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Europe Travel

    Europe Travel

    Santorini Short and Sweet

    Location: Santorini Greece

    The Grand Adventure follows a pretty strict budget, and unfortunately places like Santorini definitely don’t fit that budget.  But here we are anyway.  We made the choice to blow the budget for three short and sweet days on the stunning island of Santorini.

    Our budget is usually $200 a day all-inclusive.  Our Airbnb’s usually average around $75 a night.

    Santorini short and sweet

    Our airbnb is in the middle of this photo

    Here in Santorini, our teeny tiny cave house is $250.  But it comes with the most spectacular view.  At about 250 square feet, it is likely the smallest we have ever had.  But add the outdoor space and the expansive crater view, well, suddenly it seems like an emperor’s palace.  Worth every penny.

    The villas here are all new, this used to be a desolate trail.

    Santorini has changed significantly since we were here eleven years ago.  Our main goal here was to walk the Oia to Fira trail – to experience again as we did before.  That however wasn’t possible.  Oh you can still walk it, but it is not the same trail.

    When we walked it eleven years ago in 2007 it was

    Santorini short and sweet

    Top 2007. Bottom 2018 – older, wiser and way more fabulous!

    remote and desolate along the crater rim.  Miles of nothing but brown volcanic pumice trail hugging the edge of the spectacular trail. Fast forward to the walk we did yesterday (round trip 14 miles) we were shocked to find only a short part of the trail still remote.  All of those miles of nothingness now covered with high-end luxury villas and hotels.

    Santorini short and sweet

    Sunset from our airbnb

    When we walked it eleven years ago we saw two other people walking.  Yesterday we decided to count how many people we passed on the trail.  We stopped counting at 200.

    Please don’t misunderstand me – it is still stunningly gorgeous and unlike anywhere I have been in the world.  I am grateful I had the opportunity to walk this trail before it became developed.  A unique experience few people have had.  My Fab Fifties Life is fabulous because of that

    Santorini short and sweet

    Today on the trail high above Oia.

    experience.

    The village of Fira, seemed about the same to me, although it now extends a mile or more from the borders of eleven years ago – completely with luxury villas.  The village of Oia seemed significantly different.  Before it was a sleepy town.  Now your can find Versace and Michael Kors.  A decade ago, its tiny cobble stone narrow streets were authentic.  Now we find the wide paved paths lined with high-end jewelry stores and boutiques.

    But most astonishing to me is this – when I visited in 2007, in both Oia and Fira you could see the tiny Greek homes of the average Santorini people mixed in among the shops and along the caldera.  None of that in here any longer.  I don’t know where they live now – somewhere out in other parts of the island.  The victim of tourists like me, willing to pay $250 a night for a 250 square foot cave house.  All the locals moving away from the tourist centers.

    Other than Venice, this place is the most striking as far as what tourism creates.  And I am part of the problem.

    Santorini short and sweet

    Oia

    We want to see these places, just like everyone else.  Santorini, short and sweet, is spectacular and surreal.  So here I am guilty of contributing to the loss of authenticity.

    I found two particularly irritating things about our Santorini short and sweet stay.  The first is watching young people trying to get their “instragram” picture and in doing so trespassing and doing dangerous things.  But of course doing so in a fabulous designer dress and posing like a fashion model.  For all the good social media has done, this habit of getting the perfect “selfie” I find appalling. This isn’t the only place we have seen this behavior, and it’s always people of the same generation. We watched in horror as young visitors trampled the sacred Uluru area in Australia for their perfect selfie.  We watched terrified as others ignored the danger signs at the Cliffs of Moher, in Ireland, to walk out to the edge of the cliffs for a selfie.

    The second thing we have found aggravating is the drones.  Hovering over our deck starting at 6:30am, buzzing around the caldera and over all the houses.  Another sign of our media obsessed world. I read an article that says the drones are banned in Santorini.  But still it persists.  I don’t have a drone, but I admit I have considered getting one. I certainly take a lot of photos and I love to share them.  But I will never trespass, do anything dangerous, or wake up someone at 6:30 am to get the

    Santorini short and sweet

    Top 2007. Bottom 2018 Still with the same fabulous guy

    perfect shot.

    It’s a hard pill to swallow.  It reminds me to try really hard to look for undeveloped places to visit.  But then do those places eventually become tourist centers and overrun?  I don’t know what the answer is?  We live in a world with a lot of people who have the means to travel.  And travel they will.  And post on instagram they will. And learn to live with it I will.

