Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #8

Our three day extension in Prague after our Viking River Cruise on the Danube River was terrific and we saw a beautiful municipality, which is now one of my favorite cities in the world. On our way to the John Lennon wall one day we came upon this magnificent architectural phenomenon. It really captured my sense of bygone days. There were all sorts of crafts, jewelry and art being sold along the bridge. The statues and sculptures were fantastic located all along the bridge. On our way back we ran into a music group playing some kind of music that made me grab Kim and start dancing to the glee of everyone on the bridge and the group of musicians. It seemed like the thing to do. I seriously think the crowd loved it and we received great applause. Well maybe it was only one or two that clapped.

 

The Charles Bridge is a historic structure that crosses the Vitava river in Prague, Czech Republic. Actual work began in 1357 during the reign of King Charles IV and was completed in the early 1600’s. Initially it was called the Stone Bridge or just the Prague Bridge. In the late 1800’s it became known as the Charles Bridge, I’m guessing after King Charles who was in power when the construction began. Until 1841 it was the only passage across the Vitava river and was the exclusive connection between Prague Castle and Old Town Prague. It significantly increased land transit between eastern and western Europe.

 

 

Old Town Bridge Tower

 

The bridge is 2037 feet long and 33 feet wide. It was defined as a Bow Bridge, as the architecture resembled a bow. In addition it was a mirror of the Stone Bridge in Regensburg Germany. There are three towers, one on the Old Town side entrance and two on the Prague Castle side. There are 30 statues which were built close to 1700 in a Baroque style. They are all replicas now and have all been replaced with fabrications of the originals. This tower is considered by many to be one of the most astounding samples of Gothic style construction in the world.

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

Lewis N. Clark Travel Gear #3

I’m guessing that readers are probably growing weary of me commenting on items sent for trial by Lewis N. Clark. So this time I asked my family to choose items they thought they would use and send me their thoughts after trying out the products. I wanted to see if they arrived at the same conclusions I did with these travel items.

 

The first item tried out was this Secura RFID-Blocking Anti-Theft Convertipak (Burgandy) for my wife Kim. We recently traveled to Japan and all I can say is she wore this Convertipak every day and in various ways. I thought it was magnetized to her, literally! I have shown two different methods of wearing the Convertipak and will share her words in between photos.

 

Secura RFID-Blocking Anti-Theft Convertipak (Burgandy)

 

My wife’s thoughts: “The trendy burgundy color of my convertipack makes it perfect for daily use as well as traveling. For everyday use I am able to fit the entire contents of my purse, wallet, glass case and all into the anti theft bag. With everything secure inside zippered compartments I don’t worry about items falling out of my bag if it gets knocked over. When traveling I don’t carry a wallet and find the 4 card pockets perfect for my needs. My IPad fits great in large pocket. I love how quickly it can change from a backpack to a shoulder bag. I usually carry crossbody bags when traveling but with locking zippers and slash resistant straps/fabric I don’t not worry about using this bag as a backpack.”

 

 

My middle son Sean put his  “Cooling Gel Memory Foam Neck Pillow, Black” on his roommate and hoodwinked into a photograph. Sean has used it on several flights, including going to Vieques, an island off of Puerto Rico and his trip to Vegas this past weekend. He absolutely loves it. His thoughts: “Great product for flights or travel in general.  The first 30 minutes it was around my neck it did exactly what the name suggests, it felt cool to the skin.  After a good bit of time the cooling feature seemed to diminish but the pillow is one of the most comfortable neck pillows I’ve had the pleasure of using.” Thanks Josh Borchardt for posing!

 

Cooling Gel Memory Foam Neck Pillow, Black

 

Our youngest son Chris has a boat and chose waterproof items or something that works well around water. His first item is a Waterseals Waterproof Hard Case, Large in the color Blue. His thoughts after taking the hard case out is between the two photos:

 

Waterseals Waterproof Hard Case, Large, Blue

 

“This product does everything that it is supposed to. I was able to keep my phone and my wallet inside the case without any water getting into it and the closing latch is very easy to work. I used this product on a jet ski where there was quite a bit of water getting everywhere. The case also proved to be durable enough to withstand the beating it took while jumping waves and turning sharply. One of my favorite features of this case is the removable rubber padding that comes with it that allows for the internal valuables to be a bit more protected from the hard plastic.”

 

Waterseals Waterproof Hard Case, Large, Blue

 

WaterSeals Magnetic Waterproof Tablet Pouch- I was a little hesitant to place my belongings under water in this case when I first received it because there is not a “clasp” of any type on the product. As soon as got a chance to have the product in my hands my mind was immediately changed. The magnets work great! I spent more time than I would like to admit trying to figure out how something like this was so functional. The magnets work so well that you basically don’t have to do anything to seal the case. Just drop your valuables in the bag, let go of the magnets and this pouch will immediately seal itself. Another positive attribute of this pouch is that you can actually use your phone/tablet through the case so you do not need to open it with wet/dirty hands. I use this product on a jet ski so it is always risky business to be taking anything out of a bag while in the middle of a body of water. This has become a permanent addition to my trips the the lake!

 

Waterseals Magnetic Waterproof Mini Tablet Pouch, Yellow

 

So as you can tell my family’s opinion fairly well coincides with mine. Lewis N. Clark makes dependable, well thought out travel accessories and I recommend you take a look at their products. They are useful and provide security with their RFID function and secure agendas.

 

 

***All products were sponsored by Lewis N. Clark for testing and review. All opinions are as always, those of my family and my own.

Viking River Cruises, Budapest

For four years Kim and I have dreamed of taking a Viking River Cruise together through Europe. I have been disappointed year after year, as it never came to fruition. Neither one of us had ever been to the continent until this year. Miracle of miracles, I have been three times in 2015 and have completely become enamored with its architecture, people and food as a whole. I have fallen head over heels for the wonderful attributes of Europe. Most fortunately I also connected with Viking this year and Kim and I were able to participate in a trip of lifetime. In all our 37 years of marriage and vacations, nothing compares or can measure up to a river cruise with Viking. The overall impression is a 5-star involvement. We will treasure our memories the remainder of our living days.

 

Viking Longship Modi

Viking Longship Modi

 

We were given a list of four cruises to select from and I chose the “Danube Waltz Cruise”. Basically as a result of Kim’s creative abilities and the fact this cruise centered on Christmas Markets. I did not make the wrong choice, as I am sure you are aware, if you followed our escapades on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. We were met at the airport by a terrific native Hungarian who spoke very good English and proceeded to elaborate on a fair portion of the history of Hungary. They loaded our luggage and the superlative service began instantly. We arrived at the Viking Longship Modi and boarded to check in. The staff was friendly, accommodating and impressed me immediately. We were led to our stateroom where we had champagne, water and fabulous fresh cookies waiting for us to arrive. We were hooked right away!

 

Reception Area and upstairs Library

Reception Area and upstairs Library

 

Even though we were worn out from an over 20 hour  flight, we jumped right in for the  “Welcome Walk” at 2:00 PM, after checking into the ship. We walked for approximately 90 minutes and saw a glimpse of the Budapest Christmas Markets and several statues of Heroic individuals, along with a plethora of beautiful constructed government buildings. Most of which escapes my memory since we were exhausted. I was instantaneously mesmerized by the architecture in Budapest. Kim immediately was drawn to the Christmas Markets and the laser cut wooden spoons, as those of you that followed us know full well by now.

 

Wooden Spoons from the Christmas Market, Budapest

Wooden Spoons from the Christmas Market, Budapest

 

Each night the ship holds a briefing of scheduled activities for the following day. We napped right through the first “Welcome briefing” and somehow woke up for dinner. I can’t say enough about the food on Viking and will devote an entire post to Viking food! After dinner we went straight to bed and slept like rocks. To my knowledge we neither one moved after going to sleep. We were worn out. We both woke up during the early morning around 3:00 AM or so, because of the time difference.

 

I have a greater respect for the fortitude of the Hungarian people over the years. They have survived countless invasions, wars and staunch oppressors without losing their desire for Independence. The young lady tour guide on our bus presented it in a humorous fashion, stating countries would come to help and then forget to leave. Our tour was a combination bus ride and walking tour. All along the walking tour Viking has a guide that speaks English very well and instructs you on the various works of art, government buildings and parks you may pass, along with taking us through the Christmas Markets in Budapest. The markets were very crowded and she managed to not lose any people. I thought that was as amazing as her dialogue. On each tour every participant is furnished with a wireless headset in which you receive the tour guides narrative.

 

Marzipan of Many Flavors (Yes we bought some)

Marzipan of Many Flavors (Yes we bought some)

 

We returned just in time for lunch. I must add that the Maitre D’ attends individually to everyone with dietary needs or restrictions. I was impressed beyond comprehension. He stopped by our table, introduced himself and greeted all of us at every meal. He inquired if any of us had any allergies or issues. As I cannot eat certain foods, he privately discussed my needs and told me he would stop by each morning at breakfast and discuss the lunch and dinner menus. Each day he made sure to let me know what was safe for me to eat and helped me choose my appetizers, entree and desserts daily at breakfast. As each meal was open seating I just had to give the waiter my room number. I have to tell you, since I am naturally introverted, sitting with complete strangers was at first a little scary. In the end though Kim and I met fabulous, well traveled people and made several lasting friends. We traded emails, phone numbers in some cases and I really enjoyed the various individuals more than I anticipated.

