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And Winter Gracefully Arrived

December 12, 2017 13 comments

The winter arrived in Connecticut, and arrived in a very graceful way – the snow was coming down on Saturday – not too hard, just right. We probably got about 6 inches, and that snowy Saturday followed by a beautiful, sunny Sunday, with the beauty of the first snow, crisp, fresh, white. No work commute was affected, no schools closed – the very graceful arrival of the winter.

What you see here are a few pictures, from my walk around the neighborhood, all captured with the trusted iPhone. Enjoy!

Guest Post: 5 Wonderful Reasons Why Should Go a Culinary and Wine Vacation for Your Next Travel Getaway

September 7, 2017 2 comments

Today I want to offer to your attention a guest post by Lystia Putranto,  a personal & professional development blogger for BookCulinaryVacations.com. Lystia is a lover of travel, a self-professed foodie, and an amateur cook who admittedly spends way too much time surfing the web.

As the last quarter of the year is around the corner, many of us are taking advantage of this time to plan our next great adventure. If you happen to be a food and wine lover and you’re on the hunt for travel ideas, there’s no better way to indulge in your passions than by going on a culinary and wine focused vacation!

For starters, did you know that by 2015, 77% of leisure travelers can already be classified as culinary travelers? This trend has continued to rise and is predicted to rise even higher in the coming year. So, if you have yet to join in this exciting (and not to mention delectable) bandwagon, it’s about time that you do so.

As a lover of travel, food, and wine, I can personally attest that there’s much to gain and experience through this unique type of holidays. But if you’re not yet convinced, on this post, I’m sharing with you five of the many wonderful reasons why you should sign up for a culinary vacation too:

1.      You’ll Discover New & Exciting Flavors

In order to truly make the most of our travels, keep in mind that we can only grow and enrich our lives by doing something we have yet to try. So instead of setting yourself up for yet another touristy sight-seeing trip, why not try (and taste) something different for a change?

With a new destination comes plenty of delicious local eats & drinks. Through culinary holidays, you’ll get an amazing opportunity to explore a variety of new and exciting flavors through its delicacies and locally produced beverages – and yes, in many sought after destinations such as France, South Africa, Chile, and California, this certainly includes a whole lot of wine!

As you already know, food is almost always much more delicious and authentic when we enjoy it in the country or place of origin. You’d also be interested to know that some local dishes and ingredients are extremely rare and would not be easily found anywhere else in the world so this the time to take full advantage of it.

2.      You’ll Expand Your Knowledge

Looking to deepen your culinary and/or wine knowledge? During a wine vacation, for example, you won’t only be tasting the various wine that the winery produces, you’ll get to learn all about wine far beyond what you would learn in a wine tasting event such as how to harvest grapes as well as the steps of the entire wine production right up to its bottling process.

3.      You’ll Learn How to Prepare Authentic Delicacies

Image credit: Alila Manggis Bali

What makes culinary vacations stand out from the usual “run-of-the-mill” vacations or food tours is that you also get the opportunity to prepare them from scratch yourself! This way, you can learn to recreate them back home. That is the simple yet powerful beauty of a hands-on cooking experience.

As a self-professed foodie, I adore all type of cuisines – but I must admit that Thai food is amongst my top 3 favorites. So, on my last trip to Thailand, I decided to sign up for a cooking class in Bangkok to learn how to prepare authentic Thai dishes such as Tom Yum Goong and Pad Thai.

In the end, not only did I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, thanks to the warm guidance of the school’s professional instructors, I was also genuinely impressed how fun and easy it all was!

As an added bonus, some cooking vacations may include visits to the local markets where you get to purchase the ingredients for your meal or even pick your own fresh produce straight from their own farm. In this case, it’s not uncommon that everything you make is farm-to-table ready, making your holiday that much more special.

4.      You’ll Make New Friends

Image credit: Porto Club Travel Services

Whether you prefer traveling solo, with a partner or in a group, through a cooking vacation, you are bound to meet plenty of new people. This includes both locals as well as other travelers from all corners of the globe. This is your chance to cultivate a better understanding of the diverse culture and languages of the world. Who knows? Perhaps some of the people you meet on your trip may just end up becoming (new) lifelong friends!

5.      You’ll Immerse Yourself in the Local Culture

Image credit: Cris Puscas

They say that travel is the only thing that one can buy that makes us richer. I personally believe this to be true. It allows us to learn more about what our beautiful world has to offer. And there’s no better group of people that will be able to teach us a destination’s local culture than the locals themselves.

Culinary travel allows you to center your trip on cultural immersion – meeting the locals, sampling local cuisines and beverages, and indulging yourself in the local ways of life. It’s an experience that will not only tantalize your taste buds but also one that will open your eyes and mind to a whole new perspective of seeing the world.

Travel Diaries: Few Days in Malmö, Sweden

August 29, 2017 2 comments

About a month ago, I shared with you, mostly in pictures, my experience of a few hours in the Copenhagen. Copenhagen visit was a lucky detour, but the actual destination of that trip was the city in the Southern Sweden called Malmö.

Okay, I’m not going all of a sudden talk about the history of Malmö, the capital and largest city of the Swedish county of Scania – everything you want to know you can find in the Wikipedia or other sources. I was there for long and grueling week-long meetings and really didn’t have time to freely roam around – most of my sightseeing was done during the lunch breaks. Nevertheless, I have tons of pictures, thanks to a very capable camera which is now in the pockets of most of the people all the time (yes, that would be an iPhone for you, Apple-loving people) – and I have my impressions from walking the streets and interacting with people.

