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Frankfurt comes to Brum

There are many Christmas traditions and everyone has their own. I’m not gonna regale you with all of mine because, well, frankly that’d be boring. But I hope that, if you celebrate Christmas, they all went well and that Christmas was generally good. I am however, going to talk about one European Christmas tradition that I got to experience several times last year. I am, of course, talking about German Christmas markets.

But I’m not in Germany any more. I am, for better or worse, back in the UK, and right now, this Christmas time, I am back in my home county of the West Midlands. Which means, happily, there’s a German Christmas market on my doorstep.

The Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas market first opened in 1997, making it a respectable seventeen years old –  a year off being able to buy the Glühwein it peddles. Stretching the length of New Street, there are stalls as far as the eye can see, from the Bullring to the Floozy in the Jacuzzi. With what feels like every other stall selling food and drink, it’s really easy to gorge on Lebkuchen and Glühwein and Wurst.

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All the drinks you could want.

There are plenty of things to buy and not eat, ranging from jewellery to nutcrackers to candles to ridiculous hats. But the best can be found in Victoria Square: namely, the carousel. Surrounded by every even vaguely German related food you could want, you can hurtle through the air on a painted carved horse. Ah, Christmas magic.

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All the pretty lights.

In Chamberlain Square, the market continues although it becomes a craft fair, rather than the German market and then, if you continue through to Centenary Square, there’s yet more stalls, selling specialty food (kangaroo or ostrich burgers, anyone?) and to finish it off nicely, there’s a ferris wheel and ice rink outside the New Library.

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In my experience, the Birmingham Frankfurt Market isn’t quite the same as Christmas markets in Germany, but that doesn’t stop it being an excellent day out. I’ve been in snow, in the dark, in the rain and in the sun and it’s always been fun.  Next year if you’re in the neighbourhood, you should drop into Brum for some German beer and sausage. Just like what Deutschland makes.

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Christmas Chocolate (slightly alcoholic) Truffles

It’s nearly Christmas. Either that sentence made you feel annoyed or excited, but either way, have I got a blog post for you. It’s a family habit to make sweets at Christmas and seeing as how I’m technically an adult now, I figured it was about time I ought to join my Dad and Grandma in a delicious tradition. So my Grandma sent me a recipe for truffles and three batches later and some very happy housemates, I decided I ought to share it with you guys.

Now I’d like to state for the record that I am not a recipe blog, that I hold no responsibility for your capability to follow my (potentially shoddy) instructions, and that if you are looking for a recipe type blog you should check out Hollie’s Home Baking or A Fresh Degree.

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My artful staging of the recipe. 

So these are chocolate, alcoholic truffles. You can make it without alcohol, if you so wish. But the chocolate part is important. Paramount, even.

Things you’re gonna need:

– 4oz/100g sultanas – 2 tablespoons rum/brandy/sherry/alcohol of some kind – 4oz/100g plain chocolate – 2oz/50g butter – 4oz/100g digestive biscuits – 2 teaspoons apricot jam – 6oz/150g icing sugar – 2oz/50g chocolate vermicelli/cocoa powder  – small sweet cases – music to dance to while you make them

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I promise the Vanish wasn’t used in the cooking.

Recipe

First things first, the sultanas have to soak in the alcohol overnight. It means you have to do have to put some planning into when you’re going to make these. But yeah, stick the sultanas in a bowl, add the alcohol, stir a few times. Personally, I made two lots of truffles, one with Disaronno Amaretto and one with Absolut Raspberry Vodka.  Also, if you don’t want alcohol in your truffles, you can skip this stage. Obviously.

The next day, before you do anything, put the sweet cases out, ready for the mixture. Also, tip the vermicelli or cocoa powder into a bowl. You’ll need all this later and I learnt the hard way that it’s best to organise them first.

The next step is to melt the chocolate and the butter together. Easiest way to do this is to put them in a bowl over a pan of boiling water. As I’m in a student house and not the most well equipped for baking, I put them in a pasta bowl and balanced that on a pan.

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I’m not the tidiest of cooks.

As the chocolate and butter is melting, crush the biscuits. Suggested method is to put them in a polythene bag and bash with a rolling pin. Is an easy way of getting all your aggression out and scaring anyone else who happens to be in the house. Because I was super unorganised I didn’t have a polythene bag or a rolling pin, so I crumbled them with my bare hands. Obviously having washed my hands first.

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What the chocolate and butter looks like when ready.

