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Serene Beauty of Cape Cod

September 18, 2020 4 comments

The Cape Cod always was one of my favorite places to visit – I make no secret out of it. This year, it became literally the only place for us to visit to escape the maniacal joy of virtual confinement – and I have no complaints about it.

Mere three and a half hours ride and you are in the world which offers a chance to relax, unwind, and clear up your mind. Clearing up of the mind requires one to disconnect from the moment, to forget that reality exists. I can only envy people who can do this through meditation – I had a friend who would not even hear the doorbell ring once he was in his deep meditation. This is not me, unfortunately – I tried many times, but never was really able to disconnect from all the daily chatter. Thus I need the help of Mother Nature when looking for tranquility.

The three options which would work for me in that quest for tranquility would be the trees, the mountains, or the ocean.

Talking about the trees, I need a clean and open forest, full of 150 feet Eastern white pine trees – beautiful Redwoods would do the trick either. Have you had the pleasure of laying down on the thick layers of long pine needles, looking at the tall, impeccably vertical arrows touching the clouds far, far away? That is the feeling I’m talking about, but there is no place to experience it where I live.

Have you ever experienced the deafening quietness of the mountains? When the time stops, leaving you one on one with the universe, offering you an opportunity to get lost in your dearest thoughts and dreams? I have, on Mount Evans in Colorado – but this is 2,000 miles away.

That leaves us with the ocean. The closest beach is only 7 miles away from where we live, but to call that setting tranquil in any shape and form would be a huge exaggeration. The Cape, especially in the off-season, is offering unlimited amounts of tranquil bliss – just come and get it.

The Cape Cod is a narrow swath of land, extended into the Atlantic ocean – in no time you can move from one side of The Cape to another one, as the distance between the “coasts” ranges between 1 and 20 miles. We have family living in the town of Dennis, so this is where we stayed, the same as in the previous trips this year. In 3 days, we visited 5 or 6 different beaches – it appears that the town of Dennis (population under 14,000) offers a total of 20 (!) beaches on both sides of the Cape. While the beach is the beach at the end of the day, they all still have different charm – and some would even allow you to bring your car directly on the beach.

Combination of off-season (tourists are practically gone after the Labor Day weekend), warm weather, and low tide allowed us to enjoy hourlong walks with only sand and water in sight. A perfect place and time for self-reflection and pondering at life.

The only way I can share this experience with you is through the pictures, so here you have it, my friends.

A little flower intermezzo:

More of the water and sand:

This is not the beach, obviously, but beautiful morning on the backyard:

And a few words about wines, as the wine was an unquestionable part of the daily routine. The 2014 Turley White Coat was an absolute delight, offering Chardonnesque complexity and layers of acidity and fresh fruit. 2010 Diadema Rosso Toscana, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, was offering a lot more than just a pretty bottle – plums, cherries, tobacco, mouthwatering acidity – delicious, nicely mature Italian wine treat. We also enjoyed the line of Terra Noble delicious renditions of Chilean Carmenere, which I just tasted before leaving for the Cape Cod over the virtual tasting (this will be a subject of the separate post).

And here is more of the Cape Cod beauty for you:

Cape Cod – Ocean, Sunsets and Flowers

August 7, 2020 7 comments

Oh, for the love of travel… What would you give for an opportunity to get on the plane, worry-free, and fly somewhere for a week, or even for a few days? I’m sure if this is a real question, many of you would answer “anything”. For all of us feeling travel-deprived, even the thought of a trip anywhere further than our own backyard is extremely comforting. Never mind an actual opportunity to go anywhere.

One of my favorite sayings in life is “count your blessings”. And for that, I can tell you that we are very lucky. We live in close proximity to Cape Cod, which is one of my most favorite places not only in the USA but also in the world. On a normal day, it is only a 4 hours drive to most any place on The Cape as it is lovingly referred to by many New Englanders. In addition to the reasonable driving distance, we also have family living on the Cape, which greatly simplifies the logistics of such a trip. So yes, I’m acutely aware of all the blessings.

Last weekend we visited The Cape and spent 3 days walking around the beaches and neighborhoods, admiring beautiful flowers which can be considered an essential lifestyle element of the Cape living. We also caught a magnificent sunset – 10 minutes of pure bliss, an incredible spectacle of the sun setting down into the ocean, with all the unimaginable color combinations no camera can ever capture properly.

In the times when we have to travel vicariously, here is my trip report – of course, in pictures. As this is the wine blog, I have to mention the sacred subject – there was plenty of wine consumed, with some bottles being nothing short of magnificent – but this deserves a separate post.

Get ready to be inundated.

Let’s start with the ocean:

Now, flowers:

And the sunset:

Hope you enjoyed it!

