300. Galleries Lafayette

paris8Paris is famous for shopping, and one of the best places to go was Galleries Lafayette. Not only does it house every designer you can think of, plus a whole lot more, but it also has champagne bars, day spas, art galleries, wedding consultants, a rooftop terrace with cafes, restuarants and excellent views, a gourmet food department (LOVED that) and it even (to its detriment, in my opinion) has a McDonalds. Right in the luggage section, odly enough.paris11

The beauty and jewellery displays on the ground floor were amazing, especially with the growing appreciation Claire was giving me of excellently designed shop fronts and displays.paris10

The building itself was really beautiful too. A definite must-see if shopping is your thing! There was also a surprising amount of affordable clothing on the upper floors too, particularly on the Zara sale rack.

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232. Wake Up In Wonderland

After a cheeky car nap between Prague and Vienna, I woke up to this view out my window:Best. Wakeup. Ever.

As it turned out we were in one of the most magical places in the world. There was a water park, dragons, knights, a giant aeroplane with a restaurant in it, and LOADS of duty free shops! There was also a casino nearby – the place was the very definition of fun for all ages. It was a huge series of shops, bars, restaurants and theme parks to leave the kids at in the no-mans-land that is the border between the Czech Republic and Austria.

The highlight was definitely lunch in an aeroplane. And not just any aeroplane, but a safari themed plane that appeared to be from the 1960s. If there was a flight involved in Fear and Loating in Las Vegas, I’m pretty sure this would have been the plane. This face definitely summed it up:

Other exciting things included a GIANT GLOBE!

A MINI WATER PARK!

CASTLES AND DRAGONS!

And a delightful collection of incredibly cheap duty free stores. There were even hair salons and other such beauty parlors. And to top it off, some really wierd products on sale:

If it weren’t for the photos. I could well have believed I was having an incredibly strange dream…

169. Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II

The Galleria Vittorio Emanuele II in Milan was where I had imagined all of the great shopping to be, but in actual fact there weren’t all that many shops there. The flagship Prada, Louis Vuitton and Gucci stores were good fun, and it was a welcome relief that they still let us in all the flash stores after being too under-dressed for the Duomo. I guess in a city where most people look like Snooki the sales assistants have stoppeed discriminating.

167. “From The Catwalks Of Milan”

Ever since I was a wee young’n, Dad has always joked when one of his daughter’s has bought something new that it looked like it was “straight from the catwalk’s of Milan.” He had quite the way of making it sound extra patronsising as he said it, and it has since been a bit of a family joke. Sortof like in The Castle, where the father is always saying “You could sell that” when his wife cooks a meal.

So extreme hilarity was to be had when sure enough Dad found himself shopping in Milan with his wife and one of his daughters!

It was absurd just how expensive some of the items were. After poking my nose in to almost all of the big name stores, I am thoroughly convinced that Italian fashion is just not my thing. Most of the Italian labels, from Armani to Gucci, where just so incredibly tacky it was hard to believe it was “fashion.” After seeing so many identical bags, but for the different letters of each major label, or the amount of items of clothing covered in diamantes and other sparkly shit, I’m just so glad I come from a country where “wearing your money” (as you would with these labels) is really not something that gets much approval. Except maybe in Ponsonby, but to be honest, the rest of New Zealand really wouldn’t mind if Australia took Auckland.

I did really enjoy the Ralph Lauren store, though. It was like a museum – filled with beautiful art, and set up like an amazing house. The polo shirts seem like a very plane item jazzed up on the basis of a logo, but the womenswear was beautiful, and you could tell it was high quality and very flattering styles.

As I walked through these stores (at one stage overhearing a man saying “only €1200? I’ll take it!), I begun to think to myself, with every item: “If it didn’t have a designer label, would I wear it?” and at least 80% of the time the answer was no. Some things are just outragously ugly, but because I famous designer made it, well, it’s high fashion and high price. It really makes me wonder if it is this secret ironic joke where top designers are saying “How ridiculous can we make this item and still get people to pay ludicrous amounts?” A bright red suit with a bright pink turtleneck (in the window at Versace) was my favourite example of this. Sadly, I don’t think that’s the secret motive of the fashion world.

Nonetheless, it was fun to go to all of those stores and see what the fuss is all about, and I really hope that no matter how much money I may or may not make in future, that I will never be buying ridiculously priced crap that looks good on no-one just because someone said it is fashion.

57. A Classic Kiwi Meal

Those of us exchange students who are staying miles out of town at Skjoldhoj Kollegiet have started the International Food Series, where we each cook a typical meal from home. When my turn rolled around, or more accurately, when I was feeling a little homesick and felt like making some comfort food, I offered to cook for the team. The next dilemma, however, was deciding on what exactly constitutes a classic kiwi meal. The problem, you see, is that New Zealand is a young and very multicultural country and as far as food goes, we just eat everyone else’s food!

