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the ambassador of pisco :)

Donald Trump might hate Latinos but I love them.  The love affair started in Mexico.  My grandmother used to buy me Seventeen magazine.  I was probably eleven years old when it started but a precocious old soul.  One issue changed my life.

Back when the internet was only used by egghead scientists, you had to write letters to communicate with people in distant places.  My parents love living in small towns and I had been dragged to a rural farming community by my father, uprooting me from the surprisingly cosmopolitan small town in which I had started school.

These weren’t my people and I spent most of my time studying and plotting my escape as soon as my secondary education was complete.  I devoured books and loved the encyclopedia so, when I read in Seventeen, about the concept of pen pals, I felt as though a fairy godmother had just handed me a way to survive my teenage years in the wilderness (figurative AND literal :))

Most of the options cited in the article cost money and required international postal coupons so I opted to write to the United States Committee for UNICEF.  They collected information from any children who wrote to them and would send you a copy of the list for free.  It was a single page.  I still have it and see that they misspelled both my first name AND my last name.  I’ve become used to it… but what was exciting was that there were 20 other kids from nine different countries who wanted to explore the world via air mail.  They also sent suggestions on how to get started, what to write about and how to be courteous to other cultures.  There was a third sheet that listed all sorts of other pen pal agencies, which proved to be one of the most important pieces of paper of my teenage years.

First, though, I needed to take action and select one person from the list as the recipient of my very first missive.  A lot of the names were American.  Some were from states that seemed exotic to me at the time but a culture with which I was very familiar.  I wanted exotic so I chose Gloria from Mexico.  One of the best decisions I ever made!

I finally found a teenager I could relate to.  We wrote in both English and French to practice and I bought a book to teach myself Spanish and she sent me back corrections to my entertaining attempts at her native language.  We wrote each other regularly for over ten years.  She constantly invited me to visit her in Mexico but I couldn’t afford it.  Tragically, as I finally managed to get to the stage in my career where I could have financed the trip, she died in a car accident.  I learned this because we were both so obsessed with writing to foreigners that we had forged an international group of people who were all connected even though none of us had met.  My friend Despina (who started as another youthful pen pal) did actually meet Gloria and she was the one to tell me of the tragic accident.  To see Mexico City through her eyes had always been one of my dreams.

Someday I will go but I know it will make me sad.  Instead I have channelled the love I had for my very first Latino into exploring other countries where her native tongue is spoken.  It has just reinforced the generous spirit that I saw in her letters.

People are friendly, open and fun.  If you bring those qualities to the table, too, you will be making friends without even learning Spanish.  I DO want to eventually learn Spanish as I am sure I will have an even better time.  This time I had to just appreciate the people who were able to speak my lingo.  One of the most memorable was Sebastian.

pisco with a flourish :)

pisco with a flourish 🙂

I learned about pisco in Peru, where they had insisted Chile was copying them and Peruvian pisco was superior.  The history is not absolutely clear, especially as present day Peru and Chile once had totally different borders, but it seems likely that Peru invented both pisco and the pisco sour.  Sebastian convinced me, however, of the present day superiority of Chilean pisco.

If you would like to judge for yourself, you should head to the Lastarria district in Santiago de Chile and look for Chipe Libre – Républica Independiente del Pisco It’s a great name – what lured me 😉  Then I luckily sat in Sebastian’s section at the bar.  He spoke English quite well and I told him about my Peruvian pisco experiences and he took it upon himself to convert me 🙂

If you enjoy pisco, it is a heavenly place.  (They also have excellent food).  I can’t remember exactly how many varieties of pisco they have but well over fifty – and there are several different pisco flights.  That is where I started.  Since I was in Santiago for several days and it was really close to my hotel, like some German tourists before me, I started showing up most days to try a different flight.

showing off my pisco knowledge :)

showing off my pisco knowledge 🙂

What is lovely is that they write the name of the pisco on a paper circle that is wrapped around the glass so

the view at the end of the world

the view at the end of the world

you can just collect the ones you like and take them with you for the rest of your Chilean tour.  That’s what I did.  I impressed a few bartenders with my newly acquired knowledge of Chilean pisco.  My second most memorable pisco experience was in Puntas Arenas where I discovered the Sky Bar at the Dreams Hotel.  Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t great the night I went but it was still spectacular.  You have an overview of the Pacific Ocean without horizon at the end of the world.  You don’t have to drink pisco 😉

But – if you want to learn more about Chilean culture – check out Chipe Libre.  If you get lucky, you will

the ambassador of pisco :)

the ambassador of pisco 🙂

meet Sebastian.  He is passionate about pisco and has an encyclopedic knowledge.  He also apparently has good taste as we generally agreed on the best pisco in each flight 🙂  I told him he should be a pisco ambassador!  It’s become common in the world of whisk(e)y – some lucky soul who roams the world promoting the attributes of the distillery and its related wares.