 

An Open Letter To The Wine Lover Visiting Prague

May 24, 2020 Leave a comment

How often do you have regrets in your life? For how long do they last?

Not a simple question to answer, right? When you don’t listen to your wife and don’t wear a scarf on a cold and windy day, this will be a very short-living regret – I’m sure you will happily make the same mistake in a week. If you ignore a friend’s request to join him in the startup, and then 2 years later startup make a $1B exit – this is the regret you might have to live with for the rest of your life.

Once you become a passionate blogger, almost everything you see and experience becomes an opportunity for the new post, especially if the experience is a great one. You quickly start imagining that post in your head, you literally feel the happiness you would feel once the blog post is out. Then life gets the way, and 3 months later, you still remember that you wanted to write this post. 6 months, 10 months, a year – every time you start a new post, the regret of unfinished work gets to you first. Then the feeling becomes numb, and you finally forget.

I was looking for a bottle to open, and you know how it gets – not now, later, not ready, need a company – a ton of decisions to make regarding every single bottle. I finally decided on the bottle of 2013 Salabka Tes Yeux Neronet from the Czech Republic. After the very first sip, the happy smile came. Next came the crushing regret – I never wrote long thought though and thoroughly enjoyed, in the head, post about an amazing time we had at Salabka winery, top-notch dinner, and amazing wines. I was remembering about this for more than a year, and still never wrote it – and one sip of this Neronet wine brought all this back – the happy memory of our time in Prague and the regret of not fulfilling my own plans.

Most of the people would associate Prague and Czech Republic overall with beer. And those people would be right – kind of. Yes, the beer in Prague is an absolute standout. I’m not a beer guy, and yet I would happily drink beer in Prague at any occasion. But wine is a big deal there either. In the Moravia region alone there are more than 1,200 small, artisan, often moms and pops, producers. The wines there are made both from indigenous and international varieties, and the winemaking history goes back thousand years – I wrote about Czech wines in the past, you can find that post here.

In 2017, I was lucky to spend more than 2 weeks in Prague as I had two back to back events there. The city of Prague is absolutely amazing, boasting history on every corner – I shared some of my favorite highlights here. We also had a lot of amazing restaurant experiences, and some of them I shared here – but I let the brightest highlight, the visit to Salabka winery, to become a regret. And one sip of that Neronet wine forced me to say nope, not happening. Of course, it is not the same as writing about the experience while every sensation is fresh and vibrant. But I still have the pictures, so never mind the 3 years – I will still be able to share the experience with you.

Salabka is a city winery, located right in the middle of Prague, on the right bank of Vltava River. The vineyard is about 11 acres, and the winery produces about 10,000 bottles every year, with a full focus on the quality. There are only two red grapes grown at the winery – Pinot Noir and Neronet, local indigenous variety, and quite a few whites (Riesling, Müller Thurgau, Scheurebe, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay). Every bottle of wine produced at Salabka has a picture of the vineyard on the back label, also with an indication of the exact parcel where the particular grapes were growing.

Salabka is more than just a winery – they also have apartments for rent on the property, and most importantly, a restaurant that specializes in modern cuisine – including the molecular gastronomy.

Considering that our visit took place three years ago, I can’t give you a detailed account of the dishes – but I have pictures which clearly show the creative cuisine we were able to experience.

We started with the tour of the vineyards and the cellars, with a glass of delicious Chardonnay in hand, seeing bud breaks on the vines and beautiful views of the red roofs of Prague.

Then we had a tasting dinner, with all dishes paired with different wines, with foam and other molecular gastronomy elements being present almost in every dish. 2007 Salabka Le Diamant Blanc de Blancs was excellent, and I can still remember 2016 Salabka La Coquine Chardonnay with its Chablis-like gunflint and apple flavor (La Coqine Chardonnay was wine number 12 on my 2017 Top Wines list). I liked both wines so much that I even had to bring them back home, together with the red, made out of the Neronet grape.

It was that 2013 Salabka Tes Yeux Neronet wine which prompted this post. One sip of this peppery, acidic, herbs forward wine instantly brought back the memory of that trip. One sip of this wine instantly transports you to the old cellar, where wine was made, spilled, and stored for hundreds year – any oenophile can close their eyes and easily imagine themselves in such a cellar. The time and space travel machine is not invented yet, but properly made wine can easily replace it, and this Neronet certainly did.

So here it is, wine lovers. If you will be visiting Prague, remember that delicious wines are waiting for you. And if you are looking for a pleasure-filled evening, Salabka might be just the place. Cheers!

Travel Diaries: A Few Days in Finland

April 29, 2020 13 comments

Oh, the things we take for granted. Let’s take travel, for example. It was so simple, easy, and basic. Get to the airport, get on the plane, eat, sleep, and magically appear in the whole new world, thousands of miles away from home. Nevermind all the travel hassles – they are really negligible next to the pleasure the travel delivers. And then, all of a sudden, this basic fundamental is no more. All thanks to the invisible enemy which takes no hostages, the travel is a thing of the past – at least at the moment. Of course, we will travel again, but for now, it is our memories we need to rely on.