I asked for some suggestions on facebook of what would be considered a classic kiwi meal. My sister helpfully suggested a delicious New Zealand Lasagne or a Traditional Kiwi Stir Fry. The irony of these classic kiwi foreign meals was not at all lost on me. After a good chuckle I settled on roast lamb with kumara and potatoes. Whilst the meat-and-two-veg combination is pretty classic as far as New Zealand cuisine goes, I do feel it is more of an English innovation. However, the ingredients are what makes it truly kiwi.

I have been asked many times as I meet foreigners whether it really is true that there are more sheep than people in New Zealand. I like to point out that the ratio of sheep to humans is roughly 4:1 and pause a little to laugh at their faces while they imagine we each own 4 pet sheep, before pre-emptively (and ever so patronisingly) correcting them that they reside on farms and not in our living rooms. There’s actually this slightly sheepish (no pun intended. Actually it was totally intentional. Who ever says no pun intended and actually means it?!) look people give me as they lie through their teeth and say “Oh… I knew that…”

Thus lamb is a very traditional New Zealand meat to oven roast. In fact oven roasting a whole meal, I have been told by a Swede, is in fact a very New Zealand thing to do. As for the two veg, Kumara (or sweet potato if translated) is definitely a truly kiwi vegetable although both in New Zealand and elswhere, it is quite expensive. Perfect to water it down with some potatoes.

As for dessert, there is nothing more traditional and kiwi than a Pavlova. And don’t you dear let those plagiarising Australian’s tell you otherwise. Officially, it is still being disputed, but everyone knows the Pavlova is ours. With a deceitfully Russian sounding name, the Pavolva is a dessert invented in New Zealand in the 1920s, named after Anna Pavolva, a Russian Ballet Dancer who was touring New Zealand at the time. A pavlova is a large, white meringue cake, with the name no doubt influenced by the beautiful white tutu of a ballet dancer in that era.

This particular meal wasn’t my first lamb roast, but by gosh, I must say it was one of my best! The pavolva, on the other hand, was my first ever attempt at the dessert, and I made the fatal error of disobeying the strict cooking instructions of a somewhat difficult dessert. I didn’t make the most common of pavolva mistakes: opening the oven door while it was cooking; but instead I decided that using normal sugar would be fine. There are very clear instructions on every pavlova recipe to use castor sugar, but I couldn’t find it anywhere in Aarhus. I read somewhere that you should grind up normal sugar to create caster sugar rather than substitute a heavier kind, but I didn’t have anything suitable for the task in my ill-equipped student kitchen. I decided to take a chance, and while the dessert wasn’t a failure, it was a little more dense than usual. I also think the oven was a touch too hot, but it did taste pretty good! In true student form, I couldn’t bear to waste the egg yolks, so I also made some lemon curd to go on top, which tasted so much better than the traditional sliced kiwifruit/strawberries. Especially as fruit is like a whole different food group here, compared to the good stuff we have in New Zealand.

The roast lamb was delicious, though it was subject to one of the larger of my shopping miscommunication failures. I went to Bazaar Vest, the middle eastern market, which I had seen had a few large butchers, and had heard one of them has been voted the best one in Aarhus, not to mention one of the cheapest (Fun fact: the Danish word for butcher is ‘Slagter.’ How delightful). Unfortunately, in both Denmark and the Middle East, it seems a Lamb Roast to feed a large family in the way we make them back home is not something repeated here. Furthermore, I have bought meat from a butcher maybe twice in my life and had no idea what to even call the cut I was after, let alone in Danish. Usually, there would be a good size piece of boneless lamb already cut and packaged on the supermarket shelf. At the butcher I went to, my options where a giant leg, a tiny steak or mince. The butcher asked me in Danish if I would like any help. I replied in English that I would like some lamb, but did they have anything smaller than the legs. After some stilted conversation where the poor guy switched to English, his third language at the very least, he said ‘OK I’ll cut it for you.’ Here was I thinking I had been quite clear that the leg was too large and I wanted about half of the size. I was amazed to see the guy very proudly come back with the leg in small chunks. It was pretty reasonably priced, and I strongly doubted the poor guy would be happy with selling the other half of the small chunks of lamb leg. So I politely thanked him and took the whole leg cut in to small pieces. He’d been so nice and helpful after-all, and I could always freeze them and save the rest for other occasions. And on the bright side it would cook faster!

