We have spent the past two weeks eating our way through Poland. If you had asked me about Polish food before arriving, I would have said “well they eat pierogi and drink vodka!” I think many Americans know only this as well. But as much as I love the pierogi, I have learned all about the food of Poland – pierogi and so much more.
Poland’s tumultuous history is identifiable in their foods (history blog coming soon). Over the millennia the region we know as Poland was controlled by Prussia, Austro-Hungarian Empire, Hapsburg Dynasty, Russia, Sweden, Lithuania, Germany, Soviet Union and others. Watch this short video to understand how fluid the borders of this area have been. It’s fascinating.
Poland’s Changing Borders
So, of course that means for more than two thousand years the region has been influenced by the surrounding kingdoms and countries. But also, and perhaps more importantly, Poland has endured a great deal of economic hardship, which means developing simple foods with simple ingredients seasonally available or what ever is on hand.
And you will see that in the comfort foods of Poland.
Soups and Meats
Zurek Sour Soup. My favorite
In Poznan I had one of my favorite traditionally Polish foods, a soup called zurek. I really need to learn to make this delicious, bright, flavorful soup. Often called Sour Soup because of the fermented rye used, it’s very difficult to describe but definitely not difficult to eat. Want to try it? Check out this recipe.
Duck with beets and dumplings
Soups are very popular in Poland, particularly in the long dark winter, and in addition to zurek we had tomato soup, seafood soup, beet soup (borscht) and another sour soup with fermented rye and dill called zalewajka. I loved that one too. Want to try it? Check out this recipe.
In Poznan and in Wroclaw we also enjoyed wonderfully prepared duck, traditionally served with beets and yeast dumplings. We also had deliciously hand-made sausages and pickles served with mustard. Another favorite was a beetroot and strawberry salad served with warm goat cheese. A remarkable combination of simple ingredients.
Pierogi and Cooking Class
Fresh cured meats with pickles and mustard
We stayed the longest in the remarkable city of Krakow, where we had time to really dive into the culture and food scene. Here is where we ate the most pierogi, taste testing traditional favorites as well as a few new creations. The Pierogi Ruskie is the favorite amongst the Poles, and I have to say that is my favorite too. Simple ingredients of potato, cheese, and onion burst in your mouth, full of home cooked goodness. Another favorite we enjoyed was duck pierogi – a more modern take on
the traditional food. We also had mushroom and cabbage, spinach and cheese, blueberry, and raspberry.
So much pierogi so little time!
In Krakow I had a wonderful pleasure of spending half a day with Olga of Urban Adventures in her tiny communist era apartment, where we created some delicious pierogi, learning the nuances of preparation. The dough for pierogi is as simple as pasta dough, just flour, egg, water and a little salt. Hand mixing and hand forming is important to keep it traditional. Pierogi is always boiled, but left over pierogi is often pan-fried the next day for another delicious way to enjoy it. And since you can’t just make a few pierogi, there are always leftovers. There are many ways to enjoy Pierogi. Click on this link for a recipes for several of the most traditional ones, including Ruskie. I have also attached a pdf here with the recipe Olga so kindly provide.Pierogi receipe
Forming the pierogi
While spending the day with Olga we also visited the local Polish market where we learned to order the items we needed – in Polish – while the local merchants smiled and indulged our broken mispronunciation. At the market we also learned not only about fresh meat and produce, but about the many kinds of popular pickles, pastries, cheese and, surprisingly, lard. We ate bacon lard spread like butter
At the market fresh eggs and a polish cheese called Golka
on delicious fresh bread. Who knew that could be so good?
Our visit to Krakow also included spending four hours one evening with Delicious Poland, walking around the city and tasting so many delicious polish specialties. Seriously I thought I was going to explode. If you come to Krakow definitely do a food walking tour – but DO NOT eat lunch before hand. So much delicious food. Here is what we ate:
Pierogi of course, at one of the city’s most loved family owned pierogi restaurants called Przystanek. We learned that sometimes fruit filled pierogi is served as a main dish, and the mushroom and cabbage pierogi is always served on Christmas
Ruskie Pierogi made in cooking class. The most traditional.
Christmas Eve is a major holiday and the family gathers to make the pierogi together. A traditional Polish Christmas Eve meal includes 12 courses, symbolizing riches, the 12 apostles and the 12 months of the year. The feast begins with the breaking of a wafer and is followed by; red borscht, mushroom soup, carp, herring, mushroom and cabbage pierogi, sauerkraut, cabbage rolls, kutia (grain and candied fruit mixture), gingerbread, dried fruit compote, poppy seed cake.
Another wonderful Christmas Eve tradition in Poland is that every table is set with one extra seat. Traditionally set for anyone who may be alone or needing a meal on Christmas Eve.
Walking Food Tour Krakow
Our food tour continued at Zalewajke in the Jewish Quarter, where we enjoyed the zalewajke soup and the borscht (mentioned above). We continued to the Jewish Market square to try a more recent addition to the polish food scene, zapiekanka. This open face sandwich is the favorite fast food in Krakow, developed in the communist era when burgers were not allowed because they were too “American”.
Zapiekanka open face sandwich
Trying local vodka at Hevre (a converted Jewish Prayer Hall) I realized I actually like vodka, if it’s the good stuff! My favorite was the Bison Grass; so subtle and smooth. Next we visited a very popular local brewery called Ursa Major with a woman brew master! Here we enjoyed sausage and cheese with two beers – a no hop(!) summer ale (interesting) and a
Enjoying the Bison Grass Vodka
session IPA. Unlike most places we’ve been, American-style IPAs are very popular here.
So we are thinking we probably just have dessert left but no! We continued on to Kuchina u Doroty where we ate more! Two of my favorites of my time in Poland I had here – a delicious potato pancake covered in goulash called place ziemniaczane z gulaszem (try it) and a cabbage and sausage stew called bigos (try it) . In addition we had golabki (cabbage rolls), beetroot salad, kompot (juice) and racuchy, a fried dough dessert that tasted a lot like french toast, covered with yogurt and fresh berries.
