Viking Ocean Cruise Into the Midnight Sun Post #3, Geiranger

I have traveled many places over my 56 years of traveling this world. I have to admit that none have been as strikingly gorgeous as Geiranger was with Viking Cruises. Obviously never having been to Norway and beginning with a Bob Dylan concert, I had no idea what to expect as we sailed into this small port in Norway. We cruised from Bergen north and along the coast we were close enough to see many structures and small communities such as this below. I have an 80 to 200 zoom lens for my Sony camera, so it was nice to pull these small towns into view.


Coastal Town Between Bergen and Geiranger


Along the coast we passed so many waterfalls it was staggering. I’m guessing it was about 6:00 AM to 6:30 AM and we were having breakfast in our room with room service I believe, or taking advantage of the in room coffee maker. I couldn’t believe how stunning the coastline was. I’ve never seen this amount of waterfalls located close to each other including our many visits to Hawaii.


Waterfall on the Way to Geiranger


Just as we began to enter Geiranger Bay we passed this small village on the corner. I love European architecture related to farming and small townships. It brings back memories of my youth and helping on my Grandfather’s farm in Kansas. That was most assuredly very hard work, but there is a rewarding feeling when you complete this type of physical labor. I had no way of knowing as we turned into the bay what lay ahead or how beautiful the bay and Geiranger Fjords were going to be.


Small Town Going Into Geiranger Fjords


This would be our first of several Tender experiences while aboard the Viking Sun. I have to be honest and say how unsettling my thoughts of riding these water taxis into shore were. The mind plays games with one and I was concerned I might be claustrophobic or become seasick by the rocking of these small boats. My fears were soon belayed as the process was totally organized and without issue.


Tender to Shore in Geiranger


There it was. Geiranger Bay appeared to be a very lovely port and one that photographers would drool over. How little did I realize how oversimplified my thoughts were. Each evening prior to the various ports, the cruise director and ship operations managers would convey their knowledge and views of each port we would be touring the next day. This was invaluable to Kim and I as we combined this with the daily newsletters to resolve our plans for each days’ itinerary.


View of Geiranger from the Viking Sun


The primary focus of their talk for Geiranger was the eleven switchbacks that everyone riding the buses to the top would endure. I was actually fearful that the constant turning might make me sick to my stomach. I am very hesitant to ride in the back seat of an automobile, especially on very warm days. I tend to become deathly sick at my stomach. We disembarked and went ashore without any unpleasant consequences.


Moose and Whale Sausage for Sale in a Geiranger Gift Shop


We had to wait a few minutes for our tour bus and for the guides to set up. We decided we should visit the gift shop and see what was available. With thoughts of stuffed animals for our two year old grandson we entered the store. To our surprise it was filled with different Norwegian foods and the traditional wool winter clothing from Dale of Norway. Their designs are fairly well known throughout the world. I was dumbfounded to discover the shop sold both Moose and Whale sausage. I am comfortable experimenting and tasting new foods, but without a method of maintaining refrigeration we couldn’t think about buying any moose sausage. I don’t think I could eat the whale sausage!


Faux Fur Hats for Sale in a Geiranger Gift Shop


Given the pricing, which in all cases was extreme, I am pretty sure the fur accessories were all faux goods. As a rule in Norway goods of all kinds are very expensive as Norway has the fourth highest cost of living country in the world behind the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and Switzerland in that order. We were astonished by the pricing structure in this country.


Seven Sisters Waterfalls


After maneuvering several switchbacks in the bus we stopped a pullout and were able to take photos of several waterfalls. One of the more popular set of falls is the “Seven Sisters” waterfalls. They are among the most photographed waterfalls in Geiranger Fjords. They have a fall of over 800 feet a year. Legend has it that that the “Seven Sisters” were all unmarried, and the waterfall on the other side of the fjord has been called “The Suitor” after several unsuccessful attempts to court the sisters. The Seven Sisters falls are about 6.5 kilometers or four miles west of Geiranger and are part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.


Waterfall Around the Fjord from the Seven Sisters Waterfalls Pullout


This support under a free flowing waterfall near the Seven Sisters Waterfalls, was very interesting with its platform that flowed over the glass structure. It was constructed to insure soil erosion was kept to a minimum. I thought it was unique and warranted a photograph and inclusion in the blog post.


Queens Chair


Queen Sonja of Norway is the wife of King Harald V since January 1991. The Queen was awarded a chair to recognize her work in Fjord tourism with both personal and private visits to this area. This is highlighted in the verbiage on the chair’s plaque above. She and I have something in common. We have both sat in the chair only once!


Geiranger Bay from the Queens Chair Overlook


Queen Sonja is a passionate mountain hiker and HM Queen Sonja’s Panoramic hiking trail was named in her honor. This is one of her favorite hikes in the Hardangerfjord region. The trail is in the soaring mountains between Kinsarvik and Lofthus. It offers magnificent fjord views. The hike is both long and difficult with an extreme decline in to Lofthus. You will walk through forests, mountains and plush orchards. Follow the dirt road from Røte up to Heng at 750 meters above sea level. From here the trail is marked with blue Ds, The Norwegian word for Queen is Dronning.


View from the Higher Up Geiranger Fjords with the Queens Chair on the Right


From the Queen’s chair we drove a little farther up the mountain. We stepped off the bus and walked to an overlook. What I saw literally took my breath away. It is, without a doubt one of the most magnificent views I have ever seen. Looking out over the Geiranger Fjord bay was mesmerizing and I definitely knew this was a special place. I fought to keep my emotions under control. I know that everyone who has experienced this view will agree. It rewards you with a memory of a lifetime. I think I was actually drooling all over my beard at one point. I will never forget the view!


Ice Pools on Top of Geiranger Fjords


Ice Pools at the Top of Geiranger Fjords


We drove another few minutes to the top of Geiranger Fjord where a cafe and gift shop exists. We finally were above the tree line and the snow was evident across the mountains of slate. Behind the cafe was a frozen lake with beautiful waves of ice and snow combined. Hopefully it is translated through my photos. It was gorgeous, if not blinding!


Ice Pools on Top of Geiranger Fjords


As we were sailing to Lofoten, the cruise director made an announcement. She told us to look to the Starboard side and grab our cameras. We were passing this globe, which represents the Artic Circle. I was thrilled to have captured the moment with my zoom lens. The small structure alongside the globe is a lighthouse I assume. We passed several of these along the coast of Norway. I would not want to navigate these treacherous waters without the aid of lighthouses after dark.


Passing the Artic Circle After Geiranger Fjords


There is a ceremony on cruise ships that initiates one into the Blue Nose Society as is illustrated below. You have to get into the freezing water and emerge having a blue slushy concoction placed on your nose. After a bad experience exiting a Sauna in the Men’s Spa and getting into the mandated freezing water I declined. This act almost caused my second heart attack and I didn’t want to take any chances.


Blue Nose Ceremony for Crossing the Artic Circle


I may have not communicated this well enough, but this particular port was definitely one of my favorites on our Into the Midnight Sun cruise. Onward to Lofoten home to breathtaking jagged peaks and sheltered bays!





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

Viking Cruises, Strasbourg

We arrived in the double port of Strasbourg France and Kehl Germany. Having never been in France we decided to take the Viking River Cruises walking tour through Strasbourg. We loaded on buses and the first memory I have from this gorgeous city was driving by the European Parliament. My sincere apologies but I had to take my photo through our bus window. I think it still gives you an idea how impressive it is. The European Union has to be happy with its appearance.


European Parliament Through the Bus Window


We disembarked from the buses and walked past the Barrage Vauban, a bridge over the River Ill. It was beautiful and serene. The historical bridge was erected in the 17th century by Jacques Tarade and displays various ancient copies of statues and gargoyles from the Strasbourg Cathedral. On the roof there is a viewing terrace and the bridge was designated as a Monument “Historique” in 1971. The bridge has 13 arches and is 120 meters in length and three of the arches are raised to allow navigation. The Strasbourg Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art is located adjacent to the Northern end. One can see the Petite France section of Strasbourg from the roof terrace. The name Petite-France (“Little France”) was not given for nationalistic or architectural grounds. It comes from the “hospice of the syphilitic” (Hospice des Vérolés, in French), which was built in the late fifteenth century on this island, to cure persons with syphilis, then called Franzosenkrankheit (“French disease”) in German.


Barrage Vauban Bridge on the River Ill in Strasbourg


As we walked towards the Petite France section of Strasbourg and over the River Ill, I captured these passenger boats/taxis. They are fairly common and I can only gather they have to be fun to ride. I noticed that one had its top removed. I would guess when the weather is good they do not cover the taxis and you get awesome views of the city and areas you traverse. We will take one of these taxis next time, and there definitely will be a next time, as Strasbourg is now one of our favorite cities in Europe, much less the world.


Passenger Boats/Water Taxis in Strasbourg on the River Ill


I was immediately drawn to the half timber houses as our Viking guide led us to the Petite France area of Strasbourg. The half timber architecture strewn throughout the area is magnificent. I couldn’t stop taking photos of the structures. Petite France is a historic quarter in Strasbourg and is located at the eastern end of Grand Ile, the historical center of the city. The river Ill splits up into a number of channels, which run through an area that once was the home of tanners, millers and fishermen in the middle ages. It is now one of Strasbourg’s main tourist attractions, along with being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1988. The river splits into four channels just downstream from the Barrage Vauban and flows through the half-timbered buildings together with the narrow lanes and footbridges that connect them. The passageways date from the 16th and 17th centuries and are gorgeous to stroll.


Viking Walking Tour of the Petite France Area of Strasbourg


The sloping roofs of many of the buildings include open lofts where hides were once dried. Three of the four channels flowing through the quarter run over dams that once drove mills and other industries. The northernmost channel is navigable by passenger boats and water taxis. This channel passes through a lock and the “Pont du Faisan” swing bridge is in  the center of the quarter. On the north bank of the river Ill, at the center of the quarter is the Maison des Tanneurs. The former tannery was built in 1572 and is known for its timbered balconies and slanted roofs, where dyed hides were once sprawled to dry in the sun. It was transformed into a restaurant in 1949, the Tanners House is now home to La Maison de la Choucroute, which serves traditional Alsatian cuisine in original surroundings, with the authentic 16th-century beams complemented by ancient furnishings and window boxes brimming with geraniums,  These flowers can be found growing all over Petite France on the Half-Timber houses.



Maison des Tanneurs, home of the Tanner’s Guild


There were several classic, historic restaurants in the Petite France area of Strasbourg and the section is quite well known for its Alsatian food. Alsatian cuisine incorporates Germanic culinary habits and is distinctive by the use of pork in various forms. Alsace is also well known for its “foie gras” made in the region since the 17th century. In addition the region is known for its wine and beer. Alsatian food is synonymous with festivity, the dishes are significant and served in generous portions and it has one of the richest regional kitchens. One of Viking’s “optional tours” was a guided tour in which passengers sampled Alsatian flavors and met food merchants, a French sommelier and a local chef. A second optional tour was tasting Alsatian wines at a local winery. As I do not indulge, we passed on these two options. Other passengers were thrilled with their optional tours.


Lohkas Restaurant in Petite France Section of Strasbourg


After walking through several sections of Petite France we came upon a plaza that contained the “Carrousel Palace” and a monument dedicated to Johannes Gutenberg the German printer who introduced printing to Europe with the printing press. His introduction of mechanical movable type printing to Europe started the Printing Revolution and is regarded as a milestone of the second millennium. His major work, The Gutenberg Bible (also known as the 42-line Bible), has been renowned throughout history for its immense creative and academic characteristics.



Viking Walking Tour to the Side of the Gutenberg Monument and Carrousel Palace in Strasbourg


We left the plaza and took a side street that led directly into the Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg. The Cathedral is largely Gothic construction and the architect Erwin von Steinbach is credited with its design. It is among the world’s tallest churches and was once (1647-1874, 227 years) the tallest in the world. The north tower, completed in 1439 is 142 meters or 466 feet tall. It remains the highest structure built in the Middle Ages. The projected south tower was never consummated and as a result, with its characteristic disproportionate form, the cathedral is now the number one landmark of Alsace. One can see 30 kilometers from the observation level of the north tower and the view extends from the Rhine river all the way to the Black Forest.



