Bahamas with 6 young grandchildren and their parents, 4/19/19

Spring break and we rented a house in Nassau and flew on Alaska Airline for an adventure in the Bahamas. I found a great house on VRBO in Nassau, getting there from Seattle during Easter week creates many challenges. We arrived on Friday at 10:30 at night and checked into The Grand Hyatt, BAHA MAR. there was no place to eat with 6 young kids under the age of 9 so we ordered room service waited an hour. Next day we headed to the pool to find no chairs at 10am, all reserved by 9am.

That night we discovered that all the restaurants were reserved several weeks in advance so put our names on a wait list for a 8pm seating in an Asian restaurant in the hotel. We were beginning to wonder what we had gotten into. Sunday, Easter and hundreds of kids running all over the grounds looking for a plastic egg, some crying since their baskets were empty. Check out at noon, sit by the pool waiting to leave for our own private house for the week. We loaded in our rented van, Carl did a great job driving on the wrong side of the road and following the hired car that was carrying our luggage to our house for the week. CherylfoxFerguson@live.com was the company and they were there to get us and all our luggage to our house.

The house was in a private area called PALM CAY, we rented a house called “WHITE HOUSE” and it did not disappoint. We were greeted by the owner, Guy, and he made sure we knew every detail about our beautiful house. The house had a great kitchen commercial range, good laundry room and 4 large bedrooms with private baths, plus a large room the kids loved sleeping in on couches with a large tv.

The grocery store, Solomon’s, was less than a mile down the road and while Carl and I headed to the store to stock the house with food and drinks, the parents unpacked and hid Easter Eggs for the kids to find.

Palm Key has a perfect sandy beach in front of the house, calm bay for everyone to swim and play in the water. Just down the beach there is a small beach club, ice cream store and coffee shop. There is a large charge to use their pool or beach so we enjoyed the pool a couple of houses down the beach. This pool is open to all the home owners with no charge.

The next day we just played on the beach and I hired a wonderful chef to come in and cook us a very nice dinner. Chef Everton, chefevertonsmith@gmail.com, +12425359596, chef offered a great selection of menus and was very professional.

The next day we hired a speed boat and captain Braydon Enpata gave us the grand tour. The kids got a chance to swim with turtles, walk on a private island and enjoy the warm water with no one else around, +1242-803-3849, $950 for half day. Worth it!

Dinner at home and roasting marshmallows around the nice fire pit at the house. Was an evening activity that everyone looked forward to.

The sunsets on the beach were wonderful and the bay offered a calm gentle sea for every age. The next day we loaded Everyone in our van and headed to the straw market in downtown Nassau and a fun lunch at LUKKA KAIRI, be sure to try the conch fritters, plus they have free parking under the restaurant. The kids all found a special treasure to take home at the straw market and a good look at all the cruise ships lined up in the port across the street.

The next day was spent at the pool, on the beach looking for shells and Carl took the kids to the ice cream store for late afternoon treats. We cooked dinner at home that night and planned for Everton to come cook for us again the next evening.

Each morning we had CHARMAINE LEE, +1- 242-810-2252, come in to clean for a couple of hours. Then when when we decided to take the bigger kids out to dinner on Friday Charmaine came to babysit the babies. She did a great job and even came by to braid the two bigger girls hair before we left on Saturday. For our big adventure we went out to dinner in town, about 25 minutes away. We ventured back into the port and had a good dinner at LUCIANO’S OF CHICAGO, lucianos@restaurantsbs.com. It was a good place to take the kids because they could get up and wander along the pier and side garden, plus our server made sure the kids were served quickly and everyone had a good time.

It was a great week and I would recommend The White House to anyone needing room for kids and adults to share time. Nassau is a small island and we flew through Atlanta going to and from the island.

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Penang, Malaysia

I had never spent much time in Malaysia, but after spending time in Chiang Mai with my friend Yu Sian, she suggested we fly to Penang and visit one of her friends who was born and raised there.

Yu Sian met SUAN Ee TOH at boarding school when they were both young and they have kept in touch. Suan Ee is a real food lover and is involved in several restaurants in Hong Kong. It’s that being said I was interested to experience the local food scene through her eyes. I believe Penang is today what Singapore was 50 years ago. Not many American tourists, however the Chinese and English have found this lovely city.

We checked into THE E & O hotel, this older hotel is located on the water and under renovation. They have torn down the old original building and are now redoing the entire property. The rooms were lovely, large and well appointed. The view from my room over the ocean was perfect to watch the pink sunsets.

SUAN Ee took us to a very local place to eat fresh fish and crabs. JIA SIANG CAFE is not a place a tourist would find, located a half hour drive across the mountains to the water front where the fishing boats bring in their catch every morning. Because we ate such a big lunch we went to a very local noodle house close to the hotel. The HON KEI CAMPBELL, is a long well lit room with a simple menu of local noodle dishes all around $3.00 each.

