The Capital of Christmas ...

If ever there was a time to visit Strasbourg, that time is now. Until 31 December in the 'Capital of Christmas', 13 markets selling handicrafts, delectable biscuits and treats, and hot, festive drinks line the 15th-and 16th-century streets. The market started in 1570 - and needless to say has been perfected over the centuries. Visitors cluster, their mittened hands tightly clasped around steaming mugs of mulled wine. Above, creative window displays of polar bears, gingerbread men or intertwined Christmas vines are illuminated by understated lights.

At the weekend when Tim and I visited, I was in awe of the narrow, medieval buildings, of which the roofs extend to varying heights and slope at varying degrees. They are a spectacle best admired from the top of the Notre-Dame Cathedral. This might require a 332-step climb to a height of 66 metres, but the rewards are worth it. In the distance the modern, glass buildings of the European Parliament stand out in an almost space-age fashion against the sienna rooftops around. We got closer during a boat trip, which took us around the so-called 'island' where the city centre is and then to the outskirts.

Strasbourg is much bigger than I imagined, and going by boat is a great way to see all the main sights - a headset gives you all the important names and dates of buildings. One particularly beautiful corner is La Petite France, a cluster of fourteenth century buildings tucked amongst five branches of the River Ill. It was enchanting to see the remaining five towers of the city walls, and the covered bridges beneath. These were spectacularly illuminated at nighttime.

We ate in a traditional beer house where I enjoyed salmon fillet on a bed of Sauerkraut, doused in a cream sauce. We spent lunchtimes at the market, eating grilled baguettes with gooey toppings; and we ate far too many roasted almonds, marshmallow kisses and chocolate. Patisserie Christian in the centre is a spot not to miss - we treated ourselves to golf-ball sized truffles filled with butter-cream like chocolate.. mmm... ( I really enjoyed the opportunity to be immersed in French again - and sample their famous food. We did in fact little but eat and spent most of our budget on food - the French certainly know what they're doing when it comes to the edible in life. Then there was the mulled wine - oh the mulled wine ...

The Pearl of the Alps ...

I skied a red piste without panicking! That is an achievement made thanks to the heavenly snow conditions at Saas-Fee at the weekend. No ice to be seen, only fluffy, soft and grippy snow - the kind that sends a little flurry up behind your skies. I find it little surprise that Saas-Fee was named Best Swiss Ski Resort 2012. Everyone is so friendly - from the owner of the Feehof hotel where we stayed to the very helpful girl I rented my ski equipment from at Cesar Alpin Sport.

If I have a gripe it is the claustrophobia I experienced in the 30-person gondola that carried guests to the Allalin ski area, situated between glaciers at an altitude of 3,500 metres above sea level. I suppose a lengthy gondola ride cannot be avoided when climbing to such an altitude, and the views at the top - after stepping out of the world's highest underground funicular (Metro Alpin) - were well worth it. We could see to Switzerland's highest mountain The Dom (4545m) and beyond the marshmallow-like peaks, down to Italy.

There were all kinds of people on the pistes - ski acrobats diving off jumps, ski clubs practising slalom, kids learning with their parents and the odd few beginners. The drag lift queues were sometimes lengthy - and barely resembled a queue - but I put this down to such a limited part of the ski area being open due to the early season.

Besides skiing, we made a trip into the world-s largest ice grotto - at the end of a 70m tunnel into the glacier. Inside, it looked all smooth and wet, almost like peering into a clear plastic bouncy castle, and was rougher where new ice crystals had formed. In the evening, we were ready to eat by 6 p.m and had the most divine pizzas at Don Ciccio - mine was dotted with aubergine, artichoke and courgette and layered in really creamy cheese. Of course, Tim and I had a tiramisu each for dessert - it was the creamiest one I've ever tasted.

The Feehof rooms were cosy, simple and practical - very centrally located, though this was a problem at night when the apres-ski bar down the road was blaring out music. But oh to awaken to that bowl of 13 peaks over 4,000-metres high that give Saas-Fee it's nickname of Pearl of the Alps.. magical. It's a shame a completely unprepared SBB rolled into Visp train station on Sunday evening when we returned to Zurich to collect twice as many passengers as it had room for. People were standing up the stairs and in the aisles for an hour until Bern - and at the prices they charge? Pathetic!

Skyfall: What a way to celebrate 50 years ...