Travel for me is associated with taking pictures. Pictures, in turn, require sharing – same as with wine, which I talk about because I really enjoy it and want to share my joy with people, I like to share my pictures with everyone – I got a proof of this obsession, scroll here. I like to share the pictures in a timely manner, somewhat close to the completion of the trip – when that is not happening, I don’t feel that it is a priority anymore – unless there is a compelling reason to do it even at a later point – like, for example, the one we are living through right now, where travel is no more, at least for the near future.

I visited Finland late last September for work. I only shared one post about that trip – a summary of my wine experiences in Finland. Now I would like to inundate you with non-wine pictures of that beautiful country.

My final destination in Finland was a little town called Kuopio, which is only accessible via the local flight from Helsinki, Finland’s capital. As I never been to Helsinki before, I set up my trip to have half a day to walk around the Helsinki. I stayed in the center of Helsinki in the hotel called Klaus K, which is a part of the Design Hotels and the only Marriott property in Helsinki – if you are ever in Helsinki, I highly recommend this hotel, especially if you can score a room on one of the top floors. I went to walk around the Helsinki and despite the gloomy weather, it was fun and colorful as you will see in the pictures below:

Take a look at these happy people – it is about 40F (4C) outside

Fresh berries, some just picked in the forest

And freshly picked mushrooms

My lunch at the market

This was taken by a trusted iPhone 7 and processed by SnapSeed. Doesn’t SnapSeed make everything look so much better?

The view from the 7th floor room’s balcony at Klaus K hotel

Early next morning, I took a flight to Kuopio with my colleagues. Looking from the plane, you can clearly see that Finland is a country of lakes. According to the information on the internet, if the lake is defined as a body of water larger than 500 square meters, there are 187,888 lakes in Finland. 55,000 of the lakes are at least 200 meters wide.

On the way to Kuopio

Once we arrived in Kuopio, a small city of about 120,000 inhabitants, coffee was the first order of business. If we can say that Americans like their coffee, then we have to say that Finns simply love their coffee. Good coffee can be found anywhere:

Next, we took an hour-long hike through the woods to the observation tower – I still can vividly remember the pleasure of walking through the forest which was very similar to the one I was accustomed to growing up as a kid – which is not surprising, as I grew up only about 500 miles down south from Kuopio.

Kuopio observation tower

Once we managed to the top, we were rewarded with the beautiful views and cold, dark, ultra-refreshing beer, brewed in that same town of Kuopio.

Mestari Stout Kuopio

While Finland offers a vast array of excellent restaurants, no matter where you are, the colleagues I was traveling with had a variety of the eating restrictions, so I had to just go with the flow – hence I don’t have any amazing food scenery to report. Here are just a couple of dishes I enjoyed:

The week flew by quickly as we were busy every day with the event we were attending. To get everyone a little break, we had a trip arranged to a special place – a famous sauna on the lake, one of the most famous in Finland. I’m sure you heard about the Finnish sauna, but you need to understand how important that is to the Finns. In this country of 5.3 million people, there are approximately 2 million saunas (!)

The proper Finnish sauna is not just a hot and dry room. The proper sauna is more of a ritual – you go to the super-hot sauna, you go out, you swim in the cold lake, return, have a beer, and repeat the sauna and the lake – from 3 to 5 times. Then you go and have dinner. I don’t have any pictures of sauna for you, but I have a bunch of pictures of the forest and the lake.

On Thursday, I took a flight back to Helsinki – it was really fun to fly with the sunset:

Flying over Finland with Sunset

Flying with sunset

I stayed overnight at the Hilton at Helsinki airport, as my flight was leaving at 6 am in the morning. I had dinner at the restaurant at the Hilton airport, and while the food was tasty, this was the smallest ever amount of food I had for 50+ euro (never mind also the worst service I pretty much ever had at any restaurant):

As was flying to Helsinki with the sunset, my 6 am flight to Munich coincided with the sunrise – an absolutely surreal experience:

Flying with sunrise

Flying with sunrise

Germany clearly lacks Finnish lakes:

Well, that’s about all there is to my story – except one more thing:

My one million miles flier prize

Yes, this glass of bubbly doesn’t look like anything special, but it was given to me together with the congratulatory words for reaching 1 million miles mark with United. United gives that status only after you actually fly, not spend, a million miles with them, so this was definitely a memorable moment.

My photo report is over.

We Will Travel Again

How It Is To Be A Wine Lover in Finland

September 29, 2019 6 comments

How it is to be a wine lover in Finland? I have to honestly tell you – I have no idea.