 

One of the More Creative Packaging for Soap on a Rope

 

Little did we know our journey across some of Europe’s finest Christmas Markets was just beginning. These markets are beyond comprehension unless you have actually seen them. They all are a mixture of various crafts, souvenirs, foods and items particular to the individual countries. One item that was present at every Christmas Market was Gluhwein, both with alcohol and without. We didn’t realize until after Budapest, every market has their own mug and it comes with the Gluhwein! Some passengers collected mugs from every market. What a great way to remember each city’s Christmas Market. By the way Gluhwein tastes wonderful!

 

Buda Castle, as Seen From Our Side of the Danube

Buda Castle, as Seen From Our Side of the Danube

 

After lunch we had a choice between three “Optional Shore Excursions: The Godollo Palace and Gardens, The Dohany Synagogue or The Budapest Spa Experience. Optional tours cost additional funds. We chose to walk back to the Christmas Markets and explore them more in depth and review the remaining optional tours on the cruise. After all our main objective was to see and visit every Christmas Market, in every city we visited. We chose to revisit the Christmas Markets and explored until dinner on the ship. I barely made it through dinner and couldn’t eat my dessert, I was so full.

 

The next day we ate breakfast and joined the “Shore Excursion: Budapest” from 8:30 to 12:30 PM. Highlights were the National Opera House and the historic Heroes Square via a bus and then were able to walk along Fisherman’s Hill to Fisherman’s Bastion and Matthias Church. I learned of the sacrifices the Hungarian people made over the years and how many hundreds of thousands people perished during all the wars collectively.

 

Paprika is One of the Largest Exports of Budapest

Paprika is One of the Largest Exports of Budapest

 

We  loved the bus ride and guide for the excursion through both the Buda and Pest sides of the Danube. Pest is a flat city filled with historic architecture. I love buildings that have survived wars and conquests from outside armies and still are standing. Some had exquisite and detailed trim, which I favor. Overall Budapest was one of our favorite cities and we have pledged to return. Then we hit the retail shops on Fisherman’s Hill and glimpsed the Danube from Fisherman’s Bastion.

 

Handmade Linens Adorn the Shops on Fisherman's Hill in Buda

Handmade Linens Adorn the Shops on Fisherman’s Hill in Buda

 

We learned that all goods labeled as handmade in Hungary, have to be authentically crafted and sewn in Hungary. If a retail shop offers goods from China or another country that basically is a knock off, they stand the chance of losing their business. Obviously it is not worth the risk. The shop that Kim purchased a table linen runner was in fact actually handcrafted in Hungary. Kim validated this by looking at the stitching on the reverse side. I would have never known! She loved the linens and vowed to wait to purchase additional items. Lesson learned. We quickly discovered, if you really like something buy it then, don’t wait or you take the chance of not seeing the item ever again.

 

Matthias Church with Magnificent Architecture, Especially the Roof Tiles

Matthias Church with Magnificent Architecture, Especially the Roof Tiles

 

At the top of Fisherman’s Hill is a gorgeous Roman Catholic church, originally built in 1015. The current building was constructed in Gothic style in the second half of the 14th century and was extensively restored in the late 19th century. It was the second largest church of medieval Buda and the seventh largest church of the Medieval Hungarian Kingdom. The first church on the site was founded by Saint Stephen, King of Hungary in 1015. This building was destroyed in 1241 by the Mongols; the current building was constructed in the latter half of the 13th century. Originally named after the Virgin Mary, taking names such as “The Church of Mary” and “The Church of Our Lady,” Matthias Church was named after King Matthias in the 19th Century.

 

We headed back to the Viking Longship Modi and sailed after dinner to our next destination, Bratislava.

 

 

 

 

***Portions of our cruise were sponsored by Viking River Cruises. All opinions, as always, are those of my own.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hard Road to Travel

I’ve got a hard road to travel and a rough, rough way to go
Said, it’s a hard road to travel and a rough, rough way to go
But I can’t turn back, my heart is fixed
My mind’s made up, I’ll never stop, my faith will see, see me through

 

I set out in February of 2013, after a Christmas present from my then wife Kim, of enough cash to start a Travel Blog. I have loved to travel for over forty years and began as a buyer for Six Flags amusement parks in the early 70’s. I would spend two months a year in SE Asia and dealt with family manufactures, in many countries. Our days were usually long (over 12 hours) and we really only took one day off our first trip. We hit fourteen cities in nine countries and I was hooked. In addition, my Father was a journalist (a real one not the pre-fab attention getting farces of today). I am sure he is rolling over in his grave at the ridiculous charade called journalism today. I learned to write through his guidance.

 

I was surfing the Internet in regard to somewhere I might be able to afford to retire, as there have been a couple of financial fiascoes in my life and I wound up with no Golden parachute or nest egg after 50 years of laboring away. One day I came across a video from Barbara Weibel of “Hole in The Donut Cultural Travels“, in regard to Ecuador and I instantly thought “I could do that”! I became mesmerized and started making contact with travel bloggers and two stood out as Texas friendly and were amiable to this old man. They actually responded to me, when I posed a question and both became my mentors in design, name and advice about my Travel Blog to be. I cannot thank these two enough for giving me the courage and aid needed to launch the Nomadic Texan. Thank you kindly Lauren DiMarco and Leah Walker Puckett from the bottom of my heart! Of course it didn’t hurt they both were from Texas.

 

Lauren DiMarco of "Where in The World is Lola"?

Lauren DiMarco of “Where in The World is Lola“?

 

 

Leah Walker Puckett of "Leah Travels"!

Leah Walker Puckett of “Leah Travels“!

 

 

After setting up my Blog I cam across a very intelligent young man, with a big heart and a great mind! In addition, he always tells it like it is, regardless of your position or if it might slight your opinion or feelings. My type of man. He graduated from The University of Texas, served in our country’s Air Force and has started a charity for inner city kids that he asked me to help with. Does this young man really know me (I know you are asking that)? I of course said yes immediately and will help Erick Prince Heaggans, The Minority Nomad walk through fire if I have to. He has become a true friend and confidante, ever since I was an hour late to eat Thai food with him in Austin and conduct my first interview. I was highly embarrassed and he just laughed it off. One of my closest friends in social media for sure! Hook ’em Horns Prince!

 

 

Erick Prince Heaggans, The Minority Nomad

Erick Prince Heaggans, The Minority Nomad

 

Let me tell you, I’m all alone, this lonesome road, I roam
I’ve got no love to call my very own
Oh, the river gets deeper, the hills get steeper
And the pain gets deeper every day, yeah

 

After two weeks in Cuenca Ecuador and a three day weekend in Tijuana building a house for an indigent Mexican family in Tijuana last year, I headed off to my first Travel Blogger Conference in Toronto and was completely blown away from the networking and Speed Dating processes. Because of my Panama Hat and apparently my overall brand, created in just under two months. A multitude of bloggers introduced themselves and strolled across the room at parties and functions just because they recognized my hat. Of course at my age I was only able to identify a few and tried valiantly to observe their name tags, without alerting the bloggers to the fact I had no idea what their name was. I recognized faces, as I have always been able to do, but names escaped me in many cases. At the conference I also made contact with a man who was destined to help me enormously and fast became a confidante and mentor, Stephen Oddo of Walks of Italy. I can’t thank Stephen enough for his help, his mentoring and his friendship. He is a class act!

 

Stephen Oddo giving a speech at #TBEX Toronto.

Stephen Oddo giving a speech at #TBEX Toronto.

 

As I left the first night’s event I had to use the facilities and was accosted by Ted Nelson of Traveling Ted from Chicago. He was one of those people whose face I immediately recognized, but I struggled to recall his name. I had no alcohol either! We hit it off immediately as we both have a sick sense of humor and love the outdoors. I more so in my younger days! At one of my Speed Dates in Toronto, SATW had asked to meet with me. They told me I had to have 10, 000 followers on Twitter to qualify. I had around 2, 000 at that time and I asked why the appointment. They told me with 2,000 I could qualify as a photographer. I just laughed and thanked them. I did make it a personal goal to attain this number as soon as humanly possible, but I wanted to do it legitimately and not “purchase” followers, which some people do.

 

Traveling Ted (Ted Nelson from Chicago)

Traveling Ted (Ted Nelson from Chicago) Friend and Mentor

 

I’ve got a hard road to travel and a rough, rough way to go
Said, it’s a hard road to travel and a rough, rough way to go
But I can’t turn back, my heart is fixed
My mind’s made up, I’ll never stop, my faith will see, see me through

 

The months rolled by and I was asked to visit Palestine Texas for a weekend and produce a post that covered the city’s attributes. I wound up writing eight posts in total and fell in love with this charming small community. I still broadcast on social media for the town and this has led me into a couple more visits next spring of Tyler and Nacogdoches, both historic and beautiful Texas Towns. I can’t wait to visit each and cover their sites, via my Nomadic Texan blog.

 

Breezy Lake-Wolfe of Palestine My Hostess

Breezy Lake-Wolfe of Palestine, My Hostess

 

One more thing, I dream of a home, far beyond the sea
Where there is love and peace and joy for me
Oh, in my eyes, I see troubles and danger for me
But destiny where it leads me, I must go, hey

 

One day about a month after I finished my obligations with Palestine, a post went up in a Facebook travel group, announcing a FAM/Press trip to Thailand and Malaysia. I was drooling and couldn’t submit my application fast enough. It was to be a 12 day adventure aimed at 5-star hotels, restaurants and spa activities. Anyone that reeally knows me understands this was my cup of tea and I hit the send button within seconds after finishing my application. It was announced that there was going to be a quick turnaround and they were going to choose the travel bloggers quickly. I couldn’t sleep.