Chile should really consider it.  My favourite pisco was Mistral Gran Nobel Elqui/Limari/Choapa.  Sadly, you need to go to Chile to buy it.  Perhaps, someday, Sebastian will change that 😉

 

 

 

 

 

the 21st century message to pioneers – “go east, young person”

Pioneers have changed a lot since Horace Greeley declared “Go West, Young Man, Go West” in an effort to promote westward expansion of the USA.  Gender equality continues to expand and almost everywhere the intrepid and the hipsters are heading east after the westward expansion was so successful they can no longer afford to hang out in these glitzy neighbourhoods.

One of the many places with an exciting east is Amsterdam.  I’ve done a little bit of exploring in the OOST on previous visits but hadn’t covered much territory so when I discovered the new Volkshotel, I decided to stay there during SAIL.  You can stay closer to SAIL or to central Amsterdam but, if you want a more quirky locale, the Volkshotel is very convenient since there is a metro station only steps away that whisks you to Centraal Station in a matter of minutes.quirky volkshotel

Of course, you can just hang out at the hotel and the hipster neighborhood surrounding it.  There is a café and a cool restaurant club on the rooftop.  The hotel is very quirky Dutch.  It celebrates the innovative design and architecture that is a hallmark of the city.  I splurged on the “You are Here” room as it promised to celebrate Amsterdam and be interactive.  It also had a giant tub with a beautiful view of terracotta tiled Amsterdam history.  It is a lot of fun to play in although there is so much light you have to close the blinds and turn off the real view so that you can properly cover your walls in Amsterdam scenes along with

view from my room

you are HERE!

site appropriate sound effects.

The hotel is a lot of fun and I especially enjoyed Canvas.   The best part was that I saw the SAIL fireworks from the hotel rooftop without having to get stuck on Noord overnight.  I wanted to explore the Oost though and not just spend all my time in my hotel.  Volkshotel provides guest with an insider map to the Oost so I used that as inspiration for my grand tour.  Started by having an excellent Eggs Benedict at Grand Cafe Lokaal.  The service was terrible.  That became a theme over the course of the day.  I am of course madly in love with the Dutch but customer service is just not their strong suit.  You might get it but that is more a lucky accident.

I felt like I should have ordered meat at Lokaal but it was too hot.  It is part of the growing trend in Europe toward American cuisine.  The American marketing machine is a wily beast 😉  Why would the French want to eat hamburgers and hotdogs?  Have they all gone insane?  Of course, the good news is that European American food is generally at the high end of the spectrum – more Wagyu beef with citrus aioli than frozen beef patty with Heinz ketchup.   At some point I will need to try some of this food but I don’t travel to Europe so that I can eat hamburgers washed down with a Sam Adams…

The other big change, especially in the Oost, is the replacement of Heineken with trendy craft beers.  If this is your thing, you will love Brouwerij Het IJ.  I stumbled upon it on my ramble and had its beers recommended by bartenders.  DO NOT go on the weekend

IJ brewery

a great setting for a beer 🙂

 

though!  That happened to be the day I took off SAIL but the place was a zoo.  You can certainly join in but, if you want a better chance to sample different beers, go on a weekday.

Another great discovery was Beukenplein.  There are various options for eating and drinking in a few short blocks.  There was even a gelato spot that looked delicious but I had no space.  Had dinner at Maxwell Café.  Started with an outstanding gin and tonic.  There are several options.  The Dutch did invent jenever before the British created gin so it is an excellent place to drink gin and tonics.  I then went for the kaasfondue as it’s hard to find fondue for one on a menu.  Why I had no space for gelato!

I would definitely recommend it despite having one of the worst service experiences of my life.  What was funny is that trying to get attention from a server resulted in a fun conversation with another Dutch couple who were having the same problem.  It may just be Amsterdam.  At least I got confirmation that I wasn’t being a rude North American with ridiculous expectations.  They said, “no one looks you in the eye so they can ignore you”.  I think the concept of assigning roles and numbering tables is not common practice.  No one seems to be entirely sure of his responsibilities.  But my patience was rewarded when my fondue finally arrived.  The Netherlands is an excellent place to eat cheese!

