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Postcard from England: Stone circles and urban hikes

10 Jun

10 June 2019.

Can it be ten days since we returned from our spring trip? Wrestling with jetlag, re-entry, laundry, and catch-up gardening took more than a week but the last segment of our 6-week trip is worth relating.

The weather gods continued to smile on us. I am sure the citizens of Wiltshire would have liked some rain but it suited us to a T to have sunny days and fluffy clouds. We even shed our jackets a few times.

From Wales we headed to Wiltshire, home to Stonehenge and the Avebury Circle as well as the city of Bath and the ancient city of Salisbury, where we made our base for four nights. Should have made it five nights.This is a rich, full area with much to see and mileage required to see it.

Stonehenge

It is a challenge to depict the size and the impressiveness of Stonehenge.

We barely stopped at Bath, only long enough to see the Roman bath complex. The center of the city was a madhouse of tourists! We had hoped to return another day to see more, but driving in, parking, and driving out bordered on the ridiculous. We had initially planned on staying in Bath, but although I had been trying to book 6 months in advance, lodging was scarce on this Bank Holiday weekend. So we moved on to lodgings in Salisbury.

Stonehenge was first on the agenda and so much more impressive than I expected! We arrived at opening and the crowd was minimal. Efficient buses ported us to the circle, which cleverly is not visible from the Visitors Center so the monument is revealed dramatically. I thought I would at least be interested but seeing Stonehenge in person is a pretty magnificent thing. We found the VC absorbing until late morning when the crowds became annoying, so we took off for Avebury.

Avebury is gigantic! I had read about it but did not have a good grasp until we actually arrived. The henge is so large there is a village inside the circle. With a pub. A great place for lunch and good timing as we were peckish by now.

Avebury stone

Ric demonstrates the size of one of the stones in the Avebury Circle.

Sheep at Avebury

Sheep and tiny lambs graze freely around the Avebury Circle.

A principal ceremonial site of Neolithic Britain, Avebury is considered to be one of the largest, and undoubtedly the most complex, of Britain’s surviving Neolithic henge monuments. We walked about the stones, enjoying the company of the sheep, and having the good fortune to visit with a guide who could add to our understanding. How did these ancient people have the vision, the strength, and the patience to build these sites? It would be a fantastic place to visit with an archeologist.

Another day we ventured to the ancient site of Old Sarum. If you’ve read Edward Rutherford’s epic novel Sarum this is a must-visit. How fascinating to see the little hill, the castle ruins, and the foundations of the old cathedral! We happened into Old Sarum the day of a Roman re-enactment, luckily arriving before the throngs expecting to watch staged battles. As I re-read Sarum, it is delightful to picture the site with a better understanding of the topography. For an aerial view, click here.

Old Sarum Roman woman

At Old Sarum, a re-enactor demonstrates what Roman life was like.

Re-enactors practice their Roman battle skills prior to an exhibition.

Old Sarum Cathedral

From the castle ruins one can gaze down on the massive foundations of the old cathedral, The cathedral was demolished in the 13th century and the stones used to build the new cathedral and close at Salisbury.

 

Not to be overlooked is the city of Salisbury itself. On the Sunday we visited, the Cathedral opened its doors to tourists after services so as the congregation gathered for coffee, we gawked at the magnificence. It is almost impossible to comprehend that it was built over the course of only 38 years in the 13th century. Notre Dame took 856 years; Sagrada Familia was started 150 years ago and still isn’ t completed.

Salisbury Cathedral

We walked through the close after dinner one evening to find the Salisbury Cathedral bathed in a golden glow.

The Cathedral is set in a magnificent close, the largest in Britain at 80 acres. The close contains schools, Diocesan offices, museums, and private residences, some of which are magnificent mansions. Ric and I thought we’d take a short walk through the close one afternoon which turned into well over an hour by the time we passed through it and around the walls back to our lodgings. It’s huge and worthy of further exploration.

Rick and Jane departed from Salisbury while Ric and I hung out for another day and night intending to do very little. We caught up on laundry and then had time to check out the Salisbury City Walk sponsored by the Visitors Center. It was a great overview and lesson in history and culture. Would that we had done this Day One!

