Category Archives: Europe

A Return to Beautiful Barcelona

 

Barcelona is truly one of the great cities of the world. It really has everything, a waterfront, Europe’s largest port, mountains on the horizon, temperate weather, history and more history, leafy boulevards, grand houses, delicious food, a thriving artistic community, incredible architecture, museums, and charming neighborhoods. The city combines a melting pot of cultures while maintaining a strong independent identity all its own. It’s a city that has reinvented itself throughout the years and has worked hard to earn the reputation it has today.

I have heard other people say they’ve been here before or more than once and seen the city.  That’s just not possible, there is way too much going on here.  Having visited before we had covered the obligatory major sites – such as La Sagrada Familia and fabulous Gaudi sites such as Park Güell, Casa Batlló, and La Pedrera (Casa Milà). If you’ve never been, don’t miss these famous iconic sites. But when visiting this interesting and complex city carve out some time for walking because there is nothing like exploring sections of the city on foot. Read the rest of this entry

Secrets of European Christmas Markets

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I’ve had the good fortune to make two trips to see Europe’s fabulous Christmas markets.  Once with my Mother on a river cruise and once with a girlfriend. Both trips were kaleidoscopes of super-sized, festive, cold, delicious Christmas overload.

I know from previous experience that Germany is really where many of our beloved Christmas traditions began and the Alsace region of France, enhanced those traditions by taking tree decorating to the next level. Germany alone has 2,500 Christmas Markets.  This entry will give a recap of my market experiences and tips for markets in Germany, France, and Switzerland, listed in alpha order by city. Find out about markets in: Basel, Cologne, Colmar, Frankfurt, Heidelberg, Koblenz, Lucerne, Ludwigsburg, Mainz, Munich, Nuremberg, Rudesheim, Strasbourg, and Stuttgart.

The markets run during Advent, from late November until just before Christmas, and all feature stalls stocked with every imaginable kind of ornamentation and decorative item. About half of the markets are devoted to an incredible array of food, baked treats, and goodies of every description.  Not to mention the famous hot mulled wine, Glühwein, of which I am not a fan – I’ll stick with hot chocolate. I love that the Germany markets sell cute mugs as traditional market souvenirs. They are customized for each location and year. Large and mid-size cities often have multiple markets and many smaller towns are a short train ride away.  They generally open around 11 AM till 9PM in the evening.  But times can vary, so be sure to check the links provided for current info.

Many markets only take cash, so have your Euros ready, and lots of items are easily available in the U.S. with no savings evident, this is NOT bargain shopping. Look for the special, locally made items and know you will pay a fair price. Be wary of anything electrical, it will not work if you bring it back to the U.S.

While you make your way through the markets here is a list of local treats to taste-test:

German Christmas Markets

  • ֎ Chocolate-covered gingerbread
  • ֎ Springerle
  • ֎ Lebkuchen cookies
  • ֎ Weckla – Nuremburger sausages in a hard bread roll
  • ֎ Bredle cookies
  • ֎ Brenton (marzipan) cookie
  • ֎ Snowball

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6 Fabulous Meals Worth the Extra Effort

The best meals are not always the fanciest, most expensive, famous, or easy to access. We always make the effort to find out the local specialties and tap into local sources for getting to the right place.  Join me as I recall a few of my favs:

Geneva, Switzerland

Breaking from our usual frenetic pace we enjoyed Geneva as the locals do.  Under the tutelage of our good friends, Geneva residents Eva and Bob, we are seeing some sites, relaxing, chatting, and enjoying views of the tranquil lake. A highlight for us was visiting the nearby country village of Hermance and enjoying some of the fabulous local perch prepared the typical Swiss way (with a butter sauce), at La Croix Federale.  No trip to this part of the world would be complete without sampling this delicious local fish. Good company, blue skies, perfect temperature, the harmony of the migrating songbirds, and cold white wine combined to create a day of really special memories.

Rhode Island

My husband and I love oysters and make it a point of trying them wherever we travel. I don’t know how it took us so long to experience these delicious bi-valves in a state we both love.  The Narragansett Indians inhabited this area and called it Matunuck meaning “lookout”.  Maybe the name reflected a need for security, or maybe it was the view. But the real stars here are the oysters.

University of Rhode Island aquaculture grad Perry Raso farms the delicacies close by on Potter Pond. His pond-to-plate concept at Matunuck Oyster Bar is a winner and his restaurant is on our must-visit list whenever we are in Rhode Island. Three varieties: Matunuck, Rocky Road, and Wild Goose.  So sweet and tender. Rocky Roads are our favs.  Go Rhody  Read the rest of this entry

Get the Royal Treatment in Ireland

 

One part of the massive Ashford Castle in Ireland.Probably like many little girls, I have had a fascination with castles and country estates that has stayed with me for a lifetime. My first stay in such royal surroundings was the wonderful Castle Sababurg about a 45-minute drive from Kassel, Germany, in Brothers Grimm territory.  It is widely believed the brothers were inspired by Sababurg, using it as the model for the castle in Sleeping Beauty, and I believe it. Sadly, it has recently closed.

When our daughter was young, we stayed in a delightful luxury family hotel, Woolley Grange near Bath in England.  One huge benefit was the on-site nanny to watch over children so parents could enjoy a quiet gourmet dinner. And one of my all-time favorite memories was a stay in the English Lake District at Farlam Hall Country House Hotel, a beautiful Relais & Chateaux manor home with resident cats Gin & Tonic and amazing dinner service.