    As I sit here on our last day in Santorini short and sweet, I am looking forward to our next stop in Greece, the tiny island of Antiparos.  I know this is not the kind of destination Santorini is, but it still has the same sun, the same island beauty, the same Mediterranean sea and the same delicious seafood.  For a third the price and probably no social media self proclaimed “influencers.”  Sounds pretty fabulous to me.

    In Antiparos we will rest for three solid weeks.  We are ready.  After being on the road for six weeks, Antiparos will be the first place we have stayed longer than 6 nights.  We have broken all our own rules over the past six weeks as far as slow travel and budget.  It’s time to regroup and recoup before we continue on the Grand Adventure.

    What an amazing life it is.  My Fab Fifties Life.  I welcome your comments and ideas. Fabulous!

     

    Europe Travel

    Our Return to Santorini

    Eleven Years in the Making

    Location: Santorini Greece

    Two weeks shy of eleven years since we visited the incredible island of Santorini.  And nearly everyday since we have wanted to return.  Today that happens.

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    We only spent one day on Santorini, since we were on a Mediterranean cruise and it was one of our stops.  We loved all of our stops on that cruise, but Santorini was, well, magical.

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    It was magical for its stunning beauty – that shot the world thinks of when they think of Greece.  It was magical for the view – and one of the most memorable meals I ever had overlooking the crater.  It was magical for the authentic villages – like a movie but better.

    But more important than any of that, it was magical because that day I changed.  It may seem silly, but it’s not silly to me.  That magical day on Santorini I discovered a new person within myself.  The beginning of finding my Fabulous Fifties Life.

    See it happened like this:

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    Laying on the cruise ship at the pool the day before arriving in Santorini I was reading the guidebook about things to do in Santorini.  In the book it suggested walking from Fira (where the ship tenders) to Oia on the far end of the island.  The walk was six miles and went all along the crater rim.

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    As soon as I read it, I knew my husband would want to do it.  Should I tell him?  Should I keep it to myself?  Hike six miles?  Yikes I don’t think I can do it.  In the hot sun?  I was torn.

    But I love my husband so I said “Honey, there is this hike on Santorini maybe we can do.”  He was all over it.

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    That day I was nervous since I hadn’t done a hike in YEARS.  But we left the ship really early and got started before the heat of the day – and well, the rest is history.  That hike changed my life.  Not only was it SPECTACULAR, but it was inspirational.  We saw only two other people (today this rim walk is much more popular) as we maneuvered our way on this rocky island in the middle of the turquoise blue mediterranean sea.  During that six miles and about three hours I became someone who could hike six miles, who could adventure in the unknown, who could feel alive and free in the wild.  A new person emerged who had been hidden inside of me all those years.

    And that is how it began.  Without that hike I would never have tackled hiking from Cusco to Machu Picchu. I would never have tackled walking 486 miles on the Camino de Santiago.  I would never have tackled many of the things I now do everyday, knowing I am capable and not afraid.

    Magical Santorini shaped me and I’m going back to say

    Our Return to Santorini

    Santorini 2007

    thank you.  Just for three days this time, but long enough to remember and pay my respects.  A beautiful and magical place where I was transformed, and my Fab Fifties Life was born.

    Fabulous!

     

    Europe Travel

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages

    Location: Transylvania, Romania

    We could have easily spent a month in Romania.  But we only had ten days, and so we decided to focus this time on a Transylvania Highlights Tour – Romania’s Beautiful Preserved Medieval Villages.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Map shows the three regions from 1648

    We will come back again, because there is a lot more to see in this sleepy little country that tourist are just beginning to discover.

    History

    In the Middle Ages, what we know as Romania today, was split into three distinct regions; Wallachia in the south where today Bucharest is, Moldavia to the east, now split into Moldova and Romania and Transylvania in the west.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Map shows the Kingdom of Romania

    Today these regions are often referred to as Greater Romania, the Kingdom of Romania.  A growing interest is to reunite the region and bring Moldova back into the Romanian speaking states.

    “Romanian is an Eastern Romance language, descended from Latin with some German, French, English, Greek, Slavic, and Hungarian borrowings. Romanians are by far the most numerous group of speakers of an Eastern Romance language today. It has been said that they constitute “an island of Latinity”[5] in Eastern Europe, surrounded on all sides either by Slavic peoples or by the Hungarians.” (source Wikipedia)

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    View of Brasov from top of Mount Tampa

    Our time in Transylvania was wonderful.  We had good weather and enjoyed visiting four of the region’s main medieval towns; Brasov, Bran, Sighisoara and Sibiu.

    Romania sustained minimal damage during World War II, relative to how much the rest of Europe sustained.  Romania’s capital Bucharest was bombed as was the oil industry in the town of Ploiesti.  Which means, luckily for us, the fairytale castles, medieval villages and citadels survived and are intact today.

