Tag Archives: Travel

A little bit of heaven from South America

If there is one thing that I remember vividly from my travels to South American it was my experience at La Rábida Ranch.  This family owned ranch, located in the Uruguayan countryside provided a fulfilled day of hay rides, horseback riding, sheep shearing, cow milking and cow skin “skiing”.  Some of the visitors participated and some cheered on the side lines. For me, it was humbling to see the entire family involved in what felt like a perfectly orchestrated performance.  Upon arrival guests were invited to choose their mode of transportation for the grand tour of the farm & beach.   The older generation piled into the antique cars while the more adventurous hopped on the hay wagons and the farmers children rode along side those who were brave enough to venture on horseback.

Upon our return we were served a typical Uruguayan lunch of barbequed lamb, chicken, pork, and beef.  If you don’t know by now South American is known for its excellent tasting meat so our taste buds were not disappointed!  However, being a sweet tooth person, my lasting impression was from the cookies that they served on the beach half way through our  hay ride/horse ride tour.

The Argentinean style Alfajores cookies, consists of two round shortbread like cookies with a dulce de leche filling.  If you love caramel then you’ll love dulce de leche.  It literally means “candy of milk” and when slathered in between two perfectly baked cookies they are the most delicious cookies in the world!  I have tried my best at replicating this delightful sweet treat and below’s recipe now helps me relive my South American Experience over and over.

Now if I can only find some handsome Uruguayan cowboys on horseback to deliver me these cookies once in a while…

INGREDIENTS  (Recipe from www.saveur.com)

1 2/3 cups cornstarch
1 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2/3 cup sugar
10 tbsp. unsalted butter, softened
1 tbsp. cognac or brandy
1/2 tsp. lemon zest
4 egg yolks
Dulce de Leche, for filling cookies

INSTRUCTIONS

Heat oven to 350°. In a bowl, sift together cornstarch, flour, and baking powder; set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle, beat together sugar and butter until fluffy. Add cognac and zest; beat. Add yolks one at a time; beat. Add dry ingredients; mix. Transfer dough to a floured surface, knead briefly; divide into 3 pieces. Working with 1 dough piece at a time, roll dough to 1/4″ thickness. Using a 2 1/2″ round cookie cutter, cut out cookies; transfer to parchment paper—lined baking sheets, spaced 1″ apart. Reroll scraps and repeat. Bake until golden, 12–15 minutes. Let cool. Flip half the cookies over; top each with 1 heaping tsp. dulce de leche. Top with remaining cookies.

Yields 20 cookies

Photo credit: 1st photo:  La Rábida homepage
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The Cafe Experience

Many of you who have traveled around Europe may understand the importance of “the cafe experience”. Whether it is to taste Europe’s best coffee, catch up with a dear friend or simply indulge in people watching, sitting at a cafe here IS an experience.  As you may guess Vienna is FULL of cafes and depending on your mood the right cafe is probably a few steps away.

My husband and I decided to have a quiet Sunday morning breakfast at Edison in the 8th district of Vienna since we were child free (thanks Omi & Opa).  On the recommendations from another Viennese food blogger, sushiandstrudel, I wanted to give it a try.  As always, it was another refreshing change from the last cafe experience.  This one in particular had a clean & fresh atmosphere, decorated just to my liking with shabby chic decor and rustic charm.  As you would expect in Vienna, the coffee didn’t disappoint.  The breakfast menu offered an assortment of traditional pastries, health conscious dishes and richer (dare I say it) fattier alternatives.  Since I’m too lazy to make any sort of eggs at my house, I indulged in some ham & eggs.  Delish.

For a different cafe experience altogether you could walk downtown and soak up history in one of Vienna’s oldest coffee houses, Central Cafe.  Here you can experience Vienna’s traditional morning routines, perhaps the same of that Sigmund Freud had enjoyed.  Cafe Central has a rich & mysterious atmosphere which made me feel like I had stepped out of a time machine.  Newspapers were placed in the traditional wooden frames for all to enjoy, assorted pastries were displayed in glass casing and what appeared as cafe regulars chatted warmly with the staff.

In this type of coffee house the wait staff will always be formally dressed, which includes a bow tie.  Coffee is always served with a glass of water and one could spend an entire day occupying a table with a single order of coffee.  There is never the expectation or pressure to drink your coffee and go.   No way.  The Viennese enjoy their coffee ritual and may spend hours chatting with friends, conducting business or  simply enjoy a good morning read.  This tradition goes ways back to the turn of the 19th century.