Since the day was divine and we were purposefully unscheduled, we decided to wander after lunch. Finding a path along the River Avon, we were soon diverted through a park and into the Harnham Water Meadows along a meandering path with more views of the cathedral, sheep, and eventually the small town of Harnham. This is the kind of thing we love to stumble upon: an “urban hike” or, if our timing is right, “a path to lunch,” as had we known, we could have eaten in a pub situated in an old mill in Harnham.

Harnham

This old mill at Harnham is now a popular pub.

So our day off from travel turned into a delightful opportunity to further explore Salisbury and revealed many sights we could have explored with more time. If you choose to stay in Salisbury, give it some time as there is much to enjoy. Good restaurants, too! Check out The Giggling Squid.

Swan and cygnets

On the River Avon, a swan and her (his?) cygnets settle in for the night.

Our last three nights were in lovely London. We’ve been there many times, last in 2017 for two weeks, so this stop was meant to be a relaxing return to a favorite city before our long flights home.

London did not disappoint. No iconic sights this time, though. We met friends from Seattle for wine and tapas, walked for several hours through Kew Gardens, last visited in autumn and a completely different experience in spring. We ate excellent Indian food at Punjab, took another long urban hike through the sprawling Regent’s Park, and enjoyed a final pub meal with a superb pie at The Queen’s Head.

Herewith a few of our dozens of photos from Kew Gardens. There is a Chihuly exhibition in progress, a lovely surprise.

For the entire trip, I averaged 16000+ steps per day on the Fitbit, about 7 miles, as nearly as I can figure. Not bad compared to what we manage at home.

For now, the consumption of chips, crisps, beer, and scones has stopped. No more Parisian baguettes nor croissants for now. Camembert is off the menu for a while. No full bottles of wine at dinner. SIGH.

Back to reality…and planning the next trip: Italy and Switzerland in September!

 

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Postcard from Alsace: Wine, Wisteria, and Storks

30 Apr

30 April 2019.

It is always time for wine in France’s Alsace Region, but only for a short time in the spring do the storks roost here to rear their young. Until we arrived we had no idea about this annual migration nor did we know how revered the storks, or cigognes blanches, are.  They are symbols of happiness and faithfulness bringing fertility and good luck. There is a fun read here from the Seattle Times a few years ago.

Ric captured a close up of this nest with both parents present. They were clicking away at each other, their method of communicating. The nest is perched atop a steeple. Note the supports. The towns build and maintain platforms to support the huge nests.

The storks feature prominently in town art,

We have had a full itinerary, one day taking a tour of a small portion of the Route des Vins d’Alsace visiting three family-run wineries, and another day exploring the beautiful and tiny villages, spotting storks, and enjoying the seasonal decorations that adorn every house, shop, and square. Wisteria drapes from walls, roofs, and trees, enhanced by bunnies, eggs, and other signs of the just-past Easter holiday. The air is fragrant with lilac.

The wisteria is at its peak while the tulips have just faded.

A day hike through the vineyards got us away from the hordes and tourist buses in Colmar, which has been our base for five nights. There has also been plenty of time to enjoy the local cuisine.

Flammekueche or tarte flambée, depending on your language choice. Think of it as Alsatian pizza. It is FABULOUS.

As usual, we are car-free. I can imagine why a car would be helpful in this region as public transportation is a bit thin. With the help of a taxi driver named Isa, we have managed quite well. Three times Isa took us to villages that were difficult to reach by bus. We feel like we have our own personal driver in Colmar. Three taxis were far more economical than renting a car for 4-5 days.

For now, I will let our pictures do the talking. Between us, we took far too many in four days: almost 500! Watch for a post (soon!) over at Project Easy Hiker as well about our backroads walk from Riqewihr to Ribeauville along with our visit at the Centre de Reintroduction which has helped in stork recovery.

One of the more brightly colored buildings, this one in tiny Riquewihr. Can you see the bunnies in the window boxes?

The decorations would be tacky on one house, kitschy on two, but when every building has them, it is a theme.

Even this restaurant in Turckheim was bedecked. This is where we had the tarte flambée along with seasonal white asparagus, another specialty of the region.

In Alsace, they use some very old wine barrels such as these beautifully decorated ones from a bygone era.

An eye test chart in an Alsatian winery. The real test for me was pronouncing the names.

Even in the overast that predominated our days in Colmar, the buildings are charming. No wonder this area is called “La Petit Venise.”