On a more recent trip to Ireland, we loved our visits to Ashford Castle (pictured at top), Dromoland, and Ard na Sidhe. Read on.

 

Ashford Castle | Cong, Mayo

 

I can’t even think of enough adjectives to describe Ashford Castle. Dating from 1228, this property did indeed start out as a castle. In the mid-1800s it was owned by Sir Benjamin Guinness. In 2013, the property was rescued from receivership by the Red Carnation luxury hotel group. They bought it for less than half of its previous sale price and then proceeded to invest somewhere between $50-70 million in renovating the hotel and estate. Read the rest of this entry

AmaWaterways Tulip River Cruise

Beautiful Keukenhof Gardens

 

 

We sailed on the AmaWaterways Prima for a spring trip in the Netherlands and Belgium during tulip season. It was a delightful trip and I would recommend the itinerary for couples as well as groups of friends. It was a seven-day river cruise that departed and returned from Amsterdam.

In addition to Amsterdam, our itinerary included  Hoorn,  Middelburg,  Kinderkijk,  Rotterdam, and Gouda in the Netherlands along with Ghent,  Antwerp, and Bruges in Belgium. You can click each one of those locations to read about my experiences in each port.

Accommodations

The 162-passenger ship was well-appointed and modern. I traveled with a couple of Cabin with French balcony on the AmaWaterways Primagirlfriends and we each booked a separate cabin with a French balcony.  AMA does have some single supplement cabins, but we basically paid double for cabins on the Cello deck with a better location and the French balconies, figuring it would enhance our experience (which it did). For a couple, I would suggest one of the larger cabins or suites, riverboat accommodations are traditionally small. The Beds, bedding, and pillows were super-comfy. Two of the three of us had to have our in-room hairdryer changed for one that was hotter.

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Don’t Go to Gouda Just for Cheese

It typically rains in the Netherlands during the month of April and we were blessed on this trip to escape any weather issues until our afternoon in Gouda. It did rain and it was pretty steady and hard. In spite of the weather, we did have another very special experience. I don’t have many pictures, but am glad we went.

The old town was typically medieval and charming with the incredibly long St John’s church, famous for its extremely tall 16th-century stained-glass windows. But the pièce de résistance was learning how they made the tasty Stroopwafels and getting to make one ourselves. We pressed the pre-formed dough in the waffle press for exactly 35 seconds and then came the tricky part – slicing the thin pastry in half through the center. The knife was VERY sharp and after realizing how difficult it was going to be, I asked for help as did most everyone. After adding a ladle full of cinnamon-infused caramel, you press the two halves together and spin – voila, its ready to eat. It smelled so good and was so nice and toasty, I forgot to take a picture and instead, just gobbled it up.

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A Quick Peek at Rotterdam

I know I’ve had it during trivia games: “What is the largest port in Europe?”

Answer: Rotterdam.

During my recent river cruise during tulip season, we docked on the Meuse River in Rotterdam, a thoroughly modern city, rebuilt after devastating bombing during World War II. There were so many things I wanted to see in the area, I skipped over most of Rotterdam, only seeing enough to appreciate a tiny bit of the ultra-modern and innovative architecture the city has become known for.

Of note are the Cube House residences by architect Piet Blom pictured here. They literally hang over the street and once you are inside containing no walls at 90-degree angles, making it quite a challenge to place furniture. I only know this because I looked up a story about the interior.  Apparently, residents of the 1985 complex were so harassed for a peek inside, one owner opened a museum and another offers hotel-type leasing options.  I think a quick look inside would suffice.

Art & Waffles in Antwerp

Much smaller than I expected, Antwerp was pretty much destroyed by the Nazis during World War II. After walking into the city from the River Scheldt, you can see what remains of the castle/fort now being restored to become part of the cruise port entry hall along with remnants of the original medieval city walls. Long an important port city, Antwerp was occupied by Germany during the war, briefly liberated, and then virtually destroyed as the Nazis tried to keep the valuable port away from Allied armies.  For six months, more than 2,000 V-bombs fell on the city and the surrounding area, until the American anti-aircraft gunners were finally victorious.

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In Bruges

My daughter and son-in-law convinced me to watch the 2008 Colin Farrell movie In Bruges before coming here. I can’t say I would ever recommend anyone watch that dark crime/dramedy, but I did find myself looking around for landmarks. Of course, the majestic town belfry tower does play a significant role in the movie. I was planning to climb to the top of the tower – but when I found out it was 366 steps, well, eating mussels and frites sounded like a much better plan.

Bruges is lovely.  One of the prettiest European cities I’ve visited. With scenic canals draped with weeping willows, this beautifully restored medieval town has a thriving Grote Markt (main square) and many smaller squares lined with cafés, waffle shops and every type of store imaginable, including one of my favorites, Desigual. There were lots of trees and colorful flowers. Belgium is famous for handmade lace and Bruges is considered the place to buy it.  Handmade lace is literally a dying art and it was interesting to see detail about how lace is tatted. Only women between 50 and 90 are left making the famous (Bobbin) lace; they must have amazing eyesight for this level of detail work.

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Holland or Netherlands?

 

We are not in *Holland.

I traveled to Amsterdam to take a river cruise during the tulip season with several of my friends.  The trip was a tribute to a very special friend who is sadly no longer with us.

We were sailing with AMAWaterways on the AMAPrima for a 7-day trip that began and ended in the beautiful city of Amsterdam.  Arriving ahead of the cruise gave us time to recover from the overnight flight, adjust to the time change, and see more of this great city.

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