Strasbourg Street Leading Into the Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg


As we walked towards the Cathedral we passed this souvenir shop with plenty of stuffed storks for sale. In this part of Europe the Storks has a prominence not reflected anywhere else to my knowledge. You see nests all over on telephone posts, roof tops and on top of steeples. They are treated very reverently by the locals. After almost disappearing in Europe early in the twentieth century, the country made the stork population growth a high priority with postcards, art, tableware, textiles and  two Stork based theme parks in Alsace all dedicated to the White Stork. Breeding in captivity has vastly increased population and storks are featured of the decor in many Alsatian villages and towns with horizontal wagon wheel on the top of poles and chimneys being provided as base for storks nests. They even nest on power-lines.  ….and of course, in Alsace, like elsewhere in the world the storks main job is delivering babies!



Strasbourg Stuffed White Storks


Bredele are biscuits or small cakes traditionally baked in Alsace and Moselle, France around Christmas time. Many varieties can be found, including new ones, so that assortments can be created. Pain d’epices (gingerbread) comes in all sizes and shapes and is baked year round. From the traditional Gingerbread man that children love to bite the head off of, to the funnel shaped cakes pictured below on the top shelf. We were very fond of this particular shape and brought several dozen home to give as presents. Unfortunately for our waistlines we chose to devour many of them.


Pain d’epices (gingerbread) Shop


Most passengers took optional tours, ate at a traditional Alsatian restaurant or shopped for other goods. Kim and I shopped for sweets, cakes, chocolate and gingerbread. My oh my did we shop. Four bags later (filled with every concoction you can imagine) we left to meet up for our bus return to the ship. We barely could carry all the goods we bought and were flabbergasted at the actual number of items we acquired!


Strasbourg Biscuit and Cookie Store Where we bought an Entire Shopping Bag of Cookies


We entered this chocolate shop that had two free flowing chocolate fountains. Of course one was a milk chocolate flavor and the other dark chocolate. I knew I was in heaven! After walking about five steps I started picking up chocolate candies, including various bark items. We then walked a few more steps and started choosing our truffle flavors. We could have shopped all day, but stopped after obtaining boxes of chocolates for family and friends (and yes one for us) we got to the register. It was hilarious as the shop was empty when we entered, but filled it up in a few minutes and we almost couldn’t check out because it was so crowded. The cashier was having trouble with her credit card machine and a line formed, frustrating her a great deal. We finally finished our transaction and left before buying the entire store!


Strasbourg Chocolate Shop with Fountains of Milk and Dark Chocolates


Construction on the Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg began with a Romanesque style in 1176 and was basically completed in 1439. In 1225 a unit from Chartres suggested it reflect a Gothic style of architecture and portions of the nave, already begun, were torn down and replaced with a Gothic construction. The Chartres group influenced the sculptures, statues and especially the front or west side of the Cathedral. This entrance is trimmed in ornate decorated figures. These characters are representative the Gothic era and are considered a masterpiece from that period in history. The tower is one of the first to rely substantially on craftsmanship and whose construction is inconceivable without prior drawings. Strasbourg and Cologne Cathedral together represent some of the earliest uses of architectural drawings.



Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Exterior Western Front Door Trim


Like the city of Strasbourg, the cathedral connects German and French cultural influences. The eastern structures, still have very Romanesque features, with more emphasis placed on walls than on windows. In 1505, architect Jakob von Landshut and sculptor Hans von Aachen finished rebuilding the Saint-Lawrence portal outside the northern transept in a distinctly post-Gothic, early-Renaissance style. As with the other portals of the cathedral, most of the statues now to be seen in place are copies, the originals having been moved to Strasbourg’s Musée de l’Œuvre Notre-Dame.



Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Side View


In the late Middle Ages, the city of Strasbourg had managed to liberate itself from the domination of the Catholic bishop and became Protestant in 1539. This reign only lasted a short period until September 1681 when Louis XIV of France annexed the city and a mass was celebrated in October 1681, in the presence of the king and prince-bishop signifying a return to the Catholics. The interior was redesigned according to the Catholic liturgy. In April of 1794 the “Enrages” who oversaw the city government started trying to tear down the spire, until the city’s citizens overruled and saved the tower.



Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Interior View


During World War II, the cathedral was seen as a symbol for both warring parties. Adolf Hitler who visited it in June 1940 and intended to transform the church into a “sanctuary of the German people”, or a monument to the Unknown Soldier. On March 1, 1941, the French General Leclerc made the “oath of Kufra”, stating he would “rest the weapons only when our beautiful colors fly again on Strasbourg’s cathedral”. During that same war, the stained glass was removed in 74 cases and stored in a salt mine near Heilbronn, Germany. After the war, it was returned to the cathedral by the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives section of the United States military.



Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Interior View Stained Glass Windows


The cathedral was hit by British and American bombs during air raids on Strasbourg’s center in August 1944, which also heavily damaged the Palais Rohan and the Sainte-Madeleine Church. Repairs to war damage were completed only in the early 1990s. In October 1988, when the city commemorating 2000 years of foundation by Argentoratum (the ancient French name of Strasbourg in 12 BC), pope John Paul II visited and celebrated mass in the cathedral. This event was also an occasion to celebrate the Franco-Germany reconciliation. In 2000, an Al-Queda plot to bomb the adjacent Christmas Market was prevented by French and German police.


Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg Interior View


On the way back after purchasing massive amounts of sweets, cakes, gingerbread, chocolates and cookies we ran across a flea market. It was interesting to see the various items displayed for resale and what held the interests of the French shoppers. Some pieces were typical and expected, but some were gorgeous and unexpected. We were thrilled to run across this open-air street market.



Strasbourg Flea Market Near Strasbourg Cathedral or the Cathedral of Our Lady of Strasbourg


As we boarded the Viking Eir and dropped our bags in the room I discovered a new found love for yet another European city. Strasbourg is a destination, given time, we will return to. I love the Alsatian foods, the sweets and the lovely and outgoing people. It warms my heart to this day to think about our experiences in the wonderful French city of Strasbourg. Now it’s on the Breisbach Germany before and our visit to the Black Forest!







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

Viking Cruises, Koblenz Germany and the Middle Rhine

We docked in Koblenz on our third full day with Viking River Cruises and had several choices of tours. One of the features I love with Viking is the ability to scope out all tours ahead of time and sign up for the “included tours” as you complete your personal form of registration. Kim was interested in the tour of the Marksburg Castle, but given my back issues I opted to remain on board and hopefully capture the magnificent homes, castles and other architectural interesting buildings on the Middle Rhine. She went ahead with the tour. I was glad I remained on board. As we sailed to Braubach, where Kim and the others would rejoin us. I noticed that there was a cable car running high above the confluence of the Rhine and Moselle rivers where we docked. The cable car takes passengers to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress and returns them after the visit. This was our view as the early morning tours disembarked.


Cable Car In Koblenz to the Ehrenbreitstein Fortress


As we pulled out of port I noticed this gorgeous statue off to the left of us and discovered it was erected in honor of William the Great of Germany. William was the last German Emperor (Kaiser) and King of Germany. He was a heir of the royal house of Hohenzollern and was exposed to the military society of the Prussian aristocracy. This had a major impact on him and he was rarely seen out of uniform. He was a major force in the creation of the German Navy that would eventually rival Britain as a world power. He enthusiastically promoted technology, industry, the arts and sciences as well as public education and social welfare. Kim and the group weren’t able to see this very large and detailed tribute to William.


Monument to William the Great of Germany


The Marksburg Castle was erected around 1100 is located above the German town of Braubach. The fortress was used for protection rather than as a residence by the royal families. It is part of the Rhine Gorge UNESCO World Heritage Site and was the only castle out of 40 castles between Bingen am Rhein and Koblenz that was never destroyed although badly damaged by American artillery fire in March of 1945



Entrance Steps to the Marksburg Castle


Obviously the stone steps are rough and you need to wear the appropriate type of shoes when walking through the castle. Kim also told me that certain passage ways were very short and people had to virtually lean to pass through a few halls. The tour was listed by Viking as “Demanding”, which persuaded me to pass. Kim told me she was glad I did.


View of Rhine from Marksburg Castle


Obviously the view from the castle across the Rhine was gorgeous and one I am sure I would have enjoyed. I am glad Kim took photos for the Nomadic Texan! This gigantic wine press was a novel item for me and I thought it worthy of inclusion. It would give me more confidence than people’s feet! LOL!


Wine Press in Marksburg Castle


The suits of armor were very cool and I think a knight would have to be really strong in order to parade around in these metal suits, much less go to battle and try to protect yourself. A typical suit can weigh anywhere from about 22 pounds to 110 pounds depending on its materials.



Suits of Armor in the Marksburg Castle


I had to show this photo, as we both thought it was a novel approach. The castle’s toilet actually protruded out over the garden and human waste was displaced onto the plants below as fertilizer. The door locked from the castle side as intruders sometimes tried to climb the exterior, enter the toilet (disgusting if they meant they came in through the seat) and try to vandalize the castle, steal it’s contents or maim it’s inhabitants. So locking it from the castle side prevented egress.



Toilet for Exterior Displacement in the Marksburg Castle


As we headed down the Middle Rhine I went up top to the upper deck. The weather was great. Every cruise I take with Viking I capture the Lifebuoy or if you prefer Lifering, so that down the road I will have no issues with the name of the Longship we sailed on. Love that it shows the home port of Basel Switzerland and how excellent the knot is tied. Makes me feel more comfortable about the overall maintenance of the ship.


Viking Eir Lifebuoy or Lifering


It wasn’t  long before we encountered structures on both sides of the ship along the Middle Rhine. It didn’t take much for me to be comfortable in the fact that I stayed behind. If I had gone I would have missed all this beautiful architecture, castles, hotels and houses. This section of the Rhine river is known as the Rhine Gorge and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It runs from Koblenz to Bingen and Rudesheim. The entire valley is known as the Romantic Rhine. There are forty plus Castles and Fortresses along this section of the Rhine River. I highly advise you see this section of the river from the ships during daylight hours!


The first castle pictured is the Katz Castle which was built in the second half of the fourteenth century as a stronghold and military base to protect the Rheinfels Castle. Both castles were built to protect the Salmon fishing in the Rhine. Salmon disappeared from the Swiss Rhine about 50 years ago, due to poor water quality and the construction of hydro-electric power plants. From the Katz Castle vantage point it was next to impossible to be conquered from the valley below.


Katz Castle in Altstadt & Burg Katz


Maus (Mouse) Castle was erected by Archbisop Balduin between 1353-1388. It is actually called Thurnburg. At the time it was one of the most modern and technically constructed castles of its time. The people invented the story that both castles spied upon themselves like a cat and mouse, as they were occupied by opposing forces in the 13oo’s. Today Mouse Castle is open for visitors to admire period furniture and interesting collections.


Burg Maus (Mouse) Castle Along the Middle Rhine, Named Because the Owner had another Large Castle Called Katz


Rheinfels Fortress was built around 1245 and was the Count of Katzeninbogen’s residence initially. When the Katzeninbogen dynasty passed the ownership of the castle transferred to the House of Hesse. With this conversion, it became one of the strongest fortresses in Germany. As the only military complex on the left bank of the Rhine river it withstood the troops of Louis XIV in 1692. In 1796/97 the French Revolutionary Army overtook the structure without a struggle and blew up the exterior walls and the castle. Today visitors are surprised by the size of the ruins, as well as the web of trenches and tunnels which in most cases still are functional.



Burg Rheinfels Castle at St. Goar


Schönburg Castle was first mentioned in history between the years 900 and 1100. The Dukes of Schonburg ruled the town of Obelweser and were able to levy taxes on the Rhine. The most famous was Friedrich von Schonburg, a feared man who served as a colonel and general under the King of France in the 17th century. The castle was burned down in 1689 by French soldiers during the Palatinate wars. It remained in ruins until it was acquired by the German-American Rhinelander family in the late 19th century and restored it. In 1950 the town of Oberwesel obtained the castle back and signed a long-term lease with the Hutti family who operate it as a prosperous Hotel and restaurant.




