Tag Archives: food

Barge trip in France with Friends

Carl and I have shared barge trips with friends before, but each trip brings new discovery. We gathered 10 friends months in advance to share a week long trip on the FRENCH COUNTRY WATERWAYS barge Nenuphar. We have cruised with other companies before, but nothing comes close to the experience offered by this company. 

A little about our boat:    We had 6 large king size bedded rooms ensuite. The barge is very spacious with a nice outside deck where you will find your 12 lovely bikes stored, ready for your morning ride. The 6 crew members ar always ready to make sure your every wish is taken care of. Our amazing chef, Kim, prepared 3 wonderful meals using all the fresh ingredients purchased each day in the local villages. 

We were met at a wonderful hotel in Paris, Hotel Regina, 2, place des Pyrqmides, across from the Louvre. The barge company offered us a special rate so it made the pick up very easy.  On Sunday early afternoon we were greeted by our guide and driver for the week, Charlie, with a large bus ready for the trip to our barge moored in the village of TANLAY.  We settled in, had a welcome dinner and got the details of our week ahead. We were cruising the Canal de Bourgogne, while the boat heads to the first in a series of 36 locks we got on our helmets and headed out along the path on our bikes. After lunch while the barge makes its way through the locks Charlie takes us to visit a great winery and we have our first introduction to Chablis wine. The wine maker explains the difference between Grand Cru and Premier Cru Chablis, offering tastings of both. Later over dinner we will share our first of many bottles of French Chablis and other regional wines. While we were learning about the wine and how the vineyards differ the barge was on its journey to the village of LEZINNES where we would moor for the evening. 

The next morning some of us were up early for a hot air balloon ride across the fields while the sun was rising. The lovely quiet ride ended after about and hour we had a smooth landing, after a champagne toast we were back at the barge in time for breakfast.  Charlie was ready to take us to the village of Ancy-le Franc, we had time to wander this old village and learn about its history and visit the church that is the center of  every town.  Of course we were back at the barge in time for another great lunch and a bike ride to the medieval capital of lower Burgundy, AUXERRE. 

It was now our third day on the barge and we are settled into the leisurely pace of canal living. Some of us walk from one of the lock houses to the next waiting for the barge to pick us up others take off on their morning bike ride to explore small villages along the way.  Then before lunch Charlie takes us on a walking tour to explore the village of NOYERS looking in the shops for our next treasure or sharing a cup of coffee in a local shop.  Later in the afternoon some of us go to CHATEAU OF ANCY-Le-FRANC, an amazing chateau owned by an American who is in the process of rebuilding the many gardens and restoring the chateau.  The boat will spend the night in the village of RAVIERES.

The next morning we went to visit an 18th century forge, FORGES de BUFFON. This area was a large producer of steel during the 18 hundreds because of the location next to 2 rivers and the canal there was water for power and easy access to shipping to Paris and other parts of France. The barge continued through the locks docking at MONTBARD for the evening. We had the opportunity to enjoy dinner at the famous 2 star restaurant, LE RELAIS BERNARD LOISEAU in Saulieu. This lovely hotel and restaurant was about 45 minutes from MONTBARD, but Charlie was a great driver and after 4 hours of eating and drinking good wine we arrived back safe at the barge. 

  • Friday morning we were up early to go to the farmers market in Montbard to buy a few special things we wanted to have chef Kim prepare. We bought the sweet Tuscan melons that we never have in Seattle and huge white asparagus which Kim did a great job serving for lunch. We got on our bikes to make up for all the local pastry, cheeses and wines we had been eating, time to count steps. We met the barge several locks later and cruised to VANAREY-Les-LAUMES.  After our amazing lunch and the required afternoon cheese course Charlie took us to visit ABBAYE de FONTENAY.  That evening was a lovely captains dinner since we would all be going our separate ways in the morning. 

The story would not be complete with out mentioning that each day after lunch we were served 3 different cheeses and the same following our amazing 3 course dinner with simple green salad. The introduction to all these cheeses was a wonderful education,  some that we knew and other that we had never tried, but look forward to finding at a local cheese shop later. I have to add a couple of my favorite cheeses were Fleur de Marquis, Brillat Savarin and a lovely Bleu de Causse, but with 36 cheeses served in a week it was hard to remember the wonderful flavors of each. 