The next morning we did a tour of local residential neighborhoods to see how the city lives. Then headed to visit a well organized spice plantation for tourist to understand what grows in the country, how the spices are used and the vegetation. We had a simple lunch at their restaurant, THE MONKEY TREE, not the best. Since we were in the area we stopped at the Butterfly reserve, beautiful project and worth the stop.

Back in town we headed to another 3 hour spa service at SIAM PARADISE, http://www.siamparadise.com. This spa was not as upscale as what we had experienced in Chiang Mai, but the services we top notch. My 3 hour service was about $45 US dollars and their reflexology foot treatments we first class.

Simple dinner at a traditional Malay house called WINN’S Cafe, no beer or wine, but you could bring your own. The food is clean and nice service all for about $8 a person for fresh local food.

The next morning after an amazing breakfast at the hotel we headed to the local hawker stalls for their traditional breakfast of noodles.After eating a second breakfast we went to tour the Peranakan Mansion. In history the families of this era were Chinese immigrants that married Malaya in both Singapore and Malaysia. Some became very wealthy and their life style is depicted in every room of this grand house. The history is worth the tour!

We had lunch next to the hotel at THE MANSION, sitting outside on the water under lovely trees and sharing fresh fruit and shrimp salads. It was hot and humid and so a retreat to our rooms for a rest before our last meal at MAPLE PALACE, this beautiful Chinese restaurant is a must see if you go to Penang. The food is top and they welcome you to bring your own wine. Everything we ordered was perfect and the service was to match.

Our visit to Penang was fast but interesting and a real step back in time. Not sure I will be back anytime soon, but with the help of Yu Sian and her friend SUAN Ee I loved every minute of the adventure.

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Thailand, Chiang Mai

Last week I flew to Singapore to meet my friend Yu Sian, share dinner, spend the night and then fly to Chiang Mai.

Of course when in Singapore you must go eat Chili crabs and black pepper crabs. We went to have a drink at Dempsey Cookhouse and Bar, 170 Dempsey Road, this restaurant has a very Japanese feel. You will find special gadgets for the bar and gifts that you will want to own.

This project was where the army barracks were for years and now has been turned into a great place to gather with friends and enjoy great food in a beautiful park setting. Next door is LONG BEACH SEAFOOD @ Dempsey is the restaurant for those Chili Crabs.

Up early for our flight to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand. We grabbed our luggage and headed to our lovely small hotel, RACHAMANKHA, 8 Rachamankha. This hotel is located in the old city with easy access to many shops, restaurants and great spas.

Our first lunch was at Ginger/house restaurant, 199 Moon Muang Road.

Crispy rice cakes with Sa-Teh sauce

With our taste buds excited we decided we needed to walk the old city and just wander until we grabbed a TukTuk for a ride back to the hotel, $1.25, our driver was named Ped and we called him often to get us back to our hotel. The old city is a maze of streets, shops and little places to get a foot massages. After a couple of hours rest we met my friend Lance in the small cool bar in the hotel.

Lance would be our guide for all the secret places in Chiang Mai. I knew Lance from Seattle and was thrilled to reconnect in Thailand. We wanted to see where the locals ate, so off we went to BAAN NUB DOL. this very local restaurant is off the grid about 20 minutes outside the old city. Lance ordered 5 dishes, including Miang Kham, fresh leaves from a local tree or you may use lettuce cups. The leaves are filled with shredded coconut, peanuts, red onion, lime pieces, ginger,dried shrimp, and sweet tamarind sauce. We would see this great appetizer often just love this picture and wanted to show it.

The whole dinner for the 3 of us was $20.00, no wine or beer here just great food.

Top of our list was to tour all the markets. First the flower market, many of the fresh flowers are in stored coolers since it is hot even in the early morning. Then the vegetable market where it is the beginning of strawberry and mango season.When we arrived at San Pa Khoi, the food market, it was a full overload of spices, fresh fruits, meat and fish.

After I bought the little chimes for my granddaughter we headed out to have lunch at a beautiful small hotel, 137 PILLAR HOUSE, a 30 suite hotel set in the middle of lush gardens. Pillar is near the Ping River and the Na Wat Gate. Our lunch was in a beautiful room with food presented perfectly, especially the pomelo salad with soft shell crab on top. The dishes here are not as spicy as traditional Thai food, this was much more American pallet.

