Eating & drinking in Lisbon

Pastel de nata.  Pastel de Belem.  Whatever name you want to call it, in Portugal this is the national treasure and really all you need to know about Portugal food.  It is the food of the Gods.  Flaky crust, warm egg custard interior with torched sugar top that oozes creamy goodness as you bite into the lusciousness.  Seriously, I am in love with a tart. I’ve already searched for where I can find it back home in Seattle and am considering how to smuggle home a few (or a backpack full) to tide me over.  Full.  On.  Obsession.

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Yes, the seafood is pretty good here too.  Thom had a grilled sea bass at the Fado place near our arbnb that was quite tasty.  BTW, Fado is seriously promoted here.  You can walk almost any curvy ancient cobblestone street here and find a Fado bar where the music starts about 9 p.m.  We ordered right before the singing started.  Big mistake-no food service while the singing is going on.  Thank goodness the singers were really loud so their soulful tunes covered the sounds of our stomachs rumbling loudly in hunger.  Finally around 10 p.m., the singing stopped and the food flooded out to the hungry patrons.  Fado was nice but since it is sung in Portugese (duh!) and I couldn’t understand the sad words, it was a one night and done for us to enjoy.

Acting on a recommendation by my cousin Eve, we went to the Anthony Boudain-approved seafood joint, Cervejaria Ramiro.  Far away from the main square and tourist area, we walked through Lisbon’s Chinatown and into the best food ever.   We thought by going “early” at 7 p.m. it would not be so busy as most people eat late here after they enjoy their afternoon siesta and go back to work for awhile.  Nope.  Even at 7 p.m. there was a line forming and the #’s were being given out to wait until you could be seated.

After a short wait though, we were directed upstairs from the main floor craziness.  The iPad with the menu was quickly discussed with the friendly wait staff that wanted us to order everything on the menu.  Having checked out the reviews, I knew to go with the garlic shrimp, garlic bread and steak sandwich for Thom.  With no choice to go with a single glass of wine, I had to order the “small” bottle.  Once again, cheap and delicious, I couldn’t finish the wine before we left.  So much wine, so little time!  Soaking up the juices with the bread, the garlic shrimp was divine.  Thom was making yummy sounds as he enjoyed the steak sandwich and stole a few of my shrimp.  Seriously, we could eat this every day and be very, very happy.  Total bill for two with wine was under 25 euros.  Thanks, Eve, for the tip!

Last night we just cooked in our teeny, tiny kitchen.  We found that every train station has a grocery so on our way back from Evora we picked up eggs, bread, etc. for a quick breakfast dinner (with wine of course!).  I still can’t understand how anyone can eat the huge slabs of salted cod you find in all groceries.  Must be an acquired taste.  The food is very inexpensive here in groceries and restaurants.

 

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Tower of salted cod at the grocery store. 

 

Coffee is not a big deal here.  Most people drink espresso in cafes.  We didn’t even have a coffee maker of any type provided in our arbnb.  We found a cheap coffee press at Flying Tiger for 8 euros that we’ll leave for the next guest.  Cheaper to do that than buy coffee out every day.  We found one Starbucks at the train station but that was it for national coffee chain stores.  Tea is not big here either though we did have a hot water kettle provided in the apartment.  Next time I’ll bring more Starbucks instant coffee to tide us over as you just never know.

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For lunches, toasties are big here, as in grilled cheese and grilled ham/cheese.  We’ve had several of these and for about 2 euros each, provide a quick and hot lunch.  Tarts and toasties-that’s seems to be my standard diet here with cheap and tasty wine to wash it all down.  The sangria is amazing with so much fruit and spices that it is a tango on your tongue.  Even the food carts get into the vino action.  We found “wine with a view” on the waterfront in Belem, cork bar and all.  A perfect way to end a day in sunny Portugal!