So I used the following method, inspired by Nigella Lawson, Jamie Oliver and most importantly the amazing chef that is my mother.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees. Cut potatoes, onions, kumara in to bit sized chunks. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with fresh rosemary and a teaspoon of salt. Place in a roasting dish (I had to go buy those disposable foil ones) with some whole, unpeeled cloves of garlic, toss around to evenly distribute the oil, salt and rosemary and place on the bottom shelf of the oven. Place lamb, either a large cut or smaller cuts in a roasting dish. Poke a 1cm squared hole in the meat with a small knife and put a sprig of rosemary and a quarter or half of a peeled clove of garlic in the hole. Poke similar holes about an inch apart all over the lamb and repeat. Or if you accidentally have smaller pieces, 1-2 holes in each piece. Drizzle with oil and sprinkle with salt. Place in the oven, in the tray above the vegetables. Cook the lamb for 40 minutes to an hour, depending on how well cooked you like your meat and how much/what size it is. Usually, if the juices run clear when you poke a hole in the meat and push down on it with your knife it will be well cooked. With red meat, a little bit undercooked will be fine.As for the vegetables, after about 25minutes, turn the vegetables over to ensure they cook evenly.

Take the lamb out (it will continue to cook a little as it slowly cools) and turn the oven up to 250 degrees. After a further 10 minutes turn the vegetables again. Continue to cook (and turn) until they are golden brown and crispy on the outside. Take the vegetables out and allow to cool. They should be ready between 15 minutes and 30 minutes after the meat is done, depending on how fast your oven heats up. This part requires a little bit of attention to ensure they cook well. You may want to add a touch more oil when you check them (even while the meat is cooking) if they look to be drying out.
Rosemary is my absolute favourite herb, and in my opinion, you just can’t get enough of it so feel free to through a hellova lot of it on to both your vegetables and your meat. If you don’t have fresh rosemary, dried is just as good as fresh, or if you prefer a mixed herbs/tuscan herbs/herbs de provence style combination (however your supermarket is selling a mix with a rosemary/oregano/thyme base combination) it will be almost as good.

Normally, in my household anyway, it would be served with some green veges (either steamed or oven roasted) on the side. Delicious and a great way to make it a more balanced meal. However, when catering for the masses on a student budget, the lamb, kumara and potatoes went down a treat.

I also made some mint sauce to go with. Not the traditional wierd jelly you can buy, but a home made version which was amazing. Never buying again! Do be warned though, it may make you want to drink mohitos. To make it, get two large handfuls of fresh mint and sprinkle with about a teaspoon of sugar. Chop it up as small as you can and then place in a small bowl. Juice a lemon or lime over the mint and stir vigorously until it is all mushy and sauce like. If you have a mortor and pestle it would probably achieve the desired effect far more efficiently. Other variations would suggest using white wine vineagar, but if you don’t already have it is a bit more of an investment than a lemon or lime. If it is too tangy add more sugar to taste. Don’t make it too early – it was delicious fresh!

I made some gravy too but it was a bit of a failure. Luckily it was superfluous with the mint sauce. Best I figure out where I went wrong before posting any recipes!

For the Pavlova and lemon curd, I used the following recipes:

Beat 4 egg whites with an electric mixer until they form soft white peaks. Gradually add one cup of caster sugar whilst contnuing to beat (alternatively if you can’t find any and have a very clean coffee grinder you can grind it into caster sugar, or if that is too difficult normal sugar will still make a pavlova). Add one teaspoon of lemon juice or vineagar and two teaspoons of sifted cornflour and beat for at least 10 minutes until it is glossy. Pile the meringue on to a baking tray lined with tin foil or baking paper, shaping it in a cake shape as much as possible, and leaving a bit of a dip in the centre. Bake at 130 degrees for about one and a half hours, until the outside is crispy and a sort of off-white/cream colour. Finally, whatever you do, don’t open the door until you are ready to take it out of the oven.

Put one teaspoon of cornflour, a quarter of a cup of sugar and three quarters of a cup of milk in a saucepan over a medium heat, stirring constantly. Bring it to the boil, then pour a small amount in to a bowl with the two egg yolks and stir. Add this egg yolk mixture to the saucepan and stir constantly for a further minute. Remove from the head and add two tablespoons of lemon juice and one teaspoon of lemon rind. Allow to cool.

When the pavlova was ready I poured the lemon curd over it and added whipped cream on top. Delicious!

56. Booze Shopping Like a True Dane

Whilst in Flensburg we were taken to a ‘duty free’ store very close to the border. I question whether the duty free description was merely a slight translation error, as at no stage did anyone ask for a passport or ticket. It seemed to me to just be a cheap supermarket. No flash perfumes here!