Whether you fancy something fresh & trendy or formal & traditional every cafe will offer a unique experience.  With over 1000 coffee houses in Vienna to choose from I know that I’ve got my work cut out for me!  Thank GAWD I love coffee!


Luxury in the Countryside

When you think of the Austrian country side you may picture small hilltop churches, log style cabins and historical castles.  In addition to the traditional settings you will also find hidden gems like the aenea designhotel.   On our way to a weekend trip in Italy my husband and I decided to treat ourselves to the ultimate luxurious experience and spent one night at this Boutique Hotel, which is located in Maria Wörth on Wörthersee (one of Austria’s largest mountain lakes).

The fifteen suites all have lake view with private terraces and the Italian design look is fresh, crisp and clean.  No detail has been spared.  From silk curtains, Minotti furnishings and Etro Bathroom amenities you know that the hotel owners take their hospitality very seriously.

If you wish to escape every day life you will find it easy to de-stress here as they have a full-service spa with an assortment of massages and beauty treatments. Housed in the panoramic view spa is a fully equipped fitness centre, a sauna and steam room, a solarium and an outdoor pool. Guests can relax and soak up the lakeshore atmosphere by taking the hotel’s elevator to their private beach area.

I’ve saved the best part for last as it involves… what else?  Food.  The restaurant offers two locations.  You can dine the next to the cozy fireplace indoors or in a more casual but still sophisticated setting on the terrace.  We noticed that the entire hotel staff seemed young… almost too young to serve alcohol, however, they all oozed high energy and a professional attitude.  The chef, which had amazing creative talent was no exception. Working with local seasonal ingredients we are told that the menu is constantly changing.  My husband and I stuck with our verbal agreement (practically written in our wedding vows) that we each got a different dish so that we “switched” half way through our meals.

My taste of heaven started from the get go.  The bread.  I’m a simple Canadian girl who would happily make a whole meal out of freshly baked bread so it wasn’t a surprise that I “mmmm’d” the whole way through my dining experience.  Served along the bread rolls were a fresh lemon & thyme topfen spread, assorted sea salts, sliced radishes and fresh watercress (so fresh that scissors accompanied the platter). Course by course we both remained silent and simply enjoyed and savoured every bite. From the Fois Gras with peach, rosemary and sheep milk yogurt, White Asparagus with pan choi, grapes & poppy seed foam, to the delicate Sea Bass & robust Ox Cheek all were presented beautifully and were cooked to perfection.  Finally, the dessert.  We normally split one because by that time we are almost uncomfortably full.  The sweet sampler was the perfect choice, which included tarty rhubarb, creamy topfen cake (sort of a mixture of marscapone & sweetened cream cheese), refreshing lemongrass ice cream and a coconut encrusted fluffy meringue .  They do their own version of “petit four” here too which I thought was brilliant.  Lemon sorbet with Green Apple mash, strawberry and mango mini ice cream cones topped with chocolate dipped popping candy, homemade cassis & lemon marshmallow, celery jelly with chocolate moose and nougat bread.  All flavours worked really well together.

After an espresso (for him) and an English Breakfast tea (for me) we concluded that it was necessary to write a blog about this fabulous hotel.  Tired and satisfied we slept well.

Another memorable hotel experience to add to my list of lifetime favourites and I hope that if you ever make your way to Austria you would consider treating yourself to this exceptional experience at the aenea hotel.

Florian Schaible, Hotel Director, (above)  stood proudly when I took this snap shot before we left.  He personally come outside to wish us well on our journey home.

Now that is service!

aenea designhotel
Worthersee SuduferstraBe 86
A – 9081 Reifnitz / Maria Worth
Austria
T. : +43.4273.26220
F. : +43.4273.26220.20
aenea@aenea.at


May I present Oceania Cruises’ Riviera!

After 8 long years of keeping myself busy as a full-time mom I have ventured back into the career world as a Sales Manager for Oceania Cruises. Luckily for me, I was invited to join the rest of the Oceania family on the Oceania Riviera Christening Cruise which sailed from Monte Carlo to Venice.

I met the ship mid cruise on Christening Day in Barcelona.  This is the traditional day a cruise ship is officially named (usually by a nominated “God Mother”) and blessed by smashing a bottle of champagne against the hull of the ship.  Celebrity Chef, Cat Cora was honored as the God Mother to this magnificent vessel.  The bottle shattered into a million pieces, confetti filled the air, and the cheers from the crowd were energizing. Another memorable experience to add to my collection.