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

I can summarize my impressions of 5 days in Malmö in 3 simple words: “I loved it”. That’s all I need to say, really. The streets, the city views, the people, the hotel, the food – that is truly a full summary.

I know that everyone’s perception is different, and more often than not, we get lucky in our endeavors (unfortunately, we often take it for granted, but this is not the subject of this post). Yes, my impressions are based on spending time in the area adjacent to the Malmö Central train station, in the radius of 20–25 minutes walking from that train station. Is life very different in the areas which are located an hour away from the train station and city center of Malmö or elsewhere in Sweden? Quite possible, but I will let you find out.

 

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

 

Streets of Malmo

Anyone wants to play while waiting for the train?

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo Streets of Malmo

I loved the way the town is architected. The old and authentic looking houses and buildings are perfectly intermixed with the new houses and buildings. The style of the new construction is modern and clean (it is Scandinavia, after all), but the old and the new work very well together.

Bicycles are everywhere. Lots and lots of bicycles are parked along the streets, there are lots of people riding them, and an absolute majority of the sidewalks have designated “lane” for bicycles where pedestrians are not allowed.

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

HSB Turning Torso – a marvel of engineering

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

Streets of Malmo

And then people. Anyone I talked to had perfect English. Young and old, at the restaurants or on the streets, at the train station or a supermarket – people had no issues switching to a perfect English in a heart bit. I wouldn’t claim any special traveling prowess but having been to a few countries outside of the USA, I have some basis for the comparison – this experience was definitely unique and ultimately comforting (you can truly relax knowing that you will be understood if need to ask a question).

I stayed at Marriott Renaissance, and this was one of my absolutely favorite hotel experiences – very comfortable room, nicely appointed, with the temperature which can be easily adjusted – those who stay at the hotels, will understand my excitement, I’m sure; good size bathroom and everything in the working order. Nicely appointed interior throughout the hotel, and – all the service staff were a pleasure to talk to. Again, if you travel, you will understand my excitement. Excellent breakfast buffet, which appears small but has an outstanding variety of everything you need for a good breakfast (I suggest you will get it included in your room rate).

If I have a gripe with my trip, it would be food and, especially, the wine. Not the quality or quantity, no, not at all – but the price. You can’t find a bottle of wine at a restaurant which will be cheaper than $50 (most of the prices start from $60). Most of the beers will be $8+ per glass, and cheapest glass of wine (hard to find) will be around $12. When you look at the prices of the hard liquors, they look perfectly reasonable, until you understand that the prices are given for the 10 centiliters – there are about 3 centiliters in an ounce, and standard pour in the USA is 2 ounces, so what looked super-cheap at $4 or even $6, doesn’t look that attractive at $18 for the half of your typical pour. Food is also not cheap, so keeping your dinner at least around $60 with one glass of wine is not simple at all. But – pretty much everything we ate was very tasty, so I really don’t have a good reason to complain. And I have to say that if you chose to skip the full-service restaurants, there are plenty of inexpensive dining options – for instance, lots of small restaurants inside the train station, serving tasty food (this is where we had most of our lunches).

Here are the restaurants I’m happy to recommend if your travel will take you to Malmö:

Espresso House
Espresso House is a chain, similar to the US Starbucks – there are no Starbucks in Sweden. It is similar to Starbucks in the selection of the drinks, but beyond just that, also has very similar issues. Let me explain. I visited the Espresso House located on the plaza next to the Renaissance hotel. First, the barista made me wait for at least 5 minutes, just keep doing and doing something without paying any attention to my presence in front of the counter (the place is small, so yes, she saw me). Then, there was a list of various coffees available to order – from 4 or 5 different countries of origin – when I asked to explain me the differences, was quickly told to ignore the list as Brazilian coffee was the only one available anyway.
But – the ambiance of the sitting area on the second floor was very nice, and the whole place had a charm, so the service part was quickly forgotten as I was enjoying my cup of coffee and a pastry.

Hamnmästaren
Bagers plats 1
211 18 Malmö, Sweden
Ph: +46 72-865 96 68
Who would’ve thought that Malmö is a place for an American barbecue? And so it actually is! We stumbled across this little place, located close to the train station, in the old house on the Port Supervisor. The restaurant offers a good selection of beer and all the bbq “usual suspects” – pork, brisket, chicken. I ordered chili to start with and pulled chicken sandwich. Big mistake. The chili was huge in size and was mostly pulled pork with beans, generous and delicious. And when it came to the pulled chicken sandwich, I never saw more overstuffed sandwich in my life (keep trying to understand my logic of not taking any pictures; sigh) – and this was probably the very best smoked chicken I ever had too. Beware of the portion sizes – and this place is definitely worth a visit.

La Brasserie
Skomakaregatan 10
211 34 Malmö, Sweden
+46 40 12 21 00
A French style restaurant, as you can tell by the name. The reasonable selection at around $50 per bottle – my gripe is that those wines are mostly around $7 – $8 in retail (outside of Sweden, of course), but nevertheless. We had a bottle of Cotes du Rhome and a Corbieres, both from 2014 vintage and both nicely drinkable.
I asked for waitress’ recommendation for my main dish, deciding between steak tartar and a seafood soup, technically a bouillabaisse. She confidently replied: “seafood soup” (I wonder what was her criteria to suggest it).
The soup had a total of 3 mussels in it, and random pieces of fish, in somewhat heavy broth. Again, I’m not sure what was the basis for the recommendation for this dish, but I definitely found it underwhelming. Nevertheless, you might give it a try, may be seafood is not their specialty.