When the chocolate and butter are melted together (you will have to stir the mixture a bit), take the bowl off the heat and then add the jam, alcohol soaked sultanas, icing sugar and the crushed biscuits. Stir it together till the mixture is firm enough to roll into balls.

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Looks a bit weird. Tastes delicious.

Roll the balls in vermicelli or cocoa powder and then put into the sweet cases. You hopefully got these out earlier, because although the mixture is warm, you need to move decently fast, otherwise it won’t roll as well, and your truffles, though still delicious, become less aesthetically pleasing. Once you’ve filled all the sweetcases/run out of mixture, have a dance party for a while until the truffles are hardened.

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The finished product.

Then eat eight in one go, pretend like you didn’t and blame your housemates. Enjoy. Have a great holiday season, no matter what you’re celebrating or where you are. Try not to OD on truffles.

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Late Night Lindy: Christmas Edition

As I may or may not have mentioned, I do swing dance. I love it, it’s amazing, you should try it. *ahem* So swing dance, for those of you who didn’t read this post, swing dance is the name for various dance styles that sprang up alongside the swing form of jazz. Uni of Notts has a swing soc, which is, shockingly, where I got into it. I actually started in Second Year. Did it for a semester and then went to Germany, where there was no swing dance anywhere near me. :sadface: But now that I’m back in Notts, I get to relearn how to Lindy Hop and Charleston, which is super cool.

Social dancing is a big, very fun part of swing dance, and is essentially what you would expect  social dancing to be. There’s music, no set routine – you do whatever. It’s pretty chill and lots of fun, though it is terrifying the first time you try it. Suddenly there’s no-one calling out moves like in classes, which means a) Leads have to decide for themselves what moves they’re going to do and b) Follows have to be able to, well, follow.

Since June this year, there’s been a regular swing social dance night in Nottingham: Late Night Lindy. Held on the 2nd and 4th Friday of every month at Bunkers Hill in Nottingham City Centre, 8pm till late and it’s £5 entry or £4 for concessions. All abilities are welcome, and it’s really fun. I’ve been twice now and both time it’s been a really great evening. And last night was the Christmas Party. Yaaaaaaaay.

20141212_233121 (1)Anywhere that has bunting and fairy lights is automatically great.

So you lucky people are about to get a (not quite) blow by blow account of last night. To start with there was general dancing and socialising, which is always good. And then the band arrived. The Fabulous Tea Bag Boys lived up to their name, when after playing super fast songs in their first set, they slowed it down so we could actually dance to it, without wanting to die.

In between sets there was a Jack and Jill competition, which was great to watch. So a Jack and Jill competition is where the partners are randomly assigned. So you could be dancing with a stranger or your best friend – it’s just luck of the draw. The competition at Late Night Lindy was being judged on Christmas spirit, which lead to Santa hat and tinsel stealing. Eventually it came down to a clap vote from the audience, which was so close they had to redo it.

Post Jack and Jill competition, there was also a snowball dance which is where a circle is formed, and a couple start dancing in the middle. When ‘snowball’ is called, they each take a new partner from the circle and this goes on and on until everyone is dancing. It makes for hectic social dancing, and is ridiculous and also hella fun.

And then even later, because it was someone’s birthday (Happy Birthday Ramsey!), there was a birthday jam. I was unaware of how these work, but it turns out the birthday person picks a partner, starts dancing and then other people steal the birthday person to dance with them instead. You know how I found out how this worked? I got pushed into the circle to steal the lead away first. (If you’re reading this, thanks George :p ) After a few seconds of ‘wait, what?’ It was great. And once I’d been replaced, it was really fun to watch.

With lots of dancing, Late Night Lindy went on till 2 am and was ridiculously fun. It was a fantastic way to end the term, even if this morning I’m not sure my feet will ever forgive me. And yes. So much dancing, so much fun, so much yes.

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Great European adventure: Part Három & Vier – Budapest and Brussels

At the end of the last post about the Great European Adventure, me and Beth were still in Poland. To get Budapest, which is in Hungary for you geography scholars, we had to get to the airport. There’s a train to the airport, so we packed up our stuff and made it to the railway station in plenty of time. And that’s when the fun started.