The Riviera is the newest ship to the Oceania fleet.  She, along with her sister ship the Marina, carries 1250 guests and has one of the largest space ratios on any ship afloat.  There is 1 crew member to every 1.56 guests so you can imagine the attentive service and fewer line ups!  If you prefer a smaller more intimate atmosphere you could cruise on board the smaller ships, Oceania Nautica or Oceania Regatta. No matter which ship you choose you are guaranteed amazing destinations, fantastic food and unbeatable service all for a great price.

Being marketed as an Upper Premium cruise line Oceania blows the competition out of the water (no punt intended).  As a foodie I was drawn to their menus even before I joined the company.  Master Chef Jacque Pepin is the Executive Culinary Director for Oceania Cruises.  His approach to the onboard dining was to reflect on regional cuisines, depending where the ships sail so that guests can enjoy the tastiest meals using only the freshest ingredients.  There are 4 speciality restaurants in addition to the Grand Dining Room on board the Marina and Riviera.  Whether you fancy French, Italian, Asian or a Good ole Steak House you will not be disappointed. AND it doesn’t cost you a penny whereas other cruise lines charge $25 per person and up.  All the bread is baked fresh daily on board,  you will find USDA 28 day dry-aged beef, Maine lobster and Colorado lamb and the ice cream…. oh the yummy ice cream is made on board as well.

My favourite moment was when I sunk my teeth into the flakiest pastry I’ve ever eaten.  Filled with fresh vanilla creme and juicy raspberries I was in dessert heaven!  The secret?  A squirt of raspberry juice into each berry to add that extra burst of flavour!  It’s details like these that makes this product so unique.

I could go on about the on board dining experience but I won’t in hopes that you will find out for yourself by booking a cruise.  Instead I’ll change the subject to onboard activities such as the Bon Appétit Culinary Center (what you thought that I would steer away from food?).  This is the only hands on cooking school you will find at sea.  What better way to learn how to recreate the wonderful meals than by learning from the chefs directly.   They will give you step by step instruction, give you tips on what to look for, what the smell should be, and how the texture should feel.  These are tangible details that you just can’t get from a cook book.  Each guest will work at his/her own fully equipped station as Chef Kelly and her team work their magic.  I chose to take part in the Pasta From Scratch seminar and I happily made fettuccine with a brown butter sage & walnut sauce.  Oh man did I have fun.

I have so much more to say about this fantastic cruise line, however I’ll leave you instead with a few more images from my 5 days on board.  If worldwide itineraries, superb service and fabulous food are your vacation priorities look no further than Oceania Cruises.  Seriously.


10 Things that makes Austria AWESOME!

You know that book written by Neil Pasricha, “The Book of AWESOME”?  Well I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and it reminded me to appreciate the simple things in life that are… well … awesome.

I created my own list of AWESOME – the Austrian version:

1.  Lets start with the most important.  Paid Holidays.  Austria ranks one of the highest in Europe when it comes to vacation time.  Employees are entitled to take 25 annual paid days off plus 13 statutory holidays.  Mothers can choose to take up to two years maternity leave.  AWESOME!

 

 

 

2.  The suction on vacuum cleaners.  Ever look at your carpets after spending a hour vacuuming and wonder “was it worth it?”  Well moving to Europe meant replacing all of our 110v appliances with 220v.  Shopping for EVERYTHING (coffee machine, toaster, curling iron, hairdryer, vacuum, etc) in one go was an overwhelming task.  That is until we looked at the selection, starting with vacuums.  The power of suction… “hold on to your toupee and hair extensions folks”.  AWESOME!

3.  Mountains.  I know that there are beautiful mountains worldwide.  But…com’on….

AWESOME!

4.  Ice cream… ice cream.. who doesn’t like ice cream?  The European version does differ in my opinion to that artificial tasting ice cream back at home (sorry DQ).   Europeans live for pleasure and ice cream is way up there on their priority list.  My personal favourite “Eissalon” (everyone has their favourites in Vienna) is “Eissalon am Schwadenplatz” (Franz Josefs-Kai 17, A-1010 Wien).  It’s a family run business since 1886 so you can imagine with that many years of experience making ice cream it’s gotta taste damn good.  Sadly, there are only open from March until late September.  Not only is ice cream made fresh daily, seasonal fruit they get each morning determines the flavour of the day”.  Always creamy, smooth and refreshing.  AWESOME!