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Eating Challenges in India

I ate fish on a plane.  Not wise.  After spending a week in India only drinking bottled water and eating Cliff bars, I was so hungry I tempted fate and took a bite of the offered meal on my Emirates flight out of India.    After 2 bites, common sense took over and I put down the fork.  Facing 2 long flights to get to Munich from Hyderabad, I couldn’t afford to be sick so all eating airplane food had to cease.  Too risky.  But with an aching back, I did order up an OJ with a side of whiskey to loosen up my muscles.  Starving but wise I am and 5 pounds lighter too.WP_20170320_18_14_30_Pro (2)

Life on the road with a weak stomach is a challenge.  First, I have to pack enough food to last me and scads of Imodium.  Cliff bars are heavy thus the aching back from my backpack full of snacks.  Then, you have to get used to explaining to everyone inviting you to eat that you just can’t partake and try not to share too many medical details but just enough to get them to stop pushing food on you even though they are just trying to be hospitable.  Socially it’s awkward at best to tag along with those of strong stomachs as they go to the “hot” restaurants and sample the local cuisine and you can’t join in.  I have to keep explaining that it all looks delicious so as not to offend our hosts.  But, no thank you, if I eat the lamb curry and lentils, I’ll die. 

Unfortunately, one of our team members did partake and felt like dying for at least a day.  She tempted fate and lost.  Checking on her and sending up Gatorade and antacids, we all knew it could happen to any of us.  Nothing worse than being on the road and getting ill.  No one to hold your head as you puke your guts out or get the hotel doctor for a house call.  Luckily, she recovered in time to fly home.

Okay, besides Cliff bars I did happen to sample wine in every city including a nice Chateau St. Michelle Syrah in Delhi.  I certainly eyed the morning breakfast buffets at the hotels as they were over-the-top with offerings from all around the world.  Thom would have gorged himself had he accompanied me.  He likes a good buffet.   One day I did go down and got a plain waffle.  Very boring but it was hot and delicious.

The work cafeterias offered a wide variety of options daily from Indian cuisine to Subway.  Since the locals eat with their hands, there are washing stations for easy clean up.  Ice cream is a big hit too and necessary to cleanse the palate after a hot and spicy meal.  The coffee cart was interesting with delicious (I’m told) boiled sugar cane sweetened drinks served in small clay pots (biodegradable).  The barista was kind enough to just give me one of the little cups to take home as a souvenir.

Now I’m off to Germany where I will try not to gain back the 5 pounds when I grab a pretzel or two. 

Homemade Hooch. What?

Watch out world, I’m making my own liqueur now! Over the past few months,  I’ve created a cocktail cart, done my due diligence to research key cocktails (hard work but somebody had to do it) and now I’m moving on to creating delicious, nutritious and fruity hooch.  There’s no way for me to avoid my passion for politics in this crazy presidential year, so I’m going to need LOTS of alcohol so, very wisely, I thought why not make it myself?WP_20160612_15_46_26_Rich (2)

With a sale on cherries that are happily now in season and a recipe from my friend Dawn’s blog, I was ready to muddle and mix up some cherry liqueur.  Of course, pitting 6 cups of cherries is no small feat so on went the latex gloves as I ripped apart the gorgeous cherries while enjoying the beautiful Seattle day on our patio overlooking Elliott Bay.  Needing only one cinnamon stick, I choose not to buy the $10 jar of sticks at the grocery because, really, when will I need another?  I am nothing but cheap so we decided to check out Metropolitan Market’s bulk spice section and, sure enough, for only .14 cents, I got the one cinnamon stick I needed.  SCORE!  I already had the brandy and vodka on the cocktail cart, not being used regularly and, quite frankly, covered in dust.  What can I say?  My focus has been on  whiskey and trying to create the perfect Old Fashioned and I’m oh so close, so my other booze has been feeling a little bit left out.  Not any more!

After the pitting session, which my sidekick Thom chose not to participate in and rather just picked out the best cherries to taste, I was off to muddle.  Even after quite the aggressive muddling session, I was only able to produce a tiny amount of juice that went into a separate jar for a week while the smashed cherries got the cheerful duty of absorbing the brandy and vodka.  After storing in a non-sunny place with a shake here and there over the next week, the boozed-up cherry pieces will finally be reunited with the juice that will be boiled with water and sugar to create syrup.  The final leg of the journey requires the mixture to rest for another week before straining out the final product, my very own cherry liqueur.