The Volkshotel is a bit out of the way and the neighborhood is definitely not overrun with tourists like much of Amsterdam is.  You will feel intrepid and people will talk to you in Dutch.  You may not even be able to get an English menu.  It’s definitely worth seeing the many Disney-like tourist destinations in Amsterdam but there is a very satisfying feeling getting off the reservation and exploring the wilderness and discovering the real heart of a place.  Of course, these days, the intrepid don’t need a rifle or a willingness to endure hardship to conquer the land.  You can feel bold just ordering off a Dutch menu without asking for a translation and selecting a random craft beer you have never heard of before 😉

 

 

 

who needs noma? ;)

I hope no one will get vertigo as we bounce around the world and I catch up on the stories from past travels that have been floating around in my brain for some time but have not yet made it onto a keyboard…

First, we are going back to Bucharest.  Even though it’s been months since I was actually there, it was such a fun and memorable trip, it feels sad to be typing the final posts.

It’s not that I wouldn’t love to go to noma 😉  Perhaps someday…  I only saw El Bulli in the film.  I am sure a meal at an institution of that stature would be worth all of the trouble of securing a reservation but I have managed to stumble upon places with a level of culinary artistry such that you will remember the meal for a very long time.

http://noma.dk/

http://www.elbulli.info/

As usual, I arrived ill-prepared but the hotel did have a copy of the in your pocket guide so I knew I would figure something out 🙂

http://www.inyourpocket.com/

Had some time to kill before it would be time for dinner so just started randomly walking the streets near the hotel.  They were filled with fin de siècle architecture, graffiti and the occasional KFC or Pizza Hut – a fascinating and unusual mix.

who needs disney to act like a princess :)

who needs disney to act like a princess 🙂

I definitely wasn`t dining at either of those options but no other restaurant screamed `pick me` so I kept wandering.  I was starting to get tired and hungry so decided to venture into the Grand Continental Hotel where I found Concerto.  There are several versions of Romania one can explore.  That night I was channeling a Habsburg princess.  It`s not my usual style but fun for a couple of hours.

http://continentalhotels.ro/Grand-Hotel-Continental-Bucuresti/en/restaurant-hotel/concerto-2/

The service was very formal and the dining room was opulent.  There were only a handful of diners so it felt like I had servants at my beck and call.  The meal was delicious and I had my first discovery of Romanian wine (it`s very good and great value).

If you like a side of history with your beverage, check out the English Bar at Athénée Palace Hotel.  It was a den of spies, political conspirators, adventurers and their assorted entourages in the years leading up to World War II.  It was then nationalized by the Communist government and filled with bugs and informants.  I just had a glass of wine while I read my guidebook and planned my next move but it would be the perfect setting to have a “martini, shaken, not stirred“…

http://www.atheneepalace-hotel.ro/en/History-News

I was on my way to Eden on the recommendation of my server in Amsterdam who loved Bucharest and was jealous of my impending journey.  Unfortunately, I was in the wrong season for the nightclub but it was still a very pleasant place to have lemonade after all my fervent trekking to see the real Bucharest.

http://www.bucharest-tips.com/places/450-nightlife-clubs-electro-clubs-gay-friendly-clubs-terraces-gardens-eden-club

I eventually got to the Old Town, which is even more spectacular with note-worthy architecture.  Since it is also a tourist zone, it`s easier to find intriguing restaurants – and also lots of spots obviously dedicated to tourists 😉  I spotted a place called Nouvelle Vague.  It looks like it belongs in Gastown so I decided I would ask for a table.  My instincts are solid.  Had an excellent main course called “sparkling fish“ and equally excellent Romanian sauvignon blanc.  The service was a wonderful treat and I found out they had only been open for three months so it was nice to support some young entrepreneurs.

http://www.nouvellevague.ro/

By the next night, I had carefully read the in your pocket guide and had zeroed in on The Artist as my dining location of choice.  But then I got more typical Eastern European service… apparently, all the tables were booked even though the restaurant was empty and I wasn`t planning to linger BUT I was able to make a reservation for the next night.

But that meant I still had to find somewhere to have dinner that night.  So I continued on my wandering and consulted the guidebook and decided to select la Bonne Bouche.  Yet again, an outstanding dinner.  Was really craving beet salad by then (just getting salad in Europe can be a dilemma) and there it was!  Accompanied by delicious moules frites and a flight of Sauvignon Blanc to expand my knowledge of Romanian wine.

https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g294458-d1893925-Reviews-La_Bonne_Bouche-Bucharest.html

And then it was finally time for my dinner reservation at The Artist!!!  It`s run by a Dutch chef who I gather fell in love with a Romanian woman.  Now, Dutch and chef is not a word combination that normally makes one salivate but, given my obsession with the Dutch and the amount of hours I have spent in recent years in Amsterdam, I knew that was changing and it was now possible to find a good Dutch chef.

http://theartist.ro/menu/

But The Artist is not just a good Dutch chef.  It is the kind of meal you will remember for the rest of your life.  It`s not Eleven Madison Park but it`s not something you would expect to find in Bucharest either.  The food is exceptional and creative but there is also a little theatre to make sure the meal takes you to the next level.