    If you had come here 25 years ago, just after the fall of communism, you would have found these villages much as they had been for centuries.  A square in the center surrounded by tiny streets that spoke out to the high wall surrounding the fortification.  The center square would likely have a church and a clock tower and the townspeople going about their daily business. Village folk would be selling the produce from the garden, the freshly made bread and cheese.  There would still have been horses and carriages and local artisans. Think  “Beauty and the Beast”.  But today, these towns function primarily for the tourists, just like so many other places in Europe.

    But despite that, we found the places we visited enjoyable, beautiful, friendly and full of wonderful history, architecture and food. Well worth a visit.

    Architecture

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Peles Castle, in Sinai, home to several generations of Romanian royals and still occupied today by Michael I of Romania

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Bran Castle in Bran, occupied for generations by Romanian Royalty and the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s Dracula castle

    Much of this area’s habitation is traced back to the Saxons arriving in the 12th century.  They are responsible for developing many of the villages during the middle ages in Transylvania, including the towns we spent time in.  The fortified towns, amazing castles and fortresses and churches and houses still standing hundreds of years later are a result of the craftsmanship and fortitude of the Saxons.

    The Gothic style is prevalent in parts of Transylvania and seen distinctly in the 14th century Bran’s Castle in Bran (the castle that inspired Bram Stoker to write Dracula), and the 14th century Black Church in Brasov.

    The middle ages also brought the fortified towns to Transylvania, with Sibiu, Sighisoara and Brasov being exceptional examples of how the design focused on functionality and protection.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Brasov’s only remaining fortress gate

    The city of Brasov today is a mix of Gothic, Baroque and Renaissance architecture representing the centuries of development in this mountain town.

    Sighisoara is a nearly completely intact 15th century fortified citadel and is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This tiny village is where Vlad the Impaler Dracul was born, the character that Bram Stoker turned into a fictional vampire.  For the tourists, you’ll see some Dracula kitsch here, but luckily it is not overdone.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    One of several fortified towers in the amazingly preserved town of Sighisoara

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Houses in Sibiu

    Sibiu is the grandest of the three towns, with a main square boasting a fabulous variety of Baroque and Renaissance as well as Gothic buildings and churches surrounded by parts of the remaining fortress and towers.  Sibui was an important trade center with powerful guilds dominating the regional trade.  Houses remain along the cobbled street and are brightly painted.  The historic Journeyman house, where the wood carver guild once reigned, maintains the pole full of sharp objects often left for luck.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Beautiful mix of architecture in Sibiu

    Food

    Transylvania enjoys many of the same foods you can find throughout Romania, but it also has it’s regional specialities.  While in Transylvania we enjoyed;

    Mititei – small rolled sausages without casing grilled and served with mustard

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Eggplant Salad

    Eggplant Salad – we had this two ways, the first mixed with Mayonnaise, the second mixed with red peppers.  Both were the consistence of dip like humus.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Pork Ciorba (soup)

    Ciorba – means soup and the Romanians love soup.  So filling, warm and delicious you can find many delicious soups including a bean soup often served in a bread bowl, chicken noodle soup ( a favorite of the locals), goulash soup, lamb stew, pork sour soup, cabbage soup and many, many more.

    Sarmele is cabbage rolls, similar to cabbage rolls we have enjoyed in other Eastern European countries but slightly different with a sour rye taste and dill.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Cabbage rolls with polenta and pork

    Jumari – deep-fried smoked pork belly or bacon.  I couldn’t stop eating this.

    Placinta – means pie and the word is used for a pastry filled cheese item, but also used for other kinds of pies including savory pies similar to Sheperds Pie.

    Transylvania Highlights Tour

    Papanasi with sour cream and berries

    Papanasi – possibly my favorite of all the foods we tried is this lovely little dessert.  I’m actually not much of a dessert person but this one is so delicious.  Translated as Romanian Donut, the cheese filled dough is deep-fried, crispy on the outside and very moist and delicious on the inside.  Served hot and then covered with yogurt or sour cream and berries. We had it once with blackberries and once with blueberries and both times so yummy good.

    We have learned so much during our short visit to this beautiful, interesting and delicious country.  We will return again someday to explore more.  But until that day, we thank Romania and its wonderful people for such a pleasant visit.

    Thank you! Multumesc! Fabulos!

     

    Europe Travel

    They March On To Die

    My Time in Poland Learning About Hitler’s Extermination of European Jews

    Location: Poland

    No, God will not save them. Nor you, friend, nor I.
    But let us not flinch, as they march on, to die.