 

 

Bits and pieces from our 2018 trip

15 Nov
15 November 2018.
Our trip photos rotate on my screen saver and stir up memories to the point I don’t want to pause them so I can use the laptop. We have been home for a month and are still talking about our trip to Italy and Switzerland while planning for another adventure in the Spring.
Some are funny, some unusual, and there are cats.

Cats, cats, cats

We love cats and seldom get good photos. Somehow they know when the shutter is about to click and they look away. I had pretty good luck this trip.

High above Rapallo, Italy, we found a charming hotel and restaurant with about a dozen dependents who happily posed for us.

Another of the lovely cats of Montallegro near Rapallo.

A cold, glacial stream satisfied this hardy neighborhood cat. Lauterbrunnen, SW.

This little guy joined us for lunch one day in the mountains and shared our prosciutto. Fermeda Hütte near Santa Cristina, Italy.

We were enjoying strudel and espresso when the chef came out to offer this little guy his breakfast: thinly sliced prosciutto. Alpe di Siusi, Italy.

Signs and Labels

Amusing word choices and translations that don’t work.
I am sorry that  I neglected to take a picture of the sign above a place for parking bicycles that called it a “Bike Reck.”

Watch out for those dangerous, rampaging suckler cows! Seen all over Switzerland.

3-out-of-four in English. But we know what they mean. Pontresina, SW.

The lift had an official sign saying 4 people could ride in it, but this hand-written note warned us it was only safe for 2 people to go down. Beat the Paris elevator we had last year that only accommdated one person.

Findus is a big brand in frozen foods in Italy, but this product name in Switzerland threw us. They were good but not addictive.

Throughout Austia one can find the amusingly named Mozart’s Balls.

I am ham. Milan, IT. And why French?

Funny name for a hand wipe (Lausanne, SW).

Vending

Honor kiosks and roadside cheese vending were among our favorites.

Cheese vending machine found along a rural road in the Lauterbrunnen Valley, SW.

Same machine dispensed sausage.

Truly an honor kiosk: cheese and honey in an artful roadside box.

An enterprising person laid these out for purchase on the honor system, 5 Euros per item. Alpe di Siusi, Italy.

Uncategorized

No idea how to classify these gems.

10:30 in the morning is a great time for a beer break when you are hiking with your baby. Near Passo Sella, Italy.

Ric found this facility in a men’s room in the Val Gardena.

Postcards from Italy: The Val Gardena

13 Sep
13 September 2018.
We are wrapping up two weeks in Italy’s Dolomites and what a two weeks it has been! While hiking on the Alpe di Siusi one day we stopped to help a couple who were confused by the trail map they held. “You look familiar!” exclaimed the wife. “Don’t we know you? You wrote a book!” Our first celebrity moment. Thanks Judy and Andy! You made our day!

Ric on the deck at Rasciesa before our hike.

Our hosts now for three years, Justine and Siegfried at Residence Astoria seem like old friends. Their cat, Minno, was newly adopted during our visit in 2016 and now he is a strapping lad. As luck would have it, another couple who have our book is staying at Residence Astoria! Cathy and Gene from Auburn, AL are here and hiking using our guide. Turns out we share an affinity for the Berner Oberland as well.

The red cable cars emerge from the fog as we ascend to the Alpe di Siusi. We decided to go on a foggy day and found tranquility but no rain.

Blissful foggy day on the Alpe di Siusi. Very few people bothered to ascend but we enjoyed the fog.

We’ve explored some easy hikes to add to the book and we have taken some ridiculously difficult trails that we will not include. One night we splurged and stayed on the Alpe di Siusi in a lovely old hotel (we are not the rifugio types) so we could hike more easily there for two days.

Below the cable car at Seceda in the Puez-Odle Park there is a madness of marmots.

New to us, a short and scenic hike at Passo Gardena. It will be featured in the next edition of our book.

I am grateful my Italian comes back to me when we are in Italy but here in the Val Gardena — it was part of Austria until WWI — my high school German floods back and I find myself substituting German words when I forget the Italian. The locals often switch between the two languages in casual conversation so I fit right in.

We enjoyed watching these goats play while eating lunch at Malga Laranzer in the Alpe di Siusi.

The Sciliar and Punto Santner stand guard over the west end of the Alpe di Siusi. Our view over a cappuccino.

On the trail to Col Raiser, above Santa Cristina. It was a lot of work to get here!