We can not say enough good about a week spent in slow motion cruising along the French Country side. French Country Waterway has several beautiful barges to choose from, whether you want to gather several couple or just join others go to their web site or call Effie at 1-800-222-1236 and they will send you a brochure.

Thank you to the great staff and all our friends for sharing a very special week. Renee and Carl

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Myanmar through my eyes

I have just returned from an amazing trip to Myanmar/Burma with several friends. This is a country that is ready to explode with tourists. They have doubled their American tourists in the past 2 years and you could see in each city changes that are occurring. Before I begin to talk about the country and its people a few house keeping notes.

First we organized our own tour with the help of Country Holidays, a travel company out of Singapore,— http://www.countryholidays.com.sg. This is the 2nd time we have engaged Country Holiday to assist in Asian travels and I must tell everyone, they once again organized an over the top trip.  Our direct contact is Sheena Seah, her email is sheena@countryholidays.com.sg. I can not say enough great things about Sheena, every detail was addressed and since we were conducting business over the internet that is saying a lot.

We departed from Singapore for Yangon for our first night. We were met by our guide and ventured out to the Gem Museum to see all the fine stones that are found in the mines of Myanmar, sapphires in every shade of blue. There were also rubies and many different sizes and types of pearls.

A couple of the ladies did buy pearl earrings and one purchased a beautiful ring. The prices were very good and everyone loved the opportunity to negotiate for the best price available. (Dr. Khin at May Mon Jewels was a great help, be sure to stop by her booth.) We felt that by shopping for high quality stones in this museum we were guaranteed to be buying good quality and that the stones/pearls would not be fakes.

We continued on a quick over view tour of the city and headed to lunch at Monsoon Restaurant for our first real Myanmar food.  The dishes we enjoyed were a mix of Indian and Chinese flavors. It is the way that the ingredients are combined that makes the cuisine different. You will find a mild version of curries using fish, pork and beef. The vegetables are clean and crisp, much like Chinese stir fry or wrapped in banana leaves then steamed or grilled. Many dishes come with a version of the noodles of China and rice or chickpeas. You will love the use of palm sugar, coconut milk and sour tamarind in main dishes as well as their many sweet deserts.

On the way to our hotel, The Governors Residence, we stopped for a tour of the old grand hotel of the city, The Strand Hotel. It was lovely and I am sure it was the best in its day. However, I vote for our hotel with a beautiful pool and large cool rooms in a garden setting, including an open air bar and restaurant for dining or just enjoying that before dinner drink.

We dropped our things off at the hotel and had a rest before heading out to the most unbelievable spiritual Shwedagon Pagoda. It is hard to describe the energy you felt as you walk through this massive structure. There were hundreds of families sharing moments in their own special way, some in celebration of young men going to expereince monk hood, others celebrating a passing life. You will need to remove your shoes at every pagoda so having bare feet is something you will get use to as you venture through this country. After we watched the sunset from the high walls of the pagoda we ventured back to the hotel where we ate dinner and got to bed early. Most of the flights in Myanmar will depart early.

We boarded our 6 am flight to Mandalay after only one day in Yangon. Arriving in Mandalay we were met by our new guide and headed out to see a few of the temples along the way. We stopped in Palelk to visit the snake temple. Yes, there are real snakes wrapped around the Buddha’s neck and arm. They seem to be very happy protecting the place, and were well taken care of. There are over 300 lesser know temples some of them now grown over by trees and vegetation. We wandered through the area and visited a fabric weaving project and wonderful small village along the river.
We stayed at The Sedona Hotel, a large modern structure across from the Royal palace, surrounded by a mote the walls are almost 2km long. with 12 entrances. We dropped our luggage and went to lunch behind the hotel at a restaurant called “Unique”, good local food, the menu offered Thai and Chinese as well as a few of Burma’s curry dishes. Then out to Kuthodaw Pagoda which is surrounded by over 729 individual pagodas. Each of the smaller structures house 1 stone tablets upon which over 2,400 monks carved the entire Tipitaka, reproduced page for page.
We then went to watch the process of making gold leaf, a worker begins with a small 2.5 cm x 1 cm gold leaf and after pounding with a wooden mallet for about 6 1/2 hours with several rests and resizing the end result is a piece that is cut into a packet of 10 ultra thin 2.5 sq.cm of gold.  We then visited a couple of local work shops, wood carvers making masks and puppets. We did buy a couple of fun puppets and a few antique lacquer pieces, be sure to negotiate for price!!!