Bastard
Mäster Johansgatan 11
211 21 Malmö, Sweden
Ph: +46 40-12 13 18
French flair restaurant. Reservations are definitely recommended – it was almost a miracle that we got in on Wednesday, there were lots of people sent away.
Good list of beer and wine. I had nice French cider first, then a glass of house Rosé, very tasty.
The restaurant offers a tasting menu, which has to be shared by the table, which was what we took. The tasting menu is not predefined, it is basically “whatever chef feels like today”.
The charcuterie was very tasty and steak tartar was outstanding. The followed by the two salads, both were simply a standout – Panzanella salad with boquerones, and then tomato and feta salad – the tomatoes were so succulent – I don’t know when was the last time I tasted tomatoes like that. Squash pizza was unusual and tasty and our last dish, individual servings of ham with mashed potatoes and fresh peas – was delicious to the last morsel.  A very tasty experience.

Drumbar Scottish Pub & Tavern
Lilla Torg 9,
Hedmanska gården
211 34 Malmö, Sweden
+46 40 799 90
An English pub with outstanding selection of beer and scotch. I wish I realized that the word “drum” in the Drumbar relates to the actual “drum”, the whisky. The selection of drums was just spectacular – which I saw only as we were leaving. Yeah…
Had Innis & Gunn an IPA style beer on draft, but with more citrusy notes and not as biting as traditional IPA, and fish and chips for dinner (we are in the pub, right?) – may be the best I ever had – huge piece of cod, lightly fried, delicious sauce – outstanding. My colleague had pork shank which was absolutely perfect – rich, flavorful, fall-off-the-bone with crispy skin – another standout. An excellent place well worthy of anyone’s attention.

That’s all I wanted to share, with you, my friends. If your travel will take you to Malmö, I hope you will find these notes useful. If you’ve been to Malmö recently, I would be glad to compare the notes. Cheers!

Wing’s Castle – Love, Genius and Perseverance

August 9, 2017 11 comments

“I want you to marry me. And I will build you a castle”. These were the words of 23 years old Peter Wing back in 1970, when he proposed to Toni Ann, standing in a middle of an empty green field in Millbrook, New York. Peter was born and raised a farm boy, and had no idea about construction, never mind building medieval castles, but a promise is a promise.

Wing's Castle

Of course, today you can task trusted Google with getting you all the instructions for DIY castle building enthusiasts. However, in 1970 Google was not even conceived. That didn’t stop Peter – book by book, rock by rock, piece of scrap after piece of scrap, the dream was coming along. Peter and Toni didn’t have money to simply go and shop at the “all for castle builders” aisle at the local Home Depot. Instead, they got whatever pieces they could from the demolitions sites, from houses to buildings to the roads. If you look at the castle rooftops, they look perfectly authentic, similar to what I saw recently in Copenhagen – you will have to do some serious sleuthing to see that those can be old copper sinks and bathtubs – and same goes for most of the parts which together equate to a beautiful castle.

Peter had to conquer many professions to build the house of his dreams – bricklayer, carpenter, plumber, blacksmith – but the castle was growing. When we met Peter about 8 years ago, he was already famous – Wing’s Castle was featured on the Discovery channel and was well known as a unique attraction (the way the castle was built, with lots of small corridors and tight corners, it was also an ideal Halloween destination). Peter had plans for opening a Bed and Breakfast as part of the castle, which would make his and Toni’s life easier.

Last weekend we visited the Wing’s Castle again for a tour with a group of friends, which was run by Toni – we learned that Peter died in the fatal car crash about 3 years ago. The Bed and Breakfast is mostly operational now, with Charles, Peter and Toni’s son, finishing construction of the last guest suite, which will complete the Wing’s Castle – well, or not. I’m sure there will be always ideas to make the castle just a little bit better, don’t you think?

Take a look at the pictures below – look at all the little details and think about all the love and perseverance which went into this lifetime of work. This is the genius of the humankind, the never ending desire to create – forever and ever.

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

View of the valley from Wing's Castle Single Stone Picnic table at Wing's Castle

Outdoor decor at Wing's Castle

Let’s take a look inside:

And a few moer:

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Let’s go shoot some targets?

 

Wing's Castle

 

Peter Wing's Autoportret at Wing's Castle

Peter Wing, self-portrait

Wing's Castle

 

Wing's Castle

Beautiful mosaic…

The latest addition, B&B Guest Suite:

B&B Guest Suite Wing's Castle

B&B Guest Suite Door Wing's Castle

B&B Guest Suite at Wing's Castle

 

 

Wing's Castle

Find the drill bit

And now my favorite – rooftops:

Rooftops of Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Wing's Castle

Rooftops of Wing's Castle There you have it, my friends. If you are are visiting the area, Wing’s Castle well worth your attention, simply as a proof that people can achieve whatever they will set their mind to. Do you have your favorite love story to share?

When in Canada … Drink Local, and Visit LCBO

July 26, 2017 7 comments

tasting Niagara winesTruth be told, I love visiting foreign countries. Ability to do that without flying is a huge bonus. So if you live in the Northeast USA, the only foreign country one can visit without flying is Canada – and if you live in the South of the USA, you better really love driving. However, I start getting off the tangent here, so let’s get closer to what I really wanted to talk about.