Viking River Cruises Docking Port on the Rhine in Obelweser with Schonburg Castle on the Hill, which is now a Luxury Hotel


Along with the various castles and fortresses roughly 450,000 people call the Middle Rhine home. The river is abundant with gorgeous hotels, houses and structures from 900 AD through present day. Most are very detailed and beautiful in appearance from the exterior. I couldn’t take photos fast enough and tried to view both sides of the river equally. It was difficult at times. The Rhine Gorge as mentioned above, refers to the narrow gorge of the Rhine running through the Rhenish Slate Mountains between Bingen am Rhein and Rudesheim am Rhein in the south and Bonn-Oberkassel in the north. The basin at Neuwied separates the lower and upper halves of the Middle Rhine. The following are samples of houses, hotels and other acrchitecture we saw.


House Along the Middle Rhine


Hotel Loreleyblick Cafe and Restaurant, Loreley Germany


Hotel Keutmann Restaurant and Cafe Along the Middle Rhine


Half Timber Houses in Loreley & Goarshausen


Zur Klosterschenfe Hotel


On our Viking tour of the Middle Rhine River we learned the reason for the German train tunnels looking like castles along the Middle Rhine. The Germans learned quickly that allied air force groups would try valiantly to not cause any damage to the extraordinary castles throughout Germany, as well as the beautiful cathedrals when possible.
The allied forces were instructed to avoid bombing well known structures when at all possible. This caused the German engineers to build most of the train tunnels along this area of the Middle Rhine, to resemble towers and walls of the local castles.


The allied planes focused on military and industrial targets such as factories. Additionally castles were usually located away from heavily populated areas. This doesn’t mean there was no damage to castles, but most were spared. This was actually a brilliant method of avoiding destruction of the tunnels. They played on our sentimental values and kept trains running, transporting tanks, German militia and supplies to the front lines. The castle disguises were successful.


Tunnel Entrance Constructed to Look Like a Castle for Disguise During World War II



Our middle Rhine sail with Viking went past the Lorelei Mermaid statue and rock. Legend has it that this siren, originally betrayed by her sweetheart, was accused of bewitching men and causing their death. Rather than sentence her to die, the bishop sent her to a nunnery.


On the way there, accompanied by three knights, she came to the Lorelei rock. She requested a climb on the rock to view the Rhine one last time. She scaled the rock, thinking she saw her sweetheart in the river and fell to her death. Afterwards echos of her name emanated from the rock when sailors traveled past.


Legend states as she was combing her golden hair the sailors became distracted. Her beauty and singing, then caused the sailors to crash into the rocks and perish immediately. Songs, amusing tales and local legends reaffirm this story and have helped it cultivate over the ages. Many poems and Operas were written to commemorate Lorelei!


Mystical Mermaid Lorelei 16 Foot Tall


That evening we docked in Rudesheim, a town in the Rhine Valley known for wine making, especially Riesling wines. In the center, Drosselgasse is a lane lined with shops, taverns and restaurants. We ate at the Drosselgasse restaurant and had a great time. Although people who imbibed had a significantly better time I’m guessing. It was a party with dancing, adult drinking games singing and lots of beer!


Rüdesheim lies at the foot of the Niederwald on the Rhine’s right (east) bank on the southern approach to the Loreley. The town belongs to the Frankfurt Rhine Main Region and is one of Germany’s biggest tourist attractions. Only the Cologne Cathedral draws more tourists from other countries. Making the town worth visiting is, not only the wine or even the Old Town itself, but also the picturesque Rheingau landscape together with the romantic Rhine.



Hotel Post in Rudesheim


Parkplatz Street in Rudesheim



Drosselgasse Lane in Rudesheim



Drosselhoff Restaurant Entrance in Rudesheim



Drosselhoff Restaurant Stained Glass Ar in Rudesheim


Drosselhoff Restaurant Salad in Rudesheim


Drosselhoff Restaurant Pork Entree in Rudesheim


This day was a stellar one, especially given I had purchased a zoom lens for my camera right before we left and I had a substantial opportunity to use it on this leg of the cruise. Between the architecture and the more than forty historic castles, I gained great experience. I have been a photographer for many years and even have used a zoom in the past with my old Nikormat from Japan. I was thrilled that Viking gave me this chance by sailing this portion of the Middle Rhine in the daytime. Now on to Heidelberg!













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

Galveston Holiday Events

Galveston Holiday Events to Include New ‘Downtown Lanterns & Lights’ PLUS Cirque Joyeux Noel Show


It’s Island Time Galveston


GALVESTON, Texas (Oct. 10, 2017) –A new event will light up downtown Galveston this holiday season as part of the island’s eight weeks of “Winter Wonder Island” festivities.


‘Downtown Lanterns and Lights’ will feature a magical display of Christmas trees and other artisan made pieces as they illuminate Saengerfest Park from Nov. 24 through Jan. 2. The park will also feature an interactive photo frame and a giant snow globe that visitors can enter for family photos. The photo props will be available Nov. 25-26 and Dec. 9, 16 and 23.


In addition, performers from ‘America’s Got Talent’ will be featured in the new Cirque Joyeux Noel Dinner & Show taking place Dec.15-25 at the Moody Gardens Hotel. The show tells an entertaining holiday story through acrobatics, illusions and comedy. The international cast includes The Pompeyo family and their amazing rescue dogs as seen on NBC’s hit show “America’s Got Talent.”


Tickets to the Cirque Joyeux Noel show include a buffet dinner and admission to Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens, the largest holiday lighting festival on the Gulf Coast. Festival of Lights – which includes a mile-long trail of more than 100 sound-enhanced animated light displays, ice skating, snow tubing and more – will take place Nov. 11- Jan. 7. Plus, one of the island’s most popular holiday attractions, ICE LAND, will return to Moody Gardens for its fourth year with a brand new “Rainforest Holiday” theme within a 28,000-square-foot ice sculpture attraction featuring 2 million pounds of ice.


While Moody Gardens has plenty of exciting attractions, the entire island will offer holiday cheer with eight weeks of “Winter Wonder Island” events and festivities. Here’s a look at what is happening in Galveston this holiday season:


“ICE LAND” at Moody Gardens
Date: Nov. 11 – Jan. 7
Time: 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily
Where: Moody Gardens, 1 Hope Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: $26.95 adults; $21.95 seniors; $21.95 children

Description: This holiday season, Moody Gardens will be home to the coolest experience on the Gulf Coast, where visitors can explore a 28,000-square-foot “ice land” with a new Rainforest Holiday theme for 2017. Professional ice carvers will use 2 million pounds of ice to create this amazing exhibit featuring majestic rainforest themed ice sculptures, slides and even a Shivers Ice Bar serving cool libations for adults.


Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens 
Date: Nov. 11 – Jan. 7
Time: 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. nightly
Where: Moody Gardens, 1 Hope Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: $10.95

Description: Brighten up the wintry season at the 16th annual Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens taking place Nov. 11 through Jan. 7. Here, guests can enjoy the largest holiday lighting event on the Gulf Coast, featuring a mile-long trail of more than 100 sound-enhanced animated light displays. Visitors to the festival can also go ice-skating at the Moody Gardens outdoor ice rink or snow tubing on the Arctic Ice Slide.


Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens


Holiday Performances at The Grand 1894 Opera House
Date: Nov. 12 – Jan. 13
Time: Varies
Where: The Grand 1894 Opera House, 2020 Postoffice St., Galveston, TX
Admission: Varies

Description: The Grand 1894 Opera House will kick off the holiday season with a variety of exciting performances, including An Evening with Sophia Loren at 4 p.m. Nov. 12,Willie Nelson & Family at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 13, STOMP at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 18, Christmas Wonderland Holiday Spectacular at 8 p.m. Nov. 24 and 3 p.m. and 8 p.m. Nov. 25, Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol at 8 p.m. Dec. 1 and 3 p.m. Dec. 2, The City Ballet of Houston Presents The Nutcracker Dec. 9 and 10, The Texas Tenors: Deep in the Heart of Christmas at 8p.m. Dec. 15, Jerry Jeff Walker at 8 p.m. Dec. 16, and The Official Blues Brother’s Revue at 8 p.m. Jan. 13


Downtown Lanterns & Lights 
Date:  Nov. 24- Jan. 2
Time: Varies
Where: Saengerfest Park, 23rd and Strand Street, Galveston TX
Admission: Free

Description: ‘Downtown Lanterns and Lights’ will feature a magical display of Christmas trees and other artisan made pieces as they illuminate Saengerfest Park from Nov. 24 through Jan. 2. The park will also feature an interactive photo frame and a giant snow globe that visitors can enter for family photos. The snow globe will be available Nov. 25-26 and Dec. 9, 16 and 23.


Hotel Galvez Holiday Lighting Celebration
Date:  Nov. 24
Time: 6 p.m.
Where: Hotel Galvez, 2024 Seawall Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: Free

Description: The historic Hotel Galvez & Spa invites guests to celebrate the start of the holidays Nov. 24 with the official City of Galveston Holiday Lighting Celebration.This free event includes a special appearance by Santa Claus, live holiday entertainment by local performers, including the Galveston Ballet, and the lighting of the hotel’s 35-foot Christmas tree. The hotel will offer a special weekend package as part of the event.


Holiday Shopping Amid the Victorian Charm of Galveston’s Historic Downtown 
Date: Nov. 24 – Dec.24
Time: Varies
Where: Downtown Historic Strand District
Admission: Free

Description: Nothing says holiday like the Victorian charm of Galveston’s 36-block Downtown Historic Strand District. Kick off your holiday shopping amid the district’s charming Victorian architecture for unique gift options at the many boutiques, art galleries, antique shops and other novelty stores. Some festive favorites include Christmas on the Strand, Hendley Market, Eighteen Seventy One, Visker and Scriveners and more.


Hendley Green Holiday Kickoff and Tree Lighting
Date: Nov. 26
Time: 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Where: Hendley Green Park & Eighteen Seventy One gift shop
Admission: Free

Description: Hendley Green Park and specialty gift shop Eighteen Seventy One are coming together to offer a day of family-friendly fun. Children of all ages are encouraged to bring their letters to Santa for mailing off before the holidays in a specially crafted mailbox. Eighteen Seventy One, located adjacent to Hendley Green Park, will welcome guests with special discounts, refreshments, popcorn and more from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.A special prize wheel will be available for a chance to win tickets to Dickens on The Strand, the Galveston Historic Homes Tour and more. Hendley Green Park will offer craft beer from 2 to 7 p.m., a visit with Santa from 3 to 5 p.m., family-friendly games throughout the afternoon and a special Christmas tree lighting at 6:30 p.m.


Victorian Holiday Homes Tour
Date: Dec. 1
Time: 5:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Where: East End Historical District
Admission: $20

Description: The island’s East End Historical District will hosts its annual Victorian Holiday Homes Tour featuring a variety of private historic homes. The public will be able to explore several private historic homes all decked out for the holidays.


44thAnnual Dickens on the Strand
Date: Dec. 1 – 3
Time: Varies
Where: Strand St., Historic Downtown Galveston, Galveston, TX
Admission: Friday admission is free. For Saturday/Sunday early bird tickets (purchased before Dec. 1): adults $13; children $7. At the gate: adults $15, children $9

Description: The first weekend in December, don’t miss Dickens on The Strand. The festival transforms Galveston’s historic Strand Street into the Victorian London of Charles Dickens Dec. 1-3. Enjoy libations at Fezziwig’s Beer Hall on Friday from 5 to 9 p.m. Friday admission is free. On Saturday, festival goers will see characters from Dickens novels walk the streets and costumed vendors peddle their wares from street stalls and rolling carts laden with holiday food and drink, Victorian-inspired crafts, clothing, jewelry, holiday decorations and gifts. Strolling carolers and roving musicians will fill the area with enchanting sounds from another era as “steam punks” entertain the crowds. Attendees in Victorian costume are admitted for half price.


Dickens on The Strand Christmas Town Crier


Cheer on the Pier!
Date: Dec. 2, 9, 16 and 23
Time: Varies
Where: Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier (25th Street and Seawall Boulevard)
Admission: Varies

Description: Spend Saturdays in December at the Pleasure Pier with Santa! Families can watch holiday movies; enjoy fun festivities and rides! Activities at Santa’s Workshop are from 12. to 4 p.m. and include photos with Santa, letters to Santa and cookie decorating. Holiday movies will take place from 7 to 9 p.m.