Our guide No Nyan Lwin: nyanmyohtel@gmail.com, was so patient as we shopped in the markets and asked many questions about how these temples and structures were built. We did a quick stop at one of the holiest pagodas of the area, Mohamuni Pagoda, before heading out to watch the sunset as we walked across the U Being Bridge, the longest teak bridge in the world. What a way to finish the day.
We had a simple dinner in the hotel and went to bed early since we had to get up early for a short cruise on the Ayeyarwady River. We boarded our wooden boat for a cruise to visit Mingus. When we pulled into where the boat would be held while we walked through the area we were met by carts drawn by cows/bulls, their taxi service.
There are ladies and kids running after you trying to sell you beads, cotton pants and hats. If you do decide to buy something, remember the price they ask is about double what you are going to end up paying, enjoy the art of bargaining! As you walk through the ruins in this area you will realize that the king of this time, 1790, wanted to have everything be created to be the biggest. You will see the world’s largest working bell. Then walk a short distance to see Bodawpaya’s pagoda, at first it appears to be a huge pile of bricks, 330 ft. tall., There is a story that the tooth of the Buddha was a gift to the king and he had this pagoda built to house it. It was really never finished and then an earthquake struck and caused a lot of damage. Close to the other memorable sights sits the Hsinbyume Pagoda, worth the climb up the flight of white stairs. We jumped on one of the cow drawn carts and headed back to the boat for lunch of stir friend pea pods, carrots and chicken curry with a lovely dish of rice. While we were sharing lunch and watching the busy work along the river banks pass we enjoyed the leisure two hour cruise to AVA.
When we arrived on the river banks of AVA we boarded horse drawn carts to travel on the dirt roads through the country side and visit many ancient temples that must have been majestic building during the 400 years that Ava was the capital. After about an hour we were back at the river banks to transfer across to the landing where our  driver pick us up and on the way back to the hotel we had a stop at “The Phaung Daw Oo School and Orphanage—www.phaungdawoo.org—. This was a very special moment in our day. The school houses kids that attend school during the year and then stay during the vacation since many of their families live to far away. Plus they have an orphanage for children that have no family. We gave them things for the school and visited with the staff. Before we left we pooled a small amount of cash as a donation. If you are in the area try to stop for a visit.
Up early for a flight to Bagan, we were the only 4 people on the flight with a whole crew, a true private flight better than net jet. It was very hot upon our arrival, about 100, so be prepared. After a short drive and visit to two beautiful temples, Ananda and Gubyaukgyi known for  its famous frescoes.  While driving along the back roads you will see temples, stupa and pagodas in every direction.  All of the sudden, we arrived under a huge tree and were treated to a fun picnic of local food. They had set up rugs on the sand, a huge red umbrella protecting us from the sun, and a picnic basket full of  simple pork curry, fresh veggies with noodles a chilled bean salad topped with local crushed peanuts. Plenty to drink and nice china plates, chopsticks  along with cookies and candy to finish our surprise lunch. Our guide and driver came back in about an hour and picked us up with a big smile on their faces.