5.  Advertising.  The approach in European advertising is way more relaxed than North America.  As everyone knows “sex sales” and it is certainly demonstrated everywhere here in Vienna.  Whether they are selling clothing, bathroom fixtures or tea cups the theme seems to be sexual orientated… or?  You be the judge.  AWESOME!

Advertisement for a clothing store.

Even playful naked shower ads

6. Public Transportation. You ask every resident in Vienna about driving a car and all will agree, “There is no need”.  You’re likely to walk no more than 100 meters without running into a Bus, Train, Strassenbahn or Ubahn station.  So sit back and enjoy the beautiful sights while you ride with the people of Vienna.  AWESOME!

Just the yogurt isle

7. Dairy.   Now healthy eating is important to my family so we try to stick to a balanced eating plan (diet isn’t in my vocabulary).  If you have ever shopped in the dairy section in a European grocery store you may be overwhelmed with the amazing selection.  Everything is fresh and has a shelf life that lasts no longer than from a few days to a week maybe 2 thanks to no added additives and preservatives.  You can choose your fat content in all the dairy here too, just like in Canada.  Yogurts for example; fat percentage range can start low at 1% and go up to the luxurious silky oh so tasty 11% fat.  I don’t think I’ve seen “fat-free” anything here.  Can that exist without the chemicals?

One product that sells in some European countries is called Topfen.  It’s sort of like a full flavoured soft cream cheese without the fat!  It can be used in sweet & savoury dishes, baked or eaten as a dip.  Very versatile.  AWESOME!

8.  PEZ was invented in Vienna in 1927 by Austrian inventor and anti-smoke advocate Eduard Haas II.  He built a tin container shaped like a cigarette lighter to house rectangle mints that were marketed as an alternative to smoking.  It wasn’t until PEZ reached USA that the mints were replaced with candy and a character was added on top to make the packaging more attractive to the younger generation.  Sales have been strong ever since.  AWESOME!

9.  Environmentally Friendly.  60% of Austria electricity currently comes from renewable sources and hopes to increase the rate to 71% by 2020 according to the EWEA (European Wind Energy Association). Austria also ranks among the top 10 Eco Friendly Countries in the world according to the Environment Protection Index.  Finally, according to Aneki.com Austria scores the #2 position as the country who recycles the most.  I truly believe that after sorting and separating garbage for the last year.  There is a bin in every household for the following:

  1. Waste
  2. Plastic
  3. Paper
  4. Tin
  5. Clear glass
  6. Dark glass
  7. Batteries
  8. Light Bulbs
I love to live in a cleaner, “greener” world.  Wouldn’t you?  AWESOME!

10.  Yodeling.  When people think of Austria they generally think of people standing on a mountaintop dressed in traditional costume yodeling.  Well yes, you will find that occasionally and Austrians take pride in their ability to yodel.  It isn’t as easy as it looks.

According to Wikipedia

Yodeling (or yodellingjodeling) is a form of singing that involves singing an extended note which rapidly and repeatedly changes in pitch from the vocal or chest register (or “chest voice”) to the falsetto/head register; making a high-low-high-low sound.

What I love about traveling through Austria is watching generations hold on to their culture and traditions.  I have even adapted some of these traditions with my family… the dress part that is.  Yodeling… well that may come in time, with a lot of practice & perhaps drinking large quantities of homemade schnapps.

AWESOME!

credits: 1 2 3 4 5


Are you prepared in case of an emergency?

Upon waking up to the horrible news of the Costa Concordia lying capsized in the port of Giglio, Italy, my husband and I were immediately glued to BBC news.

Three people are confirmed dead after a cruise ship carrying more than 4,000 people ran aground off Italy

How could this have happened?  As the experts are saying, a disaster like this shouldn’t happen in the 21st century where cruise ships are built to the highest safety standards.

My husband and I have a particular interest in this story since cruising was a big part of our lives.  You see, I met my husband in 1997 while working on board a luxury cruise ship.  Our combined ship experience totals 19 years so we know full well about emergency procedures on board a cruise ship.  While working on board the Silversea CruisesUS Coast Guard inspections were routinely made and as crew members we participated in “boat drill” every week.

Thomas and Captain Mazzetti

Each crew member had safety responsibilities and had to know all evacuation procedures including what to do in case of the “abandon ship” announcement.