The meal began with a literally smoking amuse bouche.  Each course was accompanied by different bread, chosen to compliment and expand the flavours of that element.  There is also a `spoon` selection for each course so you can have a large spoonful of each option.  So I got to try ALL the appetizers.  Each was a great pop of complex flavour.

food as poetry...

food as poetry…

I stuck with sea bass for my main course and chose the cucumber sorbet for dessert as I had observed it came with a side of theatre.  First, you are presented with a mortar and pestle and a nest of herbs.  The chef then appears with a ball of sorbet.  You are encouraged to mix the herbs with the sorbet to create your own dessert.

You finish with sublimely rich chocolate truffles.  The entire experience was accompanied by champagne and an excellent Romanian white wine.  I can`t remember the exact cost but I think it was around $50 USD.

Bucharest is a total bargain.  What I hadn`t expected was the delicious modern food and Romanian wine.  You can eat even cheaper if you are into sausage, sauerkraut and offal but, if you are more a beet salad kind of person, you will be equally well-served.  Just arrive hungry! 🙂

 

let’s get this party started ;)

Right now I am reading a book I bought when I ran out of reading material in Prague.  It’s called Revolution 1989 The Fall of the Soviet Empire by Victor Sebestyen.  I highly recommend it.  I am fascinated by history in general but having been in Berlin in November 1989 makes the events described in this book especially poignant.  And it felt like something I should start reading in Prague…

I am always reading several books at the same time so I am only about half-way through this one.  Merely by accident, I just finished a chapter describing Romania under Ceauşescu.  I knew the dude was evil but it’s hard to imagine someone treating other people the way that he did.  Of course, psychopath dictators likely didn’t score points for sharing in kindergarten.  That period of Romanian history is shocking.  Hollywood loves to keep blaming the Nazis long after Germany has cleaned up its act.  There are plenty of other evil guys – and their Lady MacBeths.  They really need to branch out.

You, on the other hand, should just book a plane ticket to Bucharest!  I feel very guilty that it has taken me this long to write about Romania but I did make notes so will try to do it justice over the next weeks.  There is lots of talk of Cuba and of Myanmar.  I have already booked to see the first and am hoping to get to the second before 2016 is complete.  But there is little talk of Romania – or Bucharest.  I think it’s a place to go now before it becomes totally sanitized and you aren’t sure exactly what city you are in.  The internet is a wonderful thing but it – and the Americans’ incredible skills at marketing – are destroying the differences between cultures and making the world more homogeneous.

bucharest pre ceausescu

bucharest pre ceausescu

At least for now, Bucharest feels unique.  It’s an eastern European former communist city with a Latin soul.  It’s a bit like Las Vegas.  Nothing seems to shut and you lose track of time.  The first night was safe because I didn’t know my way around the city yet so didn’t want to be wandering the streets at 3am.  The second day I did a gigantic tour on a very jet-lagged sketchy night of sleep so partying hard was out of the question.  But then I caught up on my sleep, knew how to get back to the hotel in the dark and was ready to fully experience Bucharest 🙂

There is the quintessential charming European Old Town and it’s a tourist mecca.  There are the bars catering to the drunken lads and ladettes celebrating stags, hen parties or just the fact that beer is really cheap in Bucharest.  You will see them roaming in packs.  If that’s your thing, there are definitely lots of options catering to that type of tourist.  I am always hoping to meet locals and get a sense of the culture of the place.

http://www.inyourpocket.com/

Once again, I found the in your pocket guide very helpful.  I also just roamed around looking for something interesting, which is how I discovered XIX.  Alex was singing in the window and he was fantastic.  You could just watch from the street but I spotted a free seat and thought I should support the bar.  At the time, it was pretty new on the scene so the servers were very enthusiastic.  Had a lovely conversation with two of the staff, one Romanian and one Russian.  They were sure I had to try a Black Mojito.  It was too sweet for me but the Black Ursus beer is excellent and costs about $3

serendipity in bucharest

serendipity in bucharest

Canadian.

https://www.facebook.com/The-XIX-Bar-Concept-970246529694621/

Alex was a revelation.  It was covers but his range was amazing.  Music is definitely globalized.  It is always disconcerting to hear people singing English lyrics in foreign countries but he is an amazing singer.  From AC/DC Highway to Hell through the BeeGees, Leonard Cohen, Coldplay to Roy Orbison “In Dreams” and Radiohead “Creep”.