Then off to our hotel, ” Aubeum Palace, Jasmine Villa” for a dip in the infinity pool and a rest before an early evening tour through the many ruins in horse drawn carts. We ended by climbing the Pyathagyi Pagoda to watch the sunset then back to the hotel. There were two restaurants at the hotel so we just rested and enjoyed local fare at the hotel.  (PS. there is a cash machine in the lobby and good WIFI connection in the lobby, since you will need small local money for tips and to buy any small souvenirs)
Up early, 6am, for a magical hot air balloon ride over old Bagan and back at the hotel by 8:30 for breakfast. (Be sure to go on the hot air balloons it was wonderful)!!!
We ventured out to visit the local markets in Pakokku, it was about an hour away but great people watching and huge array of food and products all being sold to locals. We were the only Americans that we saw. On the way back we stopped for lunch at a place called “Queen”, it was along the highway but a great find. The entire lunch was about $15 for the 4 of us including fruit drinks. Be sure to allow yourself time to rest during the heat of the day. Then at sunset we went on a river cruise along the Ayeyarwady River, enjoyed all the river traffic and watched the sunset with a backdrop of many stupa’s and pagodas.
Next day we flew to Inle Lake and the cool air of a region, about 3000 feet above sea level. We arrived at Heho airport and our driver and guide pick us up and we headed out to a huge local market in the town of Nyaung Shwe. It is called the 5 day market because it rotates cities and only is back in this village in 5 days, so the selection of food to buy and fresh fruits and vegetables, fish and home products was over whelming. When we left we made a stop at the Yan Pyay monastery, where the young monks were having lunch and we watched them looking at their cell phones and chatting. It was a wonderful stop and the small temple next door had many little shrines dedicated to visitors from around the world.
Off to lunch at a local restaurant called “Viewpoint Lodge” located along one of the many canals. The lunch was one of the most interesting selections of local fare, served on small plates. We shared small servings of fish wrapped in banana leaf, taro chips with a dip of chick peas. Fried prawns like tempura, served with Burmese Balchaung, a combination of fried garlic and onions, dried pounded prawns, vinegar and chili powder. Sour, hot, salty and crisp. The Viewpoint lodge also had rooms to rent and the location next to the new bridge being built was fun people watching.
After lunch we boarded long boats for our 45 minute ride to our hotel “Villa Inle Resort”, our bags had gone ahead and were waiting for us upon our arrival. The lake is about 60 square mile lake. The trip was a wonderful snarl of weeds, fishermen rowing their wooden boats with one leg wrapped around the paddle. Our hotel was located on the banks of the lake about 36 individual cabins with every detail taken care of. We all headed to the spa, I enjoyed a great 90 minute massage for $50.00 and went back the next day for another, we had a massage that combined the Thai and reflexology, it was a perfect choice after so many days of traveling.
We had dinner at the hotel dining room since there is no place to go, they had a nice menu of Thai and Burmese cuisine and a simple wine list, but good values.
The next morning we were picked up early, stepped into our wooden boat and headed to tour the floating gardens. These gardens, called Kyunpaw are cultivated from boats, usually by the women. We saw rows of tomatoes, beans and cucumbers, but they grow crops year round rotating flowers and vegetables. These gardens are another good source of income for the Intha people. The men are fishermen rowing their slender boats through the water with one leg wrapped around the ore their eyes looking for any movement so they can drop their nets.
When we left the floating gardens we headed out across the lake to visit Phaungdaw U Pagoda and our boat driver worked our little boat through narrow channels. We passed several other hotels along the lake, Paradise Resort was over the water and we also saw a lovely resort, Ana Heritage. Both were more centrally located but we liked our place on solid ground.
It was time for lunch and our guide had reserved at “Inthar Heritage House” we had a great lunch and spent time enjoying the beautiful Burmese cats that are being breed here. This area is home to the Pa O Village people, they are very proud weavers, and have a big factory making cheroot cigars.
The last morning we were picked up early by our boat and guide, we headed back across the lake, about 45 minute ride, to the boat launch to meet our car then off to catch the airport. We flew to Yangon to connect to our flight back to Singapore. Since we and several hours in Yangon we had a driver take us to lunch at Padonmar Restaurant for our last feast on local food.
Back at the airport waited for our departure to Singapore, loaded with all our treasures and memories.

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A few fun days in New Orleans

A few weeks ago we decided to spend a long week-end in New Orleans and enjoyed every minute.

We checked into a lovely hotel, The Windsor Court 300 Gravier Street. the hotel is a block from the French Quarter and perfect hideaway from all the crowds. The hotel has a nice swimming pool to spend the late afternoon when the sun dips behind the surrounding buildings.