After our big lunch we got out Tuk Tuk back to our hotel so we could prepare for our spa service. One of the greatest thing about Chiang Mai are the many spa services offered at top spas or simple street locations. We booked at a beautiful upscale spa, MAKKHA, located 2 blocks from our hotel. Makkha offers a large selection of services. We chose a one hour leg and foot massage, followed by a one hour Thai massage, then you finish with a one hour hot stone and warm oil massage. Now after 3 hours of being pampered we sit and sip a perfect spice tea and pay the bill, $90.00.

Back to our hotel to sit by our pool under umbrellas, read our books and regroup before we met Lance for dinner.A little change of pace, Lance took us to his friends restaurant CHEZ MARCO. Chez Marco is a fusion blend of Mediterranean flavors. We had been eating so much Thai food the duck confit was a fun change, the father son team has created a wonderful mix of local and Italian, French flavors.

The next morning after another lovely breakfast in our hotel restaurant we started our walk to another market and then just wander the streets. I believe to get your best feeling of a city and the people that live there is to walk their neighborhoods, explore their shops and of course have a plan for your next meal. Our lunch stop was at a great restaurant, WOO, as you enter the courtyard you can already feel the energy. Flowers everywhere, as you go in the door you will realize the magic of the decor and watch the plates of food being served. These photos show how beautiful each dish was served the sticky rice salad was mixed at the table and the tower of watermelon topped with what they call cereal, crisp rice and noodles with dried shrimp. AMAZING at every turn. We finished lunch and the wandered through their great shop before heading back to our hotel for a rest from the heat and all the food we had just eaten.

Our last evening was spent at my friend Lance’s home where he created a dinner for us with hundreds of orchid stems woven together creating a canopy above the table. Lance had turned his carport into a dining room, invited 12 other interesting guests and several local women to design a dinner to remember. Dinner was 8 different dishes plus starter of Miang Kham, the dish we had eaten many times while in Thailand, however this was perfect. The fresh vine leaves or little lettuce cups stuffed with shredded coconut, peanuts, onion, ginger. Lime rind, dried shrimp and topped with sweet tamarind sauce, I can still taste it. Followed by different curry dishes, pamela salad, slow-cooked pork stew, a prawn dish and more.

Thank you Lance and friends for a wonderful send off since we had to leave the next day back to Singapore. If you have a chance to go to this part of the world Chiang Mai must be on your list, a city that welcomes everyone.

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Return to Dubai after several years

Carl and I flew to Dubai on our way to Jordan. We flew Emirates from Seattle nonstop to Dubai. It is hard to believe you can fly half way around the world in 14 hours. Emirates will pick you up at your home if you are flying business class and then after you collect your luggage in Dubai they drive you to our hotel, in our case, The Taj Dubai.

We met several friends in the lobby and just ate a lovely Chinese dinner in the hotel, great food but very noisy. We arrive at 7:30pm so no time to go out. After a good night sleep our driver picked us up, we booked with Viator, owned by Trip Advisor. Our guide took us for a full tour of the city, including a trip to the old city and spice market. I always buy black pepper and saffron from one of the vendors, of course there are many hawkers trying to persuade you into their shop so take your time and trust your guide. After a simple walk through the gold market and people watching we headed to the grand mall. Each mall has a special attraction, this one had the largest aquarium and is located at the base of The Burj.

We had made arrangements in advance for tickets to the top of BURJ KHALIFA, It is a quick one minute up 126 stories to the observation deck. Since we had a time slot on our ticket the line was only about 20 minutes. It is hard to believe that just since 1967 a full city has emerged from the sand desert. The view of the entire city is available from the top, looking out at the hundreds of new high rises and cranes, you wonder who is going to occupy all that space.

We then did a quick tour of the Palm where the Atlantis hotel is located and wandered along the water front. Realizing that this too had been created from dredging the sea. There is no history here only new buildings and memories from the people that were living here before 1967. Our tour operator was from Holiday Adventures and gave us a wonderful full day tour explaining how the city was laid out and what was being built now. They work 24 hours a day building since the trucks and supplies can not be brought in during the day, to much traffic and congestion will happen at every turn.

After 6 hours in a car we decided to eat in the hotels Indian restaurant and were not disappointed. Up early the next morning for a tour of Abu Dhabi, about an hour plus drive. Our first stop was THE GRAND MOSQUE, the largest mosque in the country. We toured the whole mosque with many others, but it is self guided so you go at your own pace. It is hard to believe what has been built, all the white stone and marble, in lays of colored stone forming flowers up the amazing columns. This is a must if you go to Dubai.

Leaving the mosque after over an hour long tour we headed out to drive past the Emirates Palace stop for a few photos and then on to THE HERITAGE VILLAGE AND the small museum inside. This is just a recreation of what life was like before the discovery of oil. We did stop at a local restaurant serving traditional food, nothing fancy. There was not time to visit the famous museum that have opened their doors in Abu Dhabi. It was another hour and half ride home and we were in need to rest after 7 hours in a car.