The “scene” is still under development – and especially as a foreign tourist – it was hard to figure out what to do once Alex had ended his set.  I tried a few places recommended by in your pocket but they were either empty or full of sweaty people singing karaoke without air-conditioning so I ended up at the Control Club.  It was also a bit quiet but there was music so I bought a beer and figured I would finish it and then head to the hotel.

http://www.control-club.ro/

But, unlike Paris and London, Bucharest is not yet overrun by tourists so the locals are very friendly.  I was invited to join a bachelor party and ended up having one of the most memorable nights of my life.  I am always hoping to meet locals and get a real sense for the place, not just tick off the tourist sites.

Life in modern day Bucharest is interesting.  It is no longer a violent police state and you can sense the optimism but it is also still an emerging market country and – as someone born in the first world, you appreciate how privileged your everyday life really is.  What I have found most interesting in emerging market countries is that generally people seem smarter and better informed.  They have to try harder than the privileged children of the west with their over-sized sense of entitlement.

It all started as just a friendly sharing of information.  The group was composed of civil engineers and architects so my kind of people 🙂  I forgot to check the time.  People started going home.  The bachelor left.  It was just George, Marius and me.  George was interested in Canada so we got another beer and somehow it was 4:30am when I got back to the hotel!  The young guy on the desk was super friendly so just added to the glow of a wonderful evening where I transcended being a tourist.

Everyone was so friendly and welcoming I went back to XIX the next night and met David Dango who was the musician in the window.  The friendly Russian server was on again and I met the owner before I left to head for the Control Club.  Once again, expected the night to end at normal time but a friendly Romanian guy had just broken up with his girlfriend and I don’t think the Control Club ever shuts… evening ended at 5:30am this time.  I needed to go back to Amsterdam to get some sleep!  On second thought, we’ll go with the whole sleep when you’re dead concept…

My time in Bucharest was far too short.  I only really scratched the surface.  I would love to see the country prosper.  At least, it is really heartwarming to see people having a chance to speak their mind and party like it’s Vegas.  And they can even joke about the evil Mr. C.  Check it out while it is still has the sense of opening a time capsule.  Even if history is not your thing, just go for the Romanians 🙂

 

 

beyond perogies and kielbasa…

I know one should try the local cuisine.  I once ate a deep-fried locust.  So it’s a bit pathetic that I tend to shy away from trying the local cuisine in eastern Europe.  It’s mostly because I grew up in central Canada where perogies, kielbasa and borscht are normal foods you bring to a community dinner in a church basement.  They are very popular on the Prairies and exotic in other parts of the world but I would much rather indulge in cannelloni or tod mun pla.

One of the wonderful discoveries I made while I was living in Germany was the abundance of great Italian food outside of Italy.  It would be good for the Italians if they could figure out how to form a responsible government and act a little more German but it means there are lots of Italians escaping to places with better economic prospects and they bring their food with them.  So, in eastern Europe, the first thing I look for is a good Italian restaurant 🙂 There was one in the hotel so I didn’t have to go far and the meal was delicious.

I did come to Krakow to do more than just hang out at the hotel, though.  Even if it was a great place to hang out… The first night I had done a tiny bit of wandering before succumbing to jet lag and just eating at the hotel and going to bed.  On my journey I had spotted a restaurant just across the street from the hotel that looked intriguing.  Modern Polish with a little Italian thrown in.  It’s called Magnes and apparently it’s quite new on the Krakow scene.  The chef defected from one of the other grand dining restaurants in town to open his own place.  It’s astonishingly good.  I could have eaten there every meal and been perfectly happy (but then what would I write about 😉  I need to take more notes on WHAT I eat.  I enjoy being in the moment though and letting my food be nourishment rather than art.

http://www.magnes.krakow.pl/upload/menu.pdf

The food at Magnes was so amazing that I actually took some notes!  So I can recommend the beef carpaccio with parmesan.  It was such a bright red I wondered if it was beef or if it was game.  It is possibly the best carpaccio I have ever had.  It melted in your mouth.  There was the typical shaved parmesan on top but also some rucola, romaine and cherry tomatoes topped off with a sublime vinaigrette dressing.  The server brought me an equally delicious Primitivo to accompany it.  That was followed by squid ink tagliolini with shrimp and white asparagus. For a pleasant change, the white asparagus was cooked perfectly instead of to mush.

Magnes would have been enough to have me recommending Krakow but apparently Krakow is full of serious foodies.  What is wonderful is that there is lots of choice so, if you are on a tight budget, you can head to a milk bar.  If you are used to splurging on chef’s tasting menus, you can do that too – but the bill will make your wallet dance.

