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Europe, Food, Hotel/Accommodation, Italy

Visiting Friends in Italy

August 3, 2015

SONY DSCWhen you are an expat you make friends quickly, but oftentimes people leave to move to another country or back home. Sometimes you never see those people again. Then there are the people you keep in contact with and see if you are able to get together. This is the case with my friends in Italy. I met them while living in Grand Turk. They would have me and other people over for long lunches that sometimes led to dinner or dinner that led to lots of wine. Both times I went to Grand Turk in 2011 I paid them a visit. I even brought them tortilla chips in my carry on once because they couldn’t get them or tortillas in the store there. We have kept in touch over the years. Eventually, they left Grand Turk to move to Italy where he is from. Even before they made the move, we had talked about me coming to visit since I would be so close. I was determined to make it there this year as they are always showing me lovely photos of their village and I missed my friend’s cooking!

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I have now decided that visiting friends should be the only way to travel! They showed me things I would never have found without them and it was also very relaxing. Also the area, Umbria, they live in is absolutely stunning. They live in the village of Alviano, Italy. The historic part of the village is small, but there is plenty to do in the surrounding area. You will need a car to visit some of these places and possibility even to visit Alviano. In Alviano Scalo, there is a train station, but you would need to arrange a taxi to take you to historic Alviano. Only a few of these things are in Alviano, but are in the surrounding area. I highly recommend you rent a car and explore Umbria or all of Italy.

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The castle! It seemed every village I went by had a castle on a hill. Alviano was no exception. The castle is still used as the city hall, but has it’s own history. It was built in the 15th century. Inside the castle is a small chapel with frescos from the 17th century. Unfortunately, I decided to be technology free this afternoon and had no camera with me, not even my phone so I didn’t get pictures of the frescos. There is also a small museum in the castle that you can visit. However, you might want to bring a translator app as I am guessing the labels are all in Italian like they were in the rest of the castle. Here is a link to the castle’s website. Behind the castle is the church. The church bells ring in Alviano all day, which is charming till you are trying to sleep! The people of Alviano take great pride in their village do lots to maintain it. Saturday is market day and there were fresh fruits and flowers to buy. Go early though as it ends around 1pm.

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They also took me took a local cold sulfur spring. I did some research and there are many spas in Umbria with natural springs both cold and hot. The local spring was ice cold. I could barely put my feet and legs in at first. Slowly you get used to it and it was so hot outside, it started to feel good. I did manage to dip myself up to my middle but no further. My friends were much braver and one of them went under the water. The pool they have created isn’t deep but you can lie down and immerse your whole body. Since there was no air conditioning and Italy was having a heat wave, I began to appreciate the cold. My legs were numb when we got out. My friends say this is a local secret, so I won’t tell you the name of the spring and I couldn’t tell you where it was anyway! So if you make it to Alviano then ask a local and they might tell you where it is. If not, I am sure you can experience this at a local spa.

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Being Italy, there are numerous restaurants in the area, but you may not be able to find them without some guidance. Many are on small roads and don’t always look like restaurants. My favorite was Il Fontanile. Another place I wouldn’t have found without my friends. I ordered the Stinco. It has a longer name on the menu, but I didn’t write it down. Don’t worry if you want to order, just say Stinco and they will know. It sounds terrible right?! However, stinco is the word for pork shin. The pork shin is slow cooked all day with seasoning. This one had rosemary stuffed inside it. This is by far the best thing I have ever eaten. The portion is large though and I couldn’t finish it. Il Fontanile makes everything homemade and the meat is acquired locally. The homemade pizza looked amazing and they handmade everyone I saw as we were sitting by the pizza oven.

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Get out and explore. My friends took me to several towns that had many historic sites, i.e. more castles! I recommend Amelia, which is a larger town. The historic part of Amelia had streets so narrow, I wasn’t sure how we were going to fit down them in the car. People walking the street had to press themselves into the walls so we could go by! They also were having a festival that weekend. Many of the small towns have festivals or sagras throughout the summer and you should try to find out where before you go. Another town that was worth exploring was Goive. The castle in Giove was at one time owned by the famous Italian family Farnese.

Where to stay? There are too many options in Alviano itself. I looked and there were only two Airbnb options in Alviano proper. The newer part of Alviano, Alviano Scalo may have a hotel, but I couldn’t find one. Il Fontanile has six rooms though and is very close to Alviano. The restaurant was so beautifully done; I am sure the rooms are the same. Bonus is dinner is easy to find. If Il Fontanile isn’t your thing, then I recommend looking into Airbnb to find a house or apartment to stay in, as you will feel more like you live there and can experience Umbria in all its glory.

Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post when I talk about the best attraction in the area!

Europe, Food, France, Paris

Eating My Way Through Paris

June 29, 2015

I was hoping to write about all the great restaurants that I ate at in Paris. Unfortunately, each place only really did well in some areas and failed in others. So instead, I am going to tell you what food I did and didn’t like.

First off they seem to do smoked salmon really well. Not that I had ever had it before! It never looked appealing to me. However, I accidentally ordered it on my first night in Paris at my hotel.  The picture above is what I got and it was amazing! If it hadn’t been so expensive, I would have ordered another! This was on a bed of some kind of soft bread with a chive cream cheese spread between.  It literally melted in my mouth. I am now hooked on smoked salmon.

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Meat! They love it! I hardly saw chicken on the menu. While I enjoy meat, I don’t like to eat it very often. I found this to be a huge challenge. One night, I sat down and ordered the plat du jour, which is usually the chef’s choice. Little did I know I was getting veal! I usually don’t eat veal. However, it was too late. It was okay. The best part about it was the bed of cous cous it was sitting on and the olives. As you can see it looked great! IMG_2784

Another night of meat! Although it was started off with another round of smoked salmon on top of a cabbage salad. I was on a tour for a part of my trip and the menu was set at this place, otherwise I wouldn’t have ordered meat.  Since there was no menu, I don’t know much about this except that it is marinated for hours in wine. Might have been beef bourguignon. This was better than the veal. The meat was really tender. I did not enjoy the fact that the meat was served with all the fat still attached. I kept having to eat around it. Overall, I enjoyed this meal!

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Of course, wine! The French are known for their wine. This one pictured, Tradition by Les Vignerons de Buzet, was really great and not too expensive. It was suggested by our tour guide and was only 14€. It was smooth and not too strong of a red. We didn’t know it at the time, but the winery uses no chemical fertilizers on their vines. All the French wine I tried was great. I really got to like Cotes du Rhone region wine the best. Even the cheap bottles were good!

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This was by far the best thing I ate, although it wasn’t in Paris. It was in Giverny. The restaurant called it a Summer Freshness in Feta Cheese Salad. One layer was tomatoes, spices and sauce and the next layer was feta cheese with chives. I am really not sure what the pink stuff was on top and it didn’t have much flavor. May have just been for looks.  The taste was indescribable, but exactly as described as it was light and refreshing! I wanted them to bring me more, but I knew I had two more courses coming.

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Fish is what I kept ordering in place of meat. I was disappointed twice and stopped ordering it. The fish was usually flavorless and the sides were also plain. The fish above looked so good, but had no taste and was really expensive! The night I had the Summer Freshness salad, I had ordered salmon and it was also very plain. I would say cooked fish is not something they do well in France. Stick to the smoked salmon!

IMG_2817One afternoon I passed by a Mexican food restaurant and I thought, as a Texan, it is my duty to try it. Had to be better than what we have in Doha. The menu had very authentic things on it like enchiladas and tacos. There were a few people inside, so it couldn’t be that bad. They brought chips and salsa which was a good sign. The salsa tasted homemade. I ordered the pork taco. Instead of several small tacos, I got one large taco. The pork was almost bbq pork, but it tasted really good. However, the taco was too big to pick up and eat. The star of the dish was the peach “salsa” they served on the side. It was more like a salad though. It was peaches, jalapenos, cilantro and spices mixed together. Another thing I wanted more of, in fact, I saved it to finish after the taco.

IMG_2832Sometimes after over a week of rich food, you just want something normal to you to eat. I googled my way to a cheeseburger. While it wasn’t bad, it was served on an English muffin! The fries were actually pretty good too.  I had also decided I didn’t want to pay 20€ for a burger, so I found my way to a chain that was decked out American Diner style with pink and blue chairs and booths with oldies playing in the background.  It didn’t matter cause it hit the spot.

A few tips about eating out in Paris. Ask for tap water or a carafe or they might bring you expensive bottled water. Coffee is cheaper ordered at the bar of a restaurant and drunk standing up. You will have to ask for the check, as the French are never rushed to eat a meal! Bon appetit!

Food, Ireland

The Food of Ireland

December 2, 2014

Food of Ireland

One of the most shocking things for me about Ireland, was the food.  I am not a foodie. I do enjoy good food, but I don’t plan vacations around food. I do try to use Urban Spoon or Yelp to help me find good food.  What I didn’t expect to find was the amazing food in Ireland.  Above is a boxty. The boxty is the pancake looking thing.  In this case it was a sage boxty served with pulled pork! This Texan living in a mostly pork free country was impressed.  It is a different flavor of pulled pork but very good especially when wrapped up by the sage boxty.  It was also very filling.  This was from a place called Gallagher’s Boxty House in Temple Bar. I was actually sad it was my last night in Dublin because I would have like to go back and had a different type.