After a quick change of clothes we got an UBER back to the base of The Burj for a great dinner at “BICE MARE”. This restaurant serves lovey fresh fish with a view of the BURJ where they do an over the top light show up the sides of The Burj with a music and water show right in front of you. We sat outside on the patio overlooking the man made lake where the water show happens every 30 minutes.

We packed as much as possible in the 2 days, but had a great overview of what Dubai is today, who knows what tomorrow will be like.

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Jordan, a true adventure

We flew from Dubai north to Amman, Jordan. I had wanted to visit Jordan and the city of Petra for a long time. Working with Cox and King, a world wide travel company, they helped me design a tour of Jordan. We gathered a group of friends to join us and met in Amman on January 23, 2019. Checking into the 4 Seasons hotel a couple days before the planned tour we had time to explore Amman with just a couple of friends.

Before you venture into Jordan a book worth reading is MARRIED TO A BEDOUIN, by Marguerite Geldermalsen. This book will give you a feeling of Petra and the people that live and work there. I wish I had read it before we arrived instead of after we got home. Marguerite was in Petra meeting people when we were walking through the ruins. She was sitting close to the cave she and her husband lived in and raised their children until all the residents were moved out to a new settlement. Quick easy paperback book.

The hotel is located in a high end neighborhood with easy access to good restaurants so we chose LEVANT for your first experience of local Jordanian cuisine. They presented us with several plates of hummus, different pickles, small eggplants stuffed with pine nuts and a couple of spicy dips, Moutabal a roasted eggplant spread served at most every meal. They offered kabobs and a veal shank served in a jar with a pastry crust cover. We shared several dishes followed by fresh fruits, mint tea and a very sweet array of little pastries. As the week progressed we realized that most meals, lunch and dinner always start with many little mezza placed on the table when you first begin to order.

We used UBER to get every where. It is inexpensive, fast and the drivers know their way around. The next morning we headed up to the Cinatel, located on top of one of the 7 hills that surrounds the valley. This ruin has been occupied since the Bronze Age and changes taking place during the Byzantine and Umayyad periods. We used a guide at the entrance that did a great job explaining the history of this sacred hill top. As we finished he pointed out the Temple of Hercules.

After spending time in Dubai with no history we were overwhelmed with the buildings found under the years of rubble and the history of this country through the centuries. We walked down from the hill top winding through the neighborhood to the old town and a restaurant recommended by our guide. When we found the little restaurant, HASHEM, we were seated among all the locals. The waiter quickly covered our little tin table with a sheet of plastic and with a nod brought us little plates of mezza, pita, French fries and small coke or water. You eat with your hands and when we finished the bill was $3.00 per person. Then the server wrapped everything on the table up in the plastic and gave us a nod. We were off to wonder the souks before returning to the hotel.

Dinner that evening was at a wonderful Lebanese restaurant, TANNOUREEN, the service was fast and efficient with the array of mezza plates to start. The Jordanian wine is good both red and white and picked right. If you order any imported wine it is Very expensive stick with the local wine.

The next morning we headed to the Jordan museum, housed in a beautiful modern building and worthy of its international standing. Worth the time and the location puts you in the perfect location to visit the Roman Theater which we saw the day before from the top of the Cinatel.

As we wander the narrow streets of old town we saw many small shops selling amazing sweet pastries like the ones in the picture above. Be sure to stop and buy to eat later, a must.

We watched the men stream out of the mosque following afternoon prayers, a mass of people moving through the souqs next to the fruit market. We grabbed an Uber again and headed to the Kings Car Museum, over 100 special cars and motorcycles used by the royal family for years. The children’s museum was also located next to the car museum. The two building sit atop a hill overlooking the valley. You see many families sharing picnics while seated among the pine trees on the week-end afternoons.

We headed back to the hotel to meet the rest of our group and prepare for dinner at FAKHRELDIN, a wonderful busy family restaurant. We were seated at a large round table with a platter of fresh vegetables as a centerpiece. The service was fast and efficient, after drinks and appetizers were ordered we shared many new tastes. They had a couple of fried kibbe, lamb stuffed with pine nuts, beautiful soft sheep cheese served with tomatoes and dusted with za’tar. The main courses were large enough to share and their famous kabobs lived up to their reputation.

The next morning our group organized in the lobby greeted by our guide for the week, Hassan. We headed north an hour to the city of JERASH. As you enter this ancient city through the Hadrian’s Arch you realize that is was a city of great wealth. On the drive to Jerash we could see that this area is the bread basket of Jordan where most of the fruits and vegetables are raised in the fertile valley. As we entered the the gates of these Roman ruins you see that there are enough remaining structures for archaeologists to piece together ancient life. There were grand public monuments, baths and fountains. j

Jerash was largely a Roman creation settled during the reign of Alexander The Great (333 BC). We spent several hours listening to our first history lesson and wandering the massive ruins.

