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Full Force of Colors – New England Fall 2018

November 10, 2018 6 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 8 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 RosĂ© arrived – the Juliette RosĂ© from Provence, which was delicious, perfect acidity, slightly bigger body than a typical Provence RosĂ© 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!

Gardens of Singapore

February 6, 2018 16 comments

I don’t really have a “bucket list” (thinking about the etymology of the expression, it doesn’t even sound all that appealing). Instead, I have a “dream list” – places I truly want to visit and things I want to experience.

Believe it or not, but I can’t tell you how my “dream list” is formed. It is usually an article or pictures, which get stuck in the head, and then all of a sudden show up on that list. Such is the case with Singapore, and I can’t even tell you if it was any particular article or any pictures – all I know is that Singapore was definitely a dream destination for me for a long time. And then finally, the dream was realized – a business meeting brought me down to Singapore, with an open day for the sightseeing.

Singapore was definitely a place I wanted to visit – but I really didn’t know what to expect. So I’m not sure I can say that Singapore exceeded my expectations, but instead, I would have to say that I was blown away by what I saw. I felt that was living through the movie which was part beautiful science fiction, part thriller taking place in the Asian city (with all the little spots you really have to know about) – surreal is the word. No, I didn’t experience anything adverse, but the overall feeling was surreal.

Gardens by the Bay SingaporeSingapore is located 1 degree north of the equator – yes, that would definitely place it in the tropics. In turn, that also means that Singapore is really green – and it is happy to show it. On one side of the city-state, you can find Singapore Botanical Gardens, 159 years old tropical gardens, spanning 185 acres with many thousands of plants. It also hosts a National Orchid Garden with about a 1000 different orchard species. On another side of the town, you can find Gardens by the Bay, a $650 million project – 250 acres of land, hosting more than 250,000 different plants. Gardens by the Bay look nothing short of alien site landing, worthy of any science fiction movie – an absolutely stunning testament to human creativity.

This is the wine blog, yes – but I love photography, and flowers are some of my most favorite subjects. Hence let me inundate you with the beauty I was able to embrace last week. Hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. Cheers!

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay SingaporeCloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Flower Dome at Gardens by the Bay Singapore

Cloud Forest Gardens by the Bay Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

under the leaf…

National Orchid Garden Singapore National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

National Orchid Garden Singapore

 

Christmas at Newport Mansions

December 25, 2017 16 comments

New England has no shortage of beautiful places, full of history and character. One of such beautiful places is the town of Newport in Rhode Island. For as long as I live in Connecticut, Newport is always a “goto” place to visit, at least once a year. While Newport’s history generally aligned with the one of New England, with first inhabitants appearing there in early 1600, it shot up to prominence in the late 1800s, when the town became The Destination for the summer residences for all of the wealthiest families in the USA (you can read about history of Newport here).

While those summer residences were called “cottages”, they are typically known today as Newport Mansions. Just to give you a frame of reference – the biggest “cottage” in Newport, The Breakers, has 125K sq. ft. of total space, out of which about 62.5K sq. ft. are livable – yep, that’s one summer cottage. Each mansion is built in its own, unique style – the architecture, the features, everything was done in the unique fashion with lots of attention to the details.

We always visited Newport during spring, summer or early fall, exploring mansions, walking along the coastline and enjoying delicious fresh seafood. All along those many visits, I always saw the ads for Christmas at Newport Mansions, but somehow, the plans never worked out to go and see it – until this year.

We were planning to visit our friend in California, leaving before Chrismas and coming back shortly before the New Year. But my wife couldn’t take the time off, so we decided to split the vacation into two parts, and first spend a few days in Newport, to finally see the Christmas decorations.

Similar to the visit to Copenhagen earlier this year, the weather didn’t cooperate – almost freezing rain on the way to Newport, and then the rain for the whole Saturday. Well, that didn’t stop us from getting tons of pleasure from the stunningly beautiful mansions. We visited The Breakers, Rosecliff and Marble House – out of these three, The Breakers and Marble House were specially decorated for Christmas; Rosecliff didn’t have any special decorations but was hosting an exhibit of the works of the Pierre Cardin, which was an interesting addition to our program.

From here on, let me simply inundate you with the pictures of beautiful Christmas at the Newport Mansions. And yes, put it on your bucket list – you will not regret it.

Our Saturday morning view:

Newport, RI

The Breakers fully compensated for this:

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The Breakers

The view from the window at The Breakers, usually magnificent, was rather gloomy:

The Breakers

The Breakers

But still, the decor was there:

The Breakers

The Breakers were the home for Cornelius Vanderbilt, railroad magnate – of course a little train exhibit is the most appropriate – and fun!

The Breakers

Rosecliff – in the cake

The Breakers

The Breakers – cake version

The Breakers

The Breakers

Next, the Rosecliff:

Rosecliff

Rosecliff

Rosecliff

Rosecliff

The biggest dancing floor in all of Newport Mansions

Rosecliff

RosecliffAnd Pierre Cardin’s Exhibit:

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Pierre Cardin

Sunday morning looked a lot better:

Newport, RI

Visit to the Marble house provided a beautiful ending to the trip:

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House

Marble House, Cake edition

Marble House

That’s all I have for you, my friends. Merry Christmas!

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 gĂĄrden
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 CĂ´te-RĂ´tie

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 MĂ©al Hermitage

Le MĂ©al 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!