Potato pancake with goulash
About this time Arne plopped me in a wheelbarrow and wheeled me home.
The women in my cooking class.
Our time in Poland has been incredibly delicious and that has been incredibly surprising. Poland is an underrated tourism destination, and now I know the Polish cuisine is also misunderstood and underrated. I will take everything I learned about the food and culture of this incredible country and refer to it often.
And someday, I will return. To eat, to enjoy and to savor all this country has to offer.
Arne enjoying some of the local microbrews
Dziekuje Poland! Fantastyczny!
Note – Traveling and eating in Poland is very inexpensive. Some of our nicest meals with appetizers, main course, dessert, wine and beer only cost around $40. As of this writing the exchange rate is 4 zloty to one USD.
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We love Paris like everyone else. But really that’s the problem. EVERYONE loves Paris (and London and Rome) and so you find lots of crowds and high cost. In our travels around the world we have really tried to find new places that few tourists go. Often these destinations end up being our most favorite. And the more we travel the more we want to encourage everyone to consider stepping out of their travel comfort zone, and exploring the unknown – the favorite destinations no one goes. Finding your way to the lesser traveled destinations creates less impact on the planet while bringing greater cultural awareness to the traveler. We ask you to consider these options:
Instead of Croatia consider visiting Bulgaria, one of our favorite countries we have ever been to. Bulgaria has so much to offer, and yet we did not meet a single American during the entire month we were there. We did meet lots of Russians, Germans and some Brits. Bulgaria has a remarkable coastline along the gorgeous Black Sea as well as great mountains for hiking. The food is amazing, the wine is cheap and the 5000 year history is astounding. And the people are so amazing, welcoming and proud. They have endured a great deal in their history, and they have a “come what may” attitude that is infectious. Go visit Bulgaria.
Instead of Italy go to fascinating Slovenia. From Trieste, Italy it’s just a hop across the border to Slovenia, the tiny country once part of Yugoslavia. We have been to Slovenia twice and I suspect we will be there again. Slovenia has a tiny coastline on the Adriatic, and our favorite town of Piran is a perfect place to visit and get some local flavor. But don’t stop there, Slovenia has some of the most beautiful mountain towns and lakes. Much of Slovenia is still agrarian and the people are welcoming and patriotic and friendly. Oh and the seafood. So darn delicious. Go visit Slovenia.
Instead of Mexico go to El Salvador. We just spent two weeks on the Pacific Coast of tiny El Salvador and we absolutely loved it. There are some Americans coming here, but mostly 20-year-old surfers. The media has made us believe El Salvador is a dangerous place, and yet it is no more dangerous than Mexico and Americans flock to Mexico. Come to El Salvador where the water is warm, the people are welcoming, the food is delicious and the history though brutal and bloody – is fascinating. El Salvador will soon come out the shadow of its violent past, so visit before the secret gets out. Go visit El Salvador.
Instead of Germany go to Poland. Poland is just beginning to step out of the shadow and become a tourist destination. And it should. We fell hard for Poland spending three weeks there last fall. Poland has some of the most astonishing history anywhere in Europe. The food is fantastic. The people are warm and happy to meet you. The historic villages are well-preserved and beautiful. And it is cheap and easy to get to. We loved Krakow as well as all the other places we visited and using the train in Poland was a great way to travel. You really should visit Poland now.
Instead of India go to Bangladesh. I loved our time in India too, but if you want to push yourself and visit somewhere no tourists go, visit the remarkable, tiny country of Bangladesh. Our short visit to Bangladesh provided us some of the most rewarding moments we have ever had in our travels. It’s difficult to visit Bangladesh without a guide, and we were lucky to find Deshguri, one of the few tour operators in the country. Through Deshguri we able to meet so many Bangladeshi people, who greeted us with more kindness than anywhere we have ever been in the world. We certainly stood out in both crowded Dakar as well as the beautiful villages and countryside, since almost no Western tourists come here. We learned so much during our time in Bangladesh, and left our heart with its beautiful people. A remarkable experience that everyone should have. Visit Bangladesh soon.
Instead of Thailand go to Sri Lanka. Thailand is overrun with tourists anymore. So if you are looking for beautiful beaches, mountains and more, visit Sri Lanka instead. The young backpacking set has found Sri Lanka, but few American visitors of the Fab Fifties era are traveling here. Why not? It is amazing. We spent three of our most favorite weeks in Sri Lanka, one of the friendliest countries we have ever visited. The Civil War is over and Sri Lanka is safe and inexpensive. The food is the da bomb. Hiking and history is around every corner and the beaches are incredible. We saw elephants and leopards, monkeys and snakes. Oh my. It’s Sri Lanka for me.
Instead of South Africa go to Namibia. Our ten-day tour in Namibia with Wild Wind Safaris will go down in our travels as one of the most remarkable places. This country that nobody has heard of is one of the most beautiful in the world. We had an amazing private guide during our time there, but you can also see the country easily with your own 4×4 vehicle (careful though, there is a high traffic fatality rate in Namibia). Namibia has a gorgeous Atlantic coastline, dry mountainous region that is like a moonscape, and multiple fascinating cultures such as the Himba, Damara and Herero people. And to top it off Etosha National Park – single-handedly the best wildlife viewing we have ever encountered. I absolutely fell in love with Namibia. If you have ever considered a safari in Kenya, Tanzania or South Africa take a moment and research Namibia. You will be so glad you did. Go see Namibia now.
Instead of the Maldives go to the Seychelles. First a word about the Maldives. We loved our time there, and luckily we found a very inexpensive place to stay. But in general the Maldives are expensive and there is no alcohol! So consider the Seychelles instead. A beautiful set of small islands out in the middle of nowhere off of east Africa. We spent a month on the tiny island of Praslin and loved every minute of it. Groceries were expensive and the variety was less than desirable, but the rest of the experience was very positive. The islanders speak French/Creole mix, and the shy people are friendly and religious. If you are looking for a place to kick back and relax with the warmest turquoise waters in the world, visit Seychelles now.