On the way back to Amman we stopped at a local small restaurant run by local women of IRAQ AL AMIR, they served us a version of their chicken rice dish and lovely parsley salads. These ladies also have a pottery studio and paper making studio in the same space all being made by local women.

Back in Amman we had a few hours to rest before we were hosted by a local family in their home. We were served a wonderful dinner and interesting conversation. Our hosts, the Khzouz family their 3 daughters were all there to serve us great local wine and a full spread of salads and chicken riceThe next morning we check out of our hotel and headed south to Petra. On the way we stopped at Mt. Nebo, the site of Moses’ tomb. The Moses memorial church is perched on top of summit with a commanding view of The Dead Sea, Israel and The Palestinian Territory. The church houses amazing mosaics from around AD530.

Then on to Madaba, home to original Byzantine mosaics from the 6th century. The region around Madaba has been inhabited for around 4500 years, impossible to imagine. This town is one of the few that claims to have the largest Christian communities in Jordan, one third of the population is Christian. They say that Madaba is a typical King’s Highway town. We shared a great lunch at “FOOD BASKET”, where we were presented with MAQLUBBEH, a slow cooked rice dish including potatoes, cauliflower and local seasonal vegetables and chicken on top, garnished with cardamom and fresh herbs on top.

We had another 2 hour drive to reach PETRA across desert like terrain spotted with small villages, Bedouin tents, goat herders and camels. We reached Petra at dusk and check into the MOVENPICK HOTEL, located at the entrance to Petra. Three times a week guests can walk through the narrow rift in the landscape lit only by hundreds of candles placed along the 2 mile path opening to the large tomb called the Treasury.

Once we reached the Treasury we settled down to listen to local musicians play while watching the candles flicker. There was a light show reflected off the huge carved tomb and then we all started the 2 mile walk back through the Sig, a narrow path gradual uphill walk with the dark star lit sky peeking through the towering cliffs.

The next morning after a huge breakfast we met our guide, Hassan, and began walking back through the towering cliffs for our first look at the amazing architecture chiseled out of pink-hued cliffs. Hassan explained how the Petra necropolis was built partly to honor the dead. The history dates back to 7000 BC, however most of Petra was built over 500 years by the Nabataeans. We walked together back to the largest tomb called the Treasury. If you have trouble walking any distance you can have a buggy ride from the entrance in an old cart with a Bedouin driver for about $10.00 or a camel ride to the entrance of The Treasury.

After time spent at the base of the Treasury we began to walk around the bend to view many more tombs, some carved high up on the sheer walls. The tombs were created as a place to bury their dead and have them protected for centuries to come. Later many of the over 500 tombs were occupied by the Bedouin and their families to keep them from the elements during summers heat and winters cold nights. Several of us ventured up the over 800 rock steps to the famous monastery and the view of Wadi Araba. Along the way you encounter families selling local crafts while heating their tea pots on their little fires. If you want to shop and buy little items be sure to bargain!!!

On your way back to the hotel you can catch a camel ride if you need a lift, a small group of us logged over 9 miles wandering through the massive walls with carved tombs on both sides.

That night we had the great pleasure of having dinner in The Cave Bar, located right outside our hotel. This cave is over 2000 years old and we had reserved ahead to enjoy a 5 course meal while a young woman sang in the background. Great experience in every way. Remember there is a 26% tax and service charge on your meal. Another choice recommended was a place called the Petra Kitchen just down the street where you have a local chef giving a cooking class and then sharing the dinner with everyone attending the class.

The next morning after checking out of our hotel we drove a short distance to see the area called Little Petra where it is believed that travelers would stop to be fed and stay for a while. There was a lovely temple that we decided was the perfect place for our group photo.

Our next adventure was awaiting after a 2 1/2 drive we arrived in an area called Wadi Rum, a desert camp set up in the sand at the base of amazing rock structures. We were guest in the very modern Martian Domes at “BESPOKE CAMP”. There are about 20 upscale domes with queen size beds and lovely full bathrooms. The clear front of each dome, looking out over the large decks give you a perfect view of the night sky and thousands of stars. When evening comes we walked to the huge dinner dome and enjoyed a simple Jordanian dinner with roasted lamb and chicken cooked in a ground oven called a ZERB.

after dinner we would sit in an outside area with music blasting and many people smoking the NARGILEH, a water pipe with s strawberry flavored tobacco. I guess since there is no alcohol served at the camp this was a good replacement. Of course the day before when many of the group went on an ATV ride through the desert we bought a case of wine from the other camp and brought it back to share in the outdoor area.

