Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter Lamb Cake


It sort of looks like a lamb, doesn't it? A dear German friend of mine baked us this traditional Osterlamm, or Easter lamb cake, last year. Just about every German family has a different variation of the recipe for this Easter treat, usually handed down through the generations.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Westfries Museum in Hoorn, the Netherlands


Love the richly adorned façade of the Westfries Museum in Hoorn, the Netherlands.  The building itself is called the Statencollege and was built in 1632 right in the city's central square, de Roode Steen.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Unrest in the Albaicin


The old Arab quarter of the city of Granada in Spain is called the Albaicin (or Albayzin) and is a romantic hillside district with narrow winding streets and medieval Moorish structures.  The area is very steep and when we were there it seemed somewhat deserted - probably only because it was high noon on a very hot summer day.



We enjoyed roaming the quiet sector with its expansive views of the Alhambra, but then came upon something disconcerting - banners hung from balconies and posted leaflets clearly expressing unrest and discontent:



We found an explanation in English.


According to the SOS Albaicin website, the residents are protesting measures by the mayor that suppress public transportation to the area and redirect traffic circulation on the main thoroughfare. Their interest is in preserving the historic quarter.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Frustration With Avios Points

I like to keep the blog posts positive, but I have, on occasion, ranted about things. Well, really only about booking airline tickets. So as my frustration with British Airlines rises, I feel compelled to share. WHAT THE *#!@%!!?? Are they living in the 21st century? Their website is ridiculous: recursive loops, frequent errors, and no capability to book open jaw flights with frequent flier miles. That means you have to call their customer service number to accomplish this and that is a frightening prospect given the many, many tweets, blogs, and online comments about how rude and unfriendly their sales agents are. Deciding to risk it, I called the number. Yesterday I was on hold for 53 minutes before deciding to hang up. But today, after a 48 minute hold, I reached a sales agent.

Surprise! He was quite friendly. Judging by his accent I had obviously reached the UK-based call center. But he was less than helpful as he transferred me to an Executive Club agent since I wanted to book with Avios points, and the EC agent said she had no idea why, she couldn't help me. So I was transferred back to a different sales agent and he happened to be cheerful and generous. He searched endlessly for a flight that would work for us, waived my phone booking service fees, and explained that British Airways's reputation for rude telephone agents arose after the Jacksonville, Florida, call center employees were told they were out of a job because the center was closing. (It is now closed.)

So did we book a flight on British Airways using our two free companion tickets and 240,000 Avios points? No.

Hubby and I were excited to sign up for the British Airways Chase Visa Signature Card when they offered a signup bonus of 100,000 airline miles, another bonus of 50,000 miles after spending $2,000 within 3 months, and a free companion ticket after spending $30,000 on the card within a calendar year. We fervently charged up the card the last two years in an effort to rack up enough airline miles (Avios points) to travel to Europe for free this summer, although I was aware of the extremely high taxes, fees, and fuel surcharges one still had to pay on British Airlines.

Did I say extremely high taxes, fees, and surcharges? I mean prohibitively high. Almost $3,000 for the four of us to fly to Germany on a complicated, circuitous route not in nor out of anywhere near our home airport. We chose to pass on that. Words from the wise (such as The Points Guy, BoardingArea, and Mommy Points) say that the best value in spending Avios points is to fly short domestic flights on British Air.

Not quite sure how we're going to get to Germany to visit the family this summer now.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Chestnuts Roasting


Maybe this is a familiar sight on the east coast, but living on the west coast all my life I'd never seen "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" until our visit to Zurich in the winter.  There were chestnuts roasting on almost every street corner!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Review of Café-Restaurant Des Remparts in Gruyères

Café-Restaurant Des Remparts
If you're ever in the incredibly precious town of Gruyères in Switzerland and find yourself a little or a lot hungry, you have my recommendation to try Café-Restaurant Des Remparts, right on Rue du Bourg, the only street through the old town.  Gruyères is of course famous for its cheese, so you will definitely want to try Des Remparts's fondue.  Served with fresh bread and baby potatoes, it is creamy delicious.

We also tried an excellent soup - I believe it was asparagus cheese soup:


My daughter had croquettes that were very good:


The scenery out of the big picture windows of the town below and the low mountains is fabulous:


Below is the children's menu for your little ones:


Café-Restaurant Des Remparts is located at Rue du Bourg 19 in Gruyères, Switzerland.

Lovin' the Swiss fondue!

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mercado de San Miguel in Madrid


I would have eaten every meal of the day at the Market of San Miguel in Madrid if I could have.  Grazing around and nibbling at all kinds of tapas and sweets is just my thing.  A little chorizo here, a few empanadillas there.  A glass of sangria if it's after noon and a bite of chocolate con churros in between.  Yum.  


The attractive, iron-structured, covered market in the heart of Madrid beside the Plaza Mayor is a great place for travelers to visit and shop.  There are over 30 stalls of pre-made delicacies, wine bars, florists, and fresh fruit and vegetables for purchase.

Why don't I let the photos do the talking:






You'll get no complaints from the kids if you're eating here because there's so much to choose from and there are plenty of french fry vendors!


Thursday, October 31, 2013

It's Halloween!


H A P P Y   H A L L O W E E N ! ! !

Pena National Palace in Sintra, Portugal.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Apartment in the Baixa District in Lisbon


Don't be fooled by the cracked plaster and peeling paint on the exterior of this holiday apartment we rented in Lisbon.  The one-bedroom unit in the Baixa district was spotlessly clean, large and comfortable, affordably priced, and an ideal location for our family of four.  My teenagers loved that there was a little market a block away where they could walk to in the morning for fresh rolls or in the late afternoon for a soda.