Instead of Spain go to Portugal. I hesitated about adding Portugal to this list because Portugal does have a thriving tourism industry. But we met very few Americans while we were there. Perhaps more Americans go to Spain because Spanish is a language more Americans can handle. But during our time in Portugal we had very little difficulty with the Portuguese language. We loved Portugal so much we would consider living there. The food is incredible, the cities are beautiful and the beaches are fantastic. It’s a remarkable place with such a variety of geography. Historically Portugal was once a powerful country of explorers and merchants, colonizers and tyrants but today, this quiet and beautiful country is laid back and relaxed and fun. Visit Portugal.
What is next for us?
We are now into a full-fledged planning phase of our next chapter of the Grand Adventure. We will spend May-September in the USA then depart again. Without really trying, we have noticed
a trend in the countries we are planning to visit next, a trend towards less touristy. A trend towards staying longer in one place. A trend towards trying to make less of an impact and remove ourselves from the fray.
I think this is what we always intended to happen on this journey, but it just took us a while to get there. But when we look back on our favorite places we have been so far, it’s always the places with the road less traveled. It’s always the places with few western tourists. It’s always the places the cruise ships don’t go. The authentic and relatively untouched destinations.
Taking a cooking class and going on a food tour in every country I visit is a goal I have. And I accomplish it often, but not always. But when I can I always enjoy it and over the past couple of weeks I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing two countries, two cuisines, too delicious – the food of Taiwan and Malaysia.
We spent six days in Taipei Taiwan. We weren’t really tuned in to the Taiwanese cuisine, half expecting it to be just like China. But unlike China, Taiwan has been strongly influenced from Japan (with historical influence also from Portugal and Holland) and it’s noticeable in the cuisine. The Chinese influence comes primarily from Eastern China (Fujian). And certainly the fact that Taiwan is an island, the cuisine has a much stronger focus on seafood than much of China.
A search online led me to Chef Calvin at GoTuCook. Thorough out our world travels I’ve taken cooking classes large and small, in cooking schools and home kitchens, from world famous chefs and humble housewives. And usually my favorite experiences are the ones where I have one-on-one time with the instructor in their home. This was my experience with GoTuCook.
We met early in the morning at the Beitou metro station from where we walked to experience the bustling thriving market and the local vendors selling to the local people. I always love this experience with a local who can explain unusual ingredients, answer my questions and enlighten me to this way of life long gone in America.
Next we headed to Calvin’s apartment, set up perfectfully for cooking classes. I had chosen three dishes I wanted to make ahead of time from a variety of options listed on the GoTuCook website. I chose as a starter Jellyfish Salad and for a soup course a chicken and mushroom soup and for our main course two kinds of pork dumplings.
I liked both the jellyfish salad (requires an overnight soak of the chewy jellyfish in the fridge before prep) and the fragrant soup with a broth we cooked with chicken feet as well as meaty parts from the blue chicken, but my favorite was the dumplings.
Making Chinese style steamed dumplings takes some practice. I’ve done similar work in classes before (making empanada in Argentina, pirogi in Poland and dumplings in Vietnam) but it’s still a chore to get your fingers to make the beautiful designs if it’s not a task you do everyday. We made pork with cabbage and spices and pork with corn and different spices. And then we ate!
Of course we had leftovers and I brought dumplings and jellyfish to my husband who was back at the hotel.
I really enjoyed this class and plan to tackle dumplings on my own soon. I recommend GoToCook if you visit Taipei.
We also took an amazing walking food tour with Taipei Eats where we expanded our Taiwanese cuisine knowledge with Taiwan Pork “burger”, stinky tofu, betel nut, scallion pancake and much more. Taipei Eats was one of the best food tours we have ever done. Our guide was amazing, there was so much food and we learned some interesting facts while meeting local people as well as other travelers from around the world. Such a wonderful experience!
What a country Malaysia is for a foodie. This remarkable country is a melting pot of many cultures, and it shows in everything, especially the food. Malay food is often spicy, and nasi (rice) features often. Eating with your hands is common. Pork is rarely featured in this cuisine because most Malay are Muslim.
On the other hand, many Chinese immigrated here in the 1800’s when this land was a British colony and the Chinese food is abundant, and often includes pork. Noodles, chicken and dumplings are also widely enjoyed.
And then there is the Indian food, representing the vast number of Indians living in Malaysia. The use of pungent spices and curries, more noodles as well as lots of vegetables make up this delicious cuisine.
No matter what ethnic background, the people in this country love fried foods and fried chicken, seafood, samosa and much more are popular both as street food and in restaurants.
Off the Eaten Track
The food tour we took in Kuala Lumpur was very unique and one of the best ever. At the end of the evening we had sampled twenty-four (yes you read that correctly) foods of this diverse and delicious country.
We signed up with Food Tour Malaysia for their Off the Eaten Track tour and were met by our guide Timothy at a subway stop in a suburb of Kuala Lumpur called Petaling Jaya where we began our gluttonous odyssey at an outdoor Malay neighborhood food court that operates 24 hours a day seven days a week. Here we found just locals enjoying the foods they loved. We had Nasi Lemak wrapped in banana leaf; ota ota, a smoked mackerel wrapped in palm leaf; a rich goat and potato soup; fried chicken and fried tempeh. I was full before we left this first stop.
Next we headed to probably the best night market I have ever been too, also in the suburb of Petaling Jaya. Here we learned about the popular “carrot cake” (not a cake in the sense we are used to, more of a pressed tofu), we had spring roll, noodles, dumplings and sweet Chinese daun pandan filled with peanuts.
Next we headed to a very local-only Chinese open air restaurant to sample more noodles cooked over an open fire and a delicious soup with chicken, okra, long beans and potato.
