, Oudtshoorn all have so much to offer.

If you are a bit of an experienced traveller, you will have no trouble at all travelling through this beautiful country. If you feel more comfortable using a travel agent, you could check out Stieviewondertours . For getting good flight deals, I personally always use the connections site, because it is so user-friendly. I also sometimes make my way down to their Leuven office to find out more about certain great deals they have on offer.

Be aware that parts of South Africa are high crime areas, but there is absolutely no need to be paranoid about it. Just take some basic precautions and be alert as you would in any situation and you will be fine.

And to end... a lot has changed over the past nine years. ;-)