The next morning we were met by our camel walkers and all set off on a ne adventure through the sand on the back of our camels. Later in the late afternoon we went in the back of Toyota pickups for a sunset tour of the surrounding desert mountains and sand dunes. Every moment was a new experience and enjoyed by all.

The owner of this camp, SULTAN AL-NAWAFLEH, sultan@suncitycamp.com was there to make sure everything was to our liking.

The world is so amazing, as we drive away from the desert and head to the Dead Sea it is hard to recall all the history, people and experiences we have shared. When we arrive at the Kempinski hotel and check into our rooms it is like another world. This hotel is spread out facing the Dead Sea and looking across to Israel. So close, but so far away. The hotel boasts one of the largest spas in the country, they has 7 swimming pools and lovely restaurants to serve everyone taste.

One of the interesting things we had all read about is the water in the Dead Sea and it’s healing properties along with the black mud that you cover your body with to help make your dry skin silken again. I think the pictures are worth a thousand words here.

The restaurant at the hotel, ASHUR with chef Emanual was fabulous. We had the chef prepare special dinners for us both nights and some of the best pasta and risotto out side of Italy. After two relaxing days with spa treatments and time to sit by the pool and read we headed back to Amman for our last lunch at ABU JBARA. This very local restaurant served falafel and shwarma with moutabal and fatteh, like hummus only topped with Ghee from sheep’s butter. Of course plenty of pita for our departing meal as we said goodbye to Jordan and it’s amazing people.

If you ever want a great guide HASSAN ABuZayed is the best, e-mail is hadad932@yahoo.com

This trip was helped in all the planning with Cox and King and I can not thank them enough. Sorry for such a long story, but there was so much more to say it was hard to get it down to what I have written. Thank you to all our friends that joined in our adventure and shared memories for a life time.

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Italy revisited 10/15/18

It was my birthday and I flew to Milan to share a few special days with my friends in Fidenza, small town just north of Parma. When I arrived a driver, Veronica France was waiting for me. Veronica can be booked on her web site, info@verodriver.com or +393402436094, she drives a beautiful black Mercedes with plenty of room.

With my girl friends in charge they booked us at the most wonderful 1star restaurant on the outskirts of Parma. INKIOSTRO, Via San Leonardo 124, chef Terry Giacomello and owner Francesca Poli were there to make sure every detail was taken care of. if you are in the area has an upscale hotel next door. Every course was beautiful to look at and so delicious. The little micro greens topped small courses on exquisite plates. My main course was rabbit tenderloin with little mushrooms.

The next day we wandered the outlet mall next to the Fidenza exit then lunch at KM90 right off exit Casello from A1. KM90 makes their own pasta and offer large trays of local sliced Parma ham, cheese and culatello. After lunch we just wandered around the little village of Fidenza had a coffee and followed by a short nap before we headed out to the long awaited dinner with the seasonal white truffles. Our dinner was at a simple local restaurant in Salsomaggiore, OSTRERIA BELLARIA, know for its mushrooms of every kind.

The next morning I took the local train to Bologna and caught the speed train to Rome. Every time I have a chance to wander the streets in Rome I am amazed how diverse each area is and how many new neighborhood restaurants I find. I checked into Inn at the Spanish Steps, this hotel is at the base of the Spanish Steps with several out buildings each with one and two bedroom suites and a new 3 bedroom suite. Great prices and perfect location, breakfast is served in the main building every morning and late afternoon happy hour on the deck on the 4th floor.

We tried a few new small restaurants that were on the radar. First night we walked to Cacio e Pepe, Via G Auezzana 11. This little local restaurant is famous for its pasta and they lived up to their reputation. The next day after walking along the many streets and shopping we ended up on Via Veneto and lunch at Baccanale. Sitting outside on the sidewalk I loved the carpaccio and lovely glass of wine. Great place to watch the well dressed shoppers walk by.

That evening we ventured out to try a new small restaurant called TRATTORIA SANTO PALATO. The chef is a 30 year old woman and she is getting rave reviews for her simple Italian cuisine with interesting new twist. The restaurant is about 30 minutes from the steps so not sure if you only have a few days to dine in Rome this is where you would head. However, with that being said the next day we went to one of my favorite places for lunch, The Du Russe Hotel. Be sure to make reservations for the patio and experience the wonderful buffet and don’t forget to ask to see their wine list.

Our last night before heading to Sicily we had a great dinner at NUMERI PRIMI, Via del Polliteama 8, at Plaza Trillussa a hopping place. NUMERI PRIMI is a fish restaurant and every plate was better than the next. Love the ceviche, and pasta with scallops but the menu changes often.