    -Wladyslaw Szlengel, Polish Jewish Poet of the Ghetto

    They March On To Die

    Auschwitz famous gate

    Why I Came to Poland

    For many years I have wanted to come to Poland.   My first realization of that desire was when I saw the movie Sophie’s Choice.  My god.  That movie changed me.  I was only twenty-two years old I think.  Very naive.

    “Is it best to know about a child’s death, even one so horrible, or to know that the child lives but that you will never, never see him again?”
    William Styron, Sophie’s Choice

    I don’t remember learning much about World War II or the Holocaust in high school.  Was I absent that day? I remember Anne Frank however.  We read that in junior high.  We discussed it in class, but my memory of it being a bit edited as perhaps they thought we were too young.  They were trying to protect us.  But who protected Anne? No one.

    What is done cannot be undone, but one can prevent it happening again. – Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl

    They March On To Die

    Shoes of the Auschwitz victims

    I don’t think you can be too young to hear these stories.  How else can the facts sink in, in a way that it becomes a part of our daily conscious where we naturally abhor intolerance and speak out against it? How else can our youth be fully informed, aware and not jaded – as the horrors of that time in history slip farther into the past?

    Complacency

    WWII had only been over for 15 years when I was born.  It’s been longer than that since September 11th happened (17 years).  Time is a convenient blanket, smothering the memories and protecting complacency.

    They March On To Die

    Jewish families being herded out of Krakow

    Complacency is the world’s evil and our world is full of it today, yesterday and always.

    They March On To Die

    Auschwitz

    Human Numbers

    I am by no means a WWII or Shoah expert.  But I have a place in my heart that aches for what happened here in this beautiful country of Poland that I have fallen in love with these past two weeks.  I want to think of what happened here in human faces and real lives, but the numbers haunt me and I need to share;

    • Three MILLION Jews exterminated in Poland, half of the six million killed in total
    • Only 10% of Polish Jews survived
    • Another estimated but undocumented 1.5 million ethnic Poles killed – many for helping, aiding or hiding Jews
    They March On To Die

    Suitcases of victims

    Human beings like you and me. People with names. Birthdays. Lives. Goals and dreams. Doctors and lawyers.  Teachers and housewives. Students. Rabbis. Men, women, children and entire families. Grandmothers.  Beautiful young women. Little boys. For no reason other than hate.

    “You kill yourself when you hate. It’s the worst disease in the world.”
    William Schiff

    After I saw the movie Sophie’s Choice in 1982 I began to search out books and movies about the topic.  Not just about Poland but about the war, and the death camps.  As you are aware I read a lot.   I have been deeply  touched by many books – in fact many recently, that have come out about this topic. Although some of these books and movies are fictional, many are not.  And there is so much to learn from both the non-fiction and fiction stories.

    They March On To Die

    Jewish Cemetery Kazimierz (Krakow)

    The Nazis

    The Nazis invaded Poland in 1939.  That first year they stripped Jews of their possessions and their jobs and herded them into walled off ghettos.  The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest and contained more Jews than in all of France.  More than 100,000 people starved to death in the Warsaw ghetto. Many more died of horrible disease such as typhoid, cholera and dysentery because medical care was unavailable.  If you haven’t seen the movie The Pianist it’s a must.  Haunting story of the Warsaw Ghetto.

    “Humanity seems doomed to do more evil than good. The greatest ideal on earth is human love.”
    Wilm Hosenfeld, The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939–45

    By 1941 Hitler’s right hand man Himmler began his calculated plan to

    They March On To Die

    Bullet riddled ghetto wall Warsaw

    annihilate the Jews of Europe through genocide.  Within two years 800,000 people had been shot to death and buried in mass graves.

    But it had only started.  The 1943 Wannsee Conference launched the final solution of the “Jewish question”.  Six death camps began the mass extermination through gas chambers using Zyklon B.  Auschwitz-Birkenau was one of these.

    From the ghettos in Krakow, Warsaw and around Europe the Jews were loaded on trains – told to take minimum belongings and their valuables for their new life in the East.  Thousands would die on the trains, suffocated and

    They March On To Die

    The selection process at Auschwitz on arrival by cattle car

    starved. Their valuables? Pilfered and to this day most unaccounted for.

    Have you seen the movie The Women in Gold? It addresses the issue of the things the Nazi’s stole from their Jewish victims, particular a painting in this case by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt.

    They’ll never admit to what they did, because if they admit to one thing, they’ll have to admit to it all.

           – The Women in Gold

     

    They March On To Die

    Cattle Car that brought victims to Auschwitz

    Death Camps

    Those who arrived at the death camps were quickly processed through selection.  Most were dead within their first few hours at the camp, stripped and taken to the “showers” which of course were not showers.  Anyone lame or old or young or unable to work was exterminated immediately.  The rest would work to death.