Then, watch out, it’s drinking time!  Since I’m not much of a “shot” girl, I did a little research in my handy cocktail guide and created the “I’m with Her” cocktail to drink throughout the political season.  I will be saving the straight shots for the debates and take a shot every time Trump says, “Win bigly” or “Big, beautiful wall”.  Trust me, it will help.  Can’t hurt.

So, here’s my proposed “I’m With Her” cocktail to celebrate our first female president-to-be.  It will be a fruit-infused celebration in your mouth with enough kick to get you through the sure-to-be crazy upcoming political season.  Now that I think about it, this cherry liqueur will come in handy to house in a flask (still need to get one of these!) when I stand out in the freezing cold at the inauguration of our first female president.  Can’t wait! No, I’m not taking her victory for granted and I will do everything in my power to support her but I can’t imagine the alternative without going crazy so I’ll just be hopeful.  And drink.  A lot.

I’m With Her Cocktail

1parts homemade Cherry Liqueur

1parts vodka

4 parts orange juice (I would say “fresh squeezed” like the cocktail books like to say but let’s face it, who has that sitting around in their fridge when the need for a cocktail strikes??

Dash of lime juice or bitters-whichever you have just for variety

Prep-chill the glass.  Mix-shake the ingredients with ice vigorously enough to skip the gym.  Strain into a glass, the prettier, the better.  Garnish.  ALOT.  Fresh fruit or maraschino cherries or a sugar rim or umbrella decoration.  Just pick whatever is fun for you.  This is a celebration damn it!   Enjoy.  Cheers!

Many thanks to Dawn who shared this great recipe for cherry liqueur on her blog,  First Look, Then Cook.  Check out her great food recipes too.  She may even inspire me to cook!

Cherry Liqueur

Ingredients

  • 6 cups Bing cherries, pitted
  • 1 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup vodka
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cinnamon stick, broken

Preparation

Put the pitted cherries at the bottom of a sealable glass jar and muddle them with a wooden spoon or muddler to release some juice. Drain the juice into a separate container and set aside. Then add the brandy, vodka, and cinnamon stick to the muddled cherries. Seal and shake the jar. Let steep for one week at room temperature away from direct sun, shaking every few days.

Combine the reserved cherry juice, sugar, and water in a pan and bring to a boil, stirring frequently until sugar dissolves. Remove from heat and let cool. Once the syrup is cooled, add it to the steeping jar, seal, and shake. Then let it steep for an additional 2 to 5 days. Strain through fine-mesh sieve lined with cheesecloth into glass jar or bottle. Store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.

 

Fried Dough & Vino=Happy Saturday

Malasada French Toast..dripping with bacon infused salted toffee syrup.  Holy. Moly.  Brunch at Super Six in Columbia City was just the ticket for a rainy Seattle day sugar high.  Thom opted for the Hawaiian Loco Moco–a big ol’ bowl filled with rice, brown gravy, beef patty and topped with two fried eggs.  Or, as it should be called, the Widow Maker.  Today was an anomaly in our usually healthy diet and boy was it tasty!  The owner was giving out hot Malasada donuts on our way out.  We didn’t want to be rude so we accepted them with a smile.  Now that’s world class customer service-free donuts!

After seeking out the Green Eileen store that sells returns/seconds of the really well-made Eileen Fisher line at a huge discount (score!), we meandered down Rainier Avenue and checked out this cool neighborhood just south of Seattle.  This is where the hipsters live in more affordable digs.  On the main drag is the Columbia City Theater that we’ve been to and enjoyed the intimate concert atmosphere.  We’re so excited to see our new fav, Foy Vance, there in September.  This Irish lad will, I predict, explode as a superstar with his new album and tour.  Ed Sheeran just signed him as his first artist on his new label so he will have good direction.  Who doesn’t love that adorable ginger Ed?