OFF TO SICILY TO COOK WITH FRIENDS AND CHEF JOANNE WEIR. Joanne organizes cooking adventures, JOANNE WEIR CULINARY TOURS.COM, all over the world and this was one to remember. We flew into Catania and our driver picked us up for our ride to the house Joanne had reserved.

LIMO SERVICE “NCC” info@nccatania.net, Giuseppe and team, drive Mercedes cars and vans so you travel in style.

We arrived at our amazing villa, ROCCA Della TRE CONTRATE, Joanne greeted all of us and gave us our recipes and talked about all the planned adventures for the week.The first evening were prepared dinner with the in-house chef Dora and Joanne’s recipes. We had a chance to do both hands on cooking and demo classes where we watched and then shared our dishes at dinner. The house is large with plenty of room to spread out and relax when we were not out exploring or eating and drinking local wines.

The next morning we headed out to Catania for a walking tour and lunch and wine tasting in the seafood market. More fish that you will ever see in any local market. We had lunch at MM1, via Pardo, 34 right off Piazza Del Duomo. They prepare great fish bought right outside their front door and many different pasta dishes with local wines.

Back to the villa to cook and share our lovely dishes after a local wine exporter explained the types of grapes and style of local wines.

No visit to Sicily is complete without a hike on Mt. Etna. Joanne had made arrangements for several local guides and Etna experts to guide us up the lower part of the volcano. Etna, at 10,900 feet, looms large in the distance no matter where you are in Sicily. There was a dusting of snow on the top the day we did our hike. The temperature is cold so be sure to bring a heavy coat for your hike if you are lucky enough to go. Our hike took most of the morning so lunch was a welcome site at BENANTI WINERY.We learned about the grapes used in local wines. The red grape is (Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio) the white grape is (Carricante) you can go to info@benanti.it to learn about this beautiful winery. Back to the house to prepare our dinner with the help of chef Dora and Joanne.

Next day we were up early for a trip to Siracusa, we had a great guide, Marco Sanzaro, info@personal-tourist-assistant.it. Marco explained the history of this seaside town and we had a great walking tour. We could have spent the whole day wandering, but lunch and wine tasting was next. We went into BARGO SANTO SPIRITO, great wine store and local meats and cheeses for lunch.

Every minute of your week with Joanne’s trips are filled with surprises. One evening at a small local winery we had a 5 course dinner and local musicians preformed while we watched on.

Back at the villa the next day after one more great breakfast of local fruit and fresh baked lemon scones we planned for a trip to Taormina, this hill side town is steeped in history, great restaurants and plenty of shopping. We enjoyed lunch at VICO TEOFANE CERAMEO 2, amazing view, large fresh salads and perfect pizzas. I do not think you can go wrong with any of the restaurants that line the hill side. If you have a chance take the tram down to ISOLA BELLA, the Greco Theater.

The last evening we were treated to dinner created by Chef Dora, pasta Alla Norma made using local eggplant and tomatoes was so perfect. We realize after this week that Americans always tend to overlook their pasta and never add enough salt to the water. We all dressed in white and enjoyed every bite of food created by Joanne, Dora and the team of friends that had gathered together for a week of memories. We left with great recipes that we all look forward to creating when we return home.

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Madrid, Spain revisited

As many times I return to Madrid I always experience something new. In mid September I took Carl’s two daughters for their first visit to this amazing city. We arrived and checked into a small hotel I have stayed in before, Catalonia at Atocha 36. There are several hotels owned by The Catalonia group. This is a smaller property off Plaza Mayor. I think the location of the hotel puts it in easy walking distance to all the important sites.

We headed out to explore, stopping for tapas lunch at Mercado San Miguel, a couple blocks from Plaza Mayor. This is one of my favorite stops for everything Spanish when it comes to food. Wander through the food stalls and buy little plates of everything from olives, sliced iberico ham and sliced fruit. Grab a glass of local wine and little pieces of anchovies on bread.

From the Mercado we walked down to the Palace Real, the kings palace. If you want to tour the palace get tickets in advance the line was long. Back to the hotel for a rest before we had a light dinner sitting outside at Plaza Santana, just a couple of blocks from the hotel. This plaza is home to several outdoor restaurants. We chose Tabernacle Vina and enjoyed several simple plates of grilled vegetables, sausages and the iberico ham, of course a bottle of local wine to complement the food.

Then off to see the late show of Flamenco at “casa Patas”, there are several flamenco shows, but this is a small space very close to the hotel and has good dancers.

Just as a reference I had also stayed just up the street from our hotel at Catalonia Puerta Del Sol. This is owned by the same group and a larger hotel, however I think the rooms were newer and brighter at our smaller hotel.

