Friday, May 30, 2014

#tbt Copenhagen and Malmo, June 2000

I've long since lost any text I wrote about this trip, which was a weekend trip we took for Bryan's 25th birthday.  I think I'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

Copenhagen has one "must-see" tourist attraction.  For some reason it is this mermaid statue:

The architecture was great, lots of boats on Nyhavn, and almost everyone we saw was Bryan-sized and blonde.
We decided to visit Christiania, a former military barracks turned hippy commune turned tourist attraction.  It was like the parking lot of a Grateful Dead show, except you'd see groups of guided Asian tourists following their leader with a little flag strolling through, passing the people openly selling drugs on "Pusher Lane." Trippy place.

This trip is also special because our Favorite Accident of All Time happened here, what we lovingly refer to as The Huey Lewis Incident of 2000.  Bryan and I went to this little amusement park called Tivoli Gardens, so we could do silly things like this:

We decided to get some ice cream.  I took the safe choice with a chocolate dipped cone, but Bryan decided to get sprinkles on his.  Heads up: Sprinkles in Denmark are really black licorice!  As he was gagging and I was laughing, we spotted this sign, which I thought was so awesome that we snapped this picture.

We didn't look closely to see the date - we were just excited to see that Huey was still touring.  As we wandered off, we noticed a crowd gathering.  Hmm, something must be going on.  Let's check it out.  Then the lights dim.  Then we hear  th-thump, th-thump, th-thump.... you guessed it.  We heard the HEART of rock'n'roll, still beating.  Before we knew it Huey came bounding on stage with the same energy he probably brought in 1982.  We had unwittingly stumbled into a free Huey Lewis concert.  Of course it was great, until he just HAD to bust out his new material. BUZZkill.  A group of Danes behind us started chanting "HIP TO BE SQUARE! HIP TO BE SQUARE!"  But apparently Huey wasn't feeling all that hip or square, as he left them high and dry.  As for us, we went back to the hotel not needing a new drug at all, smiling from ear to ear about our luck.

Our last day we weren't quite sure what to do with ourselves, but we did learn that you could take a ferry boat to Malmo, Sweden.  Why not visit another country when you have the chance?  So we took a boat to Malmo, walked through the town and found ourselves a Pizza Hut (to date the second-most expensive Pizza Hut - and we can safely say this - in the world).  That was really all we had time to do, as we were flying back later that night.  But I got this little pic of the architecture and Bryan being Bryan.

And then we flew back to Ireland, where we lived happily ever after.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

#tbt August 27, 2000 Barcelona, Day 2 - Hello, Dali!

Hola again! Having the time of our lives still and celebrating eleven months together today! Last night we went to an area called Port Olimpic for dinner.  Really pretty. Tons of restaurants on the water, and all of them have tables set up outside.  We strolled along the area well lit with a lot of Christmas-type lights, looking at the fresh fish selection - I'm talking octopuses (octopi?) and all sorts of critters, many staring right back at you, eyes and all.  Then we settled on one right in the middle of the strip and had ourselves a feast!  We started off with olives and shrimps that we didn't even have to order (you can tell how often we eat at fancy places) and the traditional Catalan toast with bread rubbed on it (forgot the real term.) I guess the Spanish prepare this themselves, but being an ignorant American has its privileges, because the waiter somehow "knew" we wouldn't know how to.  Bryan ordered the "grandmother's feast."  While he was eating one of the three appetizers that were included in it, we noticed that the couple next to us were eating it between the two of them.  Needless to say my growing boy still kept his status as a member of the Clean Plate Club.  I had the "sarsuela," which is a Catalan seafood stew.  Just about every living sea creature (including lobster) in a beef-flavored broth with the hake pretending to be mashed potatoes. Then I finished off with Catalan creme, almost like creme brulee with a burnt marshmallow flavor.  This is my favorite dessert ever.  The mix of this feast and a pitcher of sangria left us too stuffed to enjoy the surrounding dance clubs, though we got a good feel for them as they opened up on to the water.  Each club had its own resident scantily clad woman dancing on the counter, though I must comment that none looked quite as good as those of us who dared to dance on the counters of Jack Astor's for Sarah's bachelorette party!