Our final stop was an outdoor Indian restaurant, and we were the only non-Indians there. And darn it I was so full I couldn’t really enjoy the amazing feast of roti, lentil dal, curry, a giant fried pancake with a coconut curry dip, fried chicken and mango smoothie. Roll me home. What a night it was. If you are ever in Kuala Lumpur, do this tour – but pace yourself!
The Versatile Housewives
To round off our food frenzy in Kuala Lumpur we spent one morning with Ruth, a cooking instructor who brings the flavors of her native India to visitors in Kuala Lumpur through her business The Versatile Housewives. We learned to make one of India’s most famous dishes, biryani, with a group of local university students in Ruth’s kitchen. Biryani is a rich and flavorful traditional dish, often served at weddings and ceremonies. It can be beef or lamb or chicken. We made a chicken biryani. The flavors of this dish come together by slowly preparing the fresh ingredients of caramelized onions, vegetables and spices like cardamon, cloves and pepper as well as herbs like cilantro and mint. After slowly blending all these flavors with rice and chicken, the biryani is served in a giant bowl and enjoyed communally. Check out Ruth’s website for a great selection of delicious Indian recipes.
No matter where you travel, diving into the culture through food is the most interesting and tastiest way to engage with locals, learn history and culture and broaden your culinary chops. Be brave! Eat the world!
I don’t take a cooking class in EVERY country, but I’d like to. I love to learn about local cultures through food and I look for that experience when I can find it. In some countries finding a class is difficult or impossible. Other times it just doesn’t fit my schedule. But I always make an effort and when I do attend a class I am never disappointed. Just today I signed up for a cooking class for my upcoming visit to Hong Kong.
I can recommend all of the cooking classes below…many of these I have written blogs about and you can click directly to read those blog entries. I encourage you to consider cooking classes, even if
Cooking in Tuscany
cooking isn’t a big part of your life. Taking a class in a foreign country with local people, often in their homes and with their families, is one of the most rewarding ways to open up the cultural lines of communication all while enjoying a delicious and fun experience. Fabulous!
Tuscany/Italy – My first cooking class took place in Tuscany with a group of friends we were traveling with seven years ago. We learned to make an amazing meal from the owner of the Villa where we were staying. She was a former chef and chocolatier! Our amazing meal included handmade pasta, vegetable terrine, beef loin and lots and lots of wine.
Argentina – We took a very fun cooking class in Buenes Aires during our two day visit prior to getting on a cruise ship. Unfortunately we were so jet-legged the experience is a little bit fuzzy in my memory. The class was
Cooking in South Korea
held in the home of the chef, and there were about 8 people in attendance. We made several different kinds of empanadas, made delicious chimichurri sauce and butter cookies and learned about Matte – the unique and ubiquitous drink of Argentina.
South Korea – in Seoul I spent two full days with a world famous South Korean Chef the Korean Food and Culture Academy and it remains one of my all time favorite experiences. One of the days I was with just one other student. The second day I was with four other students. I learned to cook about a dozen dishes including Kimchee and I have used these recipes over and over
Cooking in Croatia
ever since. Who knew Korean food was so amazing? I didn’t and that is one of the best parts of the experience.
Croatia – I’m a sucker for slow roasted meats and it’s one of the staple foods in many of the East European countries. My experience in Croatia was a mouth watering one, learning the ancient and incredibly delicious process of cooking Peka over an open fire. The lamb dish is spectacularly delicious and a celebratory Croatian speciality.
Guatemala – I loved my full-day private cooking class in Antiqua Guatemala. I had the chef all to myself and an English translator. We made several dishes, enough to feed an army, and I ended up taking all the food home to enjoy another full meal with my husband. Learning
Cooking in Spain
to make the tortillas was a favorite activity, that proved much more difficult that you might expect!
Morocco – In Asilah Morocco we were blessed to have the most wonderful Airbnb that included a daily housekee and full-time cook. What a special treat that was during our ten days in this tiny
Cooking in Thailand
ocean front village. Each day she cooked for us and we watched and learned from her. We also went with her to the market and learned about the local specialities from tagine to couscous.
Thailand – It’s a tough call for me to say which class was my favorite but I would definitely put my two days at the Thai Kitchen Cookery School in Chiang Mai very near the top. It was a comedy of errors how I ended up there, but in hindsight I was so glad I did. I loved the class, the staff and the wonderful foods I enjoyed over my two-days with them.
South Africa – Several of the classes I have taken over the years have been in the personal homes of the chef, bringing me closer to the local
Cooking in Belize
culture in a familiar and family way. In Capetown South Africa my husband and enjoyed a wonderful evening in the home of our Chef who taught us about local cuisine from the African culture with the European influence. We ate Emu for the first time and many other delicious dishes as well as exceptional South African wines with our Chef and her husband.
Vietnam – One of my all time favorite cooking experiences was in Hoi An Vietnam, which coincidentally is also one of my all time favorite cities. I took an all day class at the famous Mrs. Vys Cooking School.
Cooking in South Africa
The class began with a bike ride around the city that included stops at several markets, a beautiful organic community garden and at the home of a bean sprout farmer . I learned so much and enjoyed the bike ride as well. Returning to the school we toured the multiple cooking stations within the school watching the professionals making food beautiful before heading upstairs to the kitchen to tackle our own recipes. I ate so much that day, and learned so much, and highly recommend this place if you are ever in Hoi An. I hope to return some day.
Spain – I loved Barcelona, and especially loved the famous Mercado de la Boqueria for its color and festive atmosphere as well as delicious and fresh food. It was here where my class began, touring, tasting and
Cookin in Poland
purchasing the ingredients before heading upstairs to cook. Our three-hours class included such Catalan specialities as paella, gazpacho and Spanish Tortilla. I have cooked these items many times since.
Poland – Krakow is one of my favorite European cities, under-appreciated by many visitors to Europe.