    The Paradise of Death

    It was like an old religion
    Dividing the saved from the damned.
    Only that the saved went to hell.
    The damned- to the paradise of death  – Raquel Angel Nagler

    Auschwitz was also home to the notorious Doctor Mengele who did unspeakable things to children, twins and other unusual “specimens” who he used as human guinea pigs for his “research”.  Have you read the book Mischling? One of the most astonishing stories I have ever read.  Astonishing and sickening.

    “The whole world will never look back. And if they do, they’ll probably say that it never really happened.”
    Affinity Konar, Mischling

    It’s disgusting to me there are still those who believe it never happened.  Same people who think we didn’t land on the moon?  Same people who don’t believe in Global Warming?

    Idiots.  This is fact;

    1.5 million Jewish PEOPLE died at Auschwitz; 200,000 of them children

    They March On To Die

    Memorial in Krakow for 65,000 Jews killed from that city

    3 million Jewish PEOPLE exterminated in Poland

    6 million Jewish PEOPLE murdered in WWII

    150,000 Non Jewish Polish PEOPLE died

    23,000 Roma Gypsy PEOPLE killed

    15,000 Soviet POW PEOPLE killed

    25,000 others GONE

    They March On To Die

    Where the death camps were

    Ignorance

    Before the war began Poland had the largest Jewish Population in Europe.  More than 3 million citizens whose ancestors had been in Poland for more than a thousand years. Only 10% of the Polish Jewish population survived WWII and the genocide.

    Many ethnic Poles died trying to help the Jews. But others turned against them.  It was similar in other countries.  While there are many stories of resistance fighters in France and Poland there were other citizens who helped the Nazis.  Recently I read the book Sarah’s Key and learned about the French Jewish Roundup in Paris in July 1942.  I had never heard of this horrible thing before.  Shame on all those whose smugness, prejudice and hate killed so many.

    “The truth is harder than ignorance.” – Sarah’s Key

    They March On To Die

    Where they burned the bodies

    The thing I keep asking myself is why did we not help them? Where was the United States? Where was the League of Nations? Where was the Catholic Church? As early as 1941 it was common knowledge in the world leaders what was happening.  People and governments looked away.  Partly because they were afraid, or busy fighting other battles, but this was genocide.  Pure and simple. And no one came.

    They March On To Die

    The remains of the incinerators the Nazi’s destroyed at the end of the war

    My time in Poland has been both lovely and gut-wrenching.  The Poland I see as a visitor is beautiful.  But I know, like all nations, there are underlying problems and anti-Semitism is here.  As an American I am painfully aware of how ignorance begets hate and intolerance – rampant in my country.  In the past, in the present and more likely than not in the future – there will be hate.  People who can’t or WON’T tolerate anyone who is different from them.

    I don’t believe hate is something you are born with.  It is learned.  Hate and prejudice is learned.  Just like empathy and tolerance is also learned.

    Educate Yourself

    It brings me back to two things I promote on this blog;

    1. TRAVEL –  My message through this blog has always been one of inspiration.  And inspiring anyone to pack a bag and go to an unknown place is my greatest goal.  You will be changed.  You will be full.  You will be amazed, what travel can do to your life, your prejudice, your tolerance and your happiness.  Just go.

    “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

    They March On To Die

    Those who didn’t die on arrival lived in hell

    2.  READ –  My other message on this blog is to read, read, read.  And if you can, learn to read outside your comfort zone.  Read history, and fiction and non fiction and more.  There is nothing so simple as reading a book that can open your mind to the world outside your door. Just read.

    “Reading is an exercise in empathy; an exercise in walking in someone else’s shoes for a while.” —Malorie Blackman

    Poland and Auschwitz are sacrosanct now.  Everyone should come here to feel and remember the human lives.  The very real human beings who became ashes.

    They March On To Die

    One women.

    But of course it’s not possible for everyone.  So read.  Watch films. Learn.  And most importantly, remember.  Remember a little girl. An old man.  A family.  Most importantly remember what we humans have allowed to happen in our recent past.  Think about the Holocaust in names and people’s lives rather than numbers and dates.  Don’t let that die.  Otherwise, nothing was gained and we all are lost.