It is, in fact, a very Danish thing to cross the border in order to stock up on booze, coke/soft drinks, chocolate, lollies, even seemingly normal groceries like meat and bread, and most importantly, more booze. The reason, of course is the exceptionally high taxes in Denmark. And their love of the drink.

It was like driving out to bulk buy at Pak n Save Petone, only on a far grander, international scale. On second thought, the difference between Denmark and Flensburg, or Copenhagen and Malmo in Sweden was far less than that between Wellington Central and The Hutt Valley…

I wondered if the fuel costs would really be worth it, especially for people coming from Aarhus, where the trip takes two and a half hours each way. In another round of my favourite game show – ‘Ask A Dane,’ I was informed that people will group together and hire a bus to save costs. This information wasn’t passed on, however, until after I saw the luggage storage underneath a bus being loaded up like tray-of-beer-Tetris. I was absolutely astonished at the lengths people were going to for their cheap beer! I couldn’t help but think ‘how on earth do you get all that home from a tour bus,’ until I discovered that it wasn’t a tour to germany, it was just extreme measures for a discount.

The bus parked next to ours, chock full of food and booooooze

The Danish/German border really was a bit of a farce. To be quite honest I had no idea if we were still in Germany or back over the border as we approached the store. My Danish cellphone had reception again and the store sold everything in DKK, but the pricing surely suggested otherwise.

As I was only there as part of a tour I only bought a few things as I still had to get home from the bus. The rest of the customers, it seems, had very different ideas! A few of us were discussing how much of a shambles the place was and wondering why they didn’t restock at night like every other supermarket instead of getting in everyone’s way. On reflection, we realised they didn’t really have a choice in the matter – when each of your customers is taking 6 slabs of Coke or beer and clearing half the shelf there really isn’t an efficient way to keep them stocked without getting in everyone’s way!

All in all an enlightening experience, even if the prices didn’t seem to be that much cheaper to merit to two hour drive and feeding frenzy in a grocery store. At least in my opinion anyway! One step closer to becoming a real Dane…

31. Bazar Vest

In part two of my supermarket shopping series, I recently discovered one of the most amazing places in Aarhus: Bazar Vest.

Bazar Vest is like an indoor middle eastern Bazar. Orginally started as a way to help foreign immigrants to Denmark integrate and find employment, Bazar vest has a range of cheap grocery stores, middle eastern and oriental cafes, imported electronics and homewares and a place to hang out.

Looks legit.

Usually, going supermarket shopping on an empty stomach is a terrible idea, but at Bazar Vest the first places you see are middle eastern and indian food stalls and neat little seating areas tucked away in corners. I had already been warned to look for stalls that had an ‘elite’ sign on them – mandatory food safety ratings that must be displayed on shop windows/counters. After wandering around numerous kebab stalls (some smelled amazing, others completely rank) I spotted a Somalian place that had amazing looking samosas on display. It wasn’t until I stepped on to the threshold that I realised something was a bit odd about the place. It was packed, but no-one was eating!

Creepy dolls with mobile phones

Everyone there looked a tad more Somalian than I (not that I’m generalising or anything) and it seemed like they were all staring. It felt like I had just opened the door to someone’s house and barged on in. It suddenly dawned on me that perhaps these food places were more like social clubs and I was committing some kind of huge social faux pas… I had noticed that everyone seemed to be in tight-knit groups at all the other stalls! The guy behind the counter, however, seemed incredibly excited that someone from another culture wanted to try his food and waved me over very enthusiastically before describing what all of the food items were. Another triumphant moment as I fooled yet another shopkeeper in to thinking I was Danish. I opted for takeaway though, as the looks I was getting from everyone around me were quite uncomfortable. Sorry I burst in on your party, guys!

Incredibly tacky musical painting

After the food stalls were some incredibly dubious looking electronic stores and some rather interesting homewares. My favourite item was a painting of a waterfall which was lit up from behind and played birdsong/waterfall noises. I cannot think of anything more irritating to have in your house!

Next were the grocer stalls full of amazing bargains and more fresh fruit and vegetables than you can shake a stick at. A fantastic range, compared to pretty much every supermarket I have been to. It was all incredibly cheap too. I stocked up on fresh chillis, coriander and ginger so I could finally make a delicious asian meal. There was also a brilliant little deli type stall were I finally found hummus. I haven’t seen hummus at any of the supermarkets!

I had heard about Bazar Vest a while ago, but it wasn’t until my first adventure home on my bike where I followed the (slightly longer) google maps route that I realised it was just around the corner. I will definitely be doing all of my fruit/vege shopping there from now on!

Before…

…after!