But, back to our wonderful day exploring south Seattle in the Sexy Beast, top up unfortunately due to rain/cold.  Still, we enjoyed the ride very much in our cozy BMW cockpit.  After the yummy brunch, we slid on over to the edge of Boeing Field where Charles Smith of Walla Walla winery fame has his new tasting room.  After sugar-laden carbs, bring on the vino!   Jet City was packed with wine affectionados tasting and communing.  I chose the $10 tasting flight of 8 wines that are more modestly priced ($70 and under per bottle) vs. the $20 tasting flight of more expensive wines.  I have a hard time recognizing the value of a $70+ bottle of wine over a $20 bottle-all wine is good to me (even two buck chuck from Trader Joes) so my palate must not be too discerning.

Now, I’ve been happily drinking their Boom Boom syrah for years so it felt good to branch out and sample some other Charles Smith originals.  Thom, my designated driver, made fun of the interesting ad copy extolling the virtues of each wine on the tasting sheet including somewhat dubious details of the soil that created these wines including the usual fruits but also:  pipe tobacco, fresh bread, lemon curd, crushed granite, and dried hanging meat    Yeah.  Right. Who cares though because by the end of the 8 tastes, I was ready to buy a few bottles for home consumption and head on home to take a nap.  Ahhh….Saturdays are wonderful!

 

Walking ALL over Vancouver, BC

Now, I’ve been to Vancouver many times but mostly for business reasons.  BORING!  This past weekend, I got to go for fun with Thom and my best friend Patti and her husband Larry.  Got to hand it to Patti and Larry-they have faithfully visited us everywhere from NYC to China to Seattle.  So now it was time to add Canada to our list!  After enjoying the Amtrak up to Vancouver, we had a blast, though I did walk too fast and too far for my friends.  Sorry Patti!!!  I actually got up early Saturday to walk 3 miles by myself around the waterfront (sunrise!) and burn off some energy so I would walk slower the rest of the day.  I don’t realize how fast I walk because Thom is just as bad until I get around folks who don’t get a chance to walk as much as I do.  Let’s face it, most people drive everywhere they need to go especially if they live in the country.  I’m an urban chick and my idea of a good day is being able to walk 10 miles.  Crazy!!!

Enjoying the free garden in Chinatown

Enjoying the free garden in Chinatown

Gorgeous Vancouver waterfront!

Gorgeous Vancouver waterfront!

Now, I have never dug into the history of Vancouver but now I can say with authority that this is a city built-in a very similar manner as Seattle and San Francisco-natural resources and a wild, wild west attitude.  After seeing great reviews on TripAdvisor, I signed us up for two free walking tours-one each day-for Gastown and Chinatown.  Now, you may say that you get what you pay for so why go on a free tour???  I thought the same but so glad we went because Ali and Leni, our guides, were both enthusiastic and knew their stuff.  They entertained us with stories and a well thought out walking tour designed to make the history of Vancouver come to life.  This is their job (or at least one of them-they are not getting rich working for tips) but they ask that, if you liked the tour, you give them something for their delightful storytelling and expertise.  Check them out if you are in Vancouver:  http://www.tourguys.ca.

Patti and Larry enjoying Leni's stories on the walking tour of Gastown

Patti and Larry enjoying Leni’s stories on the walking tour of Gastown

After our Chinatown tour, we headed straight to the best rated (Yelp!) restaurant in the transitioning Chinatown area.  Now, the Chinese residents are moving out as they can afford to so this Chinatown is not a vibrant area but with it’s seafood and produce markets, it did remind me of our home in Shanghai.  I miss it so much!  Lots of raw fish, baskets of dried seafood and veggies.  So pungent smelling!

New Town Bakery feast in Chinatown

New Town Bakery feast in Chinatown

We went to the New Town Bakery and indulged in egg tarts, potstickers and yummy dishes galore.  We met a lovely lady from Perth, Australia on our tour who was in town on a grant from her city job to tour the world and study best practices in urban planning and invited her along to lunch.  Of course, now Thom is hooking her up with his contacts in NYC to help her out.  So nice to help other world travelers!