When we got to the railway station, we had no idea what train we needed to get other than the fact it went to the airport. So we duly went to the ticket office to ask for tickets to the airport. Turned out the woman working the desk was the first person we talked to in Warsaw who didn’t speak any English. She directed us, or so we thought, to a taxi help centre across the main concourse of the station. We hurry over, and ask the lovely people there if they could help us. They did speak English, and told us to go to the newsagents in the middle of the railway station. At this point, me and Beth were pretty sure something had got lost in translation, but we went across and lo and behold, to buy tickets to get to the airport you have to go to the newsagents. Perfect sense when there’s at least a dozen ticket desks… But the woman behind the counter was very lovely and helpful, even when I confused her. So yes, we eventually managed to get tickets and get on to the train and get to the airport and yes. The Polish section of the Great European Adventure had been successfully completed – onto Budapest!

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The Hungarian parliament, side on.

When we got to Budapest, we picked up our Budapest cards. The Budapest card, for a mere 30 ish  euros, let us use all public transport free for 72 hours, as well as get us into some of the museums and Baths for free/reduced rate. Basically, it was great. Definitely worth it. After we’d picked up our magic cards, we headed towards our hostel. We were staying at the Bebop Apartments and after thoroughly confusing the guy who checked us in because he couldn’t decide if me and Beth were a couple, we were in Budapest, in a beautiful hostel, which had the most ridiculous bunk beds.

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Beth proving she could stand up on the top of the upper bunkbed and not hit her head.

With the rest of our day, we decided to head into the city centre, because any time you’re not exploring the new city you’re in is just wasted, right? And we were in Budapest centre for about, ooh, twenty minutes and decided we didn’t ever want to leave.

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St Stephens, looking beautiful in the setting sun

We spent a long while wandering round the outside of St Stephens Basilica, which was beautiful and then we ended up at the Danube, listening to a band, which included a washboard, play jazz. As the sun started to set. It was just…pure magic. I swear there were sparkles in the air.

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Music in the streets is the best.

We had a wander along the chain bridge, marvelled at the parliament building, and just generally soaked up the city. We ended up at a place called Lizt Square for food, which is an area that has roughly a bazillion and one restaurants. It’s right next to a hexagonal traffic light system. I know this, because we walked all round it until we found where we were looking for.

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Me on the chain bridge. We did not cross it as many times as me and Maddie crossed the Charles Bridge in Prague.

The second day, the first thing we did was head for the Baths. Budapest is famous for its baths. My last experience of public baths was in Japan and that was segregated by gender and involved a lot of nudity. Budapest baths, on the other hand, are non segregated and swimming costumes are required.  We went to the Lukacs Baths which we got into free thanks to our Budapest cards. Once inside, we headed straight for the thermal baths. If there’s a special order to which pools you go in, we didn’t crack it. It was really chill, just hanging out. There were a lot of OAPs there, but we weren’t the only young people. It was awesome.

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Anywhere that signposts wifi is my kind of place.

Leaving was a wrench, but when you’ve basically become a prune, what’re you going to do? We headed back to the hostel to dump our stuff, before combing the streets to find somewhere to buy food. It took us longer than you would have thought, but we managed it, then headed to the Buda side of Budapest (we were staying in Pest). We hit up a park for a picnic and finally, when Beth persuaded me to move, we walked up to the castle.

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Look at the pretties.

I am not the fittest of people. And I hate stairs. And I’m sure Beth will happily tell you just how long it took me to get up to the castle (Answer: far too long). But, it was worth it. Despite there being tons of roadworks going on within the castle complex, it was amazing. It looked like Hogwarts. And they had an icecream shop. And did I mention how beautiful it was?

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See? Hogwarts.

That evening we ended up back at Lizt Square for food, because as I mentioned it has a billion restaurants. And after that we went to one of the coolest pubs I’ve ever been to.

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Fairy lights, glitterballs and washing lines. An weirdly good mix.

Szimpla Kert is one of many ruin bars in Budapest. Essentially, it’s a pub in an abandoned warehouse. But it’s a warehouse strung with fairy lights, decorated with random furniture and junk. I mean, one of the seats was a bath.  It was a lot of fun hanging out there.

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And I thought trees were meant to grow upwards.

On the third day we decided we were gonna get up at a time that allowed us to outside while it was relatively cool, because with the temperature pushing 40 degrees, we were finding it a little difficult to function by the time midday hit. That’s 40 Celsius for anyone who’s think 40F doesn’t sound warm at all. So we headed to Heroes Square, a place that had been described to us as the most beautiful place in Budapest.

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Heroes Square is perfectly fine.