The first day I sent walking the streets, watching the people, going to the many art galleries and getting a lay of the land Including a nice lunch at the bar of The Adelaide Cafe, across the street from our hotel. Carl went fishing for Red fish with a guide he had met. His fishing was a good adventure, he caught over 20 fish, catch and release, and I found all the places I wanted to take him back to the next day.

We had a dinner at “M Bistro”, not the best dinner but great Jazz in the hotel bar next to the dining room.  The next day we walked the river front, explored the back streets of The French Quarter and spent the afternoon getting massages in the hotel spa.

Dinner was at a small neighborhood restaurant called Serendipty, I had read an article in a wine magazine and it lived up to its review. Serendipty is a few miles  outside of town so make sure to arrange a cab. I had an amazing herb salad with shrimp and it was just the start of a great simple dinner.  (504-407-0818).

The next day we had an early breakfast in the hotel, did a little shopping at the many shope and then made our way to lunch at Nola–534 ST Louis Street. Nola is one of the many restaurants owned by Emeril and lives up to it reputation of great southern food. We shared a couple of starters and a main course. the staff was happy to split the main course for us since the servings are very large and we needed to save room for dessert.  Plus we had dinner reservations later and had to have time to digest.

Dinner was at R’evolution–this restaurant is very upscale and the attention to detail is much more like what you would experience in New York or San Francisco than what you expect for New Orleans. R’evolution has one of the top wine lists we saw. Presented on an ipad with wines as high as $10,000 for a big bottle of special french wine. We started the meal by ordering their BBQ oysters served on a pink salt block. We could have eaten a dozen of these beautiful warm oysters but had more choices coming, including a great bottle of wine. If you are interested ina perfect meal this is a place not to miss.

The next day we needed some exercise so went to rent bikes at Free Wheelin, http://www.neworleansbiketour.com, it is $25.00 for 4 hours. We did a grand tour and used up every minute of our 4 hours. The bikes are new and easy to ride, especially since the city is so flat you can ride forever. They have good bike lanes and the owner helped us plan our trip. We stopped for lunch at a great oyster bar called “Peche Seafood Grill” 800 Magazine Street– 504-522-1744–, worth trying.

The next day we had to go back to Commanders Palace for lunch before leaving for our late afternoon flight, it had been years since we had been and it is still creating great food.

 

 

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Skiing in Zermatt

We just returned from skiing with friends in Zermatt. We flew to Zurich and took the train to Zermatt. A few hints to make your trip easier.
You will need to change trains in Visp and will only have about 10 minutes to drag all you bags from one platform to the next and load your bags. Then since the seats on this leg of your trip are not reserved one of you will need to find seats while the others load the bags. We purchased our tickets on line before we left home so we knew we would have reserved seats from Zurich to Visp.
Upon arriving in Zurich we were pickup by our hotel shuttle and were happy to see the wonderful lobby at our hotel Alpenhof, 41-27-96655-55. The hotel is located half a block from the lifts so the start of each day was made easier. IMG_0658The Alpenhof is a small boutique hotel with a nice spa, large indoor pool and efficient staff. We reserved a suite and enjoyed the comfort of two bathrooms and plenty of space to store all our ski gear.
The lobby bar had a piano and a large smoking room where my husband enjoyed his nightly cigar. The first night our group of 9 had dinner in the hotel dining room, they had a very nice menu offering a 5 course meal with several choices. The next morning we all met for a breakfast with beautiful fresh squeezed orange juice and selection of fruit and breads.
Time to ski, we hired 2 local guides to give us the grand tour of the many different runs. The mountain is well groomed with assorted lifts from 6 seated heated chair lifts to huge trams taking over 125 people to the highest peaks. The guides not only knew the mountain but all the best restaurants on the hill, including the far side into Italy.