    Books

    (This is nowhere near all that is out there.  Just some suggestions)

    • The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas by John Boyne
    • Mischling by Affinity Konar
    • Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
    • Night by Elie Wiesel
    • The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
    • The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
    • Sophie’s Choice by William Styron
    • Ireana’s Children by Tilar J. Mazzeo
    • The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman
    • The Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman
    • Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
    • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
    • We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter
    • Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
    • Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
    • Maus by Art Spiegelman
    • All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

     

    They March On To Die

    Where victims were sent

    Movies

    • Schindler’s List
    • Sophie’s Choice
    • The Boy in the Stripped Pajamas
    • The Hiding Place
    • The Diary of Anne Frank
    • The Pianist
    • Life is Beaiutiful
    • Son of Saul
    • Maus
    • Immortal Bastards
    • Europa Europa
    • Au revoir les enfants
    • The Women in Gold
    • Fiddler on the Roof (not WWII but spectacular anyway)

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Europe Travel  --  Food & Drink

    The Food of Poland – Pierogi and So Much More

    Location: Poland

    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

    The Foods of Poland

    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.

    The Foods of Poland

    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

    The Foods of Poland

    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 Foods of Poland

    Duck pierogi

    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

    The Foods of Poland

    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

    The Foods of Poland

    At the market fresh eggs and a polish cheese called Golka

    on delicious fresh bread.  Who knew that could be so good?

    Christmas Traditions

    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

    The Foods of Poland

    Ruskie Pierogi made in cooking class. The most traditional.

    Eve.

    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.

    The Foods of Poland

    Poppyseed 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”.

    The Foods of Poland

    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

    The Foods of Poland

    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.

    The Foods of Poland

    Potato pancake with goulash

    About this time Arne plopped me in a wheelbarrow and wheeled me home.

    The Foods of Poland

    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.

    The Foods of Poland

    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.

    This blog contains affiliate links and we may be compensated if you make a purchase.  All money earned goes back to the maintenance of this blog.  Thank you.

     

     

     

     

     

    Europe Travel

    Berlin for First Timers

    The Grand Adventure

    Location: Berlin Germany

    Click on any photo for an enlarged version.

    I have wanted to go to Berlin for years. I’m not sure why it took me so long. Since we have traveled to Germany, France and Italy several times, we haven’t made those countries a priority on the Grand Adventure so far. But Berlin was different. I had to go. Berlin for first timers was a whirlwind. And worth it.

    We arrived on the Deutsche Bahn train from

    Berlin for First Timers

    Deutsch Bahn

    Brugge via Brussels on a Sunday afternoon. It had been a very long journey involving three trains and  4:30am wake up.  We checked into our Airbnb and headed out to the neighborhood market only to find everything shuttered on a Sunday. So we ate delicious Turkish food for dinner in our very Turkish neighborhood and then fell fast asleep.

    With only three full days in Berlin we hit the ground running on Monday morning. Literally.  We got up and did an early morning run through our neighborhood park. Refreshed, we stopped at the now open market for supplies before heading back to our apartment to get ready for our day.

    Since we are training for the Camino we walked everywhere in Berlin, but Berlin for first timers is easy by subway, elevated train and bus system accessing most of the greater Berlin area.  There is also a wonderful taxi system and Uber.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Brandenburg Gate

    Berlin for First Timers

    The wall

    Our first day we walked and walked enjoying the Tiergarten, Reichstag, Brandenburg Gate, Checkpoint Charlie and several sites where you can see and touch old remnants of the Berlin Wall.  These included the Topography of Terror, Checkpoint Charlie Black Box Cold War Interpretive area, and Potsdam Plaza.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Currywurst with beer

    Since we had already eaten one of Berliner’s favorite fast foods (Turkish kabob) we tried the also famous Currywurst . The invention of Currywurst is attributed to Herta Heuwer in Berlin in 1949, after she obtained ketchup (or possibly Worcestershire sauce) and curry powder from British soldiers in Germany. She mixed these ingredients with other spices and poured it over grilled pork sausage..  You can have Currywurst with skin or without (skin being the casing for the sausage before cooking ).  We tried it both ways and I preferred with the skin – a nice crunchy texture.  That said, Currywurst was not my favorite.  On another day we also had Bockwurst.  Served with potato salad and I really liked that.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe

    Berlin for First Timers

    Checkpoint Charlie a recreation

    Day two began early with a visit to the Holocaust Memorial, officially titled Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe.  This controversial memorial encompasses 2711 concrete blocks of different heights taking up an entire square block of the city.  Underground is a very poignant and somber, yet interesting and thoughtful museum that focuses on families and the humans who lost their lives during this evil period of history.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Black Box Cold War Interpretive Panels

    On day two we also signed up for a Free Walking Tour, always one of the things we search out in any city.  Of course Free Walking Tours aren’t really “free”.  You pay the guide at the end what you think the tour was worth.  And our Free Walking Tour in Berlin was the best one we ever did.  Our guide Georgia was exceptional.  We loved it and I highly recommend New Europe Tours.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Brandenburg Gate