Okay, I have a very limited idea, based on my first trip to Finland and about a week spent in Helsinki and Kuopio.

So yes, keep that in mind – as I don’t live here, my whole claim for expertise is simply a fresh eye of a passionate wine lover, who treats wines stores as toy (candy) stores – one of my indulgences when traveling solo – I can spend an unlimited amount of time in the wine store, slowly walking from the shelf to a shelf.

As I spent half a day in Helsinki, staying in the downtown area, the small-ish wine store was my first find. At first sight, I thought that the prices in Helsinki were higher than in Kuopio, but I’m not sure this is correct as alcohol sales in Finland are government-controlled. I saw beer and a few types of wine in the supermarkets, but if you want to buy wine or liquor, you have to head over to Alko, state-owned stores.

In the downtown Helsinki store, French Champagne seemed to be quite expensive – at least 1.5 times or some even double of what you would typically pay in the USA. However, Spanish, Italian, Californian, and even Australian wines were priced rather reasonably, especially taking into account the current exchange rate for euro. That ’06 Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Reserva at €37 looked like a steal to me:

Somehow, the Australian wines attracted my attention first (maybe it is my subconscious trying to compensate for the years of neglect, or maybe it is related to happily drinking Shiraz just a few weeks ago). It was not easy to make a choice – but I settled for the 2015 Jim Barry The Lodge Hill Shiraz Clare Valley. One of the reason was that Jim Barry McRae Wood is one of my most favorite Shiraz wines of all times. I like the wines from the Clare Valley, they are usually lean and focused – and 2015 was giving at least some age for it.

The wine didn’t disappoint at all. Dark fruit, blackberries and a touch of blueberry, subtle pepper note, perfectly firm texture – delicious wine all in all. And let’s not forget the view…

The next morning I flew to Kuopio, a small town up north from Helsinki. Before we talk about wine, we need to talk about a beer. We had a bit of free time on Sunday after arrival to Kuopio, and we took a nice hike to the observation tower. There, in addition to the beautiful nature views, I also found a delicious local beer. I generally prefer dark beers, such as stouts and porters, so I just pointed to the darkest bottle I saw on the display. That was a lucky strike, as Iso-Kalan Mestari Stout from Kuopio (we could see from the top the brewery buildings where it was produced) was just superb – yes, don’t forget that it is a wine drinker talking about beer – but this beer had a perfect balance of malt, dark chocolate, and coffee – had to slow myself down not to gulp it all in an instance.

As a small town (118,000 people live there), Kuopio probably serves as the best proof that Finns love the wines. The wine store which I found in the mall at the market square, was a complete standout. Just gobs and gobs of a great finds, with Champagne section, almost pushing me to ask if this house is for rent 🙂 I was happy to see Rosé, Bordeaux selection looked simply excellent, and some of the unique finds, such as Chinese Changyu looked ultra attractive too – if I would’ve stayed there for longer, that bottle wouldn’t escape my attention.

Once again, the Australian section looked mysteriously attractive. First, I saw the words “second pass” on the label of Australian Shiraz. Reading the back label confirmed that yes, it is by design similar to Valpolicella Ripasso, and that there is also a Shiraz made in Amarone style. Looking up one shelf, I was happy to see the words “Dried Grape Shiraz” – here we go, the Amarone-style Shiraz itself. Of course, I had to buy it.

The 2015 Alfredo Dried Grape Shiraz Nugan Estate South Australia was delicious from the get-go. The wine is made in Amarone style, with the grapes drying out for a few months before they are pressed into the wine. The wine opened up with a touch of the dried fruit on the nose, dense and powerful on the palate, with the dark fruit medley and again a touch of dried fruit, full-bodied and smooth, with a long playful finish. In a blind tasting, Amarone would be definitely one of my strong guessing options. While it was good on the first day, it became literally amazing on the 3rd day with the last sip of blueberries, blueberry compote, sweet oak, and long finish.

Right next to the Australian wine section in the store there were Austrian wines. The label with octopus instantly attracted my attention. The wine name was also intriguing – Beck Ink. Back label was suggesting that this is a “natural” wine – of course, this was the next wine I had to try.

2017 Beck Ink Austria (12% ABV, 80% Zweigelt, 20% St. Laurent) opened up with the punch of acidity. The first sip literally had the level of acidity which can make you cringe. There was a hint of underripe raspberries coming with it as well. As the wine was opening up, a little gaminess showed up, the acidity softened, letting more of dark berries to come into a play. The wine had a medium body and smooth, playful texture – if anything, it was really reminiscent of a very good Beaujolais Cru. While craving food, I kept adding from the bottle into the glass until I realized that it was already late – and I almost finished the bottle.