Local market in the Baixa in Lisbon.

Marisa, the young owner of the apartment, is extremely kind and helpful and has excellent English language skills.  She takes special care to show you how everything works and where everything is, and provides city maps and books and suggestions.  On our last day, when we departed the residence, Marisa called a taxi and waited with us so she could talk to the driver for us. 

The main living area of the apartment is lovely and well-lit by two sets of French doors which open to small balconies.  The sofa you see here is a futon, which my son slept on:



My daughter slept on a second futon in the hall outside the master bedroom:


The master bedroom is spacious and the bed is comfortable:


The small kitchen had everything we needed to prepare light meals:


My husband was happy that the air conditioning worked very well and I was delighted we had a washing machine right in the apartment:


The Baixa district is a superb location to stay in downtown Lisbon.  This apartment is just a short walk to Rossio Square where you'll find the Rossio train station, cafés, shopping, markets and street performers.

If you would like to book this terrific apartment in Lisbon, you can find it listed on TripAdvisor.  We paid 85€ a night, plus a cleaning deposit.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A Flushing Dilemma

I have been perplexed at times, while traveling in Europe, about a task I consider here at home to be pretty straightforward - flushing the toilet.  I remember when I was a child, entering a public restroom in Europe was often a mystery.  What sort of medieval plumbing contraption was I required to push, pull, turn, yank or crank to finish the job I came to do?

Take, for example, the lavatory below, frequently encountered in many European countries:


If you haven't chanced upon a pull chain device such as this before, certainly you might search all around the commode looking for a button or lever to flush.  If you are a young child, you undoubtedly wouldn't think to look up to do the job.  And if and when you finally do, there's the likelihood - as in this photo, that you possibly cannot even reach it.

Europeans have gone green, way more than we have here in the U.S., and although we are starting to see dual flush toilets here, the different varieties of mechanisms will cause you pause each and every time.



And, of course, you know I have to bring up everyone's favorite foreign commode:  the squat toilet, also known as the Natural Position toilet (yeah, right, natural for men maybe).  Are these still found in civilized countries?  Yes!  The photos below were taken by my friend recently in Italy.  I've encountered them as well in Greece, Hungary, and even France.



If you have a young daughter, do not let her attempt to use a squat toilet without your help.  I never managed these latrines as a child without tinkling all over my pants and shoes.  And let's just say the germs your child might come into contact with if you're not there to avert a slip or a fall would probably warrant a tetanus booster.

Sometimes in a foreign restroom you will read a sign, occasionally in legible English, asking you not to place toilet paper in the trash receptacle.  You may wonder why the need to elucidate such an obviously nonsensical idea.  That is because there are some countries with poor or no plumbing where you WILL be asked to deposit your toilet paper in the trash receptacle because flushing it will clog the toilet.

Men, like always in these matters, have little difficulty finding a place to go in Europe.  Public urinals are an accessory to many historical buildings in Europe, such as this ancient looking urinol adjacent to the Castle of São Jorge in Lisbon (below) and another near the historic center of Gouda, in the Netherlands (also below).

Public urinal in Lisbon.

Urinal in Gouda, the Netherlands.

And always remember to have a bit of spare change on you when entering a WC in Europe because you never know when you might be caught by surprise by a Klofrau wanting to wipe down the seat for you!

Friday, September 27, 2013

UNESCO Town of Évora in Portugal



When an entire town is named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, you know it's going to be an interesting place, and that is the reason we chose to make an overnight stop in Évora on our trip through Portugal last summer.  Medieval city walls, an ancient Roman temple, a 16th century aqueduct, a Gothic cathedral, and even more fascinating history await visitors to this town located about an hour and a half drive from Lisbon.  


After a little bit of a glitch with our accommodations but then finally checking into a lovely hotel, we realized we were just around the corner from the remains of Temple Diana, Évora's most famous landmark.


This Roman temple survived the ages since its construction around the first century A.D. because it was put to various uses since the Middle Ages and regularly restored.  It is considered one of the best preserved Roman ruins on the Iberian peninsula.


View of Temple Diana from the Évora Cathedral.

Besides the Romans, the Moors left their mark on Évora as well.  The city was under Moorish rule for over 400 years.

Dom Manuel Palace

Moorish ruins.

Being the avid steeple climbers that we are, we gladly paid the 13€ for four of us to climb the Évora Cathedral tower up to the roof.


The views over the town are magnificent, as the church was built on the highest point in the city.



The cathedral, a blend of Romanesque and Gothic style architecture, was built in 1186.  It is believed that the flags of Vasco da Gama's first ships to the Orient were blessed here.  Very unique to the Évora Cathedral is the very pretty lantern tower over the crossing with its picturesque windows and six little turrets surrounding the spire.



The central square in town is Praça do Giraldo and it's a nice place to stop for a cool drink or bite to eat.  We had dinner at Café Arcada, which has a large diner sort of feel, and their menu pleased everyone in our family.

Praça do Giraldo is Évora's central square.

Before you leave town be sure to browse the shopping alleys.  Beautiful items crafted from local cork are great souvenirs.


On your way out of town, you can visit the Aqueduct of Silver Water which stretches for 6 miles and was built in the 1530s to deliver water to the city of Évora.

You can drive right through the aqueduct's arches.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...