You realize that in Europe the big meal is at lunch time. I will just give a list of all the amazing places we were lucky enough to have lunch:
Our first lunch was Vrony, reservations a must–41-27-967-25-52, we were served huge platters of homemade meats and local cheeses, followed by perfect pasta topped with black truffles. Lunch with wine and desert was about $80.00 a day so be prepared.
The next day we had lunch at “Findlerhof,” you must have the the veal chop and quiche with salad big enough to share. Info@findlerhof.ch. we enjoyed our lunch so much we came back a second time. Great wine list, but remember you have to ski down after a hour and half lunch.
On Wednesday we made our way though the trees to a hidden farm house with a tiny kitchen serving a lunch to remember, ZUM SEE, is written up as one of the best restaurants in Zermatt and we believe that is true. Be sure to make reservations, 0279672045. The octopus salad was a perfect starter followed by pasta or mussels in broth.
As the week went on we wondered what was left since each day seemed to top the day before. Our guides took us to a new restaurant called “Stafelalp”, owned by a young couple that we’re serving some creative dishes. We shared an herb fondue with fresh cubes of bread. One of the group was served a white wine soup that was brought to the table in a glass jar with sealed lid. Info@stafelalp
Our guides from Zermatt ski and snowboard school were great and made our week on their mountain one to remember. You can contact Peter Zurniwein direct—peter.zurniwen@valaiscom.ch and you will have the best skiing Zermatt has to offer and eat at some of the best restaurants on any mountain in Europe.
I did not write much about our dinner because after such grand lunches we usually ate lighter in the evening. Couple of high lights we great burgers at a small place called Bubble. Burgers were $30.00 each but worth every penny. Hand cut French fries like you try to make at home, soft sesame buns and all the toppings.
If you want a great steak or lamb chops go to Chez Max Julen famous for grilled meats served with choice of side sauces, love the peppercorn sauce. Chezmaxjulen@hotmail.com
Our last dinner after returning our skies packing our bags we treated ourselves to dinner at CERVO at the mountain boutique hotel, http://www.cervo.ch, if you don’t go for dinner at least try and stop at the bar on your way home off the mountain, it is at the bottom of the run before you step into the elevator for the ride down to the down below.
Zermatt is a beautiful village with no car, great skiing terrain and top notch restaurants. Expensive but worth the price.

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Truffles in Italy

November in Northern Italy is always a food lovers paradise.  We stayed with friends in a small town called Fidenza, about 20 miles north of Parma. Our first adventure was to a special restaurant called  “Ristorante Ambasciata” in Quistello, Mantova. We feasted on several courses of pasta, including small ravioli filled with sweet pumpkin.  Then we were served our choice of roasted duck or roasted guinea hen. The deserts never stopped coming, sweets with chestnut puree, slice chocolate cake and of course beautiful dishes of cookies and that last cup of espresso.

The next day was spent shopping in Parma and resting for our big dinner at Antica Corte Pallavicina. On our way to dinner we stopped to visit friends at a beautiful castle called “Castello di San Pietro. The owner has built an art collection worth visiting., go to www.castellodisanpietro.com and next time you are in the area make sure to visit in person and spend the night.

When we arrived  at Antica Corte the fog was just beginning to come across the Poe river giving the low land that feeling of ghosts in the dark.  Chef owner, Massimo, was there to greet us and our friends giving the personal tour of the culatello cellar. If you are in the area stay the night and enjoy lunch and dinner at the chateau. www.acpallavicina.com/relais. Culatello is a unique type of cured ham made by hand from the pigs that Massimo raises close by on his farm. It is not available in the U.S. and really only found in this region. We shared many courses of different meats and of course lardo was the real hit.

The next day we had dinner at our friends home and Chef Cerea came down from the famous Da Vittorio to prepare our truffle dinner. An evening to remember.,. Da Vittorio in located in Brusaporto, the province of Bergamo–035-681024. The risotto was so perfect that you will never eat it again in an american restaurant. The sweet flavor of late harvest grapes stirred  into the smooth creamy rice at the last minute was a great contrast to the truffles being shaved on top.  Course after course ending with a small filet topped with foie gras then ofcourse they started shaving truffles on top.

The wine never stopped and the deserts were ALMOST to beautiful to eat. If you are ever in the northern part of Italy go out of your way to try Da Vittorio, they earned their 3 stars for a reason!

Time to head back to Milan for our last night at the airport. We grabbed a cab into the city to eat fish at Mauro, Via Colonnetta 5, 02 546-1380. Always a special treat to be served by a family that cares so much about the ingredients.

 

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