I was looking for a traditional Irish breakfast place on Yelp when I discovered the Queen of Tarts. I didn’t get the traditional Irish breakfast I was looking for, but that was ok.  I ordered a delicious scone and eggs.  Granted it was way too much food for one person, but I needed to try it all.  I ate slow and went for a very long walk afterwards.

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The one thing that I wished now that I had taken a picture of was the fish and chips I had in Tramore.  It was a whole fish on a bed of french fries. We Americans are doing it wrong. Fish isn’t fish sticks with french fries. It is a whole greasy fish served on thick french fries, which I have determined is where the term chips comes from.

In Dublin, my friend took me to this place called 101 Talbot. I had a special, so I can’t remember what it was called.  It was a chicken dish. It was excellent and the portions were large!

Next time I find excellent food, I promise to take more pictures!

Europe, Food, Istanbul, Museums, Travel

Beautiful Istanbul!

July 7, 2014

Beautiful IstanbulBeautiful Istanbul! Where to begin?!?  There is so much to see in Istanbul, and my friend Kate, and I were there for a short time. We stayed in a very centrally located hotel, which enabled us to see everything we wanted to see in a short time.  The Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Arasta Bazaar, the Mosaic Museum and the Basilica Cistern were all less than a five-minute walk.  The Grand Bazaar and the Topkapi Palace were about 10 minutes away.  I highly recommend getting the Muze, the museum pass.  The price when we went in June was 85 Turkish Lira, which was about $43 at the time.  This gets you in for free for three days, and you get to skip the lines. You can get into the Hagia Sophia, the Topkapi Palace, and the Harem, the Mosaic Museum, the Archaeological Museums, the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, and the Museum of Science and Technology in Islam.  We did all of these except for the last two.  I see tons of Islamic Arts in Qatar and Kate had just been to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha as well.  Since the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia are so beautiful, I will just post some pictures and not talk about them.  Just remember that you must be dressed appropriately to get in, this applies to men and women.  Women must have their heads, knees and shoulders covered and men should have their shoulders and knees covered.  They will give you a shawl if you need one.  You will also have to remove your shoes, and I would make sure you have socks with you because it is carpeted inside and seemed damp and slightly gross to walk around on carpet that hundreds of people walk on each day!

Beautiful Istanbul

Beautiful Istanbul

Beautiful Istanbul

So in past blog posts, I have talked about briefly about where I have stayed, but I liked this hotel so much I am going to review it here.  We stayed at the Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel.  Like I said early, it was centrally located to most of the Sultanahmet area attractions.  The hotel was beautiful.  The room we stayed in was at the end of the hall and was larger than the other rooms I snuck a peak at during the daily cleaning of the rooms.  The beds were fluffy and very comfortable.  The bathroom wasn’t large, but it didn’t bother me.  That was mostly because the shower was to die for! It was huge, and it had a rainfall shower head as well as a regular shower head. It is also the most beautiful shower I have ever seen.  The Turkish tile in the shower was amazing! (see below) The cool thing was that the walls of the bathroom inside and out were mirrored so I could get ready in the room while Kate was in the bathroom.  The buffet breakfast was great!  European buffet breakfasts at hotels are 100x better than American buffet breakfasts.  They even had watermelon!  The only catch to the hotel is that it probably caters to Muslims as there was no bar and no mini bar. It didn’t bother me because it meant there were no drunk people coming home at 2 am!  Here are some pictures of the hotel and the room.

Beautiful IstanbulBeautiful Istanbul

Beautiful Istanbul

Beautiful IstanbulBeautiful Istanbul

Since there was no bar in our hotel, we decided to find a bar close to the hotel.  The travel guide I brought suggested the Hotel Nomade rooftop bar.  It had a wonderful view of the Blue Mosque from the roof.  And it was a minute down the road from our hotel.  We were there for the call to prayer, and it was an unforgettable experience. Both nights we spoke with fellow travelers, which is one of my favorite things to do. The beer was cheap, and the food was great.  We went two nights in a row and both nights I had the Chicken with Pineapple (there was a Turkish name for it, but I don’t remember it!).  There were figs in this dish, and I usually don’t like figs, but it was probably the best chicken dish I have ever had in my life.  Here is a picture of the view!

Beautiful Istanbul

There is so much more to tell you about, but I will save those for the next couple of posts.  Lots of pictures to share in the next post. Have you been to Istanbul? What were your favorite places?

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