I try to mix it up a bit so the next night I went to Aubergine, which had been recommended by In Your Pocket.  Unfortunately, it seems to have closed (most of the information is in Polish so it’s a guess).

the route to dinner...

the route to dinner…

For my final night, I went big.  The Pod Roza Hotel is part of the Likus Hotels and Restaurants empire.  It’s high end Poland.  I saved money on the hotel so I would have more cash for food 🙂  The restaurant in the Hotel Copernicus doesn’t have a Michelin star yet but it tastes like it should.  You can actually eat Polish food and it’s delicious.  No perogies and kielbasa here… I was subjected to borscht – and herring – however.  The chef tried hard but I am still not a fan of either…

But then there was foie gras with chocolate, raspberry and ice cream that got the taste of the herring out of my mouth.  It was inventive and sublime.  It’s a tiny place and you have to eat what the chef has prepared.  There are three options – five, seven and twelve courses.  Five is plenty!  The chef changes the menu every month and apparently it is inspired by Polish royal cuisine.  But re-interpreted for modern royals.  It’s one of those meals that is an experience, not just something to eat.  The mango/coco mousse in a broken eggshell came with eating instructions!  Since champagne goes with everything, I drank some delicious champagne from a house I did not know but the service was stellar and my server did not steer me wrong.

http://copernicus.hotel.com.pl/coper_en/RESTAURANT

After writing this and reliving all the wonderful flavours, the leftover pizza that will be dinner tonight seems a bit sad.  If you want to live like a young royal on a middle class salary, book that flight to Krakow.  It’s not your grandfather’s Poland anymore 😉

ya wanna try them all? ;)

I am finally not working every minute so hope to post a little more often

I have spent this week in a haze of nostalgia hankering for the land of Oz.  It’s the Vancouver Wine Festival, one of the world’s best.  I have been going for a very long time – since the Aussies taught me about wine and I came back to Canada with all this wine knowledge and a sophisticated palate.  Back in those days, wine was mostly the province of men over 50.  I searched the yellow pages and found a wine society I could join only to discover there was only one other person in the room who looked about my age – she was there with her mother.  Vanessa became a great friend and I owe a lot of my social life in my 30s to that chance encounter.

http://vanwinefest.ca/

But this is about Australian wine!  I was especially moved because it was the birthday of my best friend from my Sydney days just last week so Australia was already on my mind.  Each year the Vancouver International Wine Festival has a feature country and this year it is Australia.  So I had lots of opportunities to taste wine and chat with people with genuine Aussie accents.  The first winery I hit last night was Longview.  Mark was going to explain where Adelaide Hills was but I said, “I’ve been there.  That’s why I am here”.

http://www.longviewvineyard.com.au/

For those who don’t know Adelaide Hills, it is a coolish climate region in South Australia near Adelaide.  Australia is the land of sunshine so getting the evening temperature to 9 degrees is not easy.  It’s what makes the wines of Adelaide Hills a little more special.  They taste less “Australian” and more “European”.  I discovered Adelaide Hills as a by-product of my friendship with Elizabeth.  I always promised I would come back for her wedding but appreciated that is not the ideal time to spend time with friends so I came early and told her I would disappear for 5 days a little ahead of the wedding so she wouldn’t feel responsible for entertaining me and take myself on a wine tour of South Australia.

I hired some lovely gentleman off the internet (before doing this was common) who had grown up in the Barossa.  Trevor squired me around South Australia and treated me like I was his daughter.  I have the mindset of an engineer so naturally I arrived with a gigantic list of all the wineries I wanted to visit.  He is very gracious so did not tell me I was crazy… We devised a plan.  I would learn to spit and we would try to do seven or eight wineries a day.  Some would be from my list and some would be his suggestions.

http://www.auburntours.com.au/auburntours.htm

We would spend two days in the Barossa Valley, one day in the Clare Valley, a day in Adelaide Hills and a day in McLaren Vale.  Five of the best days of my life.  Drinking the different regions side by side allowed me to really see the differences and decide what I wanted to buy from which region.  Since I live in Canada where wine has a sin tax that exceeds gasoline (seriously, these are plants – they are GOOD for the planet 😉 it was challenging to drink and not buy.  I had already quizzed Elizabeth and her soon to be husband in Sydney so decided their wedding present would be a case of wine – different types so they could be opened at different times in their marriage.  Trevor had lots of contacts at the wineries so it was organized it could be a mixed case and would be shipped from the winery where bottle 12 was purchased.