Sunday Brunch with Santa at Hotel Galvez
Date: Dec.3, 10, 17, 24
Time: 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Hotel Galvez, 2024 Seawall Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: Adults $42.99; children $26.99; seniors $37.99

Description: Hotel Galvez’ famous Sunday brunch will be full of cheer this holiday season with visits from Santa Dec. 3, 10, 17 and 24. Brunch will be served from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and children are invited to visit with Santa to share their Christmas wish list. Advance reservations are recommended. For more information and to make a reservation, call 409-765-7721.


Holiday in the Park
Date: December 9, 2017
Time: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Where: Saengerfest Park, 2302 Strand St., Galveston, TX
Admission: Free

Description: Bring the family to downtown Galveston’s Saengerfest Park for a day of holiday tunes from area school choirs, bands and church choirs at the annual Holiday in the Park. Children will also be able to visit and take pictures with Santa.


Santa on The Strand and other Santa Sightings
Date: Dec. 9, 16 and 23
Time: 1 p.m. to 4 p.m.
Where: Saengerfest Park, 2302 Strand St., Galveston, TX
Admission: Free

Description: Visitors to downtown Galveston can take part in free festivities held at Saengerfest Park this December. Santa will make a special appearance from 1 to 4 p.m. and will take photos with children in front of the downtown Christmas tree. Be sure to also catch island-wide Santa Sightings throughout the season including photos with Santa at Moody Gardens daily Dec. 15-23, Santa at The Grand 1894 Opera House Nov. 25, Breakfast with Santa at Rainforest Café Dec. 16 and 23, and Breakfast with Santa at The San Luis Resort Blake’s Bistro Dec. 17.


Surfing Santa at Schlitterbahn


Holiday with the Cranes
Date: Dec. 9-10
Time: Varies
Where: Locations vary
Admission: From $25 to $60

Description: For a unique holiday experience, join the Galveston Island Nature Tourism Council for “Holiday with the Cranes.” This annual birding event will be held Dec. 9-10 as outdoor enthusiasts celebrate the arrival of these large, majestic birds of ancient origin. Events include indoor and outdoor nature activities and presentations combined with the ambiance of historical Galveston Island.


Cirque Joyeux Noel Dinner & Show at Moody Gardens Hotel
Date: Dec. 15-25
Time: 7:45 p.m.
Where: Moody Gardens Convention Center, 7 Hope Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: Prices start at $39 for children and $59 for adults

Description: Experience the magnificent and the impossible at Moody Gardens this holiday season as it hostsCirque Joyeux Noel Dinner and Show. The show features a stellar cast of international performers from all over the world and includes amazing acrobatics, mesmerizing illusions, hilarious comedy and more.This year’s holiday show features all-new acts including The Pompeyo Family and their amazing rescue dogs featured on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent.” Tickets to the show include a holiday buffet dinner and admission to Festival of Lights.


Santa Train at the Galveston Railroad Museum
Date: Dec. 16
Time: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Where: Galveston Railroad Museum, 2602 Santa Fe Place, Galveston, TX
Admission: $12 adults (ages 13+); $5 train rides (ages 2+)

Description: Santa is coming to town aboard the Galveston Railroad Museum’s Harborside Express train! The museum’s annual Santa Train event will be held from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Dec. 16. Bring your wish list to visit with Santa, stroll through the museum’s Garden of Steam and enjoy festive holiday lights, decorations and crafts.


Santa Hustle Half Marathon & 5K
Date: Dec. 17
Time: 8 a.m.
Where: Downtown Historic Galveston
Admission: Varies

Description: Runners will have a “jolly good time” Dec. 17 in Galveston at the annual Santa Hustle! This wacky event will feature thousands of “Santas” along the gorgeous Gulf waters for half marathon and 5K races. All event participants will receive a Santa suit long sleeve t-shirt, a free Santa hat and beard to wear while running, and will be able to stop at cookie and candy stations along their routes.


Christmas Day Brunch at Hotel Galvez
Date: Dec. 25
Time: 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Where: Hotel Galvez, 2024 Seawall Blvd., Galveston, TX
Admission: Adults $42.99; children $26.99; seniors $37.99

Description: Hotel Galvez is widely known for its Sunday Brunch, but the hotel brunch on Christmas Day is an even grander affair. The hotel features all the traditional entrees along with special features created by the executive chef. Seating times are from 10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. Advance reservations are required and must be made directly with the hotel by calling 409.765.7721. Reservations will be accepted beginning Tuesday, Nov. 28.


About Galveston Island

Galveston Island is the “Winter Wonder Island” of Texas, featuring more than 50 days of holiday festivities and more than 1,000 holiday events during the winter season. The island is home to the largest holiday lighting event on the Gulf Coast, Festival of Lights at Moody Gardens, as well as the nationally known Victorian Christmas festival Dickens on The Strand among many other attractions. For more information on holiday activities in Galveston,




Viking Cruises, Photo of the Day #17

As we strolled around Castle Hill in Budapest Hungary on our tour with Viking River Cruises, we walked upon a Medieval Knight outside of a cafe. I couldn’t help but take a photo. The knight was next to several retail embroidery shops and shops filled with authentic Hungarian craft goods.  I found out later that there is a restaurant in Budapest named Sir Lancelot after a famous knight of King Arthur’s round table. When you enter the restaurant, it is as if you are transported to the medieval times. There is wonderful decoration, delicious medieval dishes, but the best part is nightly show with swordsmen, a fakir, a belly dancer, and much more.


Budapest Bar Knight


With stellar dishes like “Sir Lancelot feast”, “Red Knight feast”, “King Arthur feast”, “Blue Knight feast”, “Lady Melany feast”, “Lancelot’s Challange feast”, and the “Huntsman’s feast”, of course all meals are made to sufficiently stuff one’s belly! In addition there are ” Lord’s dishes” that are intended for multiple individuals and feast parties! I definitely think you won’t leave hungry!




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

Galveston Beach Parks, Tourist Attractions Reopen After Hurricane Harvey


It’s Island Time


Galveston Beach Parks, Tourist Attractions Reopen After Hurricane Harvey

Galveston Tourism Attractions Sustain Minimal Damage from Hurricane Harvey 



GALVESTON, Texas (Sept. 1, 2017) –  Several of Galveston’s beach parks and tourist attractions have reopened to the public following Hurricane Harvey’s arrival last weekend.  The beaches and the island’s major tourist attractions received minimal damages from the storm.

The parks – including Stewart Beach, Seawolf Park and Dellanera RV Park, reopened today. Seawall beaches have been open since Monday.

Kelly de Schaun, executive director of the Galveston Park Board and Galveston Island Convention & Visitors Bureau, said the storm caused temporary flooding at the parks with limited damage. Flood waters in Galveston’s historic downtown district are gone and 80% of businesses in the district are open, according to Galveston’s Downtown Partnership.

“Galveston’s tourism industry was blessed to have fared relatively well through the storm,” de Schaun said. “Our goal at this point is to simply update our partners on the status of our beaches and tourism assets. We understand that so many communities in this region are suffering greatly and, as an industry and organization, our focus is on providing support to those that were heavily impacted.”

Galveston’s hotels are open and operating as normal. No major issues have been reported at the island’s hotel and lodging venues.  The following major attractions are open:

  • 1877 Tall Ship ELISSA*Offering free
    admission through Sept. 4
  • American Undersea Warfare Center
  • Artist Boat
  • Bishop’s Palace *Offering free admission through Sept. 4
  • Galveston Island Historic Pleasure Pier
  • Moody Gardens
  • Moody Mansion
  • Ocean Star Offshore Drilling Rig & Museum*Offering free admission through Sept. 4
  • Pier 21 Theater *Offering free admission through Sept. 4
  • Texas Seaport Museum *Offering free admission through Sept. 4
  • The Bryan Museum*Offering free admission through Sept. 4
  • The Grand 1894 Opera House
  • Galveston Cruise Terminal/Port of Galveston

Schlitterbahn Galveston Island Waterpark will open Saturday. East Beach and the West End Pocket Parks remain closed due to limited staff and a power outage at the East Beach Pavilion. The Galveston Railroad Museum experienced flood damage and is closed until further notice.

For more information, visit

Brazilian Brilliance: Exploring Rio de Janeiro

Brazil is South America’s largest country and is home to some of the world’s most diverse destinations. Tropical islands, amazon forests and sun-blessed beaches are a few of its natural tourist attractions but this country is also home to one of the world’s most popular destinations — Rio de Janeiro.

Brazil’s second largest city is also the most visited city in the Southern Hemisphere, but a trip to Rio should include more than just its city delights.


Rio highlights


Relaxing in Rio

Relaxing in Rio


Understandably, a trip to Rio city wouldn’t be complete without a spot of gentle relaxation on, or a stroll along one of the world’s most famous beaches, the 4 kilometer long Copacabana. This is one of the world’s most picturesque destinations and you’ll find no better place to view Guanabara Bay, Sugarloaf Mountain and the city landscape than from the summit of the 700 meter Corcovado Mountain, home of the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue. Rio has also been called one of the world’s happiest destinations, which is exemplified every year during the wild and colorful carnival, a tradition that dates back to 1723. You can visit Rio if you book with Saga Travel.


Out of the city


Take a day away from the city to explore some of Rio’s treasures, including Itatiaia, Brazil’s oldest national park. The Serra dos Órgãos is another amazing national park, stretching 110 square kilometers and featuring a mountain range dating back around 60 million years; it’s here that you’ll find the ‘God’s Finger’ formation resembling a hand with index finger pointing upwards. If you’re visiting the Órgaos, don’t miss a trip to the imperial city of Petropolis, founded around 1722 and home to the Imperial Museum, some beautiful canals and many idyllic little parks. Sightseeing can also include Costa Verde in the west where you can enjoy hillside jungles, near deserted bays and sparkling lagoons.


God's Finger

God’s Finger


The restaurant scene


Once the sun goes down it’s time to head away from the Copacabana and Ipanema beaches to indulge in the country’s cuisine. Rio does cater to every taste and you’ll easily find French, Italian, Spanish and Lebanese restaurants in the city. But make sure to try out some authentic Brazilian dishes such as the coconut-infused seafood stews or the tender jerked meat (carne seca). As you’d expect the seafood dishes are as fresh as they come and there’s plenty of shrimp and Amazonian fish choices available. Barbecue restaurants or churrascarias are ubiquitous throughout the city and you can enjoy freshly-cooked meats on sizzling spits, sliced directly onto the plate at your table.


This is just a flavor of the many highlights in and around one of Brazil’s most sublime cities. You might come for the beaches, but make sure to get out of the city and explore some of the world’s most unforgettable beauty spots.


Images by Rocco Lucia and Glauco Umbelino, used under Creative Commons license

In collaboration with Saga Travel.


Turkey’s Best Festivals

Turkey, as the melting pot of the East and West, brandishes plenty of religious and cultural festivals.  As a traveler and a keen observer, much can be learned of the country through these festivals. If you happen to be traveling in the country during any one of these, don’t miss out the chance to observe and participate in one.


While Turkey is a secular state with no official religion, 99.8% of Turkish people follow the Islam religion and uses the Muslim Hijra calendar in the observance of religious festivals.  Here are the most important events practiced in the country:


  • The Ramadan or Ramazan in Turkish is the most essential Islamic festival. The Ramadan is observed throughout the ninth month of the Muslim year, when Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Non-Muslims must be mindful of eating and drinking in front of Muslims observing the fast during the day as a sign of respect. After dark, practicing Muslims go to iftar tents to break their fast with family and friends. Travelers and non-Muslims are welcome to join the dinner.


  • The Ramadan month is followed by a three-day Sugar Holiday or Şeker Bayramı in Turkish. It marks the end of the 30-days fast. During this time, families meet for reunions and visit the elderly. Children also go around the neighborhood wishing everyone a happy bayram. Adults give them sweets in return. Restaurants are full with families celebrating and it’s always a good idea to call ahead for a reservation.


In case you miss the religious festivals, there’s a long list of arts and cultural festivals to choose from.  Some are held in the culture and entertainment hub of Istanbul, and other more quirky and intriguing festivals in smaller towns and villages around the country. Here’s our top arts and culture festivals around Turkey:


  • Witness a major Oil Wrestling event between June-July. Oil wrestling is Turkey’s national sport. This week-long event is held in Yağlı Güreş. Players from all-over the country flock here to compete. Watch men doused in olive oil try to pin each other down in attempt to expose the opponents navel to the sky. The rule is first wrestler whose “umbilicus is exposed to heaven” loses. Audiences are also treated to a fun week of music and dance performances.


