A Good Friday treat ...

Tim cooked up a delicious roast dinner on Good Friday with chicken, roast sweet potatoes and parsnips, and green beans and carrots, all in a citrus-thyme gravy.. food heaven!

Easter in Saint-Ursanne

From the train line Saint-Ursanne looks like little more than a cluster of haphazard terracotta rooftops crowned by a cream spire. Upon arrival, this medieval village in Canton Jura could be a film set. The buildings - many of which date from the 15th century - huddle side-by-side, their rooftops collapsing into one another.

It being Easter weekend and the weather drear and drizzly, the place felt like a ghost town and, besides the odd car, there was nothing to suggest which era we had entered. This was Tim's and my Easter weekend treat. We were supposed to be spending the weekend horse riding here, but soon after we had arrived the stables cancelled. Never mind, we were staying in the quaint little two-star Hotel de la Demi Lune and were both content about the idea of lying in bed reading for hours. In our busy lives, that in itself would be a treat.

The hotel was in a brilliant location beside the river - our room on the top floor overlooked the Pont St-Jean Nepomucene, a stone bridge over the river Doubs with a atatue of St. John Nepomuk. Our room was basic and tumbledown with a sloping ceiling, but had lovely touches such as towels laid out in the shape of an elephant. The staff were friendly, and it was the only establishment in town where we found someone who could speak other languages than French. Not that I mind practising my French, but it makes things rather difficult for Tim. There was a picture of the hotel owner beside Kofi Annan hanging on the wall which intrigued us, but sadly we didn't find out any more.

We braved the weather to begin with and wandered around town, starting at the bridge below and trying to imagine what the leafy scenery would like life if it wasn't swathed in drizzle and fog. We walked past the former monastery (now an old people's home) and up a steep flight of 190 stone steps to the hermitage where, according to legend, St. Ursanne lived in the 8th century. Other sights included the vaulted market hall beneath the 15th-century town hall, the 12th-century Collegiale church, which housed a charming 14th-century cloister and many a pretty fountain.

The village was beautifully decorated for Easter, with chicks and rabbits adorning fountains and trellises of flowers and eggs running down doorways. Besides a grocers store and a handful of hotels, many of the shops were antiques dealers. After building up an appetite, we stopped to refresh at a lovely tea room, where we enjoyed black forest gateau and cups of green tea, and whiled away a couple of hours in the warmth. Then it was back to our lovely sloped-ceilinged room to tuck up and read. That evening we dined at Hotel du Boeuf on the main street, enjoying trout fresh from the river, fried up with almonds and served with steamed potatoes. The following day, we awoke to a blanket of snow (this must be the coldest Easter in years) and took the train to Delemont, the capital of Jura. It too felt like a ghost town, deserted on Easter Sunday, but we enjoyed exploring the old worldly streets.
rich quite early for a relaxing afternoon.

My 26th birthday in Basel ...

As a 26th birthday treat, Tim took me to Basel to see the 'Wildlife Photographer of the Year' exhibition at the Natural History Museum. And what a lovely day it was. The exhibition, which is organised annually by London's Natural History Museum and BBC Wildlife Magazine, was truly inspiring - especially the children's categories, which included photos that I'm sure many adults would be incapable of taking.

A particularly captivating shot was of a red kite soaring beside the shadow outline of a plane. My personal favourite of the exhibition was of two penguins in the Ross Sea, Antarctica, one sitting on the ice having just jumped from the water; the other in mid-air, about to plop onto the ice. Afterwards, we strolled along beside the River Rhine to Der Vierte Koenig (a play on the name of the nearby five-star hotel The Three Kings) where we enjoyed a delicious lunch. I tried seasonal salad followed by crepes filled with mascarpone and leek. The restaurant was lovely and cosy, with a touch of glamour: wooden chairs and tables, beautifully laid out with crisp napkins and shiny glasses. Peeping out through windows straight over the river, it felt a little like being inside a ship.

We strolled around the shops, admiring Basel's interesting architecture and feeling the sun on our faces, before taking the train home. On the journey we were rewarded with clear views over the rolling Aargau countryside to a backdrop of snowy summits. We spent the evening (after Tim had finished sulking about England losing the rugby) drinking champagne and eating Tim's delicious homemade Victoria Sponge with strawberries, before sitting down to a dinner of roast salmon with asparagus, potatoes and cherry tomatoes. What a lovely way to welcome in my next year. P.S. Oh, and did I mention that Tim's birthday present to me is a weekend horse riding in Canton Jura? So excited!

A second home, Innsbruck ...

I have spent so long bemoaning the fact it is impossible for me to live in England that I am quite exhausted with myself - and was most surprised when I discovered last weekend that there is a place that is almost a 'second home' to me: Innsbruck. It was just a weekend trip - but one that greeted me with sunshine and smiles. First glimpses of the Nordkette: crystalline against a faultless cerulean sky. It is a view that is so familiar I can look at it without noticing anything, yet be at once completely in awe. And the sight of sunshine was such a relief for my skin (after reports in Zurich's local paper that the city had only seen 126 hours of sunshine during the last three months - no wonder I was starting to go insane!).

Innsbruck, a city I have so many fond memories of - so many friendships made; the city where I fell in love - and an affinity to that is similar only to my love of Yorkshire. Tim and I stayed in the charming Hotel Weisses Roessl, a hop, skip and a jump from the famous Golden Roof. Our 'standard' double was on the top floor, with a balcony that boasted almost 360-degree views of the surrounding mountains. To the south I could just see Patscherkofel - the mountain Tim and I spent hours looking at from our amazing apartment of two years ago (much missed). And it was oh so warm in the sunshine. Below were the sloping rooftops of the old town and a cheerful hum of voices. All this was a bargain at just 130 euros for the night (including a divine breakfast of cereals, fresh and dried fruits, and a vast spread of meats and cheeses).

I really enjoyed catching up with friends - former colleagues from my time as a teaching assistant, Michaela and Petra, old university friends Daniela and Evelyn. Dinner in Piano Bar was an absolute highlight - and for tourists to Innsbruck is a restaurant not to miss. The haphazard service - waiter politely asking ten minutes after placing order what exactly it was that we ordered again - and irresistible food, served in a quirky cavern-like room lined with cruise liner posters and alpine scenes, make for the whole experience.

Saturday saw us travel up the Stubai valley to see our friends Ben and Nia, their gorgeous little daughter, and their cat Telfie. We spent the afternoon sledging old haunts at Serlesbahn (Tim and Ben left me in their wake, but as I have previously expressed, I prefer safety over speed) and went for a lovely, snowy walk on Sunday morning. Short but sweet - and Tim and I were left wondering why we ever left the Tyrol. But really, I found myself asking, is Innsbruck just a dream world, a place where you can live as if you are on holiday? Oh, and just for future reference - three slices of cake at Cafe Munding over the course of a weekend are just one too many - but that's not to say they are not irresistibly good, just like the city they are served in.
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