The Gastown tour ended thankfully right next to my favorite place to eat in Vancouver-the Water St. Café.  Seriously, every time I go there I eat the salmon risotto and this trip was no exception.  Patti tried it too and literally licked the plate.  So creamy, so delicious!

Water Street Café--salmon risotto so good Patti licked the plate!

Water Street Café–salmon risotto so good Patti licked the plate!

The whole Yaletown and Gastown areas are filled with restaurants and interesting shops as well as being historic.  Of course, Thom found a few vinyl stores and had to shop for his ever-expanding collection.  With a new Nordstrom’s and their local chain, Roots, everywhere, it was hard NOT to spend money.  With a good exchange rate, I wish I had brought more luggage more to carry home Canadian treasures.  Oh well, next time!  Only a few hours drive from Seattle, I’ll be back soon!

The markets in Chinatown reminded me of home in Shanghai

The markets in Chinatown reminded me of home in Shanghai

Thom found LOTS of vinyl stores in Vancouver

Thom found LOTS of vinyl stores in Vancouver

The Cocktail Quest Continues…

Ask a bartender for their appletini recipe and you will quickly find out that everyone has their very own special way to make it.  What the hell???  You’d think a simple cocktail like that would be pretty standard from place to place.  After intensive research (someone has to do it!) I got quite the list of varied ingredients and suggestions on how to make the perfect appletini.  Please let me share.

On our first stop, the Templeton diner that was recommended on Yelp as having “character” certainly did as it was in the rough section of Vancouver next to a TripleXXX peep show establishment.  Most tourists would run the opposite way if they found themselves in this type of neighborhood in a foreign country.  Not us-we embraced it and took photos!  Now, a diner known for burgers and milkshakes might not be the best place to try out appletini’s but, you betcha, we did just that.  Nothing goes better with a plate of poutine than an appletini!

Our lovely waitress shared her unique recipe—vodka, peach schnapps and apple juice.  Crazy tasty!  Paired with plates of poutine and salads/burgers plus milkshakes for the boys, we had quite the feast and laughed ourselves silly over our choice of fine dining experiences the first night in Vancouver.  We know how to have a good time-pick a shabby diner next to a peep show with a jukebox and liquor.

After our walking tour of Gastown the next day, we were starving and conveniently close by my favorite restaurant in Vancouver-the Water Street Café.  Quite the opposite atmosphere from the prior night’s diner, this café had the white table cloth vibe going on and was in a historic gorgeous building.  I had been there multiple times when in town on business and always get the same thing-salmon risotto.  So delicious but how would their appletini’s taste???

Water Street Café-Sour Puss is the key to an appletini!

Water Street Café-Sour Puss is the key to an appletini!

Another lovely waitress shared her bartender’s ingredients—vodka, apple sour puss liquor, simple syrup and a drop of lime juice.  Now, I’ve never made simple syrup but she suggested a 1/3 raw sugar to 2/3 hot water formula.  Even with the syrup, the appletini’s we were tasting were still not as sweet as the ones in Shanghai.  The quest for the perfect appletini continued later that day at our hotel because having an appletini at lunch just wasn’t enough.

Patti enjoying the appletini at Water St. Café in Gastown

Patti enjoying the appletini at Water St. Café in Gastown

The bartender at the Marriott Pinnacle was most accommodating to talk us through his appletini creation that included vodka, pineapple juice and fresh lime topped with a slice of apple.  Now, he very quietly told us that he prefers apple juice to pineapple juice but the Marriott chain forces him to use pineapple-how dare they stifle his cocktail creativity!  He also suggested we could use agave to sweeten it up if we preferred.  When I asked him why the appletinis in Shanghai were so very green instead of the light green we were seeing at his bar, he suggested that perhaps they used a tamarin syrup with agave muddled together to “green it up” a little.  I appreciated his honesty and sharing of tips.