There you go, my friends. Based on what I saw, the wine is well regarded in Finland, and the wine lovers there have a very reasonable choice at very reasonable prices. Have fun peering through those pictures 🙂 Cheers!

June – What a Month, in Wines and Pictures – Part 2

July 11, 2019 7 comments

Warning – lots of pictures will be following. And you can find Part 1 post here.

My birthday celebration usually means “party”. This year we decided with my wife instead of cooking and cleaning for 2 days to spend time by ourselves and go to stay somewhere fun. We managed to pack a lot in mere 3 days.

As a collector of experiences, I’m trying to fill my Wines of 50 States map, so as we were driving to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, I decided to visit local New Hampshire winery. Fulchino Vineyard was almost on the way, so this was our first stop (the details are coming in the separate post). Then we arrived at our intended destination for the evening – Wentworth by the Sea, a magnificent property hosting the Marriott hotel.

Wentworth by the Sea

When I drove by that hotel 5–6 years ago, I still remember my admiration of a beautiful structure. It got stuck in my mind and I was waiting for an opportunity to visit – I’m glad it worked out. Beautiful building, beautiful views, beautiful property – we really enjoyed our short stay. And I will let you decide whether this place is beautiful or not take a look at a few pictures below.

While Marriott was a great property in a magnificent setting, our next stop greatly exceeded my expectations. A few months ago I resubscribed to the Yankee magazine – it is a print magazine which is squarely focused on the happenings in New England part of the US, from Connecticut to Maine. As my “bonus”, I got a tiny leaflet called “Best of New England”, where one of the places that caught my attention was Inn at Woodstock Hill in Woodstock, Connecticut, mentioned as “Best Inn for privacy”. The Inn also conveniently hosted a restaurant with raving reviews, which sounded perfect for the birthday dinner.

When we arrived at the Inn, we found out that our room was located not at the main building, but at the adjacent cottage, which has a total of three rooms, but we would be the only people to stay there. So we literally had a whole house to ourselves, with the deck and the view of the fields. In addition to the fields which looked perfectly untouched, we had a pleasure of walking around a small garden, where blueberries, black (I’m assuming) currant and gooseberries were all growing, and a small field of poppies was yet another source of great pleasure, as we don’t spend much time around those gentle flowers.

I brought with me a couple of bottles to celebrate the occasion. One of those bottles was 2015 Field Recordings Foeder Old Portero Vineyard Arroyo Grande Valley (14.9% ABV, 50% Syrah, 35% Zinfandel, 15% Mourvèvedre, aged for 12 months in 50 barrel American Oak Foeder). While I generally treat Field Recordings wines as every day delicious wines, good for any day which name ends with a “y”, some of those wines are a bit more special, as they are not produced regularly, and when produced, the quantities are minuscule. This was one of such wines, which I had for a couple of years, but then decided that birthday is a good enough occasion to have it open. This happened to be a mistake, as wine could definitely enjoy another 10 years to fully evolve, but even then, it was a delicious, fresh, acidity-forward concoction of sour cherries and blackberries, with well-defined structure and dense finish.

Our dinner didn’t disappoint either. First, the folks at the restaurant were very kind and let us bring our own wine despite having the full wine list (the corking charge was $15, which was totally fine, of course). The wine which I brought, 1998 Kirkland Ranch Merlot Napa Valley (14% ABV) was on my “to open” list for a while. I got a few of these bottles from Benchmark Wine and was really curious to see how the wine would fare, but the bottle went unopened on a few prior occasions. This time the cork was finally pulled out, and the wine delivered lots of pleasure. It started its journey to the peak but was still far from it – fresh, good acidity, a complex bouquet of roasted meat, coffee, dark fruit (cherries and plums), good balance – very enjoyable. The wine continued to evolve throughout the evening, giving me good hope for a few more bottles I have left.

The food at the Inn at Woodstock Hill (the restaurant doesn’t have its own name, and because of it you can’t find it on Yelp, but it has all information on the web) was delicious. We started with an Escargot, which was enjoyed to the last morsel, and Artichoke Bottoms, which were unique and delicious. Then I had The Wedge salad, which is one of my perennial favorites – you can get any salad off the menu complementary to your main dish, a very nice feature – and The Wedge again was delicious. My main dish was Pork Shank, which was… well, I don’t know if I should declare myself a pork shank connoisseur, but I’ve been through the Czech Republic, where pork is king – this dish was absolutely on par with the best versions I tasted in Prague. Yep, it was a delicious standout or it was standoutously delicious (yeah, I know it is not a word – but this is my blog :)), but I’m sure you got my point.