That was Peter Lehmann.  I have quite a few wonderful Australian winery experiences but I have a special place in my heart for Peter Lehmann – and Trevor.  When we arrived, not only did I try a bunch of different wines but each was paired with a snack.  I really wished I could have shared it with someone.  I was so wowed by the experience that I bought more than one wine there and finished the case.

http://peterlehmannwines.com/

If you would like to learn more about wine, there is no better place to go than Australia.  As I was informed last night, you don’t talk about “terroir” 🙂  You will taste it but keep that word to yourself.  I have spent a lot of time this week gushing to Australian winemakers or marketing reps and recounting some of my winery experiences.

a great place to drink aussie wine :)

a great place to drink aussie wine 🙂

Not all aspects of aging are welcome but sometimes being old works in your favour.  I was extremely fortunate to meet an Aussie in Toronto who was determined to teach me about wine.  Then I moved to Sydney with him.  I went to people’s houses where they had BOXES of wine!  They went to the Hunter Valley and stocked up as they tasted the wines at the actual wineries.  In the early 90s it was like being Alice in wine Wonderland.

There was no Yellow Tail.  Monty Python was still making fun of Australian wine.  Mostly it was just drunk by the locals.  And the locals drank wine out of 2L boxes from Riverina (which was very drinkable).  I caught a lot of grief for my extravagance.  I was willing to pay $10 for 750 ml of wine when I could get 2L for $6 – what was I thinking? 😉

As a novice, it was a transcendental experience.  The Aussies are the most unpretentious people I have met so you just rocked up to the winery and they said, “ya wanna try them all”?  In those days, there was no marketing.  It’s a wonderful place to grow grapes so most wineries did a bunch of different varietals.  There was a Riesling, a Gewurtztraminer, a Sauvignon (no blanc), a Semillon, a Chardonnay, a Merlot, a CabSav, a Shiraz and possibly even a Port.  You learned the difference between varietals by trying them all!

The Chardonnays were really oaky and I couldn’t drink the Shiraz – I felt like I was chewing wood instead of drinking wine.  I was a newbie wine drinker.  Riesling and Gewurtztraminer were just my speed.  It was how I discovered Gewurtztraminer – it took me ages to be able to pronounce it like a German instead of an Australian 🙂  I have so many memories of hanging out in bottle shops, drinking wine I purchased in restaurants and finding hidden gems in obscure wine shops (buying a ten year old Cabernet in a bottle shop at Circular Quay and hoping it was still OK – it was magnificent!)

My interest in Australian wine scored points with my boss who was a connoisseur.  And the Aussies like to drink 😉  It was a very freewheeling place back then at least.  I didn’t go back to the office to try to work after the News Corp audit completion LUNCH but it was incredible.  Wonderful Aussie produce paired with (I think) five different wines… I still remember the Petaluma white, one of his personal favourites.

I also remember when Grange was $64 a bottle.  I never got to drink it!  I bought it for my Australian boyfriend for his birthday.  When Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc costs $12, $64 is an astonishing amount.  Of course, it needs to be aged and our relationship didn’t last that long.  In 2000, Elizabeth and I searched Sydney trying to find a bottle of Grange so I could try it… without success, even though it cost over $300 a bottle by then.  I finally scored some by random accident in Canada where I think I paid just over $200.  I know it was a bargain!  I drank it with my friend Iain who has spent time in Australia for work and could appreciate the significance of drinking a bottle of aged Grange… we decided it wasn’t that great.  I mean, it was great… but not $200 great… so I would encourage you to try something else.

There is a cornucopia of wonderful wine from the land of Oz.  DO try to go there and drink it with the locals.  I’m not even sure if I would be drinking wine if it wasn’t for the Aussies.  They certainly made my virgin wine drinking experiences an absolute delight.  And they taught me how to introduce others to wine.  Start with Riesling, not Cabernet Sauvignon.

So, a shout out to Aussie winemakers and all the people with whom I have shared the pleasures of Aussie wines 😉

 

 

jealous of Geneva?

still lacking in free time but I am going to try and write about some of my past travels before I get on the next plane… four new adventures already scheduled for 2015 so there will be new stories 🙂

Geneva is a gorgeous place and water plays a major role in its beauty.  But it’s kind of sterile and apparently it’s full of dictators, drug lords and arms dealers who have cut a sweet deal on taxes with the Swiss government so, Dubrovnik, there is no need to be jealous.  You don’t need to recreate Lake Geneva in the squares of the Old Town.

It was my final day in Dubrovnik.  It all started innocently enough.  I had my penultimate delicious multi-course breakfast washed down with delicious Croatian sparkling wine as light danced on the walls of the Old Town in the distance.  As I walked toward the Old Town, there were little sprinkles of rain.  But I live in Vancouver so it wasn’t even umbrella worthy.  I was looking forward to shopping in the outdoor markets and taking home as much local handicraft as I could squeeze in my suitcase.