I don’t know how many times I visited Canada in the past 20 years – really a lot, as it is so close. I had a lot of business meetings there, which would be typically 2-3 days in and out – those would usually involve flying. I’ve done a lot of vacations and long weekend giveaways. Here comes the strange part – with the exception of one trip, I never bought wine in Canada before (outside of restaurants and duty-free shops, where I would typically buy Scotch and not wine). And that one exception was our vacation a few years ago, when we stumbled across beautiful wine region of Niagara-on-the-Lake (more details here and here), and bought a good number of wines at the wineries – I even broke the Canadian law (unknowingly), which apparently prohibits one from moving the wines across province’s borders.

A recent meeting took me to Toronto, and of course, being a wine geek I am, and remembering great experience of a few years back, I definitely wanted to taste some local wines. If I wouldn’t be a blogger who also like to read other blogs, I’m sure I would be quite oblivious to the ways one can obtain a retail alcohol in Canada – but thanks to my wine blogging friends from Canada, like Bill @ Duff’s Wines, I knew the magic word – LCBO! Whatever the acronym stands for, I understood that this is the key word for one looking to buy a bottle of wine. While walking from the train station to the hotel, I saw the magic word written on the store – and this was the “aha moment” – I’m going to have some fun!

If you are into wine, I’m sure you will understand the “Disneyland for adults” analogy for the wine lover at a wine store – especially when it is as large, brightly lit and spacious as the LCBO store I visited. Aisles and aisles of treasures, some under the glass, but still ohh so visible and attractive – good wine store is the place wine lover has a problem leaving on their own. You really need to have a serious reason to walk out of the wine store – it is so much more appealing to look and look and look.

It was definitely interesting to look at the wine selection and the prices – but my end goal was to get a few of the local wines, which means Niagara Peninsula in this particular case, however without spending much money. I ended up with three wines – the Riesling, as I simply love Riesling, and this is the grape which folks in Canada know very well how to handle right; Pinot Noir from Inniskillin, simply because I love Inniskillin, and I had some good Canadian Pinot Noir wines before; and Cabernet Franc, simply because I love the grape, and I had very good experience with Château des Charmes in the past.

When I started writing this post, I found out that all three wines come from the different sub-appellations in Niagara. Here are my notes:

2015 Reif Estate Riesling  Niagara River VQA (12% ABV, CAD 13.95)
C: Straw pale color
N: Touch of petrol on the nose, honey notes
P: Touch of honey on the palate with cut through clean acidity. Excellent balance, very nice overall
V: 7+, very good wine

2015 Inniskillin Niagara Estate Pinot Noir Niagara Penninsula VQA (13% ABV, CAD 15.95)
There is an interesting story with this wine. I was very much looking forward to trying it. When I twisted the cup off, I didn’t hear the traditional crackling noise of breaking of the cup off the ring, and it also opened very easily. My first thought was that the someone opened the wine before, but this was very strange. I poured a little taste, tried it – didn’t like it at all. Decided that somehow wine got opened prior, and obviously it was not drinkable anymore. In two days, just before throwing out the bottle, I decided to taste it one more time – and to my amazement (and delight), the wine came around to a fresh and crisp Pinot Noir – a favorite of this tasting:
C: Garnet
N: touch of tobacco and underripe cherries
P: fresh herbs, tart cherries, touch of smoke, good structure, crisp, medium finish
V: 8-, very enjoyable

2015 Château des Charmes Cabernet Franc Niagara-on-the-Lake VQA (13% ABV, CAD 15.95)
C: Dark garnet, almost black
N: Fresh berries, freshly crushed blueberries, open, inviting
P: balanced fresh blueberries on the palate – not overripe, but nicely tart, with good acidity. Tobacco showed up on the second day, still perfectly drinkable, nice wine.
V: 7+

And now, for your viewing enjoyment, here are some of the wines observed at LCBO. It was fun to see lots of high-end wines. Bordeaux selection was definitely better than the Burgundy, and France definitely trumpeted California. But anyway, here you can see it with your own eyes:

Niagara VQA wines

Niagara VQA wines

Canadian wines - cool labels

Canadian wines – cool labels

Chateau des Charmes Cabernet

Chateau des Charmes Cabernet

Alsace wines - ready for that crab

Alsace wines – ready for that crab

Canadian Rosé

Canadian Rosé

Inniskillin Merlot

Inniskillin Merlot

Canadian wines - more cool labels

Canadian wines – more cool labels

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Château Mouton-Rothschild

Château Latour

Château Latour

Château La Mission Haut-Brion

Château d'Ampuis Côte-Rôtie

Château d’Ampuis Côte-Rôtie

Château Chaval Blanc

Château Chaval Blanc

Mazis-Chambertin Burgundy

Mazis-Chambertin Burgundy

Marchesi di Barolo

Marchesi di Barolo

Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon

Lokoya Cabernet Sauvignon

Le Méal Hermitage

Le Méal Hermitage

Le Méal and La Mordorée

Le Méal and La Mordorée

Jewels of Canada - Ice Wines

Jewels of Canada – Ice Wines

Vérité La Joie

Vérité La Joie

Tahbilk and Penfolds Grange

Tahbilk and Penfolds Grange

Scotch Selection at LCBO

Scotch Selection at LCBO

High End Scotch Selection at LCBO

High End Scotch Selection at LCBO

There you have it, my friends. When traveling, drink local. And yes, when in Canada, go and visit the LCBO – just make sure you have enough time for it. Cheers!