  • Camel Wrestling Festival is also one of the festivals that takes its roots from the ancient times. The main event is held in Selçuk on the last two weekends of January. Camels are led to the grounds to fight and the first camel to fall on the ground or flee from the fight loses. In the recent years, animal welfare groups have protested citing the practice as a form of animal cruelty. Organisers have responded with modified rules and practices to prevent animal injury.






  • Art lovers can explore Turkish creative works. In the month of April, the much-celebrated Istanbul International Film Festival commences and Turkish films of good quality are shown in the movie theaters. Classical music fans can visit from June-July to witness extraordinary performances from orchestras and solo singers set in historical locations at the Istanbul International Classical Music Festival.


  • The whirling Dervishes performance at the Mevlâna Festival is held during December in Konya. The dance is one of the highest forms of ceremonies from Mevlâna, an Islamic philosopher who believed that union with God is possible through dance. Another festive event happens to welcome spring known as the Hıdırellez Gypsy festival. Street parties are held in Edirne with performances from the local Gypsy bands. The tradition is to make a wish while jumping over bonfires.






  • Last but not least, the Marmaris Maritime and Spring Festival is gaining enourmous traction from not only visitors from Turkey but international guests as well. Held in mid May, this festival is all about celebrating the coastal region with sand sculpture competitions, fishing competitions, to markets, beach parties and concerts. The International Yachting Exhibition is held at the same time and most tourists and travelers will join a Marmaris to Fethiye gulet cruise following the festival and to top their holiday!







To make your stay in Turkey more memorable it’s definitely worth checking out one of Turkey’s festivals; it’s a true insight into the people and culture of this amazing country.


In collaboration with Alaturka Yachting & Travel








Why (and How) I Write: A Blog Hop Post

Recently I was invited to participate in a Blog Hop about one of my favorite subjects (Writing), by two of my favorite bloggers, Bret Love and Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel. They are both very kind people with a high interest in Ecotourism, nature/wildlife conservation and cultural preservation. They are both truly unique individuals with a perspective on “pouring every ounce of their passion, energy, love and dreams for their family into the site on a daily basis”. Just a few facts about each of them before I answer the four obligatory questions.

Bret Love and Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel

Bret Love and Mary Gabbett of Green Global Travel

Mary Gabbett

1) Mary was born in Staten Island, New York and lived there until she was 14.

2) Because her family had a French graduate student who worked as her au pair, her first language was French and she remembers none of it now, even though she studied it in high school!

3) Her parents would take off work every Wednesday during the summer, for family vacation and they would visit museums, art galleries, theatre and amazing ethnic restaurants in New York City.

4) Her first big trip as an adult was a month-long vacation in India, where 5 friends and her stayed with one of the girls’ extended family. That’s when she discovered she was a die-hard travel-lover.

4) She has a degree in Pyschology, and worked for 10 years doing personality assessments for corporate clients. She gave Bret an informal assessment of himself on their 5th date.

5) Bret and her met at a Universalist Unitarian Church Christmas party she threw at her house in 2008. She was just coming off a painful separation, and had only been dating for 5 days when they met.

6) She moved in with Bret 14 months later, after her mother was hospitalized (she’s OK now), a tree fell on her house (it’s OK now), and a wanted rapist was arrested in her front yard. Clearly, the Universe was trying to tell her something. Now she might just plan to get the stump removal done for the remaining part. The reason is the stump might cause severe accidents. And she might not be in a mood to encounter any more mishappenings.

Bret Love

1) Bret was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and has never lived more than 30 miles away from the hospital in which he was born.

2) His first trip abroad was a 3-week tour of Italy with the Atlanta Boy Choir when he was 11. It included 15 cities in 21 days, and performances for the President of Italy and Pope John Paul II (in the Vatican).

3) He grew up in an urban neighborhood that was 98% black by the time he got to high school. When he was 15, they moved to 32 acres in the country, with a majority-white school. Talk about culture shock! His GPA that year dropped from 3.6 to 2.5 due to constant bullying.

4) Bret got his first tattoo– of a Native American shaman, from the cover of National Geographic– when he was 23. He originally got it primarily to cover self-inflicted scars from his late-teen depression. But the more tattoos he got, the more he liked them. He now has 6, all of Native American or Celtic art.

5) He’s a big fan of hip-hop, and had his own hip-hop/noise-rock band, The White Aphros, in the ‘90s. In 2000, he was hired by Sprite to put together a compilation of Atlanta hip-hop for a web-based project. They bought two of his songs, which were released under his rap pseudonym, B. Love.

6) All his life, he’s had a policy not to date someone he works with. So its ironic that Mary and him now live, work and play together 24/7/365… especially because they rarely argue. She has definitely changed forever his definition of the word “partnership.”

Green Global Travel Mission Statement

In 2000, Bret traveled to South Africa’s Kruger National Park on safari. The immense power of the experiences he had there– seeing cheetah cubs frolicking on the open plain, watching wild dogs digging under a fence to get back into the park, having a massive bull elephant coming so close to his Jeep that he could feel the breath on his face– changed his life forever.

It wasn’t just the beauty of seeing these magnificent animals in their natural habitat that moved him. It was the passion with which the park rangers and guides spoke of preserving this incredible gift for generations to come, and the way locals spoke of ecotourism as their hope for a better and brighter economic future. Ever since then he has dreamed of using his abilities as a freelance writer and photographer to help make the world a better place, not just for he and Mary, but for their children and their children’s children. Mary and him have launched Green Global Travel to do just that.

They launched Green Global Travel because they are insatiably curious about new people, new places, new experiences and new ideas, and love sharing those things with other people in a way that will hopefully inform and inspire.

They launched Green Global Travel because they are passionate about ecotourism, and believe in its potential to help save the world’s precious nature and wildlife by encouraging sustainable practices that both benefit and respect local indigenous cultures.

They launched Green Global Travel because they truly believe that the words, photos and videos they capture along their journeys will both entertain you and help draw attention to the importance of environmental conservation.

They launched Green Global Travel because it is their dream to save the world, one story at a time.

Tam of the Amita Thai Cooking School in Bangkok Thailand and The Nomadic Texan

Tam of the Amita Thai Cooking School in Bangkok Thailand and The Nomadic Texan

1) What am I working on/writing?

I just finished a series on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Mobile Bay during the Civil War. It was very educational and I learned that there is a huge circuit of reenactments, involving a large population of Civil War buffs. These people make the rounds dressing in period costume, which are by no means inexpensive. I was literally astounded by the number of people following the various events and the amount of money they freely invest in items that replicate the period, or happen to be authentic pieces from the various battles. Its amazing to me that at almost 65 I had no idea of this segment existed in our society.

I am taking a trip to Japan for six weeks, beginning the Friday after Thanksgiving and I am sure this will spark or generate a ton of photographs and blog posts. I’ll probably share the photographs on Instagram as well. It’s sure to get a lot of likes. Even if they don’t, it shouldn’t be difficult to get the traffic I need for my posts since it is possible to buy IG followers. I will be in one of my favorite countries in the world and have a great deal of spare time, given I will be staying with my oldest son and he will come back to Austin for a week. He also must do that “Job” thing and work daily. This should allow me a freedom to explore and walk the streets trying to gather stories on the fabulous culture, the people and obviously the fantastic foods of Japan. I am drooling over this prospect and can’t wait for the trip to materialize.

One of my first stops will be at a chain of sushi and sashimi restaurants that carry the dishes via a conveyor belt. In 2012 when I last visited it was one of two restaurants that we ate at twice. I love the different items and luckily my son has a deep passion for these foods. So I see a blog post for sure on this experience. Then we can begin discussing the Ramen places, the Udon Noodle places (OMG I love Udon noodles), Soba noodles, Yakitori (skewered chicken cooked over a flaming grill) and anything to do with seafood. I might even do a Tempura meal this time and will have to probably do a great deal of these during the day, or when my son is absent. He gets rather embarrassed when I take photos of my food (if I can remember, as I forget half the time, until there is nothing left and it dawns on me I never took a photo and all my food is gone). I think that this discussion might just lead me to search for some online ramen store to get my fix of Udon noodles after this conversation!

2) How does my work/writing differ from others of its genre?

I am not sure I truly have a niche or a genre as many more experienced travel and food bloggers are constantly telling me, “I need to find a specific niche and generate my writing in that area”. I can’t tell you how many travel bloggers have stated this. I find this too difficult at almost 65 years old and absolutely love all aspects of travel and food. I love to cook and try to take cooking classes in every country I visit and maybe that is a difference, as I am not positive if others go out of their way to take cooking classes in every country. What better way to get to know a culture than through the foods they consume and the methods they use to prepare the dishes?

I also am a fan of architectural structures like cathedrals, temples, and shrines which SE Asia has a plethora of and one can turn any corner and stumble upon a new and different religious artifact or building and be drawn into the design and layout. In addition I am attracted to doors, windows and balconies. Specifically those with intricate layouts and impressions.

3) Why do I write what I do?

One area that is very special to me is volunteerism. This past year I helped an organization build a home in Tijuana Mexico over Memorial Day weekend, with my two youngest sons. It was a very emotional and gut wrenching process. I also walked away know that my sons had seemingly overnight turned into young men with purpose and were driven to help others. The biggest impact though, was when I asked the Mother of the two young children what she would like best about the new house we were building. She answered very quickly and very honestly. She loved that when it rained going forward, she would never have to worry about their dirt floors in the old home turning into mud again. I cried like a baby and had to walk away before I completely fell apart. It was one of the most humbling moments in my life!

I also write to help others learn about the countries that they will never ever have a chance to visit, or an experience that I think is unusual and will be appreciated by my subscribers and followers. What has come painfully apparent to me, is that an extensive portion of our society for one reason or another, has not, nor will they ever, venture outside of a 50 mile radius of where the grew up. I feel an obligation to share my experiences with these individuals and hopefully allow them to live vicariously through my travels and adventures.

I also have started spending time in Texas towns and writing a series on this experience. I am a huge history buff and love to write, photograph and experience anything to do with the Lone Star State. I wish that someday I can also publish a book of my own that highlights my love for history. However, I know how the journey of writing could need a lot of external aid: hiring professionals like ny book editors, or proofreaders, or even getting in touch with publishers. Though I wish to have a book published, I have not yet given book writing a serious thought. Maybe I will, in the future!

Anyway, let us come back to the topic of writing blog posts. I have only done Palestine thus far and walked away with eight posts (from the three days spent in this magnificent Pearl of East Texas). I also have written several posts on my hometown and the city I was actually born in, Austin. This coming spring I have been invited to perform the same function in the towns of Tyler for their Azalea fest weekend in March I believe and in Nacogdoches, both located in East Texas. It has been difficult to have the Convention and Tourism Boards in the mid-size to small towns around Texas understand the true value of social media as a Marketing concept or tool, but the walls are slowly receding and coming down in some cases.

Lately, after meeting online and getting to know Bret and Mary I have started looking into environmental processes and what can be done to help us save our planet for future generations, especially since I have three sons that will experience what we leave them. It all started with the movie “Blackfish” and I was so enthralled and captivated by the Killer Whale’s story, that I began to look more closely ate specific stories and posts involving this area, like the recent debacle over swimming with the dolphins at TBEX in Cancun. I had no idea how they were trained or given preparation for the swims. It breaks your heart to see the actual process. Not to mention what happens with Elephants in their training for humans to ride them, or the pain associated with a massive weight on their backs from the saddle.

I also have a vested interest in the war against GMO’s and the obvious damage they present to the human body. Thank God each time I venture outside of the US, I am reminded of what actual organic food tastes and looks like. Not to mention the fact that in the two weeks to a month in county, I always lose ten to fifteen pounds. There is no comparison and the taste is 180 degrees from the bland GMO structured “foods” we consume in my home country the USA. All supposedly in the name of furnishing cheap and healthy foods to the populations of the world without sufficient supply. I am sorry, but that is a load of horse manure and these people will eventually obtain the attributes that our society has taken on like Diabetes and obesity. I will argue all day long if your position is of the opposite side and will never, never settle with you!