Today we got a somewhat late start as the jet lag still has us kicked, but we were out of the room by noon and made our way to the station to head to Figueres for the Dali museum (about a two-hour journey).  The museum itself is as surreal as his paintings, shaped as a rounded theater.  From the outside, right next door is his house, which is pink with his signature eggs balancing along the top and a few gold bodies spotted along.  The museum is filled with a lot of his less famous stuff, including a lot of really cool pen and ink drawings and many sculptures.  Of the more interesting art I found were some paintings that lay on a table with a silver wine bottle on it - the painting itself doesn't look like anything, but when reflected on the bottle, it takes on its intended image.  Absolutely brilliant. There were a couple of other Dali sites within a bus ride but we just didn't have time to catch them.  It gives us a reason to return to Barcelona someday!

The tapas thing came in handy as the Spanish don't seem to like to eat dinner before 10 pm, so I got some garlic mushrooms and Bry got some potatoes with garlic and oil to hold us.  Tonight we're heading toward Poble Espanyol where we'll eat dinner and then catch a flamenco dance show. Tomorrow will be a travel day as we're heading to Rome via Frankfurt.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

#tbt Hola from Barcelona - August 26, 2000

Hola, everyone! We got to Madrid last night and were there just about an hour and a half. We didn't have time for a meal, so I thought it would be a good chance to try out the tapas. As I don't speak any Spanish, I got what looked like four meatballs. Then as I sank my teeth into one, I vaguely remembered reading somewhere that bulls' testicles are served as a delicacy, at which point I decided I would no longer order something if I didn't know what it was. They didn't taste that great anyway. So we headed for the platform for our night train that left Madrid at 10 pm and was to arrive Barcelona at 7 am. In a hurried glance I saw Barcelona at platform 15. As Bryan asked "are you sure," I made some sarcastic remark about knowing how to read. When there were about four more minutes before our train departed, some woman spotted the stupid Americans with backpacks on the platform with the arriving train from Barcelona and tipped us off. We hightailed it to platform 19 and got on our train just in time. Bryan was nice enough not to say I told you so.

Our "first class" sleeper car was very small with one bench that I referred to as our "lounge" and two bunk beds. We were still pretty jetlagged from NY, so neither of us got to sleep til pretty late. Luckily they let us check in to our hotel at 8 so we caught a couple more hours of sleep before hitting the streets of Barcelona. What a beautiful day we were blessed with! It was 34 degrees Celsius, which translates to pretty darn nice Fahrenheit; sun shining all day long! We started out walking down Las Ramblas, the street with all the street performers and neat little booths and artists and flowers and just about anything you could hope to find in a city. We then strolled down to the port and took a stroll through an air conditioned centre before hopping on a bus to Parc Guell.

Parc Guell was an amazing sight/site. It is a park designed by the architect Antonio Gaudi (presumably under the influence of hallucinogenics.) It had all sorts of twists and turns and tunnels through rocks and twisted trees. The few buildings on site are tiled with colorful mosaics. If you can imagine a building as curvaceous, then you might get the picture. Then underneath a park lined with these curvaceous mosaic benches is a shaded area with large columns and a small band playing classical music. It is just so neat. I think I found my new favorite playground in the world, at least eye-candy wise. Gaudi's influence is all over the city, and the architecture of most of the buildings displays it. Some of the buildings look like they are carved out of bones. Almost every building you see has rows of windows on the front that are accompanied with intricately designed shudders and a small porch with plants. 

The best part of the trip so far is that we have way over-budgeted for the Spain part, so tonight we are going out for a nice meal on the sea, and then tomorrow we take a train to Figueres to see the Salvador Dali museum and a house that he designed. That is just a day trip, and tomorrow night we will be back in Barcelona and are hitting an 11:30 flamenco dance show. Until then...