Travel Diaries: Copenhagen in the Rain

July 20, 2017 9 comments

My business trip was taking me to Malmo in Sweden. At first, I was trying to book the flight to arrive at the Malmo airport, but tickets were coming out extremely pricey, and what is even worse, required at least two stops to come back to the USA – there were no other options available.

Obviously, when one gets stuck in today’s world, then one asks for help of … no, not audience, but the almighty Google. Within a few minutes I was able to figure out that it is much easier to fly to Copenhagen and then take a train from the Copenhagen airport to the Malmo central station, which is very easy and takes less than 30 minutes. After figuring that out with Google, I looked into the invitation letter for the meeting, and that is exactly what was recommended there (yep, a classic RTFM case). Anyway, to make the long story short, I got the tickets for the flight which was arriving into Copenhagen very early Sunday morning.

I connected at Copenhagen airport a few times before, but this was the first time I had an opportunity to actually visit the city. And a few weeks before the trip it dawned on me that I will be visiting the city I was so fascinated with while growing up as a child. You see, fairy tales were one of my most favorite books, and when it comes to the fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen is easily the classic of the classics, comparable may be only to the Grimms brothers.

Hans Andersen was living in Copenhagen for the most of his life, and so the illustrator for his books (translated, of course) which I had an opportunity to read, had chosen different Copenhagen city landmarks to be on the cover and throughout the books. The opportunity to see all the castles, spires and flags was truly exciting and brought back lots of childhood memories…

On the morning of arrival, the weather was grey, and by the time I was able to go drop my luggage at the hotel in Malmo and come back to Copenhagen, the rain started. I couldn’t give up the opportunity to connect with the childhood, so rain or not, this was my only day to walk around Copenhagen, and nothing was going to stop me. Thus what you see below is mostly bleak, but it is still looks beautiful to me…

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

I clearly remember the building below (which turns out to be the old Stock Exchange building) to be depicted on the cover of the books, so I really made a few attempts to find a good way to capture the view (not easy with an iPhone camera):

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

More of the “wet” views:

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

You know, you get tired walking for a day, with or without the rain. By accident, we found the ILLUM Rooftop, which is a large rooftop space on top of the shopping mall, hosting lots of different restaurants. We wandered into the Bar Jacobsen, which provided delicious locally brewed Jacobsen beer and some beautiful views:

 

Copenhagen in the rain

Copenhagen in the rain

And the last picture for today, processed with my favorite iPhone photo editor, SnapSeed:

Copenhagen in the rain

Wet but very, very happy – that was my state upon coming back to Malmo.

To be continued…

Travel Diaries: Few Restaurant Recommendations for Prague

June 12, 2017 1 comment

@ Pivovarský klubI recently shared my excitement after spending two weeks in Prague, one of the most beautiful cities on this planet – mostly in pictures. Today I want to share with you some of the dining experiences, just in case if you plan traveling to Prague in the near future.

First, let me give you a “thousand feet view” of Prague’s dining scene and Czech cuisine. Prague is a modern city, so as in any modern city, you will find a mix of different cuisines, and the range of dining style options, from the street food to the beer gardens to the bistro and then the world-class fine dining. Prague is a popular tourist destination so you have to expect to find lots of tourist traps, especially around any historical sites.

Talking about Czech cuisine, the best thing to have in Prague is pork. Pork dishes are done in a number of the ways – smoked pork cold cuts, roasted pork shank and anything in between – I spent quite a bit of time dining together with an international group, and pork dishes always were the most popular and generated the most of the “wow” references. Don’t get me wrong – of course, there is lots more to eat than just pork. The game is big in Prague – venison, ostrich, wild boar – you can easily find all of those on the menu, and all at the reasonable prices. Of course, there is chicken, and the fish dishes would also be worth your attention. If you like pickled vegetables, you might find yourself in heaven – everything I tasted was delicious, not overly vinegary and with an excellent crunch. In a number of restaurants I also saw special vegetarian sections on the menu, however, I don’t think vegetarian cooking is as widespread as it is in the USA.

One more quick note before we talk about the restaurants themselves. English menus are generally available, but not everywhere. In a few cases, we had to wait for someone to come and translate the menu for us. One way to avoid it is by using Google Translate app on your phone, where you can just point it to the text on the menu and get your immediate translation. Download extended dictionary as the basic one might not be enough.

Ahh, sorry, another quick general note. In Prague, you should drink local. The beer is excellent, not matter where and no matter which. Local wines, often made from Austrian and German varieties (Gruner Veltliner, Muller Thurgau, St. Lauren, Portugieser and more), are generally excellent and you should do yourself a favor and try them while in Prague, as many of those wines are simply not available outside of Czech Republic.

Now, let’s eat! Well, I meant let’s talk about the restaurants. Below are the restaurants which I’m happy to recommend – there were definitely a few I was not thrilled about, but I don’t see a point of bringing them up in this post.

Kampa Park
Na Kampe 8b, 118 00 Praha
Ph: +420 296826102
http://www.kampagroup.com/en/

Let me start with one of the best dining experiences of the trip. Kampa Park was the first fine dining establishment in Prague, opened in 1992. The location is superb, right under the Charles Bridge, so you get the great view of the bridge and the river – definitely hard to beat. Make no mistake – the restaurant can be expensive, pretty much on par with fine dining prices, let’s say in New York ($50+ pp lunch) – but of course, it will depend on what you will order.

Good wine list with a good number of local wines. Food is creative European, lots of good options. We had cream of asparagus soup which was sublime, and then the pork cheek which was super tender and flavorful. The service is top class – attentive and helpful. Overall, for a great restaurant experience and the views, I can’t recommend the restaurant high enough – I think it worth the price.