My last tidbit in this area is in regards to healthcare and the continual plundering of our population, by big medicine and all the participants. Try getting sick in let’s say Ecuador and see what a real Doctor that is truly concerned with your health and not taking a CYA approach from fear of a lawsuit involving malpractice. Not only will you be shocked at the genuine care given, but the costs will place an arrow directly between your eyes, as it more than likely will only be about 5% to 10% of what you would have paid in the US. And my apologies, but you cannot come back on me and say the Doctors here are so much better qualified. They are of equal value and trained mostly in the US. They practice exactly what you would expect from an American Doctor and have the same abilities.

4) How does my writing process work?

My writing usually revolves around placing selected photos in chronological order on my draft page and then I fill in the gaps so to say by reliving my experience visually with the aid of the photos. Every time I place a photo on the draft page it brings memories back, as they cascade across my brain and flood my gray matter with flashbacks of, or perceptions and involvement in guided tours, spa events, cooking classes and restaurants that make me drool from the recollection of the flavors associated with the countries and meals I have tried. I have been very fortuitous in my travels and been able to cultivate a wide array of trips and recollections of my travels.

Most of the time I schedule a time after morning coffee and surfing the Internet to devote strictly to my writing. That way there are no distractions and the words flow freely most of the time, given the photos ability to open up my thoughts. Just like others though there are times when mental issues or stress associated with life come between me and my writing. When this happens I get up and try to do other functions like eating (Ha!) or a minimum of house work. I have washing the whites down real good as I wear mostly white undershirts and white socks. Sorry Fashion patrol, but it is a fact! Usually it only takes a few minutes away to get my thoughts straightened out and then come back and finish.

The hard part and probably the area I dislike the most is editing and viewing my grammar, punctuation and run on sentences. I hate this necessary function sometimes! It too bad I can’t just blink my eyes and my draft be checked and repaired of all the errors.

And now I’d like to introduce you to my Blog Hop invitees!

Brianna Jellerson Simmons of the Casual Travelist.

Brianna Simmons of Casual Travelist

Brianna Simmons of Casual Travelist

Hi there, my name is Brianna and I’d like to welcome you to the Casual Travelist. I am a travel writer and blogger balancing my love of travel with a full time career. I prefer laid back luxury where the focus is on the experience and in particular culinary, city and nature travel. This blog is dedicated to having great travel experiences and making the most of your limited time to travel.

Welcome to the Casual Travelist! This blog focuses on experiential travel and in particular culinary, city and nature travel. I’m just a regular person with a full time career, friends and family that I love and a cat I adore; trying to balance my home life with my passion for travel. I aim to show that you can have great travel experiences whether it’s for 2 days or 2 weeks.

I’ve always loved exploring new places. I had a fairly nomadic childhood as a result of my father’s job living throughout the United States and stayed on the move after I joined the US Navy where I got my first taste of traveling abroad. After my stint in the Navy I got married, earned my doctoral degree and began a rewarding career as a physical therapist. I love my home life but the drive to explore remains. My travels have brought me to Europe, the Middle East, Central America, Canada and throughout the US including Alaska. I’m a big fan of traveling locally, you’ll often me exploring around my home state of Virginia as well as the Mid Atlantic.

Alison Abbott of the Green With Renvy blog.

Alison Abbott of Green With Renvy

Alison Abbott of Green With Renvy

Founder and writer Alison Abbott has been a multi discipline designer for all of her adult life. She is a serious design advocate, content creator and small business strategist, who is enthusiastic about keeping it local whether at home or abroad.

A passion for travel took hold early in her career, after production trips to the Far East for the fashion and design company she established in 1978. Twenty five successful years later, she segued into the world of renovating houses with an eco-friendly twist. A desire to combine that passion for travel with her growing knowledge in the world of sustainability led her to the launch of Green With Renvy. You’ll find the blog is an enjoyable riff on the concept of renovating your travel and lifestyle in sustainable shades of green. Reducing your carbon footprint can come in many forms, and even small steps can have a significant impact. Sharing these ideas and discoveries with her readers is what Green With Renvy is all about. When not searching for the best of artisans, growers and locales that make a destination unique, Alison shares her time between Boston and Nantucket.

Alison is a brand ambassador and Boston Local Expert with Afar Media. Recent work has been featured on Westin™ Finds from Afar, Stonyfield and Trip Advisor B2B. She has provided content creation and photography for both Chase Bank and Afar Media as they relaunch their web site​. Alison’s coverage of The Flower Markets of India was featured in Leaf Magazine. ​ ​ Visit Philly and Visit Aruba have partnered with the site, and she has reviewed hotels around the world.​ Her self guided walking tour of Nantucket – A Faraway Isle was published by Visual Travel Tours and is available for download.

As a writer, she explains, “Nothing could make me happier than hearing from a reader who has changed her travel plans for her son’s graduation to stay in an eco-friendly hotel that I recently recommended. Having a subscriber and her husband take a page out of my itinerary in Kerala, India because it sounded like the perfect start to ease them into the chaos that can be India is very rewarding. Something as simple as trying one of my Meatless Monday recipes with great results can make my day. I firmly believe that as individuals become better traveled and more mindful, culturally aware citizens of the globe, the world will be a better place”. With that thought in mind, Alison shares the experience of eco-friendly travel and lifestyle through Green With Renvy.

Let’s make a difference together.

Jim O’Donnell from Around The World in Eighty Years.

Jim O'Donnell of Around The World in Eighty Years

Jim O’Donnell of Around The World in Eighty Years

I was born to a middle class white family in a small town in Southern Colorado. We lived in a modest 1920’s stuccoed Spanish colonial style house made of cinder blocks and painted solid white. The roof was peaked and shingled gray. There was a chimney, but the fire-place didn’t work. A great black American Elm grew in our front yard. I lived there from birth to eighteen years old. My mother is still there.

In the backyard she grew roses, lilacs and rhubarb for pie. She made my younger brother mow the grass. My father had a plum tree for homemade jam and the lady across the wire fence held a massive wounded crow captive in an oversized cage.

On weekends we went to the mountains. In the Huajatollas we crashed up old mining roads in our International Harvester Scout. In the Greenhorns we ate fresh trout from Lake Isabel and picnicked on the grass next to Ophir Creek. In the San Juans we perused places like Rico, Dunton and Sawpit and climbed steep paths dappled in aspen.

At Monarch we skied, in the Arkansas we rafted, and in the mountain ghost town of Victor my dad bought a miniature, tumble-down miner’s cabin, from which we explored Long Hungry Gulch, Wilson Creek, Little Pisgah and Grouse Mountain. To the cabin we brought the things we found scattered over the nearby hills and mountains. It was Victor’s past: giant star shaped drill bits, amethyst colored bottles, blue and white Lenox porcelain chunks, milk-glass, pewter cups and rusted open-top cans.

I also brought to the cabin a curiosity for the mountain bluebirds, vireos and hummingbirds I saw, the elk that cut our path, the mountain lion we hoped to see, the bear tracks in the mud, the butterscotch ponderosas, the fescue, the Columbine and the way the wind blew rain from the West onto my face in August.

Yet, I failed to understand the pits the rain dug where the cows had eaten all the grass. The streams I wasn’t allowed to touch that flowed from the mine tailings. The hill sides that sloughed where all the trees had been cut.

The reason I couldn’t hear wolves howling at night, no matter how hard I tried. In the ruins of the ghost town there was a nutty old woman with spiked white hair and breasts that sagged to her knees. Her name was Mary and she collected fossils and miner’s lamps. She said the wolves had been massacred in the 20’s and 30’s and that they would never come back.

At some point along the way, I decided that I had to see the world.

Biting USA — America’s Best Food Destinations

***This is post was contributed by Dial a Flight.


From the fresh seafood of New England to the iconic BBQ of the Lone Star state, or the lavish hotel buffets of Las Vegas, to the sidewalk hot dogs of NYC, or even in the city that has it all and people booking flights to Orlando, the USA boasts an intimidatingly delicious global melting pot of cultures and cuisines. A reputation for large portions and fast service might be misleading; the assumption often being that emphasis is on quantity, not quality. Those who have sampled molecular gastronomy, sushi or haute cuisine in any of America’s cities will know this to be anything but the case. Read on for a sampling of some of the most iconic stateside fare.


Jambalaya on the Bayou

Louisiana Creole cuisine is as wild and spicy as its carnival, a blend of French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Native American and African influences. The best time to eat in New Orleans is in fall, when the ingredients tossed into the thick, rich gumbo and colorful jambalaya are at their best. For a superior sampling of some traditional tastes The Royal House Oyster Bar or Galatoire’s are both a good bet.


Key Lime on the Keys

The sunshine state yields dishes influenced by Jamaican and Caribbean cuisine, with the emphasis on sweet, tropical fruits, seafood, freshness, sizzle and spice. Stone crabs, conch, key lime pie and orange juice may all sound familiar, but intrepid foodies should also try something new. Deep-fried gator tail, anyone?


The Steak Sandwich

The Steak Sandwich is a 5-Star Treat!


Cliché and frivolity in the windy city

For a typical all-American meal, you can’t beat Chicago, where the triumvirate of USA cliché cuisine — pizza, burgers, and the steak sandwich — has been perfected. To dine out on cheesy slabs of perfection, make for one of the city’s downtown diners. For a fresh and frivolous degustation, on the other hand, Alinea will blow your mind, with its helium-filled floating apple balloons, or its fourteen texture dishes.


There’s nowhere like the States for culinary diversity. It would be a crying shame to stick to the fast food outlets you can find anywhere, so stray from the beaten path, seek out tradition and provenance for your plate, and your palate will thank you for it.



Image by adactio, used under Creative Commons license. 


A Taste of Thai Food on The Cheap, A Guest Post by Agness Walewinder

Believe me or not, but I don’t know anyone who traveled to Thailand and didn’t like Thai food. It simply does not happen. Everyone seems to love the local dishes here as they are refreshing, full of flavours, fresh and perfectly spiced. Thai cuisine is a perfect combination of old Eastern and Western flavours combined with a dash of tropical fruits. What I love the most about Thai food is a perfect balance of all ingredients. It’s never too spicy, never too mild or never too sweet…


Tourist Ordering Pad Thai in Bangkok

Tourist Ordering Pad Thai in Bangkok


Another great news is that Thai dishes are extremely affordable, even in Bangkok. Do you have one dollar or two? Great. That’s more than enough to have a delicious lunch or dinner. No, I’m not joking and here is what you should do to dine out in Thailand on the cheap:


Thai Soup with Meat and Veggies

Thai Soup with Meat and Veggies


#1 Street vendors are your best friends.


Yes, street food is not only healthy, light and delicious, but also affordable. Thai cities are filled with pad thai stands and small food vendors from where you can grab some grilled chicken, pork, any kind of veggies and of course famous salty bugs and scorpions. The prices start from $0.50 and you should never pay more than $2-$3 a meal. Otherwise, it’s a scam!


Various Grilled Meats

Various Grilled Meats


Grilled Corn

Grilled Corn


Fried and Salty Bugs

Fried and Salty Bugs 


#2 Go for fruits and veggies based meals.


Meat is a bit expensive in Thailand, so dishes based on pork, chicken or duck are much more pricey than the ones filled with exotic fruits, veggies and rice. Just to give you an example, you would pay around $1 for a sticky mango rice whereas chicken noodle soup costs over $2,50. Besides, fruits and veggies are extremely healthy and nutritious, so cutting down on meat will be also beneficial for your health.


Sweet Papaya and Nuts Salad with Rice

Sweet Papaya and Nuts Salad with Rice 


#3 Say NO to busy Western restaurants.



You are in Thailand so take the advantage of it and stick to traditional Thai meals which are yummy, light and refreshing. I often saw foreigners digging into burgers and pizzas when in Bangkok like they couldn’t have some Thai noodles, papaya salad sprinkle with nuts, grilled veggies or chicken soup. Western food is so pricey, full of fat and sugar and it will make you feel bloated and tired. It’s good to have it from time to time in your home country, but not when you are on a short trip in Thailand surrounded by fresh seafood and delicious smell from local restaurants.


Papaya and Seafood Salad with Rice

Papaya and Seafood Salad with Rice


#4 Visit local markets.