Cooking in Vietnam
We loved the food of Krakow and did a food walking and drinking tour as well as a pierogi cooking class. My teacher was a young college student who was born and raised in Krakow. We met at the market where she helped us speak Polish to the vendors to acquire the ingredients we needed for our dish. We then proceeded to her tiny, communist era apartment where we maneuvered around her little kitchen learning to make the dough and the stuffing for several different pierogi. It was one of my favorite classes ever.
Belize – Learning about the food and culture of the Garifuna people of Belize, with our two adult sons was a highlight of our family time together in Belize. Cooking outdoors on an open fire with Chef Gloria doing everything from breaking and shredding the coconut to pounding the yams with a wooden mallet made the final delicious dinner all the more satisfying and fun.
So those are some of my favorite cooking class experiences over the past several years. To be sure I will be writing about more wonderful cooking experiences in the future. Because life is fabulous and delicious!
If you’ve been following My Fab Fifties Life for awhile you will remember our 2017 World Travel Awards from last January. I definitely feel with all of our travels in 2018 (covering 57,000 miles and 26 countries) we are well positioned to bestow the World Travel Awards – our version of the Oscar or the Razzy – on many people, places and travel experiences that have touched us this past year. Just like the famous movie awards, we have seen a world of real life
drama, fantasy, comedy, mystery, nature and animation. Enough to last a lifetime.
This is a long blog. But I believe it offers some valuable travel insight to the world. I hope you will find it informative and entertaining. So in keeping with the time of year for awards, I give to you our picks for World Travel Awards, Best and Worst of 2018 – My Fab Fifties Life.
(For reference – our 2018 countries visited were; India, Bangladesh, Maldives, Singapore, Guam, Australia, Indonesia, Fiji, New Caledonia, Vanuatu, USA, Denmark, Belgium, Germany, Poland, Romania, Greece, Egypt, Jordan, Portugal, Spain, Colombia, Panama, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil.
Favorite Overall Country – Australia
Australia takes the top award this year edging out a few others (Greece, Poland) but we both agreed. Australia is the best. The only negative about Australia is it’s expensive. But we believe the beauty, culture, nature and environmental awareness helped us choose it as our favorite destination of 2018. We plan to return in 2019.
Favorite City – Sydney and Krakow
Well there it is again – Australia. Sydney Australia and Krakow Poland take our award this year for favorite city, and basically for the same reason. Both offer a variety of cultural, historic and scenic options for visitors. Sydney also has beaches while Krakow has great food.
Most Beautiful City – Singapore
Everything you ever heard about Singapore is true – sparkling clean, stunningly beautiful (especially at night), easy to maneuver and very pedestrian friendly, Singapore was our favorite beautiful city of the year.
Cutest Town – Brugge
Singapore might take the big city award but we are more small town folks, and Brugge was a perfect little package of history, beauty, beer, delicious food and very friendly people. We spent four days and could easily have stayed on even longer.
Most Expensive Country – Australia
Australia has so much to offer, but inexpensive it is not.
Least Expensive Country – Indonesia
Mount Batur Bali
With some of the nicest people and most beautiful scenery Indonesia is a bargain, and we loved our time there.
Most Disappointing City – Ubud (Bali Indonesia) Ubud is no longer the sweet little artists/yoga village we all imagine from Eat Pray Love. When I saw the American brand chain stores I was so disappointed (Ralph Lauren, Starbucks, Nike).
Best Airbnb for Service – Rio de Janeiro. Our short visit to Rio (we really should have stayed longer) was extra special due to the hospitable and generous host at our sweet Airbnb. She was one of the most thoughtful hosts we have ever had. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/1149627
Best Airbnb for Authenticity –Santorini
Greece. Hands down the most expensive Airbnb we have ever stayed in, and yet it was also incredibly authentic Greek cliffside dwelling with a stunning crater view. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/15926564
Most Expensive Airbnb – Santorini $220 a night (see above)
Best Value Airbnb – Maldives our tiny room
in a tiny resort on the tiny island of Huraa was $90 a night but included three meals a day for both of us. We loved our relaxing three weeks here. https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4490934
traditional rice barns was not only beautiful, but it offered so many activities as part of our package and an incredible view at a bargain price. We loved our time here with our friends John and Carol
Worst Hotel – Singapore. Because Singapore is so expensive we booked this inexpensive $117 hotel and our room was literally a closet in the attic with no windows. It felt like a jail cell.
Worst Hotel Experience – Bucharest Romania. Arriving at our booked and paid-for hotel near the Bucharest Airport, we learned there was a “septic” problem. No room at the inn. Nearly five hours later we finally laid our heads on a FUTON, in a teeny apartment of some guy who wasn’t using it, well away from the airport but grateful to just go to sleep. We had a very early flight and it was not a great way to end our three weeks in Romania.
award, nowhere else even in the running. Brugge is a beer lovers town and we are beer lovers. Our visit to Brugge was memorable for many reasons including the wonderful selection of really outstanding beer.
Best Food Experience/Tour – Brugge wins this one too! We really enjoyed having dinner in the home of a lovely Brugge couple who through the website With Locals offered a home cooked Belgian meal in a typical Belgian home. What a lovely treat.
Best Drinks Tour – Port Tour Porto Portugal. I wasn’t sure I was going to like this tour but it ended up being so wonderful, educational, delicious and fun. I highly recommend this if you are in the beautiful Portuguese city of Porto.
CULTURAL AND NATURAL EXPERIENCES
Best Sunset – Guam. With Gin and Tonic in hand and enjoying some family time while visiting my niece Bekah and her husband Davy, we enjoyed our favorite sunset of the year on the little Dungcas beach in Guam.
Most Authentic Cultural Experience – Bangladesh Tour. Who goes to Bangladesh? Well just about no one, and it is exactly the
reason we enjoyed our time there so very much. By far the most authentic and least touristy country we have been to in a long time. The people were so interested and amazed by us and they treated us like celebrities. We loved our time there.