Monday, August 8, 2011

Oslo Highlights

Viking Ship Museum:

Sculpture Park, nice version:

Sculpture Park, naughty version:

Sculpture Park, silly version:

Nilsen Hunting:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Norway in a Nutshell

Our flight from Stockholm to Bergen was a little over an hour, and we arrived late afternoon. Bergen is on the western coast of Norway. There isn't much to the seaside town, so we were able to walk most of it in a short time. Our hotel was old and historic. What it lacked in comfort it made up for in character, with dark wooden floors and patterned wallpaper. With the windows open we could hear the live music from the neighboring bar.

After checking in we hit the fish market. It seemed like a great way to try some local, fresh delicacies. Bryan and I both sampled some smoked whale - I'm pretty sure it was raw. The smoky flavor made it hard to distinguish what the meat tasted like (a smoky meat with a hint of fish is about the best I can do.) I tried some smoked salmon after that and liked it much better. Bryan ended up getting a cooked whale burger and I got some deep-fried shrimp. We both came to the conclusion that our meal had the quality and price you can expect from a restaurant aimed at tourists. What we had hoped would be our evening meal we decided was just a snack and went to a local pizza place for dinner.

The next morning we had to be up bright and early for our "Norway in a Nutshell" experience. This is a popular tour route for tourists that takes you from the west coast to east coast on a variety of different methods of transport. We had the option of doing the land version on the Bergen Railway, supposedly one of the most beautiful railways in the world, or doing a boat through the Sognefjord, Norway's longest and deepest fjord. It was a tough call but we went for the boat. It was a large boat and a smooth ride (oddly, with Bonanza reruns on a television in the boat). I expected jagged and rocky cliffs but got a mixture of rock and lush green, with cottony wisps of low-lying clouds spattered in between. We passed several towns with colorful cottages seemingly in the middle of nowhere. We eventually stopped for the night in one such town called Flam.

There wasn't really much to the town. There were three restaurants and a couple souvenir shops selling trolls and overpriced sweaters. We had a filling lunch of Norweigen meatballs and then had dinner at the brewpub, where we tasted several beers and I had a pizza with goat cheese from the neighboring town of Undredal.

This morning we got ready for the rest of our journey to Oslo. We hopped aboard the Flamsbanna, the steepest standard gauge railway in Europe at 2,831 feet. The cars are very old-fashioned, almost antique looking on the inside. The trip is only about an hour but is very picturesque, passing several waterfalls and running alongside bubbling brooks up the mountain, occasionally going through tunnels originally dug by hand. We switched to the Bergen railway in Myrdal and then eventually switched to a bus that took us through more modern looking suburbs before arriving in Oslo. It was lashing rain when we got here but we still hoofed it to the hotel with our bags, before finding a local restaurant called Nilsen Spiseri. We will probably hit a few more Nilsen restaurants/bars before we leave. Tomorrow is our last full day and we plan to take full advantage of it. More then...

Thursday, August 4, 2011

There's Norway a McDonald's Hamburger Costs that Much!

Day 5 of our Scandinavian trip, and we find ourselves incredulously looking at our currency converter saying "this can't be right." This trip is the exact opposite of our Argentinian escape a few years back where we were eating like kings and imagining how expensive the equivalent meal would be in New York. In Finland things weren't so bad. For one, they are on the Euro so just the math is easier. In Sweden we started raising our eyebrows and saying "really"? By last night in Bergen, after seeing a McDonald's sign that advertised a $15 bacon cheeseburger, we started wondering what the heck is going on. A pint of Ben & Jerry's in Stockholm was $9, and in Norway it's $12. I don't know if it's the US dollar or if things are really just expensive. It's like the whole country is the mini-bar, and there's no grocery store around the corner where you can stock up on water.

But aside from that, we have been having a lot of fun. Bryan wasn't a fan of our "cruise-ferry," and spent the whole night tossing and turning, envisioning the Poseidon Adventure. I managed not to roll out of the top bunk. We did eat the ship's buffet; as Bryan put it, "a way to knock out in one shot a whole lot of gross foods we have to try." So we set about with all the pickled fish. Hardly a satisfying meal.