Farmers’ markets are the best places for your daily grocery shopping on the cheap. You can buy here a lot of fresh and organic products – honey, jams, bread, milk, fruits, vegetables, herbs and spices as well as ready meals. I simply loved Thai markets. They smell so good, they are loud and overcrowded with tourists and locals. People scream and bargain with each other. Sellers sell their products from their boats, everyone smiles and wave at you. Great experience, that’s for sure! Apart from food, you can also purchase some souvenirs here – postcards, handmade wooden baskets, hats, etc. Thai markets are also surrounded by small local restaurants from where you can order a take-away meal. By the way, did you know that you can spend a day at Damnoen Saduak floating Market in Bangkok for less than $25? Yes, you can and it’s so cool!


Fried Noodles with Veggies

Fried Noodles with Veggies 


#5 Share the food with others.


The portions of food in Thailand can be sometimes really massive. For a girl like me, a plate of pad thai is way too much so I often shared it with Cez- my travel companion. In this way, we could both feel full without paying much. If you are like me and you prefer having a bit of everything when eating, ask fellow travelers to join you for a lunch or dinner. You can order small plates of different food, a couple of Thai beers and a nice dessert that you can split into 4 pieces.


Agness and Cez of etramping

Agness and Cez of etramping


#6 Try out your bargaining skills.


Bargain hard or go home – that’s what I’ve learnt in Thailand. Thai locals love to haggle for food, clothes and souvenirs with foreigners, so try out your skills when ordering some food. In order to do it properly, learn some basic Thai words – numbers, polite questions and requests, food vocabulary so you can impress not only yourself, but also locals around to get some food discount!


After visiting Thailand over 3 times, nobody can convince me that Thai food is expensive. Just the opposite. Apply these 6 rules and you will feel the difference in your wallet and around your waistline!


Have you ever tried Thai food? What was it and how much did you pay?




Agness and Cez

Agness and Cez


We are two adventurous tramps, best friends – Agness and Cez, from Poland. We call ourselves tramps, because we live without permanent home and for under 25 bucks a day, since 2011. While travelling the world, we find the time to write about it, share the tricks to do it cheaply and even help other people do the same. Come along with us at!

Read more about Agness
Read more about Cez


***All photos supplied by and credited to***


Photo of The Day #71, Panaderia Deluxe at The Oro Verde Hotel Guayaquil

As I stumbled down to the coffee shop in the lobby of The Oro Verde Hotel, I told myself the trip to Ecuador was just beginning and I needed to just have coffee and something healthy, in a manner of speaking. I had no idea I would encounter such a plethora of sweet items that challenged my desire to remain healthy. After all I was on a 5-week trial run to see what the real cost of living in Cuenca was for a month. I knew my fiend Efrain of Mio Tours would be there soon and I had to make a decision.


Assorted Sweets for Anytime of the Day

Assorted Sweets for Anytime of the Day


I decided I would eat healthy when I got to Cuenca and settled into my condo. To heck with being healthy, when all this was staring me in the face. Not only was I pondering the quantity and assortment of sweets to ingest, I actually had serious debates with myself about the assorted sandwiches and salads displayed in this case below. Decisions should never be made when you are hungry! I knew this and also was very familiar with the process of having Mio Tours (You Tube Link) drive me to Cuenca. I knew full well that we would stop at a restaurant my friend Efrain favored in Puerto Inca. The lunches with juice and soup run around $3.50 per person and are very tasty.


Sandwiches and Ready to Eat Items

Sandwiches and Ready to Eat Items


Then of course another challenge is the magnificent bread they prepare all over Ecuador and since it is so inexpensive you want to buy every type of loaf available and see what is in line with your tastes and what isn’t. Down deep I knew I couldn’t buy more than one type of bread at a time and would have to wait until I got to Cuenca and shop at Maria’s Alemania Bakery. This bakery has the absolute best breads in the world, bar none!


Loaves and Loaves of Fantastic Bread / Pan

Loaves and Loaves of Fantastic Bread / Pan


Oh how I wanted to box up one of these whole cakes and take it with me to the Condo. I could then bury my face in all that sweet goodness and eat like a pig! No one would see me and no one would know. So why not you ask? Because rather simply put, I have to live with myself and couldn’t do this without totally stressing out! Oh well maybe next time. I absolutely love all the Panaderias in Ecuador and they make very delicious goods. Most are so inexpensive it is almost embarrassing. This shop was nothing really out of the normal and is fairly representative of the bakeries in Ecuador. One of life’s small pleasures and I can’t wait to get back to Ecuador and eat my fill of sweets! Waistline? What waistline? I can always walk it off in Cuenca! After all it is situated at around 8500 feet above seal level and that takes more than a little effort when you are my age.


Take Home Cakes and Other Sweet Delicacies

Take Home Cakes and Other Sweet Delicacies






My Amazing Life-Chapter 11, Centara Grand Beach Resort Phuket Review

My recent  excursion to Thailand and Malaysia was a trip of a lifetime and I owe a great deal of gratitude to the Tourism Authority of ThailandThai Airways  and Tourism Malaysia USA. The trip was full of 5-Star hotels, restaurants and some of the most fabulous tours I have ever been on, but staying at this hotel was definitely one of the highlights of our trip. The Centara Grand Beach Resort was one of the top five hotels I have stayed at in my entire life, including my many trips to Asia, as a buyer for Six Flags amusement parks in the seventies.


Centara Grand Beach Resort in Phuket

Centara Grand Beach Resort in Phuket


Flying in from Bangkok we saw a view of Phang Nga Bay and all the wonderful islands. We had a bus waiting and drove through old town Phuket for a quick shopping spree and drove up to this entrance. It made a statement and everything had been prepared for us and we immediately were prepared to be taken to our rooms. Before I go any farther I will tell you this post will have more photos, than any post I have published. I think I took around 200 total of just the hotel, spa, beach and grounds.


Centara Entrance

Centara Entrance


If you know me, you know I have a very weak bladder, so before the tram took us to our rooms, I used the facilities. My word it was like I was outdoors and we even had a waterfall, just in case we needed any coaxing. Not an issue with me!


Mens Restroom Waterfall

Mens Restroom Waterfall


I walked out and one of the ladies was coming out of their restroom and asked if I would like to see it. She assured me it was vacant. Well of course I said yes. Their view was similar except their sinks looked out over the waterfalls. I was so blown away that it is included in my video later on in the post.


Ladies Restroom Sinks

Ladies Restroom Sinks 


We had our luggage loaded on trams and were taken to our “rooms”, passing several buildings on the way. This section appeared to be similar to the area we were staying in, but not as secluded. You can see the rooms on the bottom floor had pools or Jacuzzi’s by the tile.


Rooms with Pools (Bottom Rooms)

Typical Centara Rooms


Every morning when we came down to eat breakfast at The Cove Restaurant, we roamed along this lovely courtyard and glimpsed the beach. The view was magnificent and literally took your breath away! It was a short hike from the room, so each of us really worked up an appetite, as we strolled daily.


Courtyard to Dining at The Cove

Courtyard to Dining at The Cove


This photo is of the Omelet station and of course I ate my share while we were there. This gentleman had the preparation down to an art and never made any mistakes. He had a lot of satisfied customers.


Omelet Station

Omelet Station at The Cove


They make a crepe like item that is sparsely spread on the large griddle in the middle and cooks very quickly. It can be topped off with jams or have products inserted while cooking. It was a daily ritual for me and tasted so good. I hope I am not getting the name wrong, but it reminded of me and was similar to a product we ate, named Roti Canai, later in our trip. If I am incorrect I apologize to my readers. If you know the true name please leave a comment below the post and share with my readers.


Fresh Roti (Bread) Station

Fresh Roti Canai or Crepes (Bread Stuffed with Sweets) Station at The Cove


Inside there were so many stations with fruits, breads, various traditional Thai breakfast soups served over or with rice and just about anything you can imagine that one would eat at breakfast whether normal or not to you.


Carious Local Broths and Rice

Various Local Broths and Rice at The Cove


My room was very spacious and had a coffee area with refrigerator stocked to the limit. The work area or desk was phenomenal and had enough electric outlets to charge every piece of equipment I had at one time. The view out the sliding glass doors was tremendous and inspiring. It may not look like it but this King size bed was huge and very comfy.


Desk Area in Room Behind King Size Bed

Desk Area in Room Behind King Size Bed


How many photos can one take of their room? I knew it would be hard, but I had to include the glorious shower with a high pressure rain head. It was spectacular and really had an aggressive spray. My tired and aching body loved it for sure, every day I jumped in.


In Room Shower with a Great Rain Head

In Room Shower with a Great Rain Head


What’s this? I walked out my sliding glass doors and found a unimaginable patio setup complete with a huge swimming pool and Jacuzzi. I was blown away that they would have this type of arrangement and I found out we all had a similar room. The privacy curtain could be raised at your discretion to keep nosy passers by from observing your activity. My only regret is I didn’t take a photo at night with the pool lit up. It was stunning.


In Room Swimming Pool

In Room Swimming Pool


The Centara’s spa was named Cenvaree. It is out of this world, with first class amenities and options that one could use the entire day. Again, my issue was how many photos do I share? I decided I would let you see what the waiting area looked like. We were served water prior to our wonderful massages and a warm tea afterwards. I truly love having my body beat up and my muscles dug into. It is so relaxing. I had a traditional Thai massage, in which they use their elbows and get deep into the tissue. It hurt substantially at first, but as it progressed I grew used to it and had all my stress and sore muscles relaxed afterwards.



Spa Waiting area

Spa Cenvaree Waiting area


This is what the pedicure room looked like, but I only had so much time and couldn’t take advantage of the therapy. I did later at another hotel. There is nothing like having your feet massaged to relieve your body’s stress. Okay go ahead call me a Metro-Sexual. I really don’t care. I love spas.


Pedicure Station

Spa Cenvaree Pedicure Station


The Centara is located right on the water and you just have to walk just across the entry road to reach their fantastic beach. On my first visit I was totally surprised at the size, the beauty and all the normal chairs, umbrellas and beach lounges. I had no idea it was so large. Of course I took around 30 to 40 photos and had a dickens of a time trying to decide which to keep. So I decided on these three with the first one showing just the beach and a great wave.


Centara Beach

Karon Beach


This one show you what the chair and umbrella arrangement looked like looking to the south and kind of back towards the hotel entrance. I could have stayed on this beach all day for our entire visit, but we had tours and restaurants and shopping to participate with.


Beach Lounge Chairs with Umbrellas

Karon Beach Lounge Chairs with Umbrellas


The last photo, yes I said last, was of the beach facing north and giving you a taste of the cove we were located in. In addition you can see the view that a few locals had from their wonderful villas up the side of the hill.


Beach Lounge Chairs with Umbrellas

Karon Beach Chaise Lounge Chairs with Umbrellas


All good things must come to an end, but I cannot rave enough about this hotel. A friend ask recently about what accommodations were available in Phuket, as she had a friend getting married and they wanted it to be on the beach. They had broken it down to Phuket and an island area in Thailand. I couldn’t type fast enough. I recommend the Centara Grand Beach Resort and told her that her friend would remember her wedding forever, just like I will remember my stay at this luxurious establishment forever.





*** 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 10, Bangkok’s Best Shopping Center for Haggling #Asiatique

I am sure if you travel very much you are enamored as I am with visiting markets and haggling over prices. Its expected in a large majority of the world and when we were in Thailand recently they took us to Asiatique, a shopping center located at Charoen Krun Soi 72 in Bangkok and on the Chao Phraya river. It is located around an enhanced rebuilt pier originally constructed in the early 1900’s and has an entertainment park atmosphere, complete with a Ferris wheel.


Asiatique Ferris Wheel

Asiatique Ferris Wheel


Asiatique has many stalls and offers a myriad of shops with clothing, shoes, bags, luggage and a large amount of silk items. Additionally, it has  food court is like the old Night Market and one can find great inexpensive Thai food. If you are in the mood for a higher end menu with air conditioning there are a couple of upper end restaurants like the one we ate at. In addition to a fabulous meal, we had entertainment with dinner at the Joe Louis Puppet Theatre, which I will write about in another post.


We were driven in vans to the shopping complex, but one can take the Skytrain an above ground rail system in Bangkok to Saphan Taksin and catch one of Asiatique’s free ferries across the river. The ferries run from 5:00 pm until 11:00pm every night. As we pulled into the parking lot it was lit up and very beautiful.


Parking Lot at Asiatique

Parking Lot at Asiatique


As we approached the entrance to the restaurant it seemed a little like Christmas at home with this green tree lit up and displayed in the center of the mall.