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Steak Tartare @ Kampa Park

Pork Cheeks @ Kampa Park

Terasa U Prince
Staromestské námestí 29, 110 00 Praha-1
Ph: +420 602 462 260
https://www.terasauprince.com/terrace

The restaurant is located on the roof of U Prince hotel. It is notoriously difficult to get in and suggested reservations are two weeks in advance. However, many people manage to talk their way in without any reservations, so you definitely should try your luck.

Most important part of the experience is the view. There is only 1 (one) beer available at the restaurant, and two different wines by the glass (and none of them were Czech), otherwise the drinks menu is extremely expensive. Food is decent, but not amazing. Creme Brulee is supposed to be very good. But again, the views are amazing, so it is worth suffering for one night.

Prague View from Terasa U Prince

Pivovarský Klub
Križíkova 17, Karlín, Praha 8
Ph: +420 222315777
http://www.pivovarskyklub.com

If you like beer, this place is a heaven. As you walk in, you can see the walls all covered in various types of beer. Everything on draft is excellent – I had most of what they offer and all the beers were one better than another. If you don’t want to drink Czech beer, no problems – there is a great offering of Belgium, German, UK, and others. I had 5 AM Saint by the Brewdog, something which is hard to find in the USA, and it was outstanding.

The food is mostly traditional Czech. Good soups, good pickles, cured meats, port, duck. Very reasonable prices. Good location close to the subway station. Definitely recommended.

Arrosto Ristorante
Mikuláše z Husi 1709/9, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 241 405 964
arrostoristorante.cz

Located in the close proximity to Vyšehrad which I highly recommend visiting as a tourist attraction – great place, located close to the subway station with the same name (Vyšehrad).

The restaurant is charming, especially the room in the back where the tables stand around the big tree. From the name of the restaurant, you would expect that the food will be an Italian, and it is to some degree, but definitely with the local flair. Good wine list with a number of local wines to select from. We had buffalo mozzarella with cherry tomatoes and then file of sole with pasta – all delicious.

The Bašta Brewery
Sousedský Pivovar Bašta
Táborská 389/49, 140 00 Prague
Ph: +420 602 295 403
ubansethu.cz/en

This is a true neighborhood restaurant for the locals, despite having the menu in English available (also in a close proximity to Vyšehrad). You sit down at the communal table, and beer starts flowing – fresh, tasty, simple, without any cherry or mango flavors. Then the bread arrives, and then whatever you will decide on. The menu is not large but offers many local specialties. Cold frankfurter sausage with pickled onions was excellent. Duck fat with crackles was just spectacular, home pate outstanding, luscious and tasty. Fresh crispy fries are a must when you drink beer, right? And then the smoked pork (pork belly and pork loin) was just an incredible dish in flavor, you could smell smoke before the dish was even landed on the table.

The whole price of feast was $25 for two – I’d say you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Of course it is impossible to fit Prague’s food scene into the one simple blog post – but I still hope my personal recommendations might be useful.

One more note before we part – I also ate at a number of “fast food” places – Chinese, Oriental, Pizza, Creperie – and pretty much everywhere the food was reasonably priced and tasty. However, yes – be aware of the tourist traps.

I hope your travels will take you to Prague and you will get to enjoy this beautiful city! Cheers!

Travel Diaries: Beautiful Prague

May 15, 2017 8 comments

For the first time I visited Prague in 1990 (if memory serves me right, of course). I have some scarce memories of that trip – Charles Bridge, Clock Tower, Gothic architecture and a street the food in form of the waffle with whipped cream and chocolate sauce. I always wanted to come back and experience Prague once again – and finally opportunity presented as one of my business meetings took me there.

You know how it can be dangerous to rely on the past experiences while setting the expectations? Everything changes – we change, everything around us changes as well – “you can’t enter the same river twice”. And the best moment in any experience is when you say – ahh, it is even better than I expected.

That is my feeling about the Prague. Beautiful city, all covered with the red roofs (somehow, red roofs have a magical effect on me), beautifully colorful buildings, castles and cathedrals everywhere – you derive the pleasure from anywhere you look (well, sadly, once you step a little away from the old town, you see lots of graffiti and simply start dreaming about all the pain which should be inflicted on the people who do that, but this is way outside of the subject of this post).

I’m not going to try to describe my impressions in words – instead, let me inundate you with pictures – lots and lots of pictures of the beautiful town of Prague. And when I say lots and lots, I actually mean it…

Prague Views

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Streets of Prague

Don’t think you will find vine grapes growing in New York’s Central Park, but you do in Prague!

Spring in Prague

Prague Vltava River

Prague Vltava River

Prague Views

 

Prague Views

Prague Views

Prague Views

Red Roofs of Prague

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Charles Bridge

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Streets of Prague - Trdelnik

These two peeing man (the parts of their bodies which attract the most attention are not only releasing the water, but also moving – heard quite a range of comments from the spectators:

Peeing man sculpture at Kafka Museum

Peeing man sculpture kafka Museum

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castles and Cathedrals

Prague Castle Cathedral Fragment

Prague Castles and Cathedrals (1)

The legend has it that St. John of Nepomuk was executed for refusing to give the details of queen’s confession to the king. The St. John is honored with his own statue on the Charles Bridge. The legend also has it that if you will touch two of the fragments on the bottom of the statue, you wish will b granted. However, it seems that the legend might not get it exactly right – take a look at this blog post to learn what exactly do you need to touch:

Let me leave you with the love locks at the Charles Bridge – Prague is a beautiful city which is easy to fall in love with. Cheers!