We got into Stockholm and stayed at a hotel owned by one of the folks from Abba. It was a great hotel, but due to the short duration of our stay there, we didn't get to spend much time there. There was no Pizza Hut meal since we've already done a Swedish Pizza Hut in Malmo back in 2001, though we contemplated it after walking about a half-hour to a place in my guidebook that was closed down. Our nice meal out consisted of Bryan getting a fish and me trying an Elk burger. It was all right, but I don't ever have to get it again.

We ended our night at the coolest bar we've ever been to - Ice Bar, where the entire bar, including the glasses you drink out of, is made of ice. The temperature is kept at 23 degrees and you are given special coats before entering. A free drink is included, but the cold temperature keeps people coming in and out. We only stayed about a half-hour, and I'm pretty sure that's the average. Now that we've done that, I have no desire to stay at that hotel with the same concept!

I think I'm going to lay down and take a nap while I can. I will leave Bergen, Flam and the fjords to Bryan, or will write more later.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011


We arrived in Helsinki yesterday morning. We took a bus from the airport and were surrounded by white birch trees like the one in our front yard on Pine Street. Pulling into the town it seemed sterile and desolate. Apparently things don't open until noon on Sundays.

We checked into my new favorite hotel, GLO. The room was awesome and had a "sleep menu," which included different pillows, aromatherapy oils and even bedtime stories. All we ordered were a couple pillows, but we did our best not to use them until bedtime to beat the jetlag.

The weather is perfect - low 70s, low humidity - great for exploring the town on foot. The city isn't very large so we were able to see most of it. We had lunch at a local place and Bryan had filet of reindeer. I stuck with a shrimp and pasta dish. We did some shopping at Europe's largest department store, Stockmann, and went to the room to figure out a game plan. We shook hands that we would not, under any circumstances, take a nap. Bryan tried, but I caught him and decided we would go back to a little amusement park we'd passed on our way from the airport.

We hopped on the city tram and found it relatively easy to maneuver. The park was mainly a kids' park but they had two pretty cool looking grown-up rollercoasters (neither of which we rode.) We did find our treasure in an arcade that had about 8 pinball games (more than half of which we played.) We had intended to get back in town in time to have dinner at our 10th international Pizza Hut but unfortunately it closed at 8. So we found ourselves at a really great restaurant which we were most likely underdressed for. In the end, we actually managed to stay up til almost midnight and slept in until almost 10 this morning. Jetlag averted!

The only thing Finland is really known for is its saunas and its reindeer, so we figured that it was our duty to visit the hotel sauna; that, and it was included in the price! What a great way to end our stay in Helskinki. Bryan used the gym first, and I wanted no part of working out on my vacation, so I did the saunas and steam rooms. I had almost missed this awesome shower in the sauna area but luckily found it before leaving the area. I did the splash setting, then the tropical, then the side shower. It was heavenly. This was followed by a Pizza Hut lunch buffet! One of the pizzas had jalapenos and tuna, and they had some breadsticks stuffed with goat cheese and drizzled with honey that unfortunately you could only order when the buffet was going on. It was moderately priced in our vast experience of Pizza Huts abroad.

Now we are aboard the Silja Symphony on our way to Stockholm; a "cruise ferry." Unfortunately, when I booked it, I thought the price was per person, not per cabin, so I ended up booking two of the cheapest cabins. They informed us of this at check-in and offered us one cabin and half the price of the other back in "ship dollars." So now we are trying to figure out how to spend the rest on duty-free items before we return back to our bunk-bed nook below deck. Ah well... the worst experiences make the best stories! Though it's a big step down from our night at GLO, we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. We are happy for skype and that Jackson is in good hands with his Grandma Diane.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Last days in Italy

I’m back almost a week now, enjoying the westbound jet lag that affords me the luxury of going to bed early and waking up early. Mom and I had such a wonderful trip that I would be remiss to leave out our last two days.