Best Beach – It’s a tie! Antiparos, Greece and Ilha Grande, Brazil both deserve to be winners, even though they were quit different. Antiparos was amazing for the solitude, beauty and spectacular turquoise water. Ilha Grande had such warm water and the beaches were clean and beautiful despite being challenging to get to, we loved exploring the Ilha Grande beaches
Best Tour – Memphis Tours Egypt was one of the best tour companies we have ever dealt with providing us incredible detail prior to arriving, and being present and on top of every detail throughout our ten-day visit to Egypt and Jordan. Our guides, drivers, accommodations and everything else were flawless.
Best Driver – Kadek in Bali. I found Kadek on Trip Advisor and he served as our driver for our entire three weeks on the island of Bali. He was a very good driver, spoke great English and in addition to picking us and dropping us at our destination he made sure we saw lots of interesting things along the way. I hope to meet Kadek again some day.
Best Free Walking Tour – Berlin Germany. We have done so many free walking tours over the past several years and only once did we NOT like our guide. But the young lady we had in Berlin was hands down one of the most charming, interesting, factual, fun and entertaining humans I have ever met. It made for a most memorable experience and a big tip for her.
Best Tour Guide – Cristian, Santiago Chile. Cristian was our guide on a bus tour we took the day we left our cruise ship and headed to Santiago for our flight. We spent the day touring the wine region of Chile as well as seeing a small authentic rodeo and dancing. Cristian was patient,
informative, interesting and entertaining.
Best Bucket List Historic Site – Winner Taj Mahal. Runner-ups The Great Pyramids and Petra. I cried the day I stood in front of the Taj Mahal. It was even more beautiful than I imagined. And lucky for us, we hit it on an unusually clear blue sunny day with hardly any people. Magnificent site to
behold. Totally worth it. Of course the Pyramids and Petra are a close second. After seeing these sites your whole life in pictures, it’s surreal to finally see, touch and feel such awesome history and beauty first hand.
Best Snorkeling – Maldives. You might be surprised we aren’t giving this award to The Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Yes that was amazing. But our best one day snorkeling actually took place in the crystal clear
blue waters of the Maldives, on a tiny sand island of only about 20 yards wide and 75 yards long. Here we witnessed the most beautiful coral reef I’ve ever seen, and the most amazing variety of fish and sealife.
Best Natural Site – Uluru Australia. It’s a trek to get to Uluru. And like everything in Australia it will be expensive.
But standing next that incredible natural phenomenon will be something you will never forget.
Best Manmade Site – Panama Canal Panama. I had no idea how much I was going to enjoy our eleven hour crossing of the amazing Panama Canal. Truly a modern day wonder of the world.
Malaga Cathedral, Spain
Best Cathedral – Malaga Spain. We see a lot of cathedrals. Sometimes individual ones are difficult to remember. Malaga is not one of those. A distinctively beautiful design inside makes it my favorite and most memorable cathedral in 2018.
7 Ladders, Brasov Romania
Best Day Hike – We have a three way tie for this one with 1. Canyon of the Seven Ladders, Brasov Romania 2. Campuhan trail in the rice fields outside of Ubud, Bali. 3. Coogee to Bondi Beach ocean trail Australia. All providing us wonderful days outdoors in three very distinctively different natural settings.
Best Multi-Day Hike – Well, the Camino Portuguese of course!
Most Exhilarating Outdoor Experience – Morning swim Denmark. Even though it was August, jumping into the North Sea before breakfast was an eye-popping way to start your day – and a very Danish thing to do!
Expensive but Worth it – Climbing the Harbor Bridge Sydney Australia $467. I had to really convince Arne to do this because it was outrageously expensive. But in the end he agreed it was worth it. An impressively well done and safe operation with a spectacular view to boot.
Best Wildlife Experience 1. Platypus spotting Australia 2. Aligator Spotting Florida. We love it when we can see wildlife in its natural habitat, untouched by humans. Seeing a wild platypus in Australia was so incredible. I still can hardly believe our luck and timing to spot the elusive and shy creature. On the other hand, seeing literally dozens and dozens of alligators within just a few feet of us as we rode bikes on the Shark Valley trail in the Florida Everglades was one of the strangest experiences of my life.
Most Moving Experience – Auschwitz, Poland Hands down – seeing and learning about the extermination of Jews in Auschwitz and in Krakow was the most astonishing and moving experience in all of our travels. I tried to put it into perspective in a blog. It was difficult. Some people choose not to visit. For us it was the reason for going to Poland and I believe EVERYONE should go.
Performance, Ubud Bali
Best Performance 1. Bali 2. Sydney 3. Krakow It’s one of our favorite things to do when traveling, attending a local performance. And this past year we saw several remarkable shows including two fascinating and authentic indigenous dance shows in Ubud Bali, a circus/dance show at the Sydney Opera House as well as an outdoor spectacle of La Boheme on Sydney Harbor. In Krakow we enjoyed a piano solo performance of Krakow’s favorite son Chopin and LOVED a string quartet concert inside the tiniest historic chapel.
Best Museum Skagen Denmark A surprising find in this tiny historic seaside town in Northern Denmark, Skagens Museum featured the remarkable art of the amazing talents of the area’s 1800’s artist colony.
Best Cultural Art Experience Ecuador Panama Hat Making in the tiny mountain town of Monticristi a tradition endures where skilled artists produce these works of beauty known as Panama Hats.
Best Historical Art Experience Berlin Wall The reason we came to Berlin was to see the iconic wall, which did not disappoint, and the rest of this amazing city made it one of our favorite stops on European adventure.
Count Dracula Romania
Kitsch Award – we make an effort to avoid tourist kitsch, but sometimes we fall for it, as we did in Sighisoara Romania. Touted as the birthplace of Vlad the Impaler (Count Dracula), we paid a couple of dollars to walk into a dark and spooky room where an open coffin waited with the Count himself asleep. Well until he jumped up and scared me to death. LOL.