Now, all appletinis are good (just as there is no bad wine or pie) but the quest must now continue in Seattle.  I hear that Canon on Capitol Hill was named the 6th best bar in the world.  Who knew???  I MUST check it out.  Also dying to run to the liquor store in the U.S. to see if they have Sour Puss in stock or if that is just a Canadian odd liquor….l’ll be looking for that black mean ass kitty on the bottle and then I’ll know I have the right stuff!

Finally made it to Granville Island, Vancouver, BC!

As many times as I’ve been to Vancouver, I’ve just never made time to visit Granville Island, one of the top tourist attractions here.  Yesterday, I finally made it!  After researching the water taxi situation, we made our way to Yaletown and caught the water taxi, a cute little boat that holds about 10 people comfortably.  After a quick 10 minute ride across the water, we hopped off ($7.50 each round trip) and immediately immersed ourselves into the market.  WOW-what amazing fruit including a long dark purple grape thing I had never seen before.

Granville Market had lovely fruit including kinds I had never seen

Granville Market had lovely fruit including kinds I had never seen

We meandered around looking at exotic spices, breads, meats, pasta, etc.  If I lived in Vancouver, I would shop here all the time!  While there are a lot of touristy shops, we were able to get away from the main drag and enjoyed looking through the handmade broom store.  Whether you’re riding one (no, not ME, Thom!) or sweeping away the cobwebs, they make a broom for every need and they were just beautiful.

Handmade brooms for every need!

Handmade brooms for every need!

Next stop was the glassblowing shop where we enjoyed seeing the young gent blowing a colorful glass cup that unfortunately slipped off.  To say he uttered a few bad words under his breath is an understatement but he was resolute and announced to those watching, “It happens.”  DAMN that glass is expensive in the shop but when you see how long it takes to make it, you do understand the pricing.

Glassblowing to make lovely treasures

Glassblowing to make lovely treasures

After that, we were tired and needed a drink but the distillery was packed so we decided to find the diner I had seen on Yelp with it’s magnificent milkshakes and burgers.  Unfortunately, we found out that the diner was on Granville STREET not Granville Island so we took the ferry, walked awhile and finally found it in the gritty part of downtown Vancouver–right next to the TripleXXX Peep show.  We only take our friends Patti and Larry to the best places!  Actually, the Templeton diner had good food and we were able to introduce Larry to poutine.  YUM!  Of course, when Larry thought we said another word similar to poutine, we almost spit out our drinks.  Correcting him and cautioning him to NOT use that word again in public, we proceeded to enjoy those fries covered in white cheese and thick rich gravy along with our eclectic mix of salads, hamburgers, coconut chicken strips with chili sauce, and Portobello mushroom sandwich plus, of course, candy appletinis for Patti and I and milkshakes for the boys.  WP_20151002_18_15_39_Pro

Interestingly, they make their appletinis with vodka, peach schnapps and apple juice and they were delicious, served to us in wine glasses because all their martini glasses were broken.  Enjoying the jukebox and good company, we had an excellent first day in Vancouver!  Today we are taking a walking tour of Gastown and tomorrow we will explore Chinatown.  Looking forward to a relaxing foot massage if we can find a place!

Eating in Amsterdam

I am probably not the best authority to write about the cuisine in Amsterdam but I will give it a shot.  Thom and I have very simple tastes and are very happy eating a picnic on the train and don’t frequent fine dining establishments.  Foodies we are not!  As I think back on the best food I ate on our trip, the cheese with basil and dried tomato stands out as does the hot, buttery sugary poffertjes  and waffles from the markets.  Yum! I do like my dairy and sweets.

Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!

Poffertjes-little pancakes with butter and sugar!