Our last day in Scalea was a “free day,” with nothing on our itinerary. The town is a really small town, one where taxis aren’t really an option, nor is any other form of public transportation. We had seen most of the town in our week’s stay, so we took the day as a day to relax. We slept in and then took the rest of Gramma’s ashes to the beach, where mom said her goodbye. I sat on the rocks and reflected for a while as mom combed the beach for driftwood. We then went back to the hotel where I read a book on our balcony in the sun and mom made her slideshows.

We had dinner that night with our new friends Cristiano and Carmine. They took us up some mountain to another hillside town where we had a nice steak dinner. When we ordered, they suggested we get a pizza as an appetizer and then we’d get two steaks. I thought, finally, they get it, that mom and I don’t eat like Italians, and we’re just splitting the entrees. That was until we saw the steaks. They were huge porterhouse steaks meant for two people. So of course the men were left with the task of doing most of the eating, but we still had a lovely night. We said our goodbyes and hope we can play host to them when they come to NY. The next morning Giovanni, our original driver and the owner of the restaurant, drove us back to the airport, using much more restraint than our original airport trip and left us feeling a lot more comfortable. After more big hugs, we flew back to Rome for our last night in Italy.

We arrived mid-afternoon and knew we had to get to the Vatican before it closed. Unfortunately, we didn’t make it. At this point, almost 4 p.m., we hadn’t eaten since 7 a.m., we were starving. Mom made a suggestion to do the most sacrilegious thing you could ever do, and I obliged. She’d seen a sign for Burger King, and once she’d said it, I couldn’t get my mind off it. So off we went. To eat at Burger King. On a Friday in Lent. A few hundred feet from the Vatican. It actually pained me to type that and admit to it, but ya know what? Damn, it tasted good! We’d had our fill of good Italian food all week, so we got some American fuel and then headed to St. Peter’s Basillica, which was open. Mom admired the beautiful paintings and took some pictures, then we went back to our convent hotel for a much-needed nap.

Later that evening we visited my cousin Jennifer, who married an Italian and lives in Rome with him and their two sons. She took us to a great pizza place where I proceeded to eat myself into a food coma. I got gnocchi with a truffle cream sauce and split a pizza with mom. Then when I saw that they had my favorite dessert, strawberries and cream, I couldn’t resist. After the meal Jennifer gave mom a night-time ride around many of the monuments, including the Colosseum. Then we went to some spot where you could look through a keyhole and get a perfectly framed view of the dome of St. Peter’s. We then went back to their apartment where mom kept her kids up way past their bedtime and I was still feeling lethargic from the meal. We had our last night of sleep in Italy, our last morning meal of cappuccino and croissant, and flew back to NY a few pounds heavier than before.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Adventures in Eating

Being pregnant and travelling through Italy has advantages and disadvantages. The main disadvantage is missing out on a lot of great wine drinking and some raw cured meats, like prosciutto and salami. The advantage is I can eat as much as I want and not really be concerned about the calories. I also got out of eating some terrible strong licorice yesterday after finding out, per our guide, that it's not good for pregnancy (who knew?).

Tuesday we cooked our last but best meal yet. Our starter was a stuffed eggplant. The stuffing was made of ham, egg, breadcrumbs and cheese. We then finished it with a tomato sauce. We made homemade fusilli as our first course. The fusilli was a little more challenging. The pasta was rolled and cut into about two-inch slices, which you then smushed a thin rod into and rolled until it was thin. Our sauce was a tomato-based sauce with sausages and ribs and pig fat in it. The second course was a thinly pounded steak, which we rolled the leftover eggplant stuffing into (with the addition of ground beef) and cooked in a broth of onion, celery and white wine. The meal was fantastic from start to finish. Mom has commented how much the cooking reminds her of how her father used to cook.

We then took a little road trip to a town called Aieta on the top of a mountain on a very winding road. There was an old palace on top overlooking the hills. There were sheep and pig farms everywhere. We had a nice little tour guide from South Africa who had married an Italian. We then travelled to Praia, a little beach town, for the sunset.