No offense to whoever thinks that but I disagree. I mean, it’s not ugly, but if I wanted monuments and pillars I’d go to Trafalgar Square. And when the rest of Budapest is so beautiful, why pick Heroes Square as the best?

We had a wander, but our main purpose for being there was the art museum at the side. But when we got there, all exhibitions were closed except for the one you had to pay for. So we turned tail and headed to the other side of the city in search of the contemporary art gallery.

I have to take a moment here, and if Beth’s reading this, she knows what I’m about to rant about. The guide to the city we had was in Hungarian and English. Which was super useful as we don’t speak Hungarian. And it labelled this Gallery as being in the “Whale” shopping centre. Which we couldn’t find. Wandering in the midday heat had been exactly what we’d been hoping to avoid. And there we were. Searching for this gallery. It turns out that the Shopping centre is the “Balna” shopping centre. Which was prominently displayed on the outside. Balna means whale. Whatever translator thought translating the name of a shopping centre was a good idea, was wrong. So very wrong. Grrr.

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Two very happy, slightly sunburnt, friends.

But we had a lovely time in the air conditioned gallery and then we headed to the Kiraly Baths, which were exponentially fancier than the Lukacs baths the day before. Of course, they weren’t free, but it was definitely worth the whole five ish pounds. There were the standard different heated pools, including the main one that was under a dome with holes in the ceiling so that through the steam (and my steamed up glasses) it looked like stars. Beth made me go in the cold pool. Word to the wise: don’t go from a 40 ish degree pool to a 15/25 isg degree pool. Don’t do it. There was also a hot tub and a Jacuzzi and at least two saunas. It was so good.

After lounging at the Baths for hours, we went back to the hostel, ‘cause thanks to the temperature pushing 40 degrees, we both felt a bit weird. So we hung out at the hostel till I got cooler and Beth learnt to juggle. And then we headed out for food. We ended up eating right next to St Stephans basilica and it was a lovely way to end our time in Budapest.

Budapest was amazing. Beth described it as “A city men would go to war for”, and I feel like that’s fairly accurate. I’ve yet to meet anyone who’s been and didn’t love it. It was amazing, and I’d really recommend going if you get the chance. Because it’s just…magical. And you’re basically obliged to lounge in warm water for long amounts of time – what could be better?

The next day we were meant to be undertaking a 13 hour train journey from Budapest to Ilmenau, via Dresden and Erfurt. Unfortunately, while we were on a train for over 13 hours, it was massively delayed and the first train that should have taken us 9 hours to get to Dresden, in fact took 13+. We managed to get on a train to Leipzig but that was where we had to stop because there were no more trains until the morning.

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By the time we’d been on the train for 8 hours, we put all of the seats down to make a giant bed.

It wasn’t so bad. We had a compartment to ourselves, and even though for this train journey it was a second class compartment, it was actually a first class, so it was super comfortable. Staying in Leipzig wasn’t exactly my idea of ideal, but we found a hotel and the lady on the front desk complimented my German and we had a chat about Ilmenau because her best friend lives there.

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Always time for one last Spaghetti Eis.

The next day we made it back to Ilmenau and had a wander. Then my Dad turned up to drive us back to the UK. Have I mentioned that my Dad’s lovely? And we didn’t go straight back to England though. We had a day in Brussels.

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On my last night there, I made it to the Robot Bar in Ilmenau.

One thing I would say about Brussels is that their tourist attractions all have mascots. Who insist you have photos taken with them. It was a little unnerving. We went to the Atominum which was pretty cool, even if me and Beth can’t say it’s name. At all. If you’re at school in Brussels, or I assume anywhere, you can have a sleepover in one of the balls. Me and Beth were pretty sad to find out we weren’t eligible.

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The Atominuimiumium.

We also went to Mini Europe, which has mini representations of important landmarks of the members of the EU. That was pretty cool, especially when I got to see landmarks from the countries I’d been in the previous two weeks.

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Mini Berlin! Complete with Berlin Wall…

The next day we walked to see the EU building, which is quite shiny. Unfortunately, we were a day early for the opening of the visitor’s centre, so we got in the car and finished the drive home. Which marked not only the end of the Great European Adventure but my Year Abroad as well. At the time I was too tired for that to really sink in. But now, writing this six months later, it seems so surreal to think that I lived in Germany for 9 months. It seems so long ago now! But that is a post for another time. Hope you enjoyed the Great European Adventure. I know I did.

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We’re the coolest.