Least English Spoken – Brazil. Portuguese is the official language of Brazil and we found through out the country even in high tourist areas English is rare. Much like in Portugal and in Spain, there are few fluent English speakers. Even in the airport and on the flights English is unusual.
Hottest Day: Ilha Grande Brazil 95 degrees F and 76 degree dew point. We swooned.
Coldest Day: Pontevedra Spain 39 degrees F on our Camino de Santiago we froze and this was the start of my chest cold that lasted 8 weeks.
Wettest Day: Muxia Spain a four day monsoon kept us indoors, stuffing paper towels into the frames of the windows to keep the water from pouring in.
Windiest Day: Antiparos Greece – a rare October cyclone closed down shops, the ferry, and toppled trees.
30 flights, 8 train rides, lots of small boat rides, one river cruise, two ocean cruises
Smallest Airport – Paros Greece
Worst Flight Experience – Iceland Air lost luggage. It took three days before we saw our luggage again.
Worst Airline – Scoot. Worst flight I can remember in a while from Singapore to Perth. Everything cost extra including baggage, drinks, food and even a blanket.
Best Travel Experience – Europe Train Travel. We had a wonderful experience using the trains from Belgium to Germany to Poland and throughout Andalucia and I would do that again in a minute.
Worst Airport – Manila We had a long layover here and there was nowhere to sit. There was no ATM to get local currency and none of the concessionaires took credit cards. The part of the airport we saw was old and dirty.
Camino de Santiago Portugal
Best Airport – In contrast and like everything else in Singapore, the airport is new, shiny, efficient and beautiful.
Dead Sea Jordan
Worst Security Line – Seattle WA USA. Way to go USA. My flight from Seattle to Nashville was a near disaster when I arrived more than two hours ahead of schedule to find a more than two-hour security line. Seattle’s inability to separate out domestic and international travelers and offer expanded security lanes has made it one of my least favorite airports in the entire world.
Worst Travel Experience – missing our flight in Perth. Expedia took the blame and even gave us a $200 credit for this flight debacle, but it didn’t help our situation as we had to stay an additional day in Perth and did not get to see the town of Alice Springs before heading on to visit Uluru. Hope to see you again someday Alice Springs.
So there you have it. The winner of the Fab Fifties version of the Oscars for 2018. But you do know, the real winner is me. Me and my husband. The luckiest people on the planet. Who needs a little gold statue when you have a Fab Fifties Life?
What a fabulous life it is.
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We’ve been in Spain now for more than a month. Last year we spent more than two months in Spain. I have learned to enjoy what is really a simple cuisine here in this country – locally sourced, simply prepared and not overly seasoned. Although the many regions of Spain have their individual specialties, the focus of the overall cuisine of Spain is fresh and seasonal.
My only complaint about Spain is how late they eat their meals. Breakfast is barely a meal – just coffee and a croissant, maybe a tortilla (here in Spain ‘tortilla’ is an egg and potato dish, aka Spanish omelet) around 10am. Lunch isn’t until 2:00pm and dinner rarely gets started before 9pm. For this American, that is well past my bedtime.
One of the reasons Spain eats so late is because they are in a crazy backwards timezone. Ever since Franco wanted Spain in the same timezone as Germany, Spaniards have lived with a VERY late sunrise and a VERY late sunset. So, they have adjusted their eating habits to accommodate. Unfortunately my internal clock is not so easily adjusted.
So the answer for me, when in Spain, is to live on tapas – the luscious
little dishes served all day long. I have become a fan of tapas for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The Tapa Life
We have enjoyed my favorite tapas of Spain in Madrid, Santiago,Leon and Barcelona. But Sevilla loves its tapas bars (there are no tapas restaurants only bars – tapas are always served with alcohol) and the abundance of options is both fun and a bit overwhelming. In fact many will argue Sevilla is the birthplace of the tapa. We studied up a bit on where to go, what to eat and some history, then we set out on our own little “tapear”, the Spanish word for tapas hopping. Time to find my favorite tapas of Spain.
As we set out on our excursion we were happy to know there really wasn’t anywhere better we could be eating tapas than in Sevilla, and specifically in the historic Triana neighborhood. Myths and legends abound about tapas. One of the most
Cold tomato soup
popular is King Alfonso the 10th, The Wise King of Spain, had once been stricken with a serious illness which only allowed him to take in small portions of food with small amounts of wine. After recovering from his illness, the king issued a decree that no wine should be served at inns unless it was served with food. (credit A Brief History of Tapas, Pita Jungle).
My Favorite Spanish Tapas
We did not have the opportunity to try every kind of tapa Sevilla is famous for, but we indulged in many and here is a list of some of our favorites both from our tour of Triana and our time throughout Spain (see photos and captions of
Pork in whiskey with potata
several throughout this blog); croqueta (very popular bite size fried cheesy nuggets often with jamon but we enjoyed it with duck as well as mint), montadito (tiny bite size jamon and pork sandwich), solomillo al whiskey (pork in whisky sauce), los pajaritos (tiny fried quail), patata (fresh potato chip), tortilla bites (egg and potato omelette), tortillita de camarones (fried shrimp pancake), espinacas con garbanzos (spinach and garbanzo beans), salmorejo (cold tomato soup), stuffed olives, thin sliced jamon iberico de bellota (acorn fed Iberian ham), pancetta frita (fried pork belly), grilled shrimp, boiled shrimp, sardinas ala parilla (grilled sardines), mussels, pulpo (octopus), razor clams, fried calamari, boquerones (anchovies) on toast, sausages and rabo de toros (bull’s tail). And those are just the ones I can remember.