Yesterday we were up at the crack of dawn to cross through the middle of the country to the east coast town of Ciro. We stopped along the way to visit a licorice factory and museum. The town smelled fantastic, but the fresh licorice was bitter and horrible. We stopped for lunch at an old convent and had a feast so big that we never made it to the second course. Every appetizer you can imagine was brought out to us - from meatballs to breaded mashed potatoes to spicy olives stuffed with tuna. Our first course was tortelloni filled with fresh truffles and another with mushrooms. We were too stuffed to get to the steak second course, so we decided to get back in the van. We moved on to the town of Ciro and hit a winery which covered over 250 acres. Mom even tasted a few different whites (without mixing them with Coke.) We then made our way to a castle on the beach about a half-hour from Catanzaro, where my great-grandmother was from, and I left a little bit of my gramma's ashes in the ocean. On the way back we passed through the actual town and I marvelled at the fact that it had tunnels through mountains and visually resembled parts of Pittsburgh, where, coincidentally, Gramma chose to settle. Today is our last free day in Calabria, so we will have dinner with our new friends Cristiano and Carmine before heading to Rome tomorrow. I fear for the buttons on my work pants when I get back.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Adventures in Cooking, Part II

After a day of sightseeing yesterday, today we returned to the kitchen, where things went a little smoother, though the second course was a little less appetizing. Our starter was something called sformatta (sp?), which was essentially a quiche with ham, mozzarella and parmesan. This took maybe 10 minutes at most to prepare and then cooked for 40 minutes – it was delicious and something I’m sure I can make when I get home. The first course was a cavatelli pasta with broccoli and n’duja, which is a spicy local sausage consisting of all the parts of the pig you would never want to eat or think about eating. Cavatelli is a little like gnocchi but made of just flour and water (no potato). It was a little harder to roll, and there was a trick to making a little slit in it with two fingers. I never quite got the hang of it, but mom did, so I stuck to rolling and cutting it and she stuck with forming it.

Our second course was pigs' hearts and livers sauteed in olive oil and garlic with red pepper and a sundried sweet pepper. I think if it was a different kind of meat I would have enjoyed it more, but for now I’ll just say the baby wasn’t into it and it made me slightly nauseous. Cutting it was particularly gross and unfortunately I can still smell it on my fingers. Our side dish was chicory (spinach) with breadcrumbs and garlic, and that was delicious. The nice thing about having so many courses was I was able to say I was full by the second course and just tasted it without offending. Afterwards we went for gelato with Christiano, our interpreter.

Yesterday was a local sightseeing day. We first went to a farmhouse where many of the local fruits and vegetables are grown. One in particular, the cedro (a citrus fruit), is only grown in two places in the world, this region and in Lebanon. It is a fruit that Jewish people use for religious purposes as an offering. We went and saw where that is grown. Also grown in this region are olives, figs, sweet peppers and oranges. We also went to a little hillside town called Orsomarso and stopped for a cappuccino. We came back and took a little nap and then did a walking tour of Scalea, the town we’re staying in. Many of the villages in this region are very old and built purposefully of stone to defend the land from invaders from places like Turkey and Algeria. Many are actually walled-in cities with one entrance, usually very narrow, and everything is attached. Apparently most of these villages didn't even have running water until the 1970s. We walked over 200 stairs, enough to build up an appetite for dinner.

We've been eating every night at the restaurant and bouncing around the menu, getting a little more adventurous each night. I unknowingly ate rabbit last night. Our waiter doesn't speak English, so when I asked him what was in the sauce he put his fingers up by his ears, which I took for some reason to mean goat or a horned animal, but it was rabbit. And it was very good. They've been making the portions smaller for us now, though whether it's from the food or the pregnancy, the zipper on my jacket busted last night from my growing belly. At least the baby is eating good!

Tomorrow is our last class and Wednesday is a wine-tasting day, which unfortunately won't be much fun for me. A funny tidbit I'd forgotten: Anyone who knows my mom knows she doesn't drink. At all. Something the Italians don't comprehend. I tried to encourage her to at least have a glass of wine, and Christiano suggested that she mix it with coke and a lemon. She did, and she loved it. And when people mock her at home, she can honestly tell them (hopefully in a snobby voice), "Well, THIS is how they drink it in Italy."