 

The stars must have been aligned and God was in my corner. Bingo I was very fortunate and became one of three travel bloggers chosen along with three freelance writers. I had died and gone to heaven! I have loved SE Asia every since my youth and the first time I set foot on this continent’s soil way back in 1973, as a buyer with Six Flags amusement parks. In addition this trip established friendships that I cherish to this day, not to mention the social media benefits I received from starting my Instagram and Pinterest accounts, which have become fantastic platforms for my blog. Had no idea what I was missing.

 

James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay Thailand

James Bond Island in Phang Nga Bay Thailand

 

I’ve got a hard road to travel and a rough, rough way to go
Said, it’s a hard road to travel and a rough, rough way to go
But I can’t turn back, my heart is fixed
My mind’s made up, I’ll never stop, my faith will see, see me through

 

Upon my return I went to work and produced somewhere between 25 to 30 posts even though a significant less amount was all that was required. I genuinely cared for the sponsors representatives and made what I what I hope to be lifelong friends. These four individuals are some of the funniest people I have ever traveled with and were a joy to be around on a daily basis. Can’t wait to travel with them again! Thank you kindly #Tourism Authority of Thailand, #Thai Airways and #Tourism Malaysia USA. You are all wonderful human beings!

 

Help me somebody, somebody please

 

I returned generated my posts and my life unraveled. After 36 years of marriage my wife and I decided that we could no longer live in a toxic situation and it would be better for the both of us to divorce. I was devastated and still am. I can find no way to unravel the mental anguish I go through on a daily basis. It is like a fog that surrounds my body and never disappears. Thank God that I have social media and my blog, or I am fairly certain I would not be here. Of special note is a Facebook and Travel friend Talon Windwalker of 1 Dad 1 Kid who through the divorce and through my growth as a travel blogger, has always been there and helped this old man immensely. I finally had the opportunity to meet him in person recently in Austin prior to moving to Dallas. I was thrilled to say the least!

 

Talon Windwalker of 1 Dada 1 Kid

Talon Windwalker of 1 Dad 1 Kid

 

Through it all I have struggled and worked to attain that magic number! I can remember a little less than a year ago how elated I felt when I hit 5,000 followers on Twitter. I knew with a little help and perseverance, eventually I would hit that magic number and qualify for the SATW! It has not been easy and I have worked until the middle of the early morning more times than I can count, but my efforts finally paid off and on November 24, 2014, @VacaRentalz of Vacation Bargains became my 10,000 follower on Twitter! Thank you kindly, to all the young women and young men who follow this old man on Twitter!

 

CLIFF, JIMMY

*** Lyrics By Jimmy Cliff from 

 

Jimmy Cliff – Hard Road To Travel Lyrics | MetroLyrics

Texas Olive Fest

About two weeks ago I entered an online contest from Edible Austin. The winner would receive two tickets to the second annual Texas Olive Fest. It was being held at the Texas Hill Country Olive Company located about half way between Bee Caves (SW Austin) and Dripping Springs off of Fitzhugh Road. As we drove up it looked like a large vineyard with Tuscan architecture. I had no idea the Hill Country Olive Company was this large. The parking lot must have held over 300 cars and I was blown away that so many people had come to the Festival. It was an overcast day and I thought people wouldn’t have traveled. Boy was I wrong!

 

Bluebonnets at the Gate

Bluebonnets at the Gate 

 

As we walked in the gate I noticed a field of Bluebonnets to our right and it was majestic to say the least. There is nothing finer in my humble opinion than a field of these beautiful flowers blooming in all their splendor. This is one of the finer aspects of living in Texas. From Mid March to late April they can be seen across the state thanks to Lady Bird Johnson. We obtained our wristbands from the media desk and proceeded to enter the Texas Olive Fest.

 

Cooking Classes Setting

Cooking Classes Setting 

 

It so happened that the first cooking class was starting in about two minutes so Kim and I grabbed a seat and waited for the class. I was lucky enough to capture the first three or so minutes of the class  and it should give you a flavor for the presentation (pun intended)! Faraday’s Kitchen Store was hosting the cooking classes and Tony Curtis-Wellings, a direct descendant of the scientist Michael Faraday hosted the classes.

 

 

This is the complete recipe and cooking instructions for the Broiled Vine Ripe Tomatoes with Hill Country Goat Cheese and Texas Toast. Our sample was so darn good, I wanted to get back in line for seconds, but I am positive that would have embarrassed Kim to no end. So I settled for the lingering taste left from my sample.

 

Broiled Vine Ripe Tomatoes With Hill Country Goat Cheese and Texas toast

Serves four to six guests

Ingredients:

2 cups ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbls balsamic vinegar
1 Tbls worcestershire sauce
2 tsp dijon mustard
1 Tbls shallots, minced
2 tsp garlic, minced
2 Tbls fresh basil leaves, chiffonade
kosher salt & salad grind black pepper
4 ounces Hill Country goat cheese, crumbled
1 loaf crusty peasant bread
2 clove garlic
salad oil (do not use olive oil)
1. Preheat oven broiler.
2. Mix the first eight ingredients together and adjust seasoning accordingly.
3. Spoon tomato mixture into ramekins and top evenly with goat cheese.
4. Place under broiler and heat until the tomato mixture becomes a little warm and the cheese starts to bubble and brown lightly.
5. Smash garlic cloves with the back of a spoon on a small saucer and top with a little salad oil.
6. Slice bread thickly and brush with garlic oil.
7. Grill or broil on one side until toasted and serve alongside tomato confit.

Cotton Gin Restaurant & Lodging, Fredericksburg, Texas
Executive Chef Ross Burtwell

 

Kim and I have gotten into local spice shops and oil and vinegar stores and usually shop about once every two weeks and add to our collection. Being at this Fest was like a home run in my eyes as the various oils and vinegar’s left me questioning which one to sample and purchase. The photo below is only one side and half of the options. What to do with so many options?

 

Texas Hill Country Olive Company

Texas Hill Country Olive Company

 

They conducted three educational seminars during the Texas Olive Fest. Jeff Transeau, the principal investor and manager of Charta Olive Farms, is a graduate of Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas and holds a degree in Biology.

Seminar 1 – Texas Olive Industry & More, Seminar 2 – Olive Oil 101, Seminar 3 – Processing Your Own Olives

 

Inside the Texas Hill Country Olive Company was additional booths like below, a restaurant with all kinds of great looking fare, very clean and up to date restrooms and the tasting counter with various olive oils and vinegar’s for sampling and for sale. I would recommend a visit any time of the year; not just at the Olive Fest event.

 

Texas Brew Salsa

Texas Brew Salsa

 

Austin Honey Company

Austin Honey Company

 

After the cooking class we decided to try our hand at walking the booths. We were given five tickets for wine samples and I don’t drink anymore. Hmmm! What a dilemma. I could still eat though. We looked down the booths and decided to do an organized linear approach and walk by every booth.

 

Texas Olive Fest Booths

Texas Olive Fest Booths

 

Right out of the box we hit a great looking food trailer that had Crab Cakes for sell. I was a little surprised to say the least. I have placed a few of the food booths below and am very dispappointed I did not take a photo of my favorite booth “Smoke’n Hops“. They are a BBQ and Brewpub that is located in Dripping Springs. They were handing out BBQ Pork sliders and oh my goodness were they ever good. I behaved and only ate one.

 

Primat Food Trailer with Crab Cakes

Primat Food Trailer with Crab Cakes

 

I had to pass on the crab cakes as most have bell peppers in them and I am allergic to bell peppers. Sigh!!!

 

Aurelia's Chorizo Paella

Aurelia’s Chorizo Paella

 

Aurelia’s Chorizo booth was by far the busiest food booth and a majority of the people eating at the tables in the center of the booths had this Paella. I wanted to taste it so bad, but the line was extensive and so long that I declined. It evidently was delicious as I asked several people eating it and they all answered affirmatively. They barely could nod their heads and wouldn’t stop eating long enough to answer. Must have been fantastic.

 

Crepe Crazy Menu

Crepe Crazy Menu

 

I passed on the crepes also, as again there was a significant line. Crepe Crazy can be followed on their facebook page to stay abreast of their events. Their cooking demonstration was enlightening, as I couldn’t believe how thin the crepes were spread as they cooked. It looked like paper and I was surprised the held together. It takes talent to cook crepes!

 

In addition to the food booths there were several booths with specialty vendors. This one caught my eye as they were using high heels and a cut out cowboy boot to hold the wine bottles. Very unique I would say.

 

L' Adventure Dolce

L’ Adventure Dolce 

 

Not only did this booth have a great name “Two Winey Women”, but it had various items that were oriented to wine and I laughed many times at the quotes on a few of their items.

 

Two Winey Women

Two Winey Women

 

So what do you do with old wine barrels you ask? Barrel Designs makes furniture in all sizes and shapes. Kim was attracted to the two booths they had and kept looking at theit wares. She thought it was a very different approach. The good news is I didn’t have to break out my credit card.

 

Barrel Designs

Barrel Designs

 

At the end of the booths was a sound stage with bands playing for about two hours each. I hope I got the name correct. Given the time this photo was taken the band on stage should have been “Gumbo ce Soir”. If I am incorrect then my apologies to go out to the “Jimmie Lee Band”.