Love Locks near Charles Bridge in Prague

Pleasures of Drinking Local

May 8, 2017 2 comments

I love travel -seeing the world, different cultures, different people, different traditions, and, of course, different food and drinks. Food is given, as we all have to eat, so one way or the other we get to experience local cuisine. But then what I drink is also very important to me, with the same spirit of exploration.

I love drinking local. And, of course, when I say “drinking”, I primarily mean wine. When travel, I always make an effort to find and try local wines. Unknown and obscure? Perfect – the less I know about the wine, the more pleasure it brings. Drinking local wines doesn’t mean I have to visit the wineries. More often than not, my trips don’t include any spare time and any facilities to reach the wineries. But – in many places, and I would even say, in increasingly more places, you can still find local wine at local shops, as long as you willing to look for it.

Templarsky Sklepy St Laurent

It is, of course, the best when you are visiting places where the wine is part of the culture, like most countries in Europe (sorry, never been to Latin America or Australia, but somehow I think I would do fine there as well). If the wine is a part of the culture and tradition, it almost guarantees you authentic wine experiences – and what is very important – without breaking the bank. In the USA, for instance, the wine is still a part of the fashion and not part of the tradition, thus in USA, finding reasonably priced wines is extremely difficult, and finding locally produced and reasonably priced wines is simply a mission impossible. Wait, I didn’t mean for this post to be a rant, so let me get back on track.

This time around, my travel took me to Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. I’m sure for many (most?) of people, as soon as they will hear “Czech Republic”, the very next image of the local drink is  – of course – a beer. This makes perfect sense, as Czechs are internationally known for their beer, same as Germany or Belgium, and rightfully so. But – what most of the people don’t know is that Czechs also had been making wines almost forever – okay, starting from approximately the 2nd century – long enough? Czech wine never made it to the levels of fame of French or Italian wines – but that doesn’t decrease the pleasure of drinking Czech wines in any way.

I discovered Czech wines for myself last year, when I had delicious Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris ( you can read about it here). Thus I had no doubts that Czech wine is something I’m going to look for upon arrival.

The hotel I’m staying at is adjacent to the shopping mall, which includes a supermarket, a wine store and some other food stores, all of them selling wines. And mind you – at the prices which make you smile from ear to ear. So far I got the wines from the supermarket, and you will see the prices I paid in the descriptions of the wines, as usual.

I had an easy criterion for selecting the wines. Price – of course, but there was another important requirement  – new grapes. As you can see the grape count in the right column of my blog page, I continue my grape journey, so I’m always on the lookout for the additions to the list. Of course, it is usually not that easy – the name of the grape in the local language might sound new and unique – but once you do the research, you can easily find out that there is nothing new about that grape. For instance, take a look at Rulandské modré – sounds unique, right? Meanwhile, it is only a local name for Pinot Noir. Or Rulandské šedé – must be something indigenous, right? Nope, it is simply the Pinot Gris.

Obviously, that didn’t stop me. I found two new white grapes, and for the red, the name looked so cool (Svatovavřinecké) that  I had to get it, despite the fact that this was the local name for the St. Laurent grape – well, how often do you drink St. Laurent wines anyway?

I started with the red wine, as whites needed some chilling – and 2015 Templářské Sklepy Svatovavřinecké Morava Czech Republic (11.5% ABV, 119 Kč ~ $5, 100% St. Laurent) didn’t disappoint – light garnet color. Pleasant nose with touch of spices, sage, lavender, tobacco, hint of blueberries. Fresh fruit on the palate, tobacco, pepper, medium body, mouth-watering acidity, light, pleasant. Drinkability: 8-/8, a proof that delicious wine doesn’t have to be a fruit or tannin bomb.

Czech White wines

The whites where new, unique and different. One was made out of the grape called Muškat moravsky, which is a cross between Muscat Ottonel and Prachtraube. The other grape was called Pálava, and it was a cross between Müller Thurgau and Gewürztraminer, first selected in 1953. I’m always a bit concerned with the new white wines (many things can go wrong), but this two were simply a stand out. I guess I was simply lucky. Or may be my palate is cursed. Of well. Here are the notes for the white wines:

2015 Chateau Bzenec Muškat moravsky Morava Czech Republic (11.5% ABV, 119 Kč ~ $5)
Straw pale color. Perfumy nose, reminiscent of Gewurtztraminer but of a lesser intensity, white peaches, lemon undertones, touch of minerality. Delicious on the palate – succulent fresh whitestone fruit with practically no sweetness, ripe green apple and touch of lemon. Clean, balanced, fresh, excellent acidity. Medium-short finish, pleasure to drink. Very impressive. Drinkability: 8/8+

2015 Vinium Velké Pavlovice Pálava Pozdní Sber Morava Czech Republic (12% ABV, 239 Kč ~ $10)
Light golden color. Very pleasant nose, perfumy, touch of honey, tropical fruit (guava, pineapple), medium intensity. Delicious lip smacking palate – crisp acidity, medium to full body, wine is nicely present, mouth coating, acidity keeps lingering with tart apples underpinning, then some ripe apples showing with addition of white plums. Another excellent wine. Unique and different, perfectly enjoyable on its own, but will play very nicely with the food. Drinkability: 8/8+, outstanding.

That’s all I have for you, my friends. When travel, take risk, drink local – your reward will be new experience and lots and lots of pleasure. And if you will not like it – the experience will still be with you. Cheers!