But I had bought the attractions pass at my first museum and needed to knock off a few more to get my monies worth.  By the time I got to the Rector’s Palace, it was definitely raining.  I’d just pop indoors for an hour or so and come back out to sunshine… Not exactly… I thought I had seen violent rain in Singapore.  Now I understood why everyone was so excited when I arrived that the rain had stopped.  I gather it is unusual so you SHOULD go to Dubrovnik in September.

not your typical visit to the rectors palace

not your typical visit to the rectors palace

And even if it rains, it will be fascinating.  Most of the Rector’s Palace is indoors and the rain was no problem but there is also a courtyard.  The pillars seemed to be designed to perfectly channel the downpour into the center of the courtyard.  There were three people with large brooms sweeping the rain to the drains so the tourists didn’t have to swim to get through the courtyard.  A lot of us were taking pictures – it was an extra attraction 🙂

http://www.dubrovnikcity.com/dubrovnik/attractions/rectors_palace.htm

It was a little wet in the Rector’s Palace but I didn’t realize how sheltered I had been until I exited.  An umbrella wasn’t a lot of help.  I expect this is why they recommend not travelling to tropical places during the wet season.  What had been quaint medieval cobblestones the day before was now a shallow lake.  Most people had their pants rolled up and their shoes in their hands.  Groups of tourists were huddled under awnings.  It was quite the site but it was raining too hard for me to take a photo.

There are steep, narrow side streets off the main thoroughfares and the water was gushing toward the square at such a ferocious speed that it looked like Iguazu, a series of mini waterfalls.  I had thought I was smart and would just tough it out instead of trying to pack into an already overcrowded awning shelter so waded my way through the waterfall in search of the War Photo Museum.  Obviously, the War Photo people were smarter than me and the museum was closed.  I realized that opening the door might cause a rush of water into the building so it may be a challenge to find refuge until the rain abated.

I got lucky and found refuge in D’vino, a wonderful wine bar I had already discovered.  Croatian wine is delicious and undiscovered so it was far more than refuge from the rain.  I even met a fellow solo traveller from Melbourne.  She had even been in Russia, a country that is still on the list.  She proved Aussies are intrepid travellers and that Dubrovnik is far from everything else in Croatia.  She was doing a day trip from Split – at least eight hours of travel.  She definitely wasn’t going to see the Dubrovnik I fell in love with but it would be a story.

http://www.dvino.net/

The rain eventually abated and even stopped at times so I was able to do more than sip Croatian wine and chat with strangers.  The War Photo Museum allowed me in and it was a really poignant experience.

It is the intent of War Photo Limited to educate the public in the field of war photography, to expose the myth of war and the intoxication of war, to let people see war as it is, raw, venal, frightening, by focusing on how war inflicts injustices on innocents and combatants alike. 

http://www.warphotoltd.com/

When it stopped raining for a little while at least, I indulged in my obsession with ice cream.  Dubrovnik is crawling with places to satisfy your cravings but my earlier samplings had just been OK.  I am sure I wrote the name down but I can’t find it.  I apologize.  If you enter from the Ploce Gate, walk almost to the end of the main street and look for the line 🙂

Excelsior Hotel is a cornucopia of delights and there is no requirement to leave so it was tempting to not risk more rain that night but it was my final evening in Dubrovnik and I wanted to experience as much as I could.  Started at La Bodega for a simple dinner.  Then wandered the romantic flood-lit streets able to wear shoes again.  I happened upon a good jazz band playing in the street so decided to sit and order a glass of wine and soak up the atmosphere.  Dubrovnik is a small town 🙂  Ryan and Peter – the Scots from the previous day’s sailing adventures – happened to walk by so they joined me before heading to a casino.

Was trying to see if I could stay awake long enough to check out a nightclub called Revelin that I kept seeing advertised.  Of course, it didn’t open until midnight and

worth staying awake

worth staying awake

the real action would take place at 3am.  But it was my last night.  You definitely need to stay up late but it is quite the scene and in an old stone tower.  It’s the new eastern Europe giving Amsterdam and Berlin a run for their money.

http://www.clubrevelin.com/

I go to nightclubs to dance but I realize lots of people go for other reasons and there is generally some entertainment in addition to the dancing and people watching.  That night it came courtesy of Boris.  Like Patrick from Ireland, how can you not talk to Boris from Croatia?  I do love the confidence of young men who think they can teach me stuff.  A reverse Mrs Robinson 😉  I really doubt it but the conversations are entertaining.

Boris was too alpha male for me though.  He was gorgeous, had an Ivy League education and spoke excellent English.  I doubt women say “no” to him very often.  He walked me half way to my hotel before I convinced him he should just go back to the nightclub and find some boring young girl.  But it was flattering 🙂  I think the highlight though was when some Australian guy stopped us looking for pen and paper to get some girl’s number.  I do all the technologies so could help him out.  Hopefully he got a date.

On planetm, life is never dull 😉

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