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Seeing these images of terrified passengers and a severely damaged ship on TV left us in disbelief.  It got us thinking.  Now that we are parents and have already taken our children on a couple of cruises what would we have done in this situation?

News reports suggest that there was chaos and panic among the passengers and that crew did their best to direct them to the lifeboats.  Did the three dead drown from being trapped in the belly of the ship below the waterline?  Did they die of hypothermia from jumping overboard?  Were they trampled to death in the corridors?  Could these deaths have been prevented?

I think, that we call can agree that cruising is a very safe form of travel, especially if you compare it to traveling by car, train and plane.  When’s the last cruise disaster that you can remember?  As a former crew member (and now parent) I believe in the importance of being prepared.

Here are my recommendations for being ready in case of an emergency whist on a cruise.

  1. On Embarkation Day be sure to attend the Life Boat Drill and familiarize yourself with your muster station location.
  2. If you are traveling with small children ask your Cabin Stewart to give you children sized life jackets and stow them in your cabin.
  3. If you hear an announcement over the PA system calling an “Assessment Party” to proceed to an area on the ship that means that there is a situation that needs further investigating.  This is a team of people, from various departments who are responsible to decide the next step.  It could be a fire, water damage or anything that is triggered by an alarm.  Remain calm but be on alert that there may be more announcements that could involve the rest of the ship.
  4. Personally, at this point I would gather my family together (just image the panic if you couldn’t find a loved one in the event of an emergency), collect the essentials (passports and medication) and dress warmly.  You never know,  you may have to jump in the ocean, in which case wearing warm clothes helps delay the onset of hypothermia.
  5. Remain calm and LISTEN to all announcements.
  6. If the situation is serious enough that the Captain announces “Abandon ship” you will hear 7 short blasts followed by 1 long blast of the ships whistle.  This is the time that you grab your life jackets and head to your muster station.  From there the crew will instruct and guide you onto your lifeboat.
  7. Never jump in the water unless you absolutely have to.  If you have no choice make sure your life jacket is securely fastened and hug your jacket by crossing your arms in front.  One hand should grasp the collar of the life jacket and the other hand should cover your mouth and nose.  This will help prevent the life jacket from hitting your chin on impact.
  8. Once the lifeboat has been lowered and is safely in the water, away from the ship it will only be a matter of time before help will reach you.   If you are in the middle of the ocean crew members should hand out anti-sea sickness medication to prevent you from vomiting = dehydration.  This is why it’s important to grab your medication if you can.  You don’t know how long you’ll be on the lifeboat before being rescued.

I’m very sad to learn of the news on board the Costa Concordia and my heart goes out to the families of those who perished.

I still truly believe the cruising is one of the best holiday choices and this tragedy certainly has not altered my decision whether or not I should cruise again.

So go ahead. Book that cruise and feel confident that you are well prepared for your next holiday.  What better place to be than to unpack once and wake up to a new scene every morning?

Happy Sailing.

 

The image of Costa Concordia is from the BBC website


Happy New Year World!

It’s the 2nd day into 2012 and I have so far kept my New Years Resolution of creating a blog.  Tah dah….  I’m still trying to decide what exactly I will blog about.  Tasty Austrian cuisine?  Road trip adventures?  A Canadian trying to sprechen German?  I don’t know so bear with me as I go along and “find myself” so to say.  What I do know is that I love photography and prefer that to writing so expect lots of colourful images to describe my journey.

I shall begin my first blog with some photos of my first New Years experience in Vienna.

What better way to start of a new year that to indulge in a luxurious champagne dinner.  The InterContinental Hotel hosted a special New Years dinner complete with live music playing all the favourite classics.  A table near to us, visiting from Kazakhstan was well into the celebration when one of the guests sang a duet of Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”.  He sang rather well and after a few songs (and a few more drinks) he returned and convinced the band leader to play “Knock Knock Knock on Heaven’s Door” and sang his heart out.  It was all in good fun and the rest of the guests enjoyed his enthusiasm.  That was our que to make our move to Stephansplatz to ring in the new year.

The atmosphere in the city centre was buzzing.  Tourists from all over the world (a reported 800,000) joined together in happy spirits with bottles of bubbly in their hands eager for the magical moment.

Others followed the Austrian tradition and waltzed to the beautiful music of Johann Strauss.

When St. Stephan’s legendary clock stroke 12:00 midnight celebratory “yeah hoo’s” followed by smooching loved ones was all around me.  Fireworks light the sky.  What a start to 2012!

 


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