Hudson Valley Escapades

August 25, 2016 1 comment

Clermont WineryLast week I was talking about Fero Vineyards, which was a part of our traditional August getaway in 2015. As I don’t want to wait until 2017 to tell you about our adult’s getaway 2016, let’s talk about it now.

This year we happened to go back to the upstate New York, similar to the trip we took in 2013 when we had an amazing time at the Hudson Distillery. This year, we started our weekend with the lunch at Clermont Vineyards and Winery in Clermont (Germantown), New York.

Clermont Vineyards and Winery was started in 2014 by Tony Trigo, with the vineyards planted about 6 years prior. Before we talk about the wines, we need to talk about breathtaking views you get from the tasting room and surrounding decks. Better yet, let not talk – take a look at these pictures:

View from Clermont winery deck

Vineyards at Clermon winery

View from Clermont Vineyards deckThe winery primarily focuses on a traditional New York varietals (Chardonnay, Cabernet Franc, Seyval Blanc), but as Tony explained to us, last two winters were brutal, with temperatures dropping very low, so he lost about 3/4 of the Chardonnay vines. As the result, he is adding now hybrid varietals such as Aurore and Arandell, which were created specifically to withstand upstate New York winters – particularly Arandell, selected locally at Cornell University, can successfully survive temperatures of -19ºF, which definitely comes in handy. Having Portuguese roots, Claremont Vineyards also imports few of the Portuguese wines we had an opportunity to taste.

Unfortunately, a number of wines at Claremont Vineyards were sold out, so here are the notes for what we were able to try (just for your information, tasting of 5 wines costs $5 per person):

2015 Grambeira White Douro DOC Portugal (blend of Códega do Larinho; Rabigato and Viosinho) – nice, simple, clean, good body and good acidity
2015 Clermont Vineyards Chardonnay Columbia County New York – excellent, good fruit, bright, hint of sweetness
2014 Clermont Vineyards Aurore Columbia County New York – nice, clean, touch of sweetness – a new grape for me!
2014 Clermont Vineyards Arandell Columbia County New York  – Nice touch of sweetness, unusual, strong herbal component. This wine can be polarising, like Norton. The grape itself is selected to sustain cold winters and is also disease resistant – and this is another new grape for the collection
2011 Grambeira Red Douro DOC Portugal (blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz, 11 months in oak, 8 months in the bottle) – outstanding, Great density, dark, brooding core of spices.

Grape Leaf with water drops

Grapes in progressAll in all, very nice place with priceless views, so it would worth even a special trip if you’d like. We also had a long and relaxing 2 hours lunch at a big communal table which Tony graciously set up for us (we brought food with us) – if you plan a group outing, Clermont Winery is a great place for it, but make sure to call ahead.

Our next stop was Tousey Winery, about two miles down the road from Clermont Vineyards. We visited the winery back in 2013 and liked many of their wines, so we were definitely excited at the opportunity to taste their new releases. This is where things took a bittersweet turn. We showed up as a large group (16 people), and 8 of us wanted to taste the wines. We were nicely accommodated on the outside porch and were told that the tasting would cost us $5 per person, and we are allowed to taste any 5 wines from the list. The owner was doing the tasting for us, and yes, we asked quite a few questions (which I truly hope should be expected – the conversation with the customers is an integral part of the wine tasting, don’t you think?); I had a feeling that our questions were perceived as annoying (as the owner was not a winemaker – her husband makes wines – some of the questions were probably a bit challenging). One person from our group wanted to taste a few more wines, for which she grudgingly agreed. When the time came to pay, all of a sudden we were told that the tasting was $15 and not $5 anymore, with the reason that we were a group and she had to pour us more than 5 wines (to one person, 3 extra tastings!!). This is not the issue with $15 versus $5, the problem is simply that you can’t treat people like that. When we tried to argue about it, the response was very irritated – as we were all in the vacation mood, nobody wanted to fight over an extra $10, it was easier to pay and just leave.

What the winery owner doesn’t understand that the winery’s tasting room is a hospitality business, and you have to respect your customers – or face the consequences. It is a pity – Tousey makes delicious Chardonnay, very clean, mineral and crisp, Chablis-style; their Pinot Noir is outstanding as well – restrained, smokey, well balanced – but no wines worth the abuse you have to subject yourself to for the pleasure of trying those wines. We will not be back…

Last stop before we went to our Inn was at Hudson Valley Distillers – and what a pleasure it is to talk to the nice and friendly people (see, we humans need so little to be happy). I like how this distillery is describing itself –  “formed by two families sharing a dream“. I like whiskey, thus first thing I wanted to try was their Chancellor’s Imperial Whiskey. I was a bit disappointed to learn that it was produced not from the crushed and fermented barley, but rather by distilling the beer. But the proof is in the pudding, right? Err, the glass, of course.

I like the clever presentation of that malt whiskey, where you get an opportunity to taste the product before and after. To do that, you get a taste of both beer – which is locally produced nearby – and the final malt whiskey, which was excellent – nice touch of sweetness, herbs, soft and round. The Hudson Valley Distillers also produces gin (very tasty), vodka from apples, and plans to start producing their whiskey directly from the malted barley. We also tasted a few of the cocktails which were super delicious and refreshing on a hot summer day. Add here live music (which was, of course, playing right there), and you have a recipe for a perfect summer weekend.

Our next stop was the Inn, and then the dinner – another post is to follow. Cheers!