    On our tour we visited a lot of the same places we had seen the day before, but seeing them with Georgia our guide was a whole different experience.  We learned amazing history starting with ancient history of the region right up through the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin wall and of course a great deal of history about Hitler and WWII.  It was fascinating.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Car park over the bunker

    By the way, throughout Berlin there is almost no reference to Hitler. That is by design.  There is a point to not have his name included in most things.  In fact, we stood on a car park that is on top of the bunker where he committed suicide.  There is only a simple sign, added only recently when Berlin hosted the World Cup in 2006.  Did you know Hitler’s remains were dug up from the original burial site in East Germany and dumped in a river?  This is so there is no final resting place for this horrible human being and so no one can ever have a place to go and glorify him in any way.  The Nazi Swastika is outlawed in Germany.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Eisbein

    Berlin for First Timers

    Weiner Schnitzel

    Following our tour we headed for lunch.  We wanted some good hearty German food so we ended up at Augustiner am Gendarmernmarkt.  More Bavarian than Berliner but it was delicious.  I had Wiener Schnitzel and my husband had a gigantic Eisbein (pork knuckle).  No dinner was necessary after the delicious lunch!

    Berlin for First Timers

    Site of the Book Burning

    Next we walked to Museum Island, just over the river you’ll find a gathering of Berlin museums.  We stopped at the Bebelplatz, where famously the Nazis burned all the books.  Here a unique memorial to that fateful event lays underground.  Then we visited the Alte National Gallery – Berlin’s best regarded Art Museum.  This is certainly no Louvre or Uffizi, but the museum is compact and easy to tour with a lot of German artists as well as nice collection of Impresionist from Renoir to Monet.

    We ended our day taking a narrated boat ride on the river Spree.  It was a beautiful day and it was fun to see the city from the water and enjoy the narration providing us even more interesting facts about Berlin.  There are numerous locations around the city where you can start these boat tours.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The west side of the East Side Gallery Wall

    Day three was a walking day.  We had over the past couple of days enjoyed seeing some of the remains of the Berlin Wall that are in the city, but the longest remaining part of the wall is actually about six miles from the main city area.  So we walked.  It was hot, but we enjoyed the walk which took us through Alexanderplatz, where Berlin’s TV tower stands – an iconic modern soaring spire that includes a restaurant on top.  You can see the tower from anywhere in the city.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The most famous mural at the Eastside Gallery

    Our destination, the East Side Gallery is the name of the mile long portion of the wall, consisting of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, painted in 1990 on the east side of the Berlin Wall. According to the Künstlerinitiative East Side Gallery e.V., an association of the artists involved in the project, “The East Side Gallery is understood as a monument to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the peaceful negotiation of borders and conventions between societies and people”, and has more than three million visitors per year.[1] This was something I had seen so many times in photos and I really wanted to see it for myself.  It was amazing.  A highlight of our time.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Eastside Gallery

    You don’t need to walk the six miles to the East Side Gallery.  You can take the subway, busses, taxi or Uber as well as several local tours include it.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Pretzel

    We wandered back along the river and stopped at the Tiergarten Biergarten to enjoy a couple of German beers as our amazing time in Berlin was coming to an end. The Biergarten in this beautiful park sits on a tiny little lake and you can enjoy pizza and pretzels, gelato and beer.  You can also rent a little row boat and row around the lake.  Such a pleasant way to spend a sunny day in this fascinating city.

    Berlin for first timers could include a few
    more things that we unfortunately didn’t have time to do, mainly going up into the observation dome at the Reichstag.  You need to make a reservation to do this, and we just didn’t know that with enough advance notice.  I wish we had because I understand it is really amazing.  Do it if you can.

    With a few more days we also would add some live performances.  Berlin has a thriving theater and musical performance scenes including outdoor theatre, symphony and opera.

    Berlin for First Timers

    Biergarten

    Finally, a great way to see the area would be by renting a bike.  Berlin is as flat as it possibly can be, has literally hundreds of miles of bike lanes and paths, including beautiful paths through forested parks and along rivers.  On a beautiful day seeing the city by bike would be a lot of fun.

    Berlin for First Timers

    The view from the River Spree

    So there you have it, Berlin for First Timers.  I really loved this gritty, indomitable city. Even with all the tourists it felt real and raw.  I can’t think of another European city that has witnessed so much history and hosted so much strife and animosity and come out shining on the other side.

    Berlin for First Timers.  I highly recommend it. Fabulous. Fabelhaft!