The morning with that fields view was just perfect. I couldn’t stop myself from taking more and more pictures…

We made two more stops before finally getting home. First, we discovered the Rosewood Cottage, a pink-colored summer residence of Henry and Lucy Bowen, built in 1846, also sporting beautiful garden delimited by 150+ years old shrubs. The Cottage, which now belongs to the Historic New England organization, hosted 4 of the US Presidents visiting Bowen family on various occasions. Over these years, the house was painted 13 times in various shades of pink, has many of the original wall coverings (wallpaper) called lincrusta, and stained glass windows, some of those original since the house was built. It also houses the oldest in the United States indoor bowling alley! Does it worth a special trip? Yep, it does.

 

Our last stop was at the Taylor Brooke Winery, also located in Woodstock. Compared to my previous Connecticut wineries experience, this was definitely a better one – but more about it later.

Here you go, my friends – one memorable June of 2019. How was yours? Cheers!

Travel Diaries: Two Days in New York, or Pleasures of Being a Tourist

April 24, 2019 4 comments

I live in close proximity of New York – 45 minutes by train – and I almost call it my “home town”. Each year, I get to visit the City, as it is typically called by locals (and to the best of my knowledge, “The City” primarily refers to Manhattan – New Yorkers, feel free to correct me) numerous number of times – business meetings, dinners, Broadway shows, wines tastings – you name it. But every one of those visits is purpose-driven – get in, do your thing, get out. Yes, I get to walk the streets, which I enjoy immensely and snap a few pictures, but still – the mind is set on “in and out”. “Can I sit on this bench for another ten minutes? No, because then you will miss the train. Get up and get going”.

To tell you the truth, the idea of staying in New York for a night was on my mind for a long time. Last week was a school break, for which we had no opportunity to make any plans. I looked around for a short notice vacation – flying would cost a fortune and would be mentally exhaustive (don’t get me going on my travel luck lately). Driving long distance with a rainy forecast for most of the East Coast didn’t look attractive even for a bit. And then the thought came – what about New York? My wife and our youngest daughter quickly agreed (older kids had no vacation that week anyway); we got lucky finding the room at Marriott Marquis, right in the middle of the Times Square – and with my Marriott status we even scored an upgrade, so we were definitely all set for a short New York getaway.

We decided to come over by train so we will not have to deal with the parking. After some deliberations, we decided to skip the most touristy things – city tour and the Broadway show, and just enjoy the City for what it is. Our mandatory program was short – Times Square, 9/11 Memorial, Jewish Heritage Musem and Central Park. Natural History Museum was also on the list, but with a bit of a lesser priority. With the hotel located right on the Times Square, the first requirement was easy – plus our upgraded room exceeded our expectations – we had the full view of the Times Square from the 45th floor, any second we wanted to see it – that alone made our vacation perfect.

Despite the gloomy forecast, I have to say that the weather cooperated with us very well. The view of the World Trade Center building covered in the fog was rather unique, and overall gray weather was perfectly appropriate for the solemn mood of the 9/11 memorial and even Jewish Heritage Museum. And for the next day’s walk through Central Park we even had the sun coming out instead of the expected rain, so we really can’t complain about the weather at all. By the way – we made it to the Natural History Museum, but it seems that there were a lot (way too many) dinosaur fans in New York that day – the line to get into the museum to see T.Rex exhibition was stretching over the few of the neighboring streets, so we really decided to call it a day.

The fact that we stayed overnight in New York really changed the impression and perception of this vacation. Instead of fighting the traffic and crowds to get back home after dinner, the leisurely walk back to the hotel created a feeling of a real vacation, when you immerse into the life around you and lose the feeling of time. There was no feeling of the day trip, no feeling of being close to home – it was a real vacation, just somewhere in the world, in a place where time doesn’t exist and you don’t need to care about anything. We all really loved the experience of being a tourist almost in your hometown and will be looking forward to doing this again – in New York and not.

The only way I can share this experience with you is through the pictures. As I never know when to stop, here are some many pictures for you – definitely more than a few, but I’m only trying to share some of the moments of our [short] vacation. Hope you will enjoy them as much as I did while taking them. Cheers!

Lower Manhattan – The World Trade Center and around:

Somewhere in New York:

Times Square – day, night, and around:

Central Park:

Full Force of Colors – New England Fall 2018

November 10, 2018 8 comments

Everything has its silver lining – at least this is what we, optimists, think. The “Fall Foliage” is one of the most famous attractions of New England – travel agencies offer special tours and people literally from around the world are happy to come to experience the abundance of color, which typically takes place during the month of October. Only last year (2017), the real abundance of colors never really arrived – of course, trees changed colors and leaves fell down – but it was rather a boring fall instead of a typical color festival.

The 2018 overall was one of the wettest years I remember. It rained non-stop the whole summer, and it was hot. The fall was simply a continuation of the same – we still had to run the A/C in October, and it was raining every couple of days. All the trees were still practically summer-green well into the second half of October. And then the silver lining showed up – Mother Nature magically turned on the color, and the streets and roads became anything but boring – amazing, amazing sight anywhere you look, every day bringing more colors and more joy with it.