We were up early the next day and headed to the Prado museum for a tour of the collection of Spanish art in the older part of the museum. Always a must for anyone not just on your first visit, but every visit. We grabbed a taxi and joined friends at a amazing restaurant outside to town in an area called FUEN CARRAL, the restaurant is called “Filandon” 917343826. Filandon is a beautiful property, you will not see tourists at this place. If you go order the fish the serving is more than generous to share.

After our lunch we headed back to town and a short nap before we headed out for the next surprise. CHOCOLATERIA SAN GINES, at Pasadizo de San Gines 5, this 100 year old shop is famous for serving chocolate as thick as pudding with Cairo’s for dipping. A must visit!
It always seems that the more you explore the more discoveries, we walked to the neighborhood called Malasana where we discovered “Mercado San Ildefonso” a 3 story building filled with little food stalls each one more inviting than the last. The street, Calle Fuencarral, offered an assortment of great small shops with many local products. The girls headed out to see their first bull fight while I took a well deserved rest. src=”https://reneebehnke.files.wordpress.com/2018/09/img_1354.jpg” class=”size-medium alignright wp-image-1553″ width=”4032″ height=”3024″>

We had a late dinner close to the hotel at ” El Barril de Las Letras”, Cervantes 28, good choice in a new upscale space. I had a perfect steak tartare, the girls had their steak grilled, and we shared 2 large grill red prawns with a little side salad of local tomatoes.
We ventured out early and had a nice breakfast at La Terraza in Plaza Santana then it was time for shopping in the upscale area. The main street of Serrano offers every high end stores with every beautiful thing you could dream of wearing. Serrano street is a few blocks from the museums and high end hotels. Since we were in walking distance we went to visit the Monet exhibit at The Thyssen museum. Our lunch was simple tapas in the courtyard of Plaza Mayor.
Dinner at Tabernacle Laredo, Calle Doctor Costello 30, is always good. I had a salad with little shrimp and a plate of rabbit ribs cooked to a crispy finish, perfect. The bar is casual with young people sharing small plates and the dining room upstairs is bright and has a bigger menu and great wine list.

There is a new hotel I would like to try sometime—GRAN HOTEL INGLES, Calle Echegaray 8.
A couple of restaurants I wanted to go back to but did not reserve in advance so ran out of time. CASA BENIGNA, great paella and rice dishes. Another is LA TASQUERIA de JAVI ESTAVEZ, Calle Duque de Sesto 48.

Next morning we headed for Barcelona and a new hotel for me, MUR MURI, in a very up scale neighborhood away from the busy tourist area. The hotel also has several apartments that can be rented just around the corner. I did see the two bedroom until and it was great for a family or 2 couples.
We arrived later in the afternoon and just headed out to explore. That evening we had a 9pm reservation at an A+ restaurant called, “WINDSOR” located a few blocks from the hotel, Corsega 286. We shared several dishes featuring local mushrooms since this is their mushroom season. They offered a good wine list and each course was better than the last. We were seated in a courtyard in the back full of amazing plants and flowers.
We did all the basic Gaudi tourist things, remember to buy your tickets on line before going to Basilica of Sagrada Familia. We did not have any problem getting tickets at Casa Bitilo, the house designed by Gaudi and this was one of the girls favorite sites.
We headed to La Boqueria for a late lunch at “BAR CENTRAL”, located in the back of the Boqueria. We ordered plates of razor clams, long thin stirfried clams. The girls had chocolate crepes for desert at another stand and we bought nuts and Spanish saffron at the spice stall. There are many different qualities of saffron so do you homework.
Then continued wandering the old town, visit to the Picasso museum, here again best to get tickets on line before you go. There are plenty of fun shops to visit as you wander through the Gothic area, old town.
Take time to walk on the beach and along the port. There are many little restaurants to stop in have a few olives and pitcher of sangria late afternoon while you watch all the beach activity.
We went up to Gaudi’s gardens for sunset, but the top area is under construction so everyone was crowded into half of the courtyard. The next time you are in Barcelona it should be finished and ready for your visit.
Our last day was just a trip back to the Boqueria for the last look and to buy some Iberico ham that has been vacu sealed so we could bring it home. After so many tapas bars we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the beautiful Mandrin Hotel on our way back to our hotel. The Mandrin’s restaurant for lunch is so open and cool after walking in the heat of the day. That night we had dinner at “Bardot”, Eric Grwmados 147, a small restaurant close to the hotel with a perfect outdoor seating area in a courtyard shared by several restaurants..
Every time I have the opportunity to visit these cities I find new and exciting places that I look forward to returning again.
Sounds like all we did was eat but I think that is one of the things you will find the Spaniard love to do. Remember dinner after 9 or you will be alsone in most fine restaurants.

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Filed under dining, spain, madrid, barcelona, Travel, Uncategorized