Wednesday, December 16, 2009
Friday, November 13, 2009
Thursday, October 29, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
Now, as with most of our stand-by trips, we’re in the airport at a time that is known as “seriously early” by those in the know. Hopefully, we’ll make it to Boston early enough to pick up the car and have a decent day of driving and looking at leaves.
You’re picking up a car? You might ask. When did this happen? This actually happened last week, but I didn’t want to count on it until it was more definite. I’m actually kind of excited now. I told Rob that I’m ready to love again.
It’s a blue 2005 Subaru Outback XT Limited. This means it has a turbo engine (which makes the driving more fun), a manual transmission (also makes driving more fun), a big sunroof (a must after my history of convertibles), heated leather seats (for toasty buns), and room to grow! Even though the Mini Cooper Clubman was impossibly fun, it’s room to grow category just wasn’t great. I was sad to give up such a fun, but hope that the fun factor of the turbo is competitive.
This brings me to a new soapbox for me… WHY do no Americans drive manual transmissions???? It is just SAD! I LOVE manual transmissions! They make driving a much more interactive experience. They make me a BETTER driver! Yet, apparently, Americans like to check out while they drive, use one hand to talk on the cell phone, one hand to drink Starbucks, and the left knee to steer rather than clutch. NO other country drives automatic transmissions! You have to pay through the nose to rent an automatic in another country! It is just a travesty in America! Rob thinks I should start my own driving school called “Manual Only” so people can learn. I think it is just so sad.
What do you think? Why drive an automatic?
I’m very excited about our New England trip! I’ve never been to the east coast, besides New York City and am looking forward to this season they call “fall.” The small towns seem just too cute for words and I’m realizing what I thought was fantasy in Gilmore Girls (the cute little small town they live in) may be pretty close to reality in New England! We’ll see…
Rob decides that it’s not the fuel filter or the fuel pump and is frustrated that he doesn’t know what it is or if he can fix it before we are supposed to drive to Tallahassee at 2:30. Plus, the flight we planned on taking out of Tallahassee is full as of this morning. Great. We call the tow truck. Our friend’s tow truck is ironically in the shop and he tells me he’s going to call some of his buddies to see if one of them can come get me. Rob goes back to work. 45 minutes later I get the call that Byron’s got someone coming for me and they should be there in 20 minutes. An hour later, the tow truck arrives. In this span of time, I’ve been guilted by security forces twice more (I think everyone on shift came by), and asked by fellow military people if I needed help AT LEAST 5 times every thirty minutes!! No kidding! People I called can attest that my phone conversations went like this: “Yea, I’m stuck on base. Of all the days that the truck could break, this is just the worst!... Yes, I’m fine. Thanks, but I don’t need any help… So anyway, how’s your day been? Uh huh… Yes, there’s a tow truck coming… Thanks for asking, I’m fine…” And so on. One lady who’d passed me twice brought me water and snacks! So nice!
The tow truck that arrived made me laugh at the continuance of the ridiculousness of the day! It was an antique! I seriously worried that WE’D need a tow once it had Rob’s big truck on its platform. Then of course I still had Gus. The very amiable driver (a loving dog-person) said it was fine for Gus to ride in the cab with us. So of course, my giant dog chose the very middle of the bench seat right in front of the shifter so the guy had to reach around Gus’ body while his head rested in his lap to change gears! I WISH I’d taken a picture! We arrived at the repair shop and dropped off the truck at 1:30-ish (I broke down at 10). Lovely Heidi was there with lunch for me and a ride to the car rental place. Rob rented a car one-way to the airport in Destin for a measly $39!! We were planning on $10 a day for parking! Excellent! After dropping off Gus at the Jestice House (he gets to stay with his friends!), Heidi took me to the airport where I picked up my BRIGHT yellow Chevy Cobalt rental car. Heidi also completed a few of my errands for me too! Thank you, Heidi!!
I picked up Rob with barely any time to spare before we needed to be on the road to catch our flight. We actually missed our planned flight to Dallas, but made the last one. Whew! Although the truck breaking down was terribly inconvenient at the time, it was MUCH better than it breaking down in the middle of nowhere on the way to a cancelled flight! I mean, seriously, I got snacks, Rob and friends were close by, the repair shop was close by, and I had my pick of help from strangers! Even though it completely disrupted my original plan, it was the best breaking down experience ever.
