The Heart of Europe?

Is there such a thing as the heart of a country? How about its political capital? In the case of the European Union, it seems that most of the institutions are located in the little country of Belgium. Can we call it the heart of Europe? You tell us.

Because of its proximity with the Netherlands (Holland as we ever so fondly call it), frequency of drives to/through it occurs at such a high rate that its not worth counting. You see, Mel had to drive through to northern France where the manufacturing plants were located as well. And the distances are too near to fly yet too far (time and connection-wise) to take the train. Hit the road, Mel… and that’s what he did, sometimes with Suan in tow.

Comprising of two quite distinct regions, Belgium can only be said to be a melange of influences both Flemish and French. Why not take a leisurely read of our feature here? You might note that we do not have any reference on the Wallonia part of the country. And that’s actually the pitiful part, in the sense it was so close to us yet not touched. Though we’ve driven through on the way to Alsace in France.

Where in Belgium have you been? So what else is there to the ‘heart’ of Europe that you can share?

Summertime in Tokyo

This is almost an annual thing.

Suan tags along with Mel on one of his journeys to Japan for business. Now accruing the airmiles to do this is not an easy task. Besides concentrating our spending onto one credit card, Mel also have to be conscientious to save the miles for each flight so that Suan may tag along should her miles be not enough… and you might have read our previous rants about it here and here.

And this time we did not sojourn outside of Tokyo for there was no time.

So what’s a girl to do when she had all the time in the world during an entire week? No prizes for guessing… but yes the shops were all fair game. Fortunately there were two weekends, so poor Mel was roped in to ‘help’. There was a lot of holding the shopping bags and swiping the card (till it was red hot), but interspersed within are hours of culinary pleasure too… remember we said eating is an integral part of our every journey?

In our previous sharing of time spent in Tokyo (here, here and here), you might recall all the pictures of food, shops, stuff…. how will it be different this time? We’ve prepared a slide show for you. Enjoy!

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We know quite some readers love to travel to Japan. Would you prefer Tokyo over other cities?

Who loves skiing?

Yeah who? Posting this in the middle of the year when it’s summer (well for the northern hemisphere anyway) seems odd?

For tropical folks facing the sweltering heat every day, sliding on snow and ice is surely not something usual. But you see, some things in life one needs to try out. Even if one is getting on age. Active ageing, yeah that’s it. Of course we weren’t that aged when we first skied, but it was surely not encouraging when we got off the aircraft.

Why? Read all about that here. Btw we actually enrolled in practice classes in Amsterdam before heading out.

And if you should have read the story in the link above, you would have known that we ran out of gas after 3 days of hitting the slopes. The ‘baby’ ones actually. We cannot imagine folks skiing all day for 7 days in a row… too much stress on the knees… moving on! But of all things we had to do was to go sliding down a mountain in the dark. Have you done night tobogganing? Looking back now, darn that was risky.

In winter it gets a little harder to do touristic things. Places open later and close earlier. Accessibility becomes an issue in some cases. But we took that all in stride and had a wonderful time exploring the city of Innsbruck.

Fortunately for us it did not cost an arm or a leg when we were skiing in the mountain sides of Innsbruck. Do you enjoy the exhilaration of skiing?

Salt mountain city?


Chemically NaCl (aka sodium chloride). It is both essential yet detrimental to life, depending on how much or how concentrated it is. You might know Mel’s a history buff. But history is not just about political events or wars. It is also about economics and social development.

Did you know that in ancient days salt was considered a controlled commodity?

In fact, it was considered so valuable that it was taxed and in some case (such as dynastic China) its manufacture was managed as state monopolies. Take note, panning for your own salt was a crime punishable with a fine, confiscation and imprisonment! Can you imagine that?

The situation in Europe was perhaps slightly different, though it too was taxed while it made its way to the consumer. Now you know why cities in Europe would get wealthy from the salt trade. And this was no different for the city of Salzburg in Austria. A lot of the beautiful buildings in the city was funded by the trade and tax on this now common commodity.

But enough about salt already. For the hills did come alive for us, or at least we did as we examined the sites (and story) that inspired this movie. Read all about our super long weekend to Salzburg here, where had great fun and ate potato dumplings too (no photos unfortunately).

Can you hear the sound of the music? What did you like about Salzburg?

Treasure hunting in Pennsylvania


Hunting for them should bring one to the Caribbean wouldn’t it? Nope. Not according to us. Because while you’d have to dig high and low in the tropical heat of the Caribbean sun, you can do it a lot easier in Pennsylvania.

And we are not talking just about anywhere in the Keystone state.

We are referring to an ‘alley’, and one that is made up of a string of towns stretching several kilometers. As you probably can guess from the feature image, we are talking about vintage collectibles. The sort that appeals to the hoarder in us. You might recall that Mel have a love for antiques and history. They go hand in hand since there is such a story in each piece of vintage.

Go with an empty suitcase, who knows you might come back with it filled. We had that once, and the luggage was overweight on our way home…

So where is this alley? Did we find a lot of treasure in Pennsylvania? If we told you now it would be an anti-climax wouldn’t it? Nah, best left for you to find out more here in our little story!

Do you enjoy collecting old stuff? Or do you think its time to declutter and throw them out? What do you see as something worth keeping?

California wine drives

Wine. Don’t you just love it? That genius who found a way to make this beverage in northern Iran surely deserves to have a monument in our opinion. Now we are not advocating drinking, but neither are we probitionists. We believe a little moderation is key, like most things in life.

Some places in the world are blessed with the right combination of climate, soils and other geological attributes (water, landform etc) in which the fruit from which most wines are derived can flourish. Today we have wines from so many other fruits, but that is a story for another day.

You might have read in one of the back issues of our newsletter about where Shiraz wines hail from. Well, today we are sharing with you not that story, but one of our adventure into the famed California wine district of Napa. It has been unfortunate last year we saw so much damage in and around the area from the fires, and we hope it is recovering.

Responsible drinking.

That will be mentioned countless times and we are sure you agree with us. Do you need to go on a wine tour with some of the operators out there? Or can you craft out a DIY schedule for yourself? We did the latter and combined it with a dose of touristic activities. We really enjoyed the short road trip. Read the full transcript of our little drive here.

Have you wine toured Napa before?