There’s been pizza (3 times), apple strudel (also 3 times), and canederli (once is enough) along the way, and lots of good Lagrein, the local red wine. Luckily all offset by our average of 19,000 steps per day!

Pizza with anchovies and mozzarella di bufala at La Tambra, Santa Cristina.

Next stop, Innsbruck.
A dopo!

Wining in Walla Walla

27 Jul
27 July 2018.
It has been a very long time since we have driven through the Columbia River Gorge. The last time for me was a trip to Pendleton in early 2012 to oversee an office remodeling for my employer. My head was filled with thoughts of our impending move to Rome and not with an appreciation for the landscape I had passed through many times over the years.
As we drove east, magnificent evergreens gave way to evidence of last year’s tragic forest fire, then dry land farms and ranches became interspersed with lush green vineyards.

Me flanked by Ric (L) and Rick (R). Cocktails on the porch at Green Gables Inn.

We were on our way to Walla Walla to join my oenophile brother and my sister-in-law for a wine tour. My brother is truly a wine lover at an expert level. Ric and I appreciate wine and to be able to tag along on this adventure with Rick and Jane was a treat. Rick’s research and planning led us to wineries my Ric and I would never have found. (Yes, two Richards when we travel. A constant source of confusion.)
Our timing was excellent: Walla Walla was declared “Best Wine Town” by Sunset Magazine the very day we arrived. Can the crowds be far behind?

Barnaby Jones and brother Rick share a moment on the porch.

We settled in at the elegant yet cozy Green Gables Inn, housed in a historic home dating to 1909 and meticulously restored to its glory. To our delight, the property is overseen by the delightful Barnaby Jones.
One of the wonders of the Walla Walla region is its farming history. The waving wheat fields, golden in their ripeness with a backdrop of vineyards and the Blue Mountains, are a stunning sight and evidence of the state’s importance as a producer of grain. The presence of the wineries is a testament to the fertility of the Palouse. In 1972 there were six wineries in Washington State. Now there are over 800! The same climate that is ideal for wheat is also perfect for growing grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Chardonnay. The two American Viticultural Areas (AVA) within the Palouse have the same latitude as the Bordeaux. Yeah, there is some excellent wine here.

Duck parade on the Whitman College campus.

We set out to find some.
My brother planned an outstanding tour. We visited a dozen cellars over the course of four days. One more day and my next stop would have been Betty Ford.
Actually, it was nicely paced. On two of the four days, we visited only two wineries. Key to keeping our heads on straight (and able to stay awake for dinner) was sharing tastings at almost every winery. Cuts down on the buzz and minimizes the need to waste wine by spitting. If you buy some wine the tasting is free. My brother is a collector so purchases were no problem. (Thanks, Rick!)
Tastings reminded me of the old days in Oregon, back in the late 80s when we first cruised through wine country during an open-house weekend. Per person tastings in Walla Walla are usually $5 or $10 with an occasional spike to $20 when tasting reserve wines or doing a vertical tasting.
Four of the wineries really stood out for Ric and me.

I’ve never seen a tasting room as peaceful as Spring Valley’s.

Spring Valley Vineyard is a family operation that goes back five generations of farming in the Corkrum family who first homesteaded and grew wheat here. Grapes were first planted in 1993, fairly early in the storyline of Walla Walla wineries. The wines are amazing (French-style, with estate-grown Cabernet, Syrah, Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc, Petit Verdot) but I think I was most impressed by the story of family farming, keeping the operation in the family and staying true to their roots in wheat farming while moving into upscale wines. About 900 acres of the thousand-acre farm are still planted in wheat. We enjoyed a tour of the ranch where the tasting room was in a grove of trees by a spring-fed pond. Delightful!

The tasting room in the copse, Spring Valley Vineyards.

Memorial to winemaker Devin Corkrum Derby with wheat fields in the background. Almost 900 acres of the 1000 acre ranch are still planted in wheat.

Always good to see butterflies on a farm. Buddleia near the spring attracted this large one.

Gino pours for Jane, Rick, and Ric at G. Cuneo Cellars.