When we went to watch Skyfall this afternoon - a token of its popularity being that, even buying tickets two hours in advance, the only seats left were on the second row - the audience was filled with such a wide cross-section of society as I have never seen at a viewing before: couples, families, old, young.. And rightly so. For me, Skyfall was a perfect celebration of James Bond's 50 years. It had the terrifying baddy - in fact, could Javier Bardem possibly be the most terrifying Bond baddie in history? The blonde hair and watery blue eyes - so alien to his usual colouring - set him beside truly menacing baddies such as The Joker of Batman or Tom Hollander in Hanna.

It had the beautiful locations - and how nice to see such an emphasis on British spots. I particularly loved the closing scenes amidst the drama of Glen Coe. The cast were fantastic. I must say that I thought Daniel Craig was brilliant - even though I am a hardened Sean Connery fan! I enjoyed the quips in the script: M's bulldog, young upstart Q. Plenty of humour that kept the audience laughing - and shocks that left them aghast. Bond falling down a gorge at the beginning - could it really be? The plot line seemed less James Bond, however, and more British drama Spooks. I liked this take and found it more appealing than the violent, sex-filled action that normally graces Bond films. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful ...

Basel Herbstmesse

The dusky smell of roasting chestnuts. The muffled rowdiness of pop music. The haunting cries of "Are you ready to go faster?" on the loudspeaker. These are all elements that added to the atmosphere of Basel's Autumn Fair yesterday. Spread across several squares in the city on the bend of the Rhine, some of its most terrifying rides - think swings 50 feet above the ground - offer the most expansive views of the medieval rooftops and hazy hills of the Black Forest in the distance. For me though, rather than enjoying the view, these rides would have meant squeezing my eyes shut and thinking nice thoughts while waiting for the ride to end.

So we started with the Crazy Mouse - from the ground it looked like a gentle, children's rollercoaster (or for adults with a faint heart). In reality, it was awful! I have never felt so sick, so dizzy or so battered and bruised in my life. As the carriage whipped around corners, my arm banged against the metal safety bar to my right. As it spun like a storm in a tea cup, I felt my head was about to be ripped from my neck. In hindsight, I should have tried the huge pendulum ride that Tim dared to attempt - 'rhythmic and could send a baby to sleep' was his thought on this ride that made my stomach churn just watching it swing menacingly back and forth, propelling its passengers towards the ground and then sweeping it back up. Subsequently - and once our stomachs had settled - we enjoyed crepes with Nutella and watched the light ride over the river. That was enough exhilarating action for November's afternoon ...

Why I miss living in and love returning to England ...

Switzerland is a beautiful country, yet flying to the UK always puts a much bigger smile on my face. Landing in Manchester after a 7 a.m. flight might not be everyone's idea of fun, but the sight of the English countryside from above, of familiar shops that welcome you in the airport and of friendly and well-mannered people just cannot be beaten. Lunch in Danish bar Kro with Jo from university was delightful - and being back in the city that I detested when living there was lovely. It's inexplicable why, but I suppose that with a time limit, you can make the most of the bits you want to and ignore the rest.

Train to Malton and a wander around Pickering as twilight encroached upon the houses was the beginning of a proper weekend in the countryside. Darkness rendered Farndale's beauty latent when we arrived and we spent the evening acclimatising to the chill of the house - it makes you feel alive. And awakening on a Sunday morning to cloud and drizzle suggests only one thing: the ideal time to make a trip to the coast. Staithes and its quaint cottages that grip to the rocky basin in a huddle lose no beauty on a grey day - on the contrary, the silvers and steels enhance the crashing waves that rage onto the beach and present a lacy cloak, quickly gathering it back up and drifting back into the wash.

Brave surfers tried to catch the waves; exciting dogs chased flying seaweed and proudly dragged driftwood twice their size to their owners. To warm up? Crumpets with wensleydale followed by a cup of tea and a slice of elderflower and gooseberry cake - pure, English heaven. If Staithes is the tourist trap, Skinningrove along the coast is a land forgotten in time. Bleak terraced houses face the sea in a tight barricade and, as we curled as far as we could into our waterproofs and battled along the beach, we noticed remnants of the former industrial landscape, now committed to old photographs. With the return of the sun on Monday, we headed into the hills and climbed onto Rudland Rigg, admiring the vast, isolated terrain all around. I wonder if there is anywhere else quite like North Yorkshire on earth. We remembered we were in England when a fierce, black cloud appeared on the horizon and steadily bulged until it had gobbled up the scenery. Time for the pub, a warm fire and good,English food. The White Lion pub is used to withstanding the elements - it is a cosy spot on days like that.
The long weekend wasn't over before another cosy night in Farndale with the marvellous Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and another morning waking up to a colourful, autumnal view of the dale - all burnished gold and vivid green. Now, tell me that life anywhere else could be so good!
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