After a very long and frustrating search, we decided to purchase a car in New Hampshire. It's a Subaru Outback XT Limited with a manual transmission. I'm cautiously excited about it.
We decided it would be fun to take a road trip from New Hampshire back down to Florida rather than ship the car.
Presently, we are on said road trip and are having a GREAT time!
The next few blogs are about that trip.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Thursday, October 8, 2009
Wednesday, October 7, 2009
I still don't have a car.
I have decided relationships with cars are like relationships with people. I was in a perfect relationship with my one and only for many years and it ended abruptly before either of us were ready, but I still trust God's timing was perfect. But, it just makes it ten times harder for me to enter into another relationship.
I often would wonder, "If I could buy any car right now, what would it be?" and ALWAYS my answer was "this EXACT same car." She was just perfect. And yes, I've thought trying to get her back, but I know I would have to sell her again and I couldn't bear the double heartbreak. And yes, I've thought about getting another Miata, but I know I would only compare the new one to my old one and that wouldn't be fair. I also don't want a silver car, because that would only remind me of my lost one. Therefore, I must get something different.
I know many of you may not have the same kind of relationship with your car as I do, but I truly want a car I can LOVE.
I have just closed about 15 windows of used cars in frustration (going on hundreds). So far, my wants, needs, and wallet are still in three very different places.
Wants: FUN car, manual transmission, large sunroof, fast and sporty, heated seats, charcoal grey exterior, not too old, low mileage (ie, Mini Cooper Clubman S)
Needs: running car, decent in snow and ice (ie, Subaru Outback (but want turbo with leather heated seats))
Wallet: cheap (ie, Pontiac Vibe (but want GT))
Hindrances to my search: manual transmissions are rare!!, manual transmissions are a cheaper option and usually do not come on the cars that have sunroofs (an expensive option)
So... I just needed a little venting. My car search has been very vexing and not nearly as fun as all those commercials make it out to be. *sigh*
Saturday, September 26, 2009
In earthier news, I got this produce box from Off the Vine Produce, like a CSA, that gathers food from nearby farms and sells it to subscribers. It's neat because it gives me things that aren't necessarily available in my farmers' market (it's closed for the season so I have to search for roadside stands now) and things that I wouldn't necessarily buy - like rainbow chard, broccoli, and potatoes. This is a picture of what was in my box: spinach, cherry tomatoes, carrots, yellow tomatoes, rainbow chard, zucchini, grapefruit, corn, grapes, potatoes, onions, and plums... oh my!
Having my favorite kitchen appliances! I can't live without my kitchen aid mixer, a coffee-making apparatus (french press or grind and brew), and my blender/food processor... oh and good knives!
The counter space in the new base housing. It's a lot! A lot.
Sailboat on the beach! We have it all set up and ready anytime we want to go sailing! Rob gets home from work and we go sailing! It's so fun! And the discord that inevitably resulted from raising and lowering the mast is no more!
Looking for a new car for me when all I really want is my old Miata back. Poo. It makes finding a new car so bittersweet.
Having one car. You don't realize how much freedom two cars gives you until it's gone.
Our stuff in boxes. It's no fun when you realize you need something that's in a box, you don't know which one, and you don't want to look for it, so you go along with your course slightly more frustrated than if you had the thing you needed.
The Florida heat. I still MUCH prefer it to cold, but like a long winter in a northern climate, Florida's long summer has me asking "when is the weather going to change?"
People asking us what our next plans are. We don't know. We never will "know." Why do people ask us what we're doing next ALL THE TIME?
The most awesome-est thing:
Spending every day with my amazing and wonderful husband!! When I'm near him, I feel happy, content, loved, and at "home." Ahhhh.
Monday, September 14, 2009
From Bled we hopped a train continuing our journey back into Austria. We stopped in a little town on the banks of Lake Worthersee for our last meal, which was to be at a very nice place famous for its creative menu and their use of the local wild life on the menu. It turns out that they don't open until 7PM and we had to be back on the train at 7:15, so we had coffee at the cafe and found dinner elsewhere. We walked about and enjoyed Austria's lake scene and a game of giant chess in the park. We got on the train to Klagenfurt where our plane departed for Frankfurt Hahn airport. Like our other Ryanair airport, it was in the middle of nowhere with the smell of cow pasture all around (we have a hunch that's a requirement for Ryanair...)
