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How It Is To Be A Wine Lover in Finland

September 29, 2019 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 11, 2019 6 comments

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

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

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

Wentworth by the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

April 24, 2019 4 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lower Manhattan – The World Trade Center and around:

Somewhere in New York:

Times Square – day, night, and around:

Central Park:

Full Force of Colors – New England Fall 2018

November 10, 2018 8 comments

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

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

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

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

For The Love of Chowder – 2018 Edition

October 30, 2018 1 comment

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLASSIFIED Brunch

October 15, 2018 9 comments

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After arriving at the Newark airport on a beautiful day

Newark Airport

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

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

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

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

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

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

CLASSIFIED Eggs Benedict

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

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

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

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.

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