That being said, if you have finer taste buds (and most do) there is a wide variety of restaurants for everyone’s taste in all the places we visited.  As always, ask your concierge at the hotel for recommendations on their favorites.  Here are some other observations:

Coffee–Screaming Bean (in several locations) delivers the best cappuccino in Amsterdam and maybe the world.  Thick and creamy foam tops a rich smooth coffee underneath.  Super friendly folks serving in a quaint coffee shop make it a must try when you are here.  Many thanks to my friend, Kurt, for recommending to us.

Screaming Bean cappuccino... so rich and delicious!

Screaming Bean cappuccino… so rich and delicious!

Grocery–There aren’t many groceries and practically no competition in the city but Albert Haijn does have whatever you need for a first-rate picnic for the park or train or hotel room.  Also a good place to buy chocolate for the perfect souvenir to take home.  We got some awesome salads to go one night for a quick, cheap diner (under $10 euros for 2 people).   I also saw some Aldi Food markets but didn’t go in to check them out.  I also found a smaller Mqkt chain that had a cheese to die for–basil and dried tomato–that pared well with salami and pears and raisin bread.  Perfect picnic!

We didn’t eat out many times but did stop at one German restaurant that promised authentic cuisine.  Thom proceeded to have weinerschneitzel and fries.  Initially, he said he didn’t want ketchup or mayo but decided he needed some mayo.  Now, based on the waiter’s prior attitude and the steep stairs he had to climb to get to the kitchen on the floor above, I knew this would not go over well and it didn’t.  “You said you didn’t want any!” the waiter growled at Thom.  “Yes, but I changed my mind.  Okay?”  Grudgingly, ten minutes later Thom finally got his mayo and felt compelled to eat it fearing retribution from the waiter if he did not.  Were we in Paris???

Pancakes with brandy-soaked raisins paired with red wine!

Pancakes with brandy-soaked raisins paired with red wine!

I got the brandy-soaked raisin pancake that filled a plate and paired nicely with a Merlot.  Yep-when in the Netherlands, drink with your breakfast-type food.  Every bite was enjoyed.  No butter or syrup was offered and I was afraid to ask the testy waiter.  They are tight with the butter here.  At our great breakfast at the Andaz, when you ask for toast, you get barely warm bread, no butter.  Today, I asked specifically for “crispy” bacon and got the limpest fatty slice of meat you would ever want to see.  Really????  Crispy means fry that sucker!  Same with eggs, unfortunately.  I remember also having this issue in China and having to keep asking for “hard scramble” several times to get barely done eggs.  Oh well-first world, five star hotel issues I guess.

We don’t go for fancy restaurants but we walked by many in Amsterdam including one, MoMo in the area near the museums.  Swanky!  There are many white-table cloth type places as well as many beer halls with outside seating and lounge seats and heaters for the cool nights-even blankets at some places.  You can find all types of ethnic food easily too.  Lots of Argentine steak houses along side the pancake houses.  We even found a place today, Bagels & Beans, that is a chain around town and has great bagels served with the largest pile of cream cheese that you could ever eat.

So, whatever you like to eat, you can probably find it in Amsterdam.  Happy eating!

Bruges-Medieval Mall

Bruges was always on our “must” destination list if we visited Europe.  So, at 6 a.m. yesterday after one hour of sleep (due to insomnia not partying), off we went on a four hour train ride from The Hague to Bruges.  Expecting to see a small medieval city with the iconic Bell Tower featured in the movie, In Bruges, we were shocked to turn the corner of the winding brick road into the city and find a commercial boulevard with a Zara, McDonald’s, Claire’s and all the modern stores found in the local mall.  REALLY?

Bruges-cobblestone streets, canals, churches, waffles & beer

Bruges-cobblestone streets, canals, churches, waffles & beer

Now, I’m all for retail stores, which have been my livelihood for years but there is a time and place and Bruges is not where you want to shop for $19.99 fashion at H & M.  I guess you can’t blame the locals who want to profit from all the tourism so they can make a living and there can only be so many chocolate, lace, waffle and beer shops to feed our appetites and tacky souvenir needs but still…WTF!  I don’t think the best use of a 1767 historic building is to house another Zara.