    
    

     

     

     

    Europe Travel

    Belgium Fabulous – Beer, Chocolate, Lace and Much More

    There is a lot of fabulous in Belgium

    Location: Belgium

    I’ve been all over Europe, but somehow Belgium and I had never been acquainted.  I really wanted to meet her for a long time, so, Belgium was high on my list of places to visit on the Grand Adventure.  I was looking forward to learning more about Belgium Fabulous – Beer, Chocolate, Lace and Much More.

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Diamonds

    In fact, there is much, MUCH more to Belgium than I ever imagined.  With influences from France and the Netherlands (French-speaking in the south and Dutch-speaking in the North), Belgium has thousands of years of history that includes a prosperous medieval period where the area was a center of commerce and culture.  But given its location bordering  France, Germany and the Netherlands, Belgium also became a battle ground during both WWI and WWII.

    Belgium was one of the founding members of the European Economic Community which later became the European Union.  Today Brussels, Belgium hosts the headquarters of the EU and NATO.

    So our short visit to Belgium included stops in the important city of Brussels, as well as time in the

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Brown beer

    beautiful medieval city of Brugge.  In both places we set out to learn about the things that make Belgium special.  Let’s start with beer.

    Beer- brewing beer in Belgium dates back to the 12th century and Belgium beer is recognized by UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage of humanity.

    We really put in a good effort researching this – sampling about a dozen different beer styles and breweries during our stay.  Belgian beer has a stronger alcohol content than beer I’m used to drinking, and I had a headache for a few days.  But all in the name of research of course.  We tested lagers, amber ales, Flemish Red Ales, Brown Ales, Stouts and sour beer.  On average Belgians drinks about 84 liters of beer a year.

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Stout Beer

    But in the 1800’s when the river water was polluted, people drank beer instead of water, consuming about 200 liters a year.

    We only visited a couple of breweries, both in Brugge, but there are approximately 225 breweries in this tiny country.

    Chocolate – During the 1600’s Belgium was occupied by Spain and it was during this time that drinking chocolate became very popular.  Later when Belgium colonized Congo in Africa they began importing the cocoa bean.

    But the story goes that chocolates as we know them today did not become popular until 1857 when pharmacist Jean Neuhaus began

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Chocolate

    covering pills with chocolate to make the medicine more palatable for children (and adults).  And the Belgian chocolate was born.

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Lace

    Lace – dating back centuries to a time when the area was known as Flanders, lace making was an art form here in Belgium.  Both Brugge and Brussels are, still today, known for the beautiful lace made both by hand (bobbin lace) and by machine.  There are shops and demonstrations everywhere.  It’s a dying art, one that can hopefully be preserved.

    Bobbin lace making

    Waffles – surprisingly Belgian waffles are not an ancient thing.  In fact, waffles were only introduced to Americans at the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair but called Bel-Gen Waffles.  A favorite was born!  Two kinds of waffles are now popular all over Belgium, particularly with the tourists; the Brussels Waffle is the one created for and introduced in the United States.  It is lighter, more rectangular and has deeper holes.  It can be eaten plain but you will

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Brussels and Leige Waffles

    often see the tourists walking around with one piled with strawberries and whipped cream, or Nutella or a host of other toppings. The second one, and my favorite is the Leige Waffle, named after a town in eastern Belgium.  Darker in color, crispier on the outside, the Leige is filled inside with chunks of gooey sugar.  It’s considered uncouth to put anything like fruit or Nutella on a Leige waffle.  And trust me, it doesn’t need it.  Absolutely delicious, light and sweet on its own.  Popular at 4pm with tea.

    Frites – as early as 1680 there are records showing the Belgians deep-

    Belgium Fabulous Beer Chocolate Lace and Much More

    Frites

    frying potato batons.  The French will argue the origin of the food, but Belgians firmly disagree – frites are from Belgium.  And they are popular!  Everywhere you look the double-fried golden fingers are available.  Usually served in a paper cone with your choice of dip including ketchup-mayo combos, as well as hollandaise, basil and oil, pepper, curry, spicy, bbq, tartar, mustard and many more.

    So we did our best during our short visit to

    Waffles

    Belgium to dive into the culture, history and food and learn something about this beautiful little country.  Belgium is also one of the worlds largest cut flower exporters, diamond exporters and is the world’s largest exporter of billiard balls .  Belgium has more comic strip artists per square kilometer than anywhere else in the world.  The Tin Tin strip and The Smurfs were created here.

    Betcha didn’t know that did you?  Belgium.  Worth a visit! Fabuleux or Fabelachtig.  Whether French or Dutch, there is a lot of fabulous in Belgium.