Simple, Cheap & Delicious
It’s a wonderful way to eat. But the great thing is, even if you are only stopping for a glass of wine with a friend, the bar will always set something to nibble in front of you (because the King said so). It will
Grilled sardines and grilled shrimp
probably be a plate of olives, perhaps nuts or sometimes bread with ham and cheese or tortilla. It’s said that the original tapas were probably bread with jamon, which was used to cover your drink (the word tapa means ‘cover’).
Despite the origin of the word, it now describes a cuisine unto its own. Though southern Spain and particularly Andalusia claim it, the popularity of tapas has spread, particularly to South and Central America, Mexico and the United States.
The day of our tapear we ate and drank (both beer and wine) for several hours at six locations. And our total spending for the afternoon? Less
Tiny fried quail
We leave Sevilla and head next to Malaga – about 205 km south, on the Mediterranean. We expect to continue our tapas exploration and enjoy
a bounty of fresh goodness from the sea. Fabuloso and delicioso!
The Magical History Tour, what a ride it has been. I never thought of myself as having a bucket list. Mostly because I just want to see EVERYTHING and go EVERYWHERE. But I have realized over the past two months that I do have a bucket list, and I am slowly ticking things off that list, all while adding more to it. And for the past ten weeks the Magical History Tour has taken us away.
We’ve been very lucky to see incredible things in our travels. Unimagineable things. Without even really realizing it we have seen five of the present day Seven Wonders of the World, included on that list was Petra in Jordan where we visited this week.
I saw a television program about ten years ago about Jordan and they interviewed Queen Noor standing in front of the incredible Treasury building at Petra. I was smitten and knew I would visit there some day. It was easy to add Jordan to our Egypt itinerary. Now, having been in Jordan, I realize I could have added Egypt to my Jordan itinerary. Jordan is extroardinary. A cradle of ancient, biblical, Roman and natural history. We did not allow enough time to see it all.
During out time in Jordan we visited three main sites, two on my bucket list and one I wasn’t even aware of;
Jerash – I had never heard of and yet we found this amazing ancient provincial Roman city more beautiful, interesting and preserved than Rome itself. Jerash likely dates back to the time of Alexander the Great in the 4th Century BC. It is an immense archeological site with only about 15% excavated. Unfortunately it is not a UNESCO site, despite the antiquity masterpiece that it is. Apparently one of UNESCO’s stipulations was for a music festival that is held here annually to be discontinued because of the damage it causes to the site. Our guide told us that
too many pockets are lined as a result of this music festival and the powers that be are not willing to give the festival up. Very sad as this site was truly impressive and needs UNESCO’s preservation assistance.
The Dead Sea – my “no bucket list” bucket list has include floating in the Dead Sea for a long time and here in Jordan we had that opportunity. You can access the Dead Sea from Israel as well as Jordan, and in fact more of the Dead Sea is in Israel. But Jordan has a portion of it at the south end. It is truly amazing how salty it is and how buoyant you are when floating. In fact all you can do is float. You can barely walk or stand and swimming is out of the question because you just flip over and float. It tasted horrible and you certainly don’t want to get it in your eyes. But it was warm, clean, blue and a once in a lifetime event filled with lots of giggles.
Petra – Of course here it is the main reason we came to Jordan to see Petra as part of our Magical History Tour. I can’t possibly do the vast history of Petra justice in this blog, nor were we able to see the entire site (you need two or three days), but in our five-hour visit we did and saw the most amazing highlights. Of course the Treasury (named thus because of
The Dead Sea
the Roman’s using it as such but originally it was a temple), is the most amazing of the antiquities in the site, the best preserved and most beautifully designed. There are several other amazing temples, tombs, palaces and more throughout the 60 square km site. We spent an hour and a half with a guide and then three hours wandering on our own including hiking up high above the Treasury for that iconic photo shot. We did not hike to the Monastery or the sacrificial site. We would have needed much more time than we had. I would love to come back here again some day – it is just so amazing, truly a wonder deserving its Seven Wonders status.
So Jordan was a surprise, and worth the effort to get here. We felt incredibly safe at all times. The people are friendly and helpful and speak excellent English. I am so glad we came.
And with our farewell to Jordan we say farewell to The Magical History Tour that began in August when
we left the USA. We have covered so much amazing history over the past ten and a half weeks traveling through and exploring eight countries. Highlights of the Magical History Tour have included such bucket list items as;
Romania Castles – seeing the fortress cities and castles of Romania with their ancient history and stories (Dracula) was a long bucket list destination. Read about it here.
Greece – although we had visited Greece before we had wanted to return for years. I suspect we will visit again too. The ancient Greek history in this country combined with the sheer beauty of the Mediterranean will keep it on our travel destination list for years to come. Read about it here.
Egypt – Of all the places we visited on the Magical History Tour, Egypt was the long-awaited
destination for me. And it did not disappoint. Seeing the Valley of the Kings, the Nile River, the Sphinx, the Pyramids and so much more was a bucket list triumph. I loved it all. And perhaps the friendliest people we have met. Read about Cairo here. And about the Nile Cruise here.
The Magical History Tour covered about 10,400 miles including 11 flights, 5 train rides, 12 ferry crossings, 6 airbnb’s, 11 hotels, one river cruise ship, and 72 days. It was educational, insightful, fascinating, delicious and fun. But time to move on.
Now we turn our attention to something new. We will spend the next four weeks and four days in Portugal and Spain. The first half of that time is focused on walking another Camino de Santiago. We start on Sunday to walk 250km to Muxia Spain. The Magical History Tour has kept us so occupied, we don’t really feel prepared either mentally or physically to tackle this next Camino. But nonetheless we will. I’m sure we will fall into the rhythm quickly.
We then spend another two weeks exploring Spain before flying on November 22nd to begin five and a
half months in the Americas (Florida, Panama, Columbia, Ecuador, Chile, Brazil, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Belize, Guatemala, Dominican Republic). I suspect there will be a great deal of magical history there as well.
As always we thank you for your continued support and interest in our travels and My Fab Fifties Life. Watch for posts from Portugal and the Camino coming soon!
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