 

 

Gumbo ce Soir Band

Gumbo ce Soir Band

 

Of course I saved the best for last. When we entered the gate we were given a bag with several things. A map of the booths, cooking class times and five tickets each for wine samples. Oh my that is a good amount of wine for Kim to taste. I don’t drink anymore. Don’t worry she only tasted about three.

 

 

Pillar Bluff Vineyards

Pillar Bluff Vineyards

 

Good to know that this vineyard is right up the road from us. They are located at 300 County Road 111, Lampasas, TX 76550 and their phone number is (512) 556-4078. Business Hours: Friday and Saturday 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM, Sunday from 12:30 PM to 5:00 PM.

 

 

Stone House Vineyard

Stone House Vineyard

 

Stone House vineyard is located in at 24350 Haynie Flat Rd, Spicewood, TX 78669. Their phone number is (512) 264-3630. Their tasting room and winery is open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday from 12 to 5 and by appointment.

 

Flat Creek Estate Vineyard and Winery

Flat Creek Estate Vineyard and Winery

 

Flat Creek Winery is located at 24912 Singleton Bend E, Marble Falls, TX 78654 and their phone number is (512) 267-6310. Tasting Room Hours: Tuesday – Sunday 11am – 5pm.

 

 

Fall Creek Vineyard

Fall Creek Vineyard

 

Fall Creek is one of our favorite vineyards and is the oldest Hill Country Vineyard, established in 1975. Kim and I have frequented this wonderful vineyard and have bought their wine for decades. You can’t go wrong with a Fall Creek wine. They are located at 1820 CR 222, Tow, TX 78672 on scenic Lake Buchanan. Their phone number is (325) 379-5361. The tasting room is open Mon-Fri 11-4 Sat 11-5 Sun 12-4.

 

Fiesta Winery (behind the guy in red). Kim loved their wine!

Fiesta Winery (behind the guy in red).

 

Please don’t look at the man dressed in red. Focus on the couple behind him to the left and the Fiesta Winery sign. We stopped by this booth and Kim talked with the couple. They are really great people and answered every question thrown at them with ease. They told Kim she had to taste their Texas Well Water wine and she did.

 

She absolutely loved it and of course we bought a couple of bottles. Fiesta Winery is located at 18727 FM 580, Lometa, TX 76853 five miles east of Bend Texas and their phone number is (325) 628-3433. Their tasting room near Bend is open Mon-Thur: 10:00 to 5:00, Fri-Sat: 10:00 to 6:00 and Sunday: 12:00 to 5:00.

 

Messina Hof Vineyard

Messina Hof Vineyard

 

Messina Hof is located at 4545 Old Reliance Rd, Bryan, TX 77808 and their phone number is (979) 778-9463. The Bryan operating hours are Monday – Thursday: 10:00am – 7:00pm, Friday – Saturday: 10:00am – 8:00pm and Sunday: 11:00am – 6:00pm.

 

In addition they now have a new winery located in Fredericksburg and its operating hours are Monday – Wednesday: 11:00am – 6:00pm, Thursday – Friday: 11:00am – 7:00pm, Saturday: 10:00am – 7:00pm and Sunday: 11:00am – 6:00pm.

 

Wedding Oak Winery

Wedding Oak Winery

 

Wedding Oak Winery is located at 316 East Wallace Street, San Saba, 76877. Its phone number is (325) 372-4050. Operating hours are Mon – Thurs 11:00am to 6:00pm, Fri – Sat 10:00am to 7:00pm and Sun 11:00am to 6:00pm.

 

It was time to attend another Cooking class put on by Pastry Chef Lyndi Modica of The Art Institute of Austin and she is known as the “Chocolatier”! I was able to capture a portion of her cooking class and learned a few things about butter browning and how to prepare reductions. It was very interesting.

 

 

Her recipes are as follows:

 

Brown Butter and Basil Cake

Yield: ½ sheet tray
8 oz Butter, browned
½ C Granulated Sugar
¼ C Brown Sugar
½ t. Vanilla
2.5 ea Eggs
1 C Al purpose Flour
2/3 C Almond Flour
1 t Baking Powder
½ t Salt
1 ½ T Sour Cream
½ C Micro Basil, cleaned
1. Preheat oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Prepare half sheet tray
3. Cream brown butter, sugars and vanilla. Add eggs in two additions making sure each are fully incorporated. Scrape sides and add dry ingredients, until just combined. Finish with sour cream and micro basil.
4. Bake in a convection oven with a low fan until light brown. Allow to cool and cut out desired serving size and shape.

 

Olive Oil Ice Cream

Yield: 5- 2 oz Portions
1 1/3 C Whole milk
6 ea Egg Yolks
½ C Sugar
Pinch Salt
1 C Heavy cream
½ C Terra Verde Estate Blend EVOO
1. Prepare an anglaise with the milk, yolks, sugar, and salt.
2. Strain over the heavy cream over an ice bath. Emulsify in olive oil and churn.

 

Balsamic Syrup

Yield: 4 servings
¼ C Granulated Sugar
¼ C Strawberry Balsamic Vinegar
1. Bring to a boil and reduce to syrup consistency

 

Trust me, this was a grand ending to our experience at the Texas Olive Fest. We both loved this dessert and wanted more, but it wasn’t in the cards. I will have to test the recipe and see if I can manage not to butcher her process. I am very grateful for the tickets and look for the “Third Annual Texas Olive Fest” next year, by following their Facebook page .

 

***Thanks to Edible Austin for our tickets. All opinions are solely mine and as always, generated without any influence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Amazing Life-Chapter 8, Jadi Batek

All trip long I had been waiting to visit the Jadi Batek factory in Kuala Lampur Malaysia and buy Kim Batek material. I have know our entire 35 year marriage that she loves Batek and she has many blouses and dresses from Batek. She told me four different colors to look for and to buy 2.5 yards of each color. As we traveled through Thailand and Malaysia I encountered many other souvenirs that were of interest, but this was my main objective and as we went there our last day I was getting nervous I would not attain my goal.

 

Various Batek Material

Various Batek Material

 

As we entered I saw that front of the store’s width did not do it justice. It went on and on and had many areas that displayed the art and a retail side. I could have spent thousands of dollars on their goods and was almost overwhelmed with the myriad of choices available. I wanted one of everything and had to keep slapping my face to wake up and realize I couldn’t buy that much!

 

 

Rolls of Batek Material. I bought 13.7 meters worth!

Rolls of Batek Material. I bought 13.7 meters worth!

 

There it was. The stacks and stacks of material that I could choose from. I was astonished at the choices and how many shades of the colors that I was to find existed. If you look close the red and white roll above, third one in on the top of the bin on the floor, was my choice. Kim loves red and that was the first color I was to look for. Not a surprise. The clerk was very helpful and unrolled each and every choice to see if I like the overall pattern. Great customer service I must say!

 

 

Batek Shirts

Batek Shirts

 

I walked by the men’s shirts already sized and sewn. Man I loved a certain green one, but knew that Kim could probably make one or two for me, as I purchased twice as much material as instructed with two of the colors. Maybe next time. It had the Nomadic Texan written all over it and would have gone great with the green pineapples and palm trees in the hat band on my Panama hat!

 

 

Various Batek Materials

Various Batek Materials

 

Another section had wall hangings from the material and I was very tempted to buy one or two as the fascinating designs and colors drew me in. I wanted them badly, but my credit card was screaming “No More” you old man!!! Besides which wall was available at our house and where would we put it. Wasn’t to be this time.

 

 

My Batek Artwork

My Batek Artwork, Even Autographed!

 

As we entered one of the shop managers gave us a tour and led us through the assembly area where I learned this is all still done by hand and not made by machines. I was totally flabbergasted and couldn’t believe this. It really hit me how much time and effort go into this process. Then I learned we were going to do our own Batek print. We were given a choice of various designs to paint ourselves. You must know I am not talented or patient and I looked at this process as more than a challenge. I really didn’t think I would complete it. You use various sized brushes to apply the paint depending on where the paint is applied and what size the area is.

 

If you apply too much it bleeds over into the next section and thankfully a process can remove most of the mistake. Obviously yours truly did this many times, so I kind of learned how to correct my mistakes. I was given a one on one instructor to “help” me. Thank God she had patience! A Japanese film crew was there and filming interviews with various shoppers. They interviewed me and the held a camera of mine to record my video. As usual the Japanese people were awesome and so nice. This is my first attempt at placing a video in my blog. Please do not laugh too much. It is rough!

 

 

I would rate this experience as one of the top 5 things I did in Kuala Lampur, even though the tour only takes about an hour. The factory is a great place with an assortment of goods that will take a good day to look at, if you really are a “shopper”. I highly recommend you attend but watch out, you might blow out your credit card. It would be easy to do!

 

 

*** My trip to Thailand and Malaysia was sponsored by Thai Airways, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Tourism Malaysia USA. All opinions are solely mine and as always generated without any influence.

My Amazing Life-Chapter 6, What Do You Get When You Mix….Copper, Antimony and Tin???

We pulled into the parking lot of the Royal Selangor Factory in the mid morning and the Malaysian heat and humidity were intense. As we left the tour bus I spied this huge tankard at the entrance to the factory. It made me think immediately of how good a cold beer would taste just now, while the perspiration dribbled down my brow. The only issue is, since my heart attack ten years ago, I can’t really partake of any alcohol without waking up with the world’s biggest hangover the next morning. Oh well a man can dream can’t he?

