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Posts Tagged ‘travel’

Serene Beauty of Cape Cod

September 18, 2020 8 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little flower intermezzo:

More of the water and sand:

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

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

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

Cape Cod – Ocean, Sunsets and Flowers

August 7, 2020 7 comments

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

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

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

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

Get ready to be inundated.

Let’s start with the ocean:

Now, flowers:

And the sunset:

Hope you enjoyed it!

 

Travel Diaries: A Few Days in Finland

April 29, 2020 13 comments

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

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

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

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

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

Fresh berries, some just picked in the forest

And freshly picked mushrooms

My lunch at the market

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

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

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

On the way to Kuopio

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

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

Kuopio observation tower

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

Mestari Stout Kuopio

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

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

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

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

Flying over Finland with Sunset

Flying with sunset

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

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

Flying with sunrise

Flying with sunrise

Germany clearly lacks Finnish lakes:

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

My one million miles flier prize

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

My photo report is over.

We Will Travel Again

How It Is To Be A Wine Lover in Finland

September 29, 2019 6 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 11, 2019 7 comments

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

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

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

Wentworth by the Sea

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Have a Car? Love Wine? Let’s Travel!

September 27, 2018 7 comments

In today’s world, wine advanced its standing far beyond just an alcoholic drink. Yes, we get a lot of pleasure from the glass of a good wine, but leaving that aside for a moment, just think about the source of the wine – the grapes, the vineyards, the wineries. Think about rows of vines, which are always tended to so they look immaculate, with all those perfectly positioned lines. And then think about all the slopes – vines love hills, so think about all those beautiful rows covering the sides of the hills and mountains and ascending into the fog… And how about all those winding roads, where with every turn you keep repeating “oh my, just look there! Did you see it? Did you see it?” Before the liquid in the bottle, the pleasure comes from admiring all that beauty in its simple, natural form.

Want to see and experience that beauty of the vineyards? Most likely, you will need a car. Of course, you can always hire a driver, but then you are not fully in control as to where you will stop, what you will see, and how slow (or fast) you will go. As most of us, wine lovers, have to travel to see the vineyards, a rental car is our friend. So the CarRentals put together an infographic (love infographic as a concept), presenting 8 different wine routes around the world, giving you all the details you need to enjoy your trip. You can read the detailed descriptions of those eight routes in their blog post.

So, where are you going next? Cheers!

wine Country Routes infographic

Source: CarRentals.Com

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!

Travel Diaries: Copenhagen in the Rain

July 20, 2017 10 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 2 comments

@ 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!

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