Entry to Asistique

Entry to Asistique


We watched the show at Joe Louis Puppet Theatre and gathered to begin shopping. It appeared that all were very exited, as we separated into groups and hit the booths. It must have taken all of about 10 seconds for the various groups to break away and start shopping. I was amazed at the speed of my tour group!


Abha Wangpaichitr (Thai Airways) by the Large Elephant

Abha Wangpaichitr (Thai Airways) by the Large Elephant


I caught Abha Wangpaichitr, a Marketing Coordinator for Thai Airways, posing at the large golden elephant outside the restaurant. Elephants are considered very lucky in Thailand and one can purchase various souvenirs from T-Shirts to wood carvings to porcelain statues of elephants and take a little luck home with you.


Ladyboy Posters

Ladyboy Posters


Entertainment at Asiatique has a varied approach and includes a long running Transvestite show,  the Calypso Cabaret. Having seen these “ladyboys” up close in Phuket I was astonished at how much some of them resemble beautiful women. A few of the women on our tour were taken back at how pretty some of them were. The show is a bit expensive at around 1000 baht. I did not see it, so I cannot review the show.


Fish That Eat The Dead Skin Off Your Feet

Fish That Eat The Dead Skin Off Your Feet


In addition the shopping center has spa options, which include these small fish that eat the dead skin from your feet. I tried it at a resort and spa in Malaysia and it tickles like crazy. It is kind of freaky at first, but you get used to it. Our fish at the spa, were in a large pool and not contained in a small aquarium like this. I feel this, besides maybe being a little unsanitary possibly, is not exactly good for the fish.


Silk Scarves

Silk Scarves


I intended to purchase a few silk items for Kim and looked at many a scarf and wrap and became more and more confused as the night wore on. I was taken back by the quantity and choices affordeded us. We could have shopped all night for just the silk scarves.


Various Silk Items

Various Silk Items


Not only were silk scarves an option, the selection of silk pillow covers were massive and thank goodness I only was looking at scarves. I might have had to come back the next night and resume my shopping. A couple of the ladies I ventured out with did purchase the pillow covers. There was booth after booth of just silk products.


A Young Band Performing

A Young Band Performing


As we came upon a crossroad in the shopping center and began a new lane, we came across this young and very talented small band. I was blown away by their talent and laughed at some of their laid back dress style!


Various Bags

Various Bags


If you were in the market for a bag for yourself or your wife you could look at buying a small assortment for a very cheap price. I think these groups ran like $3.00, $5.00 and $7.00 US dollars, after translating value from the baht amount. I was amazed.


Various Coin Purses

Various Coin Purses


I did wind up buying Kim a new coin purse that was the size of these clutches and I think, if memory serves me correctly it was a whopping $.85 US dollars. I just bought a black single with an elephant on it of course.


Asiatique Stand

Asiatique Stand Commemorating 1945


This little stand commemorated the original pier built in the early 1900’s and was associated with the train system and somehow a passport stamp, as shown at the bottom of the sign. My apologies for not studying enough on the meaning and significance of this stand. I did research the stand, but couldn’t locate anything. I wrote the shopping center so we will see if they respond. If they explain its significance I will post it on a later date.


Prada Lookalike Bags

Prada Lookalike Bags


The ladies in the group I shopped with told me the Prada bags were very good copies, but had small fatal flaws that could be detected, if viewed up close. I wouldn’t have known one from the other! One of the ladies was told first price was $80.oo US Dollars. I told her under my breath to come back with $40.00 US Dollars. The vendor just laughed and said “No way could he afford that price as the bags cost him more than that”. So we asked how much he could come down. He told us about $10.00 US Dollars to $70.00 US. I told her let’s walk away.


He came running after us and said okay for you a “special price” $60.00 US. I laughed and grabbed her arm and we started to walk away. He asked “What you pay”? I said , for the second time, $40.00 US. He grimaced and sold her the bag. I am guessing we were at his bottom limit. We were told ahead of time to pay about 50% of what they originally quoted and we found that to be true, throughout most of the market.


Colorful Candles

Colorful Votive Candles


These candles were fascinating and so colorful. I liked that the actual votive candle could be switched out for new scents, or if the wax had burned off. Really almost bought a couple for Kim, but I had to leave room for the silk items, bag and the huge assortments of Batek material for her to sew with, I would purchase in Kuala Lampur.


Carvings, etc.

Carvings, etc.


This was also very tempting and I wanted to purchase an item or two for my sons, but down deep I knew they would appreciate a T-Shirt more and the item from this selection would just sit and collect dust in their homes!


Wonderful Elephant

Wonderful Elephant with Brass Hands 


I turned a corner and looked down a booth to the other end. These elephants and brass hands were staring back at me. I think someone or something was trying to tell me I was very “lucky” to be on this trip. No worries I was already very aware of that!



Various Flip Flops

Various Flip Flops


Okay who doesn’t like flip flops or sandals. I couldn’t get a photo of the entire stall, but this booth was filled with every color and style of flip flop you could imagine. They were being offered at a reasonable price, but again I had limited space so I passed!


Dog Sleeping with Sunglasses

Dog Sleeping with Sunglasses


Okay this was just too funny to pass up. This dog was sound asleep with people walking all around it by his owners stall and he was wearing a pair of sunglasses. It cracked me up and brought a round of laughter to us all. This was definitely a first for me and the rest of the group!


Small Convenience Store

Small Convenience Store


After 30 years in this industry, as a retail exec what do I run into in the shopping center, but a slimmed down version of a convenience store and my gosh was it busy. The line to get in was regulated and very long. Maybe I should open up a second one and see if it would be profitable? Ha!


Another Young Group of Musicians

Another Young Group of Musicians


We were on our way out and ran into a second band of young teens playing what looked like harpsichords, drum box and a guitar. Great music and we stopped and listened, as we had a few minutes left before our meetup at the front to catch our van back to the hotel.

I love seeing local markets and haggling with the vendors and do this in every city I visit. This particular shopping center was opened in 2012 and took the place of a few night markets. It is clean and well operated and I recommend you visit #Asiatique, but make sure you have several hours to shop and roam, as it is a very large complex. I guarantee you will have a blast!



*** 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.



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


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.










Photo of The Day #66, #NomadicTexan, #Texas, #Travel, #Olives #Food, #Wine

I entered a contest sponsored by Edible Austin and won tickets to the Texas Olive Fest, located at the Texas Hill Country Olive Company grounds. The Olive company is between Bee Caves ( a suburb of Austin) and Dripping Springs, on Fitzhugh Road. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I was aware that this Olive Oil company is one of the top five Olive Oil companies in the country! We arrived, obtained our tickets and walked right into a cooking class being conducted by Chef Ross Burtwell of the Cabernet Grill in Fredericksburg.


Chef Ross Burwell's Cookbook

Chef Ross Burtwell’s Cookbook


I will devote an entire post later in the week with his recipes and the other things Kim and I tasted, sampled and drank. Oh did I forget to tell you, about 20 vineyards were there handing out samples, if you had tickets. Kim had a blast! As soon as the recipes go up I will publish the entire post. Trust me Chef Ross prepared a few tasty samples. This is his brand new cookbook and if you find yourself in the Texas Hill Country in Fredericksburg, give his restaurant a try!

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


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 #4, in the Series, Palestine Texas #101 “The Best Pie I Have Ever Had”

As we walked toward the Oxbow Pies & Antiques entrance I had flashbacks of the Jersey Lilly at Six Flags amusement park in Arlington Texas, when I was younger. I just knew Judge Roy Bean was going to be inside sitting at the bench. I was curious about the theme as I have never seen an operation combine a restaurant and pie shop for a retail outlet. I am a “Pie” man from way back and have loved pies over cakes for my entire 63+ years. I was almost drooling as I entered, awaiting my impending pie tastings. Yes I said “plural”, as I couldn’t leave this place without trying at least a couple of different pies.


Oxbow Pies & Antiques

Oxbow Pies & Antiques



I opened the door and was faced with a myriad of antiques and worn wooden tables for eating your meals and pies. David Wolfe and his Mother Becky the proprietors, stepped forward as we entered and introduced themselves. As expected, they were both genuine down-home people, that make you feel comfortable immediately. I apologized, as we were very late for a scheduled lunch. As you approach the counter you see this display of pies, which immediately make your mouth start watering.


Fresh Pies Display Case

Fresh Pies Display Case


We sat down and they started us off with a half of a chicken salad sandwich. It had grapes in it just like my Mother used to make. It was delicious with just enough Mayo. Thank God they didn’t serve us a complete sandwich. A great appetizer!


Chicken Salad Sandwich

Chicken Salad Sandwich


Then came a good old Frito Pie. For those not raised in Texas, we fill a heaping bowl of Frito’s with chili. I inhaled this magnificent concoction and I could not believe the taste of the chili. It was just like the chili that covered my enchilada’s, when I would go out with my parents as a child and eat Mexican food. It set my taste buds in action and I was in heaven. I hadn’t savored that flavor in years, but it brought back childhood memories immediately. Of course the cheese and onions enhanced an already fabulous dish. The Wolfe’s have been in the restaurant business for decades and their products reflect the experience. I absolutely loved this course. It may not be the healthiest, but Kim and I both scraped our bowls clean and there was nothing left.


Frito Pie

Frito Pie


Becky asked if we had enough room for pie left and I just laughed. I really didn’t care if I was full or not. The primary reason I came to this place was to sample their infamous pies. So I ordered a slice of Chocolate Pecan Pie and a slice of Pineapple Meringue Pie, as I have never heard or seen this pie. I have eaten chocolate and coconut Meringue pie, but never Pineapple Meringue Pie. I dove into the Chocolate Pecan and offered Kim a taste. She prefers the regular Pecan Pie but decided against ordering pie (I know exactly why she did this, as she always “samples’ my food–Just ask anybody in our or her family). It was very tasty.


Chocolate Pecan Pie

Chocolate Pecan Pie


I saved the Pineapple Meringue for last and tried to guess what it would taste like. Would it be like an upside down cake or what? I was mad with curiosity. I shoveled the first bite in my mouth and almost fell off the chair I was sitting in. I paused for a moment and let the bite lay on my tongue. I just gloated to myself over the gorgeous flavor and sat back to enjoy the rest of the slice. It was an outstanding piece of pie and one I will never forget. Each bite rolled around my mouth and caused my senses to explode with glee. It is now, simply stated, my favorite kind of pie. Good-Bye Cherry Pie!


Pineapple Meringue Pie

Pineapple Meringue Pie


Before I move on I want you to look at the height of the Meringue on this pie. It was at least 3″ high, maybe more. I don’t believe I have ever seen one that high. I asked Becky how she does it and she said a lot of egg whites and a lot of whipping. David makes the crusts (which are unbelievably good) and Becky makes the fillings. They both are early risers and are in the shop before sun up. If you are ever near Palestine you have to stop and sample a slice. I suggest you take home a whole pie and of course, my recommendation is the Pineapple Meringue Pie.



A room Full of Antiques

A room Full of Antiques



The shop has tables with benches and tables with chairs scattered all throughout the store. When you walk in you do not realize how large the shop really is or how many quality antiques are housed in the shop. Many of the antiques are for sale. I was a little taken back as Kim and I could have probably spent 3 to 4 hours looking at their treasures. One of my favorites was this old Root Beer and Coca-Cola soda barrel.


Soda Barrel

Soda Barrel


The restaurant and pie shop has been written up in Texas Farm and Home magazine and has a four page layout. I fell in love with this place and next time I visit the Oxbow Bakery & Antiques shop I am buying a whole Pineapple Meringue Pie and not sharing with Kim! The owners were lovely and we were chatting to them for a while. They told us they were looking at buying some industrial mixers (you can learn more here) to allow them to make more pies which seems like a sensible idea. It’s a successful business but they could make so much money if they upscaled production. We also spoke about the ingredients they use in their pies, which was interesting to learn about too.


Texas Farm and Home Magazine

Texas Farm and Home Magazine


Eventually Kim did have her Pecan Pie and inhaled it just like me. Surprisingly I did get a taste. Here is a handwritten menu advertising the pies available that day. Hope it motivates you to try my new favorite pie shop in all of the country (I am talking the entire USA-It’s that good)!


Today's Pies Menu

Today’s Pies Menu






*** 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.



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Amateur Traveler Episode 471 - Travel to Austin, Texas