 

World's Largest Pewter Tankard

World’s Largest Pewter Tankard

 

We entered the factory and thank God the place was air conditioned. We registered and received our passes and listened to an introductory speech in regard to the history of the factory. We learned exactly how a young “Pewtersmith” named Yong Koon left his home in China and settled in Colonial Malayia in 1885. He made the decision to abide in Kuala Lampur, which at the time was a small but expanding mining town. Pewter is an alloy made primarily from tin with small portions of antimony and copper blended in. It is the most precious metal in the world after gold and silver.

 

The Three Ingredients of Pewter

The Three Ingredients of Pewter

 

As we began the tour we came across many glassed in display examples of antique items. We saw original ingots and tools used in the processing of pewter. I am a history buff and enjoy items that represent the past and can only imagine how difficult starting the foundry from scratch was.

 

Old Pewter Ingots

Old Pewter Ingots

 

To see kettles and urns from long ago, along with items that were made more than likely before I was born, is stimulating and rewarding to a history buff. I was in heaven as we sauntered through the cases filled with items from the early days of pewtersmithing.

 

Original Kettle Examples

Original Kettle Examples

 

I then learned how much of the work is still done by hand. I was blown away that these individuals have such a high concentration level and can block out all distractions, to enhance the items with their natural talents. If I were a betting man I would have gone “all in” on a machine making the engraving on the pewter cups, etc.

 

A Great Deal of the Work is Still Done By Hand

A Great Deal of the Work is Still Done By Hand

 

We were led through a walkway that overlooked the foundry and all the various stations that assembled the different components and items. One could see out over the majority of the factory and to my dismay they were all at lunch apparently. I would have loved to see them laboring at their craft.

 

A Workstation at The Royal Selangor Factory

A Workstation at The Royal Selangor Factory

 

We found out at the end of the factory tour that this was an interactive tour and we each would be making our own individual pewter pendant and had to pick from a myriad of designs. Being a type A personality, I immediately chose a heart and decided I would surprise my wife with it upon my return.

 

We had to pour the hot pewter into a mold and let it cool. We then had to clip the extra pieces with snips, that had spilled over from the mold. Then we smoothed and sanded the item with a file and electric buffer. This all from a guy that can’t even hit a nail correctly with a lightweight hammer. It came out good enough to please Kim and that is all that counts!

 

One of the Benifits of the Tour is Making Your Own Pendant

One of the Benefits of the Tour is Making Your Own Pendant

 

From the interactive station we were led into a retail shop that had rows and rows of items for sale. You could spend a dollar or many thousands of dollars. I took photo after photo of the items they had for sale and we roamed the shop for around 45 minutes or so. I was completely in awe of the items on sale and the plethora of pewter items exhibited to whet our appetite for a souvenir.

 

A Champagne Set

A Champagne Set

 

 

Tankards

Tankards 

 

 

And Still Even More Tankards

More Tankards

 

 

Ornate Vases

Ornate Vases

 

 

Teapots Contribute to a Large Portion of The Sales

Teapots Contribute to a Large Portion of The Sales

 

 

Inlaid Plates

Decorative Plates

 

 

Assorted Items

Assorted Items

 

 

A Wonderful Eagle

A Wonderful Eagle

 

 

A Lion or Big Cat of Some Kind

A Lion or Big Cat of Some Kind

 

Royal Selangor acquired Comyns, an English silversmith and many examples were on sale in a different section of the store. All the items in this area were made from silver and I might add were unique and ornate. They were lovely to look at but I certainly could not touch them.

 

They Also Work With Silver

They Also Work With Silver

 

 

More Silver Work

More Silver Work

 

If you visit Kuala Lampur Malaysia I highly recommend you take this factory tour of Royal Selangor. I am positive you will enjoy all the assorted items from the past and current popular pieces handcrafted daily. It only takes a couple of hours and is well worth the tour in my humble opinion.

 

In Case you Forget Where You Were!

In Case you Forget Where You Were!

 

 

 

 

 

*** My trip to Thailand and Malaysia was sponsored by Thai Airways, the Tourism Authority of Thailand and Tourism Malaysia USA. All opinions are solely mine and as always generated without any influence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of The Day #57

If you know me, you understand that I love Colonial architecture, doors, windows and balconies. I am not sure exactly why I am drawn to that period. The magnificent arches, large doors mainly made from wood and over-sized windows are more than attractive to me. They are magnetic and pull me in. When you add the ornate and intricate balconies I get mesmerized and can never take enough photos.

 

 

I have hundreds and hundreds of photos of old wooden doors from my visits over time to Cuenca Ecuador, along with hundreds of balcony photos. It got to the point on my trip last March with Kim, that she was pointing out doors before I could see them. She began questioning whether I had a photo or not of each specific door.

 

 

 

Old Town Phuket Thailand

Old Town Phuket Thailand

 

 

On my recent FAM trip to Phuket Thailand we stopped in old town and had about an hour to scurry down several streets and capture what we could. I loved this photo and even though it is kind of garish it drew me in. Thank you Thailand for giving me another source of joy!

Photo of The Day #54

As we headed out of Phuket Thailand, to take the Long Boat to James Bond Island or Khao Phing Kan in the Phang Nga Bay,  I knew I couldn’t make the entire trip without a potty break. I have a bad bladder and holding is not an option ordinarily, as my wife Kim will tell you. Her on the other hand, she can hold it for days.

 

It pisses me off. Pun intended! Luckily our guide had a stop planned for beverages and the sampling of some of the best Dim Sum I had ever tasted! I was so glad when they offered us a taste. I wanted to eat the whole pot!

 

Very Tasty Dim Sum

Very Tasty Dim Sum

 

I caught the name of the restaurant. It was Phing Nga Restaurant right before the Sarasin Bridge. I captured a few photos of the magnificent orchid presentation on the wall separating the dining rooms, along the path to the restrooms. I was very surprised at how clean and well stocked the restrooms were. Very nice! I was much more taken back though by this array of orchids.

 

Wall of Orchids

Wall of Orchids

 

Obviously I had to choose one as my favorite and it literally jumped out and caught my attention. What do you think did I get it right?

 

An Amazing Purple Orchid

An Amazing Purple Orchid

 

Photo of The Day #53

As I sit here tonight scanning my shares and connections on social media, I came across a musician friend that loves Japan more than I do if that is possible. It s been many years since Kim and I have been to Japan and I am ready to go back. If I could afford it, I would eventually retire in Japan. I love its people. its food and its culture. It is one of the countries in the world that still understands how to act with class. This photo is from my visit with my son to the Big Buddha and I love looking at this photo, as it reminds me how much I really miss Japan. Kyoto I hope you are ready because next time we are coming your way!

 

The Big Buddha

The Big Buddha

Article #8, in the Series, Palestine Texas #101, “Sabor a Pasion Country House & Bistro”

As we drove down the country lane, through the Piney Woods of East Texas, I reflected on the weekend and all that had transpired. We had several experiences that surpassed my expectations and the culinary treats were superb. Little did I know that my taste buds would soon be exploding with delight again. We drove out of Palestine to a local bed and breakfast named Sabor a Pasion. It is located on Anderson County Road #406, about four miles outside of town. It is easily identified by this sign at the property’s edge.

 

Sabor a Pasion

Sabor a Pasion

 

As we entered the property and approached the main portion of the ‘Country House and Bistro” I pondered if we would have another meal, which exceeded my culinary assumptions of this small Texas town. I quickly glanced around the premises and immediately felt a warm and welcoming feeling. If my first glance was any indication, I would feel at home here.

 

Exterior of Event Room

Exterior of Event Room

 

The property is large enough to handle weddings, retreats and other personal or business obligations. It is 25 acres in total, including the vineyard. It is owned and run by Chef Simon Webster. As was the case, Simon had a wedding and catered the event on his grounds the night before we visited. As we drove in there were decorations pinned to the fence posts and I wasn’t entirely sure if they were permanent or not, until we chatted. I learned that he can handle up to 200 people for events.

 

Interior of Event Room

Interior of Event Room

 

Simon is a very easy going fellow and I immediately gravitated to his personality. He told us about himself and that he was born in England and at the age of four his father moved his family to New Zealand, where he became interested in cooking. He has trained with some of the best chefs in the world and at the New Zealand Culinary Institute. More of his background is available on this link for Chef Simon Webster. I asked him how he relaxes, as he is a very busy man. I learned he maintains and pilots an older airplane, which he takes up every chance he gets,  just to get away.

 

Wood Burning Pizza Oven

Wood Burning Pizza Oven with the Vineyard in the Background

 

In our conversation I inquired about this magnificent wood burning pizza oven and he stated it was built so as to replicate the Italian tradition. He stated it gives a little personality to his grounds. He often holds pizza events and continually uses it along with this outside seating arrangement, that made me think of Tuscany Italy right away.

 

Tuscany Table

Tuscany Table

 

Obviously no visit would be complete with out my selfie photo and Chef Simon was gracious enough to accommodate. He inquired if we were hungry for breakfast yet and I stated I was very ready, especially given his background, to sample his cooking and see if my expectations would be met.