That being said, parts of Bruges were well preserved and, if you get off the main street, you can find quaint history houses from the 9th century as well as 17 churches (16 Catholic/1 Protestant) to wonder through and lovely bridges over canals for picture-taking.  The train station is conveniently located within walking distance of this town which used to be on the sea until it retreated.  Global warming may one day make it seaside again-you never know.

The highlight for Thom was walking up the 336 steep steps to the Bell Tower featured in the movie, In Bruges.  I guess someone is pushed off the top and lands SPLAT in the square below in the film.  Not my kind of movie but whatever-it was an interesting climb up teeny, tiny stairs with only a rope in certain places to cling to.  Just like the Great Wall, this is not ADA friendly and if you fall and get hurt, good luck getting back down those stairs ’cause no one is helping you down and there isn’t an elevator.  Still, the view was stunning from the top!

336 steps and you are at the top!

336 steps and you are at the top-grab the rope and pull yourself onward and upward!

The view of Bruges from the Bell Tower

The view of Bruges from the Bell Tower

I talked Thom into a horse-drawn carriage ride around town.  While he has never consented to one of these in NYC, he relented and ended up enjoying the guide’s history lesson as we galloped through the narrow streets.  You definitely could imagine days past when horses were the only mode of transportation and, when the final bell of the evening sounded from the tower, the gates to the city were closed to protect against marauders.

We were lucky to arrive on  market day in the town square.  Munching a sugar-coated waffle as my local snack (YUM!), we rested on the town square steps and wished we could take home the lovely pots of lavender offered for sale.  Gorgeous!  On the train home, we noticed fields of lavender waiting to be picked.  Though a long ride with a stop in Brussels to change trains, the 8 hours of train ride were just another part of the Bruges adventure.  Arriving home tired and ready to get a good night’s sleep, we were glad we had finally been “In Bruges”.

Thom talking to the swans that roam the canals

Thom talking to the swans that roam the canals

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The Hague-surprisingly awesome!

I gasped when I entered our room at the Hotel Des Indes.  So, we’re staying in The Hague primarily due to my desire to utilize all those wonderful hotel points I’ve accrued from my travels.  When you use points, sometimes you get an awesome room and sometimes you don’t.  Luckily, this was one of those awesome times.  With twenty foot ceilings and a canopied bed, the old world furnishings and world class service made us feel like royalty. SCORE!

Old world elegance at Hotel Des Indes

Old world elegance at Hotel Des Indes

Open since 1856, this hotel has been “the” place for politician and celebrities like U2, Prince and the Rolling Stones to stay when visiting this capital of the Netherlands which also hosts the Peace Palace, home of the International Court of Justice and the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

Classy and stylish, the Hotel Des Indes is the bomb!

Classy and stylish, the Hotel Des Indes is the bomb!

In our usual style of just wandering, we first hopped on the tram to see the North Sea to enjoy some beach time but on the way back, we jumped off to see the Peace Palace.

 

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The Peace Tree filled with words of hope from international tourists.

I’m so glad we did because the story of how it was founded in the early 1900’s with seed money from Andrew Carnegie was fascinating.  The Court was in session so we didn’t get to go in the building but we did take the audio tour on the grounds.  We even got to join with international tourists and write out our hopes for peace onto the official Peace Tree outside.  Very cool moment for our trip!

Looking forward to going to a tapas restaurant tonight after taking a wrong turn last night and missing it.  Never fear, we ended up on a rainy night just finding another place that I had read about on TripAdvisor, Garoeda, that had tasty Indonesian cuisine.  Feasting on tempura shrimp, chicken satay and rice, we’ll just go tapas tonight instead.  After enjoying the sauna room (hot Damn!) and a refreshing dip in the tiny pool which had jets so you could simulate swimming against a strong current (how cool is that??), we are ready to relax and enjoy an evening on the town in The Hague at Oker’s.  Tomorrow, we are off on the train for another adventure to…….

Enjoying café life in The Hague

Enjoying café life in The Hague

North Sea beauty!

North Sea beauty!