As I had done it many times in the past (here are a few posts: 2012, 2013, 2015), I took a few pictures while walking around my neighborhood – with iPhone in your pocket, taking pictures had never been that easy – and now I want to share these beautiful New England fall colors with you. This year we visited for the first time Mark Twain’s museum (mansion) in Hartford, so I included a few pictures here as well.

Hope you will enjoy the beautiful colors as much as I do. Cheers!

For The Love of Chowder – 2018 Edition

October 30, 2018 1 comment

Blogging is all (mostly?) about traditions, isn’t it? I’m talking about topics, things or experiences we like to write about. If you blog for a while, you have a number of posts which can be called traditional, as they cover the same subject – yearly, monthly, weekly, daily? (ouch!). For sure it works this way for me – there is a number of experiences I like to talk about on the regular basis – as those experiences take place.

One of such experiences is the Chowdafest, a fall event dedicated to the humble (or not) soup, generally known as Chowder – if you want a bit of an education on what the chowder is, I can offer you the post I wrote after attending my first Chowdafest back in 2015, which provides a few details on the different types of chowders.

The 2018 event took place at around the usual time (Sunday, September 30th), at the usual place – Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, Connecticut. Even the weather was the usual – sunny, bright and not too cold. However, the summer and early fall in New England saw an incredible amount of rain, so the grounds were unusually wet and people had to be careful walking around.

As we entered, all visitors were given a ballot and a pencil, to mark down their favorites. The back side of the ballot had a map of the event, as in addition to all the competitors, there were lots of vendors (sponsors) offering other tasty treats, so one didn’t have to survive on the chowder alone. Cabot Creamery, Harney & Sons Tea, Ocean Spray, Stop & Shop, Polar Beverages, and many others were serving Mexican and Italian food, ice cream, juice, tea, coffee, sparkling water – you had a lot of fun food options beyond chowder.

 

Same as last year, there were 5 categories were participants were competing for the title of “the best” – Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, and Vegetarian. The participating restaurants this year represented states of Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.

Obviously, I’m not going to give you much of a detailed report here about all the chowders I tasted, so here are my overall impressions:

  • For the 4 years that I’m attending the event, I’m happy with the overall quality and variety. It is not boring and once I get out of the food coma at the end of the event, I’m instantly happy to think about next year’s Chowdafest.
  • The overall level of booth decorations in 2018 was less than in the previous years. Many places would just have a serving station and maybe a recipe. It takes away a bit from the “Fest[ival]” experience. Hopefully, in 2019, we can go back to more festive booth settings.
  • A few vendors run out of chowder/soup in the middle of the day. I saw one just pack up and leave, and another one saying “more soup is coming in 30 minutes” – not good for visitors, and really a bad plan for competitors – you can’t win by serving only half of the visitors.
  • I’m still puzzled how Pike’s Place from Seattle always wins the New England Clam Chowder category – I think it is a combination of service – they carry their chowder around so people don’t have to wait in line, and intimidation – they display all their trophies from the past years, and people automatically think “ahh, they must be the best with so many awards” (works the same way as multiple medal pictures on the wine bottles). To me, their chowder is not bad, but for instance, I preferred the one from 250 Market far more than Pike’s Place. Oh well, the people have spoken…
  • I’m happy that at least in one category – Vegetarian – my top choice matched the people’s choice. Truffle Mushroom Bisque from Old Post Tavern in Fairfield, CT was delicious, and it won the category.
  • I’m also happy that Drunkin Pumpkin Seafood Chowder from Our House Bistro in Winooski VT took the top spot in Creative Chowder category – their soups are always good, the presentation is excellent with lots of “self-serve” condiments, and the booth is always a pleasure to look at.
  • For the first time, I saw the competition trophies. At first, I didn’t understand the collection of the old ship memorabilia in a middle of the field – until the later when I saw the plaques and realized that those were actually the trophies.
  • Believe it or not, but in the Chowdafest 2018, my favorite soup was not really a chowder at all – it was a Curried Chicken Chowder from Hale & Hearty from Boston, MA – the only soup I gave the top 10.5 rating.

Here is the list of winners in the 5 categories we mentioned before (Classic New England Clam Chowder, Traditional Chowders (Manhattan/Rhode Island’s), Creative Chowder, Soup/Bisque, Vegetarian). For the more detailed list, which includes 2nd and 3rd place winners, please use this link.

Pike Place Chowder
Our House Bistro
Geronimo Tequila Bar & Southwest Grill
Dunville’s
Old Post Tavern

As usual, let me leave you with a copy of my ballot – just to prove that I take the Chowdafest competition very seriously 🙂

You can already mark your calendars for Sunday, October 6th, 2019 – the 12th annual Chowdafest competition.