 

Chef Simon Webster with the Nomadic Texan

Chef Simon Webster with the Nomadic Texan

 

We went inside and I contemplated what he would serve. Little did I know that the menu would include a crab offering. I am a confessed “crabaholic” and I am sure Chef Simon wasn’t aware of this, but the dish was more than tasty and I really wanted to ask him for more crab! Along with the delectable shellfish, was a potato cake with a very savory flavor and eggs that were cooked just perfectly. The fresh mozzarella cheese was excellent. Bacon was included and I gave it to an unnamed breakfast partner! A good sampling of fruit bordered the entrees and I was in heaven. I literally inhaled the crab and could not manage to finish my meal. I will tell you, I will be back for a lunch or dinner and expand my experience at the Sabor a Pasion.

 

Breakfast to Die For

Breakfast to Die For

 

After breakfast we strolled into his vineyard and he showed us his arbor. It is a central wedding photo site. I asked about the vineyard and he told me he produces 900 bottle each year and is happy with this quantity. He works the vines daily and ensures that his product is as high a caliber, as he can influence.

 

Vineyard Arbor

Vineyard Arbor

 

I was enamored with Chef Simon and he talked about Kim and I staying there on our next visit. It has a delightful and a very relaxed atmosphere and you can bet we will be back. We will spend the entire weekend with him on our next visit. I can’t imagine eating three meals a day, over an entire weekend with him. I might not leave! We talked about his harvest and how the locals and friends turn out to help pick the grapes. I volunteered, in exchange for his great cooking! I think I got the better half of that deal!

 

Chef Simon Webster

Chef Simon Webster

 

If you need to get away and have a relaxing weekend, with a very high quality of food and wine, I recommend you stay at the Sabor a Pasion. Enjoy Chef Simon’s excellent cooking and his warm and gracious attitude. In addition, you will discover he has a wonderful sense of humor. That is, if you can tear your mind away from thoughts of the fantastic food he serves. It is truly worth a long trip, just to experience his country house and bistro. Kim and I will be back!

 

 

 

 

*** My trip to Palestine Texas was sponsored by the City of Palestine Marketing Department. All opinions are solely mine and as always, generated without any influence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article #7, in the Series, Palestine Texas #101, “Red Fire Grille”

The original pretense of Kim and my visit to Palestine Texas for the weekend, was to share in the culinary attributes, of this pearl of the East Texas Piney Woods. Of course my first thought was chicken fried steak or maybe a huge helping of fried catfish. I was, to be totally honest, a little suspicious that there would be anything of a positive nature offered on our visit. So Saturday night was the first experience, in a higher quality and more palatable cuisine at the Red Fire Grille.

Plaque of Redlands Hotel Historical Identification

Plaque of Redlands Hotel Historical Identification

 

We entered the Redlands Hotel and the restaurant is off to the side on the ground floor. Thank goodness I wore a nice dress shirt and slacks, as any type of casual apparel would have been totally out of place. It turns out this really is a nice place and I couldn’t wait to get started. After the long day I was famished. We were joined at dinner by a marvelous local personality, Martelle Moronko. Marty kept me in stitches all night long and I loved her outgoing personality and sense of humor.

 

Red Fire Grille

Red Fire Grille

 

The Red Fire Grille is owned and run by Dawn and Executive Chef Christian Mailloux. Chef Christian has been honored as one of the country’s top culinary talents in the inaugural edition of Best Chefs America, a 386-page coffee table book.  I have included a link illustrating his experience and how he came to be categorized as such a prestigious chef. Dawn was a very gracious hostess and ensured our service was impeccable all night long.

 

Dawn and Chef Christian

Dawn and Chef Christian

 

It appeared that this was the real deal and I couldn’t wait to sample his cooking. I looked over the menu and was delighted to find several favorites that I knew I had to order. We ordered both pan fried Calamari and Flatbread for appetizers and I have admit that both were of a superior quality and taste. The Calamari was very flavorful and had a wonderful breading. The Flatbread was even better than anticipated and I ate more than my share of this appetizer! I particularly loved the thin crisp crust. I highly recommend either when you dine at the Red Fire Grille.

 

Pan Fried Calamari and Flatbread

Pan Fried Calamari and Flatbread

 

 

I love Bleu Cheese Dressing when it is made correctly and has an ample supply of actual cheese in it. If it is served with a wedge of lettuce, there is no finer salad option in my book. I am not a Caesar’s salad man. So obviously you know what I started with. There was a huge supply of genuine Bleu cheese in the dressing and its flavor was supreme.  My apologies to Chef Christian, but I do love my pepper. Kim had the Caesar’s salad.

 

 

Wedge with Bleu Cheese Salad Dressing

Wedge with Bleu Cheese Salad Dressing

 

I ordered the Colorado Rack of Lamb and I must confess it was superb. I thoroughly enjoyed the teaser courses, but they could not compare with this dish. I almost could cut the lamb with my fork. The rack was served with caramelized onion mashed potatoes and spinach. The potatoes had an extravagant flavor, which really made my mouth water. I have had many a dish of lamb, over the course of my life and some have been significantly more succulent than others. This was by far, the best Rack of Lamb I have ever had! Imagine it is being served in Palestine Texas. I would have never guessed the quality this restaurant serves.

 

Colorado Rack of Lamb

Colorado Rack of Lamb

 

Kim chose and I knew when I looked at the menu, this would be her choice, the Mahi Mahi. We constantly debate which fish is more tasty and I assume it depends on one’s palate. She always loves Mahi Mahi and this was no exception. It was cooked to her liking, which is tough to do. I like my fish a little under cooked and flaky. Kim likes her a little more robust and solid. The portion was extremely sufficient and I believe for the first time I can remember, Kim could not finish her entree of Mahi Mahi. Marty also opted for the Mahi Mahi.

 

Caribbean Roasted Mahi Mahi

Caribbean Roasted Mahi Mahi

 

Breezy ordered the Butternut Lasagna and couldn’t finish it either. Portions are more than ample at the Red Fire Grille and one does not walk away hungry. This is what her dish looked like. Doesn’t it make your mouth water?

 

Butternut Squash Lasagna

Butternut Squash Lasagna

 

So anyone have room for dessert? I wavered for at least a second or two and decided on the Creme Brulee. I am sure anyone that knows me, will tell you that would be my option. Marty had the same. I have to say that it was my least favorite course. Maybe I was full, or the other courses jaded my taste buds, but it lacked something. Kim had a taste and really liked the subtle hint of Lavender, in the bite of Creme Brulee she had.

 

Lavender Creme Brulee

Lavender Creme Brulee

 

Kim had the Mini Coconut Creme dessert and had issues with the pineapple ring. She could not cut it. The other products in the concoction were very good and had wonderful blend of flavors. Kim especially loved the Margarita ice cream in her dessert.

 

Mini Coconut Creme, Margarita Ice Cream, Pineapple Crisp

Mini Coconut Creme, Margarita Ice Cream, Pineapple Crisp

 

Breezy had the Chocolate dessert and if memory serves me correctly finished it off. I was going to try it, but the opted instead for the Creme Brulee.

 

Flourless Chocolate Chili Pate with Hibiscus Syrup

Flourless Chocolate Chili Pate with Hibiscus Syrup

 

After dinner Chef Christian came out of the kitchen and we shook hands. It was nice to put a face with the food. It is very easy to see why he has been identified as such a reputable chef and I can understand his accolades and high honor. His food is worthy of a side or day trip and the restaurant had immaculate service. I highly recommend if you are within 100 miles of Palestine, that you venture to the Redlands Hotel and undertake an award winning dinner at the Red Fire Grille. You will not be sorry!

 

Executive Chef Christian Mailloux with the Nomadic Texan

Executive Chef Christian Mailloux with the Nomadic Texan

 

 

 

 

 

*** My trip to Palestine Texas was sponsored by the City of Palestine Marketing Department. All opinions are solely mine and as always, generated without any influence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Article #6, in the Series, Palestine Texas #101, “Granny Muffin Wines”

As we entered The Texas Art Depot, I asked if we were really in a “Winery”, as it appeared to me that we were in an art and antique shop. Our host Breezy Lake-Wolfe directed us upstairs. As we neared the staircase I saw these boxes of wine sitting and waiting to be shipped and I knew there must be wine nearby. I love their logo!

 

Wine Boxed and Ready to Go "Downstairs" in the Texas Art Depot

Wine Boxed and Ready to Go, “Downstairs” in the Texas Art Depot

 

As we turned the corner upstairs into the “Winery”, the atmosphere changed a great deal. People were sitting at tables sampling the wine and I noticed that there were cheese and sausage selections available to all customers. The winery is owned and operated by Mike and April Johnston. They were busy with customers, so Kim and I decided to look at the rooms of art and antiques around the floor.

 

A

A Collection of Clocks

 

I found an eclectic assortment and I personally love old clocks, like these shown in the photo above! We sauntered into the next room and found all the walls adorned with various artwork and most depicted Civil War activity and turn of the last century or Victorian Era scenes.

 

 

S

Walls of Art

 

As we returned to the tasting room, I saw that Granny Muffin had won several medals and were proudly displaying the specifics. Mike and April offer 25 different varietal wines, with outstanding Merlot’s, Cabernet’s, Chiantis, Malbec’s, White Zinfandel’s, Chardonnay’s, Sauvignon’s, Gewurtzraminer, Pinot’s, Piesporter’s and many blends. I trust you will find your favorite at this winery.