G. Cuneo Cellars tagline is “Italian Style American Soil.” We are so pleased to have found Gino once again. Many years ago (mid-90s to early 00s) we used to buy wine futures from Cuneo Cellars in Carlton. In fact, before he moved to Carlton we used to visit Gino Cuneo at a small almost-impossible-to-find winery in the Eola Hills where we would do barrel tastings, buy futures, and feast on Italian meats and cheeses. We had wondered over our years in Italy whatever became of Gino. We knew he had left the Carlton operation (now known as Cana’s Feast Winery), but we had no idea where he had gone until my brother tripped over his tasting room in downtown Walla Walla. We made it a point to visit and were thrilled to find Gino making Italian Style wines right there in Walla Walla. He is the only winemaker in the Pacific Northwest to produce wines from Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, and Barbera. We are not Rosé lovers, but one sip of Gino’s Rosato and we were hooked. We do miss Italian wines and are looking forward to receiving a wine club shipment this fall. Look him up at G. Cuneo Cellars right across from the Marcus Whitman Hotel.

Gino Cuneo (& me) at the tasting room he shares with Cotes du Ciel.

The old trainstation serves as a tasting room. The Shiels’ saved it from destruction.

Also a family operation, Côte Bonneville is in the Yakima Valley AVA, about a 90-minute drive from Walla Walla. My brother has been a fan of theirs for years and a road trip was in order for a private tasting with winery owner Kathy Shiels. Kathy and Hugh have been growing grapes in the Yakima Valley for 26 years, and now daughter Kerry is the winemaker. It is a very closely controlled family operation: not too big and very exclusive. BTW, Bonneville does not refer to the famous Columbia River dam, but rather to the family home in Cincinnati, Ohio. Fine wines? Oh yes! And the cute train station remodel is stunning.

The iconic schoolhouse at L’Ecole No. 41.

L’Ecole No. 41 is a long time Northwest award winner and given its presence one would think it was a corporate operation. But no, it is a 3rd generation family-run business. I admire lovingly restored old buildings and this old schoolhouse salvaged from destruction is a delight. By the end of Day Four of our Walla Walla tour my interest in trying more wines was waning, but L’Ecole No. 41’s special Friday Reserve Tour & Tasting was the perfect ending to our trip with great wines, camaraderie, and a walking tour of the property.

Our tasting at L’Ecole No. 41. It was hard to pick a favorite.

Not only were the wines great; In four nights we had four great meals in Walla Walla.  As a town about four times the size of Lincoln City, it had ten times the restaurant choices, especially at the high end.
Public House 124 is hard to classify. Maybe as one reviewer said on Trip Advisor, “a bar with a twist.” Inventive small plates, flat bread that should be called pizza, beer, wine, cocktails, sandwiches, and more. The truffle fries are swoon-worthy and I don’t even like truffles. Seamless service by a competent and pleasant staff. Efficient and professional but not stuffy.

This staircase at L’Ecole No. 41 was manufactured at Whitehouse-Crawford when it was a furniture factory.

Whitehouse-Crawford is a cavernous ex-planing mill and furniture company. (In fact, L’Ecole No. 41 features a staircase made there.) The ambiance is a bit noisy, service is professional if a bit distant, but the food is perfect and of course, there is wine…. Try the halibut. I have never had better halibut and considering I live by the ocean, that is high praise indeed.
That covers nights one and two. Each meal was better than the one prior and they were all excellent.
Night three found us at Brasserie Four, which seems to have been plucked out of France dropped into the Washington wheat fields. Perfectly roast chicken, moules-frites like one gets on the Riviera, a cheese-board worthy of a Parisian fromagerie. My only regret is that we were too satiated for dessert. And there was single malt waiting at the B&B.

The wrap aournd porch is perfect for summer breakfast, cocktails, and after dinner drinks.

The best for last! My favorite was Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen. We don’t even get close to Middle-Eastern or Italian cuisine in Lincoln City. It is the only restaurant we have been in — since we were last in Europe — that had octopus on the menu. (It was delicious.) Paella with squid ink was popular with our group of four and the Moroccan Fried Chicken looked fabulous. I indulged in the Moroccan lamb sausage with chickpeas but I’d like to eat my way through the entire menu. This restaurant alone would have me back in Walla Walla sooner rather than later.
I can’t believe we lived in Portland for 25 years and never made it to Walla Walla. Now that we’ve been, I am certain we’ll be back. Save a place on the porch for us Barnaby.

Barnaby Jones keeping watch over the breakfast hour.

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