Before we part, you might want to check out Chowdafest’s sister event – the Great Mac & Chili Challenge, taking place this Sunday, November 4th at 11 AM at the same Sherwood Island State Park in Westport, CT. The weather should be great! Cheers!

CLASSIFIED Brunch

October 15, 2018 9 comments

 

United CLASSIFIEDHow many emails do you get per day? I would safely bet that we all get at least 50 emails per day (don’t laugh too hard out there, please – of course, it is on a slow, really slow day).

The real question is – how many of those emails do you open? Speaking for myself, I delete at least 90% of all the emails after just glancing at the subject line and the source. For the rest, I would open them to read at least the first couple of lines and then decide what to do with it. Okay, bear with me, please – it all will make sense in a second.

I’m a frequent flyer with United, so of course, I get emails from them. Most of those emails are deleted right after reading the subject line (sorry, United). When I received the email from United with the subject line “Your invitation to CLASSIFIED”, the mouse pointer quickly advanced toward the “delete” symbol. However, something prompted me to open the email and read through at least a few lines.

The email was inviting me to experience the new secret (!) restaurant in the Newark airport, called CLASSIFIED. Secret restaurant? In Newark? I fly from that airport all the time, and I know of all the restaurants there, I never saw anything called “CLASSIFIED”. “It must be a scam” my thought continued as my hand was directing the pointer towards the big X. Again, something prompted me to stop and do a bit of a research on the internet – and it appeared that yes, there is a secret (semi-secret) restaurant in the Newark airport, which a number of people already visited and wrote about.

I was still puzzled as to what was the criteria for United to send me this invitation – I don’t have such a high status with them – I struggle to make to the “gold” every year, I’m not a million miles flyer, it was really a puzzle. But hey, I’m a foodie, so if you tell me “new restaurant”, “unusual experience” – you definitely got my ear.

So once you are invited, you need to make a reservation. I had to wait a bit to find a good occasion to make a reservation, as I wouldn’t want to come much earlier to the airport if I don’t have to, and if we are talking about the “experience”, I need to allow the sufficient time for a restaurant visit. The opportunity presented itself as I was connecting in Newark and had 5 hours to kill between my flights this past Saturday. I logged into United with my invitation, got to the restaurant website, and after browsing the menus, made the reservation for Saturday brunch. I got the confirmation email which stated the following:

When you arrive at the airport, please make your way to Saison, a restaurant located in Terminal C near Gate C120. After you let the host know that you’re dining at CLASSIFIED, you’ll be escorted to a private entrance and seated at your table. 

After arriving at the Newark airport on a beautiful day

Newark Airport

I did exactly as I was told, and was quickly escorted to an indiscreet section of the wall in the far back corner of the Saison restaurant, which simply happened to be a door. After a short walk in the dimly lit corridor, I entered the small dining room – the CLASSIFIED restaurant.

As I got situated at my table, my excitement started dissipating as soon as I saw the familiar iPad screens, used for food ordering everywhere throughout Terminal C. The waiter confirmed my suspicion when he asked if I know how to use those iPads, which I confirmed with the sigh. Considering that food at CLASSIFIED is priced at the level of New York’s fine dining establishments, I was expecting the real menu. Oh well, the iPad ordering it is.

Just to set your expectations right, this was the last “low-down” I experienced during the brunch.

First, the Rosé arrived – the Juliette Rosé from Provence, which was delicious, perfect acidity, slightly bigger body than a typical Provence Rosé with a touch of residual sugar – very enjoyable, and a great value at $11. It even arrived with a little extra, courtesy of the restaurant.

The next surprise was the appearance of the Amuse Bouche – a White Bean and Tomato Bisque, which was superb – good texture, nice and warming, good seasoning – really a great start.

Then my main brunch dish arrived – Salmon Eggs Benedict with Home Fried Potatoes and  the side of Chanterelle Mushrooms:

CLASSIFIED Eggs Benedict

The eggs Benedict were cooked perfectly – runny yolk, delicious hollandaise with just the right amount of acidity, generous amount of smoked salmon – one of the very best I ever had. Home fried potatoes with some fried onions were outstanding. And chanterelles… I really have no comments – simply outstanding, just the right amount of seasoning, just the right crunch, a mushroom orgasm on the plate (hope you can relate). CLASSIFIED Nice Touch

I was too full to have any dessert, but still, the little box appeared on the table, containing a set of chocolates. Yet another nice touch, which all together, one little detail after another, adds up to what we call “the experience”. A fine dining experience at the Newark airport. Thank you, United, for making flying something you can look forward to.

Note to self – sometimes, it makes sense to read the emails. Cheers!

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