 

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Medals, Medals, Medals

 

I learned that Mike and April had just returned from Safari in Africa and absolutely loved their trip. I respectfully declined another tasting, as I do not imbibe on a regular basis and was at my limit. Kim of course loves White Zinfandel’s. She sampled and bought a bottle shown below on the rack.

 

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A Closer Look

 

Finally I had a chance to meet April and I found her a very outgoing and hilarious young lady. She had me in stitches I was laughing so hard. So if you venture to Palestine Texas and find you have an hour or so to spend, I recommend you go to Granny Muffin’s Winery and sample their great wines. If you run into April please be prepared to be treated like you have known each other for years. She is a delight and will keep your spirits up (pun intended)!

 

April Johnston with the Nomadic Texan

April Johnston with the Nomadic Texan

 

 

 

 

 

*** My trip to Palestine Texas was sponsored by the City of Palestine Marketing Department. All opinions are solely mine and as always, generated without any influence.

 

 

 

Article #3, in the Series, Palestine Texas #101 “A Lesson in History”

When Kim and I first got married 35 years ago, we lived in Galveston Texas. Galveston was and may still be the home of the most historic sites in Texas. We participated in the old homes tour each year and became “Docents” for a house each year. We love historic sites and homes built around the turn of the last century.

 

We recently discovered that Palestine had a myriad of historical sites, over 1800 in total and were amazed at the places we saw on Saturday morning. The first being the old library built with aid from the Carnegie Foundation and was built in 1914. It was designated as a Texas Historic Landmark in 1970 and entered into the National Register of Historic Places in 1988, by the Department of the Interior.

 

Carnegie Library

Palestine Carnegie Library

 

 

Next we stopped at the Sacred Heart Catholic Church, a successor to the original wooden St. Joseph Church built in 1874, on land donated by the Great Northern Railway. The St. Joseph church burned down in 1890 and this building of handmade brick was begun later that year. The design was done by Nicholas J. Clayton, a prominent Victorian Era architect of Galveston, who was also responsible for the Bishop’s Palace and the Old Red Building at UTMB, both infamous Galveston structures.

 

Sacred Heart Catholic Church

Sacred Heart Catholic Church

 

 

Next up was the Redlands Hotel which is listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings and was originally headquarters for the International & Great Northern Railroad. It is located in Main Street District and has extended stay apartments available. Located on the bottom floor is the Red Fire Grille, featuring Executive Chef Christian Mailloux. I will devote an entire blog to this restaurant later in the series.

 

Redlands Hotel

Redlands Hotel

 

 

Nearby is the Texas Theater, home of  Palestine Community Theatre,  a live production company. It is an example of Spanish Colonial architecture and was originally a movie theater, but closed after several horrific fires and other issues. It reopened 25 years ago and has become the finest venue for live entertainment in East Texas.

 

Texas Theater

Texas Theater

 

 

The last “building” I am picturing is the Palestine Post Office and Federal Building constructed between 1911 and 1913. At the time it was built it housed the Selective Service, The National Weather Bureau’s Reading Station and other federal offices. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1998. Anderson County has owned the building since 1990.

 

The Palestine Post Office and Federal Building

The Palestine Post Office and Federal Building

 

There are a myriad of other historical buildings, shops and stores, but I can’t possibly cover them all. The downtown is in the middle of a restoration process, that will continue to be bolstered by additional tourism and philanthropy.  I am confident that this pearl of the East Texas Piney Woods will continue to prosper and become a destination for all Texans and visitors looking for a historical treasures.

 

Okay so you thought the post was over. Not on your life. We transitioned to the neighborhoods and started viewing some of the most spectacular old homes I have ever seen. This is one of my passions, as you will see. I couldn’t stop taking photos and kept asking Breezy Lake-Wolfe to stop and let me capture each house I liked. This of course threw us way off schedule and made us late for our lunch date, the subject of my next article. Shown below are a few of my favorites.

 

Love This House

Love This Huge Tree and the Fabulous Porch of This House

 

 

Very Well Done

Love the Size, Double Stacked Porches and All the Windows in This House

 

D

Love the Upstairs Balcony and the Wonderful Painting Contrasts of this House

 

 

A

Love Green Old Houses With Gingerbread Trim

 

 

C

Loved The Circular Driveway, Swings and The Magnificent Front Porch

 

 

K

Kim and I Could Retire in This House

 

 

A Colorful Victorian House

A Colorful Victorian House, With So Much Going On

 

 

L

Love This Street Sign and Iron Fencing

 

H

How Would You Like This Entryway

 

Paranormal alert!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

 

G

This Building is an Old Vacated Structure, Inhabited by Ghosts and It Looks Like One is Escaping In Its Wheelchair

 

 

The restoration of old homes and their downtown area in Palestine, reminds me of my time in Galveston. I know a great deal of you will be surprised, but I actually practiced carpentry at that time and helped rebuild many old homes in Galveston, along with a  few of the Historical buildings on the Strand.

 

I feel these two towns are related in their efforts to bring back the luster of their respective cities. I am excited at how enthusiastic Palestine is about revitalizing these gorgeous old structures downtown and the fantastic homes  on the perimeter. I love it when towns decide to take positive steps and own their future. Congratulations #palestinetx for initiating this rehabilitation of your city.

 

 

 

 

*** My trip to Palestine Texas was sponsored by the City of Palestine Marketing Department. All opinions are solely mine and as always, generated without any influence.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo of The Day #50

The Rock and The Love of My Life

The Rock and The Love of My Life

 

I have thought long and hard about what my #50 “Photo of The Day” should be and what it should stand for. After I decided on the subject, it really didn’t take that long to locate a photo. I am 63 going on 64 years old and have shared 37 years of that life with this beautiful lady. She has stood behind me come whatever and I can’t express my love for this lady enough. That’s the reason I am dedicating #5o to her and telling the world how much she means to yours truly.

 

 

Thank you my dear for putting up with me all these years, helping raise three wonderful sons and for making my life a joy! I truly hope we can have another 37 years, that is if we can remember who and where we are! Thank you Kim, for sharing my life and for loving this old man through thick and thin!

Photo of The Day #47

BBQ Chicken Pizza

BBQ Chicken Pizza

 

 

Okay I have to admit I really didn’t have this idea originally, but the end recipe was all mine. While most of my BBQ Chicken Pizza is made with Monterrey Jack Cheese, I read in a recent magazine, about a well known chef using some Gorgonzola cheese mixed with cheddar. I decided I would do a sprinkling of Monterrey Jack with the majority Gorgonzola cheese on my half. Kim wanted my traditional pie.

 

 

All my pizza’s are made with flat bread. I bake it for about 45 minutes and use a very ample supply of chicken boiled in cumin, chili powder, garlic powder and black pepper. I use a heavy amount of  red onions, along with jalapenos. The bread is basted with a large dose of BBQ sauce and when its finished, it is usually eaten within a day, if not that meal! Try it!

Photo of The Day #24

A Great Hamburger at California Kitchen

A Great Hamburger at California Kitchen

 

I stopped by the other day to visit friends that run the California Kitchen here in Cuenca. Carol and George Evans are great people and opened this thriving restaurant to help the family out. This time I met daughter Susie and inquired how things were and if they had any serious offers. The family recently decided to place the restaurant up for sale and enjoy the fruits of their labor.

 

I was taken back at how busy the place was for an afternoon. It was jam-packed and it appears they are busier than the last time Kim and I were in Cuenca. I wish them luck and continued success. If you have a few extra dollars and want to invest, this restaurant is a pillar of the community and has an awesome trade. Plus it has delicious food!

Eat it Raw!

I stepped out of the taxi and immediately knew I had been duped. I showed him the translation, exactly as written in Susan’s email and he dropped me about 12 blocks away. Great. A few minutes later and questions to locals helped me figure out which way I needed to walk. After about 5 minutes, which got my appetite working, I came upon her condo building and was permitted to enter. Last time Kim and I were in Cuenca we were going to take Susan Schenck’s Raw Foods Cooking class, but we missed it. I was bound and determined to take it this time and had communicated several emails to her about what I would like to see on the menu, after she inquired what I would fancy.

 

Susan and Her Prep Table, at the Front of the Class

Susan and Her Prep Table, at the Front of the Class

 

After all the other 8 people arrived Susan began and started making the “Raw” ice cream she had on the menu, as it would take about 20 minutes to freeze. It was entitled “French Vanilla Ice Cream with Chocolate Swirl”. She blended 6 raw eggs, the Omega-3 kind and several other ingredients together and placed it in the freezer for solidification. It appeared very yummy and knowing the ingredients, my tastebuds were prepped. Besides who doesn’t like ice cream? She then gave a 10 minute talk on the benefits of a “Raw Diet”.

 

California Broccoli Salad

California Broccoli Salad

 

Susan next had several students chop broccoli, onions, etc for the “California Broccoli Salad”. She blended several ingredients from slivered almonds to dehydrated beef and put the items together and tossed them in two large bowls. Yours truly had one bowl and did a decent mixing job, as illustrated above. This was our first item and I can’t tell you how tasty this salad was. It made my taste buds come alive and I ate a large plate and went back for seconds. It was a meal in itself.

 

Raw Ice Cream

Raw Ice Cream

 

By this time the ice cream was ready and everybody had a bowl with the chocolate sauce made from “Raw” Cacao powder. If I had known ahead of time I could have brought some of my left over Cacao paste and used it. The ice cream would not set and was more of a milkshake texture. Susan thought it was the altitude maybe. It was still very good and I cleaned my bowl and went back for seconds (notice a pattern starting?).

 

Tiliapia Ceviche

Tiliapia Ceviche

 

Our final course was a “Tilapia Ceviche”. All the three courses had avocado in them, which was my original request. The fish has to be marinated from 4 to 8 hours for the lime juice to actually “cook” the fish and remove the parasites (not sure if this is true or just a “saying”). I love ceviche and in this part of the world it is very plentiful. Every country and area prepares it a little different and has their own ingredients. This was excellent and truly delicious. So much so that I believe I am going to use the frozen Mahi Mahi I have and try my hand at home today at making my own. By the way, of course I went back for a second plateful!

 

Susan Schenck with the Nomadic Texan

Susan Schenck with the Nomadic Texan

 

Susan gave us a lecture at the beginning of the class in which I learned more factors than I could record about a “Raw” diet. Did you know that when you cook anything over 118 degrees it destroys the valuable enzymes, 84% of the vitamins, 50% of the protein and a large portion of the Biophotons. Did you know that when you cook meat above 300 degrees it creates carcinogens? I couldn’t write fast enough. Susan is currently on about an 80% “Raw” diet after being on a 95% “raw” diet and regaining her health, not to mention losing weight and getting in shape. She is getting ready to hike for three-day on the Volcano trail and I couldn’t even begin to think about this outing. She is also author of two books “The Live Food Factor” and “Beyond Broccoli“, both available on Amazon. I would highly encourage you to take her class if you are interested in eating healthy and find yourself in Cuenca Ecuador. You will not be disappointed and you will learn a great deal about “Eating Raw”!

 

 

Photo of The Day #23

Pizza So Good I Forgot to Take a Photo

Pizza So Good I Forgot to Take a Photo

 

 

If you find yourself in Cuenca Ecuador and are ravished for a pizza, I recommend trying La Fornace on President Borrero off Sucre. It is fantastic. Kim instructed me before I left to make sure I did not eat my pizza with my hands, as it is bad manners in Ecuador. One must use a fork and knife to be in acceptable status.

 

 

No worries. I used both utensils as required and even though it felt strange at least the taste was phenomenal. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I apologize as the aroma was so enticing, I did not take a full pie photo, but rather dove in and ate half of it before I realized I needed a photo. I think you get the idea!

The Chocolatier

Heading out of Cuenca early last Wednesday morning, we passed the Feria Libre Market. This is the biggest market in the city and one can wonder for hours, bartering, looking and touching everything from quinoa, rice, fish, pork, to fruits and vegetables. It is a magical place. I could not believe the amount of activity at this time of the morning. People were unloading trucks and carrying merchandise to their stalls.

 

We headed out to the lower portion of Azuay Province. I displayed the geographical lay of the land in my Banana blog, but one item I didn’t show you is below. It seems that a large portion of the chocolate beans are brought up to this region from the Coastal growing area and the beans are laid out to dry in the sun for two days. They have to be brought in at night to avoid the moisture in the air and placed back on the concrete drying beds again the next day. They are then bagged 100lb bags and transported to their processors.

 

Cacao Drying Beds in the Dry Area of Azuay Province

Cacao Drying Beds in the Dry Area of Azuay Province

 

We did the banana tour and headed 30 minutes away to Santa Rosa with the Cacao Plantation’s owner in our car. We had time to discuss why he had resumed his cacao business seven years ago and Byron Trujillo Erazo told us it was simple mathematics. The chocolate industry was booming and he wanted to get back in it again after a forty-year lay off. We arrived at the Casa Ostrica and it was similar to what I expected. It had a tropical look and was filled with all kinds of plants and flowers that one would expect in a tropical setting. This is an example of the orchids growing on the entry poles that line the driveway. Amazing in my opinion!

 

Orchids Growing on the Entry Poles

Orchids Growing on the Entry Poles

 

The resort was constructed with a great deal of bamboo, which grows in large clumps on the Plantation and is used for a majority of the wood needs. This photo is what you see as you enter and arrive at the lodge. There are little cabanas all over the resort. I am guessing the resort can handle about 75 people at one time. Enough of this talk. Let’s head out to the Cacao Plantation ane see the process in action.

 

The Casa Ostrica Lodge

The Casa Ostrica Lodge

 

As you enter the Cacao section and look ahead all you can see is a plethora of trees filled with varying colors of the Cacao seed pods. The bright red ones are the ripe pods and are ready for harvesting. Each day the workers journey through the Cacao trees and harvest the ripe seed pods for processing.

 

One Red Seed Pod Ready for Harvest

One Red Seed Pod Ready for Harvest

 

Our guide showed us the method used to harvest the pods. He had a huge machete and I had no reservations about letting him do the cutting. Knowing how much a klutz I am, I figured it would very easy for me to lose a finger or two and I let him do the job.

 

Harvesting the Seed Pod

Harvesting the Seed Pod

 

He then started the process of cutting the seed pod off and making the delicious fruit inside available. A lot of people are more than likely not familiar with the fact that the huge seed pod has fruit that surrounds the interior smaller beans.

 

Staring the Process of Harvesting the Fruit

Staring the Process of Harvesting the Fruit

 

He hacked into the seed pod and tore away a section of the outer shell. The seed pod is actually quite hard and he does not hack gingerly. I know I would slip and hurt myself, if it was left to me. I had an idea what the interior looked like, but had no idea of the taste. There is a white fruit that surrounds the beans and this has to be removed to get to the beans. The guide gave us a sample and I was floored. Once in my life have I had such a delicious morsel of fruit. That was in the Philippines when I tasted Mangosteen for the first time. I was addicted immediately. I scooped out about half the beans and ate them one at a time as we walked the Plantation. I cannot describe in mere words how wonderful the beans fruit tasted. It made the whole day worth the drive, etc.

 

Interior Cacao Beans with Fruit

Interior Cacao Beans with Fruit

 

Normally the beans are taken up to the drier climate and sun-dried for two days, but they had a quick way to dry the beans and that was using a wok like skillet over a bed of coals. You stir the beans over the heat until the outer shell becomes brittle.

 

A Shortcut to Drying the Beans

A Shortcut to Drying the Beans

 

When the beans are ready you individually shell each bean. At first it seems a very daunting task and I couldn’t get it right. I kept breaking the beans apart and not harvesting solid beans. I tasted one of the beans after shelling and it was very bitter. I couldn’t believe that this would turn out to be a tasty treat. One of the ladies helped me and showed me how to snap the bean which left you with the entire bean in one piece. A much better step and saved the beans.

 

Diana Shelling the Beans.

Diana Shelling the Beans.

 

The next step was to place the beans in a contraption that had been used for a long time and physically break the beans down into chocolate. I though, okay once through the grinder and it would be a piece of cake. Oh contraire. I had to keep scooping the chocolate residue back into the grinder and re-grind the concoction about six times. By the ends of the process I was hot, sweating and thankful I had my Tilley Hat to block out the sun from my face. The young lady broke down and the crew got her a hat, as she was starting to sunburn. By the time we got through I was worn out and my arms ached.

 

Nomadic Texan Grinding the Beans

Nomadic Texan Grinding the Beans

 

After I finished the grinding it was time for a chocolate drink. This photo shows that they do not waste the seed pods and use them to serve the drinks in. One also receives a dark chocolate bar from their cacao plantation and the illustration shows a cross-cut of the seed pod.

 

Interior of the Seed Pod, Candy Bar and a Chocolate Drink

Interior of the Seed Pod, Candy Bar and a Chocolate Drink

 

Okay I had worked up an appetite and it was time to eat a traditional meal from Casa Ostrica. Obviously Mr. Erazo wanted us to taste ostrich and that was what we were served along with rice, salad and fried plantains. I have taken a liking to the plantains and didn’t think I would. For the record the ostrich tasted just like beef to me. The others thought it had a gamey taste. Before the meal they served us a hot chocolate drink made from the chocolate shavings. It was so good I had to have a second cup. It also acted to drive my temperature down as the Green Tea in Asia does. Caught me off guard.

 

Traditional Meal of Ostrich, Rice, Salad

Traditional Meal of Ostrich, Rice, Salad and Fried Plantains

 

I talked with my wife Kim prior to our trip and she asked me to bring back some of the cacao beans if at all possible. I obtained a bag and literally scooped the remaining beans from the wok like pan over the BBQ and let them cool down. They gave me the large ball of chocolate from all my efforts and I will try to bring it home. Wish me luck as I am not sure they will allow this to enter the US. We will see. Please cross your fingers for me. I hope I can and that way my family can sample the dark chocolate. I wish that there was some way to bring home a seed pod and let Kim try the taste of that fruit. It is one of the highlights of my trip to Ecuador.

 

My Chocolate Ball and Cacao Beans for Kim

My Chocolate Ball and Cacao Beans for Kim

 

I am thankful that Mio Tours allowed me to accompany them on this fabulous trip and I learned so much about Bananas and Cacao. This El Oro Province is amazing and you drive and drive through a vast amount of banana plantations, the number one export of Ecuador, but you also are privy to all kinds of fruit trees growing wild alongside the highway. For the purposes of full disclosure both Mio Tours and Tilley Hats are sponsors. Regardless I have to say that this a fabulous tour and tasting the Cacao fruit is worth the entire trip. I also have to say a tour of Casa Ostrica is a fabulous way to spend a day in Ecuador. If you get the opportunity to take this tour, jump on it! Saludos mi amigos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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