We were also reunited with Tina. She filled us in on her adventures in Klagenfurt where she stayed in a very fancy hotel with a bath tub in her room. She was returning to her home in Luxembourg after 3 weeks of holiday.
Nearing the end of our trip, we then took the last bus from Frankfurt Hahn the couple of hours to Frankfurt Main (how it can be called Frankfurt, I don't know). As we arrived around 1am to Frankfurt airport and our plane checked in at 6, we decided to save the money for 4 hours of sleep and made our beds in the airport with a surprisingly large number of other travelers.
After leaving Opatjia we arrived in Rijeka to return the car, we hit a small snag. Even though we told the store where we picked it up that the reservation was to return it at noon on Sunday, we arrived at the store and it was closed. It had a number to call (great we have no phone). The guys at Avis were nice enough to call our guy and he said he was running late. When he did show he said he was going to charge us a $50 fee because he doesn't normally work on Sunday. McKay pulled the Jedi mind trick on the dude and said, "We will pay the agreed-on price and nothing more." His eyes glazed over and after a quick call to his "supervisor" he made an exception. It was amazing. She said she learned it from living in Africa. We made it on the train to Slovenia.
About 20 min into our train ride a woman plops down next to us and just starts chattering away about some crazy monk throwing stuff at the front of the train. It turns out that she entered the wrong car and thought we were the same people she had been talking to before she went to the bathroom (she didn't actually figure that out until the Slovenian border when she realized that her bag was missing). Her name was Tina and she was a very nice lady. Her father was Danish and her mother was from Atlanta, Georgia, which gave her a very nice European accent with a little southern twang (like the word "yes" being 3 syllables). She said we didn't look American because our clothes were wrinkled and our hair wasn't perfect.
Lake Bled is the place where Slovenia brings people they want to impress. It is the most beautiful town/lake I have ever seen. It is like living in a Disney movie.
The water is perfect for swimming, there are no motor boats allowed on the lake, they have a family of swans protected by law, a castle on a hill, a beautiful church on an island in the middle of the Lake, and the back drop of the Alps. Wow! I half expected there to be singing mice in our room.
On the way to return the rental car, we stopped in Opatjia, former playground of the Hapsburgs. Like the German language realization, if I’d comprehended there would be so much Austro-Hungarian empire on our tour, I would have brushed up. Opatjia was very nice. It was filled with a wealthier crowd and nicer cement beaches with umbrellas to rent and pools shaped into the concrete coastline. We had coffee at a café and watched the waves crash and break Little Mermaid-style on the coast.
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Because we lacked a good internet conection in Croatia and then again in Florida, the remainder of our travels have not been updated yet. Here we go:
For those of you who would like a little taste of Croatia – I found Dubrovnik and the Adriatic to be similar to Austin and Lake Travis – hilly terrain, rocky coastline, and clear water.
Every guidebook says that Dubrovnik is a “must-see” in Croatia. While it was beautiful and unique, I would venture to say that Spilt is putting up a great show for top town in Croatia. The old town is built into the Roman ruins of Diocletan’s Palace. Beautiful! It’s like walking through the Forum in Rome but people live and work there! I loved it! Plus, Split is still on the water and has one of the very best pedestrian promenades I’ve ever been on (and people-watching is one of my favorite activities). Plus, the “vibe” was simply great in Split – it said, “Hey, I’m cool. You’re cool. Let’s all sit around and be cool together.” So Split ranks as my favorite Croatian town so far. Score for Split.
Arriving in Split was easy, as the train station, bus station, and ferry terminal are within eyesight and a short walk of the Old Town. The sobe we booked online was actually in the wall (we’re pretty sure, the twisty streets make it hard to tell), but locked when we arrived! Oh no! After a little confusion and help from some kind neighbors, we found she left us a key and we dropped our bags and headed out. The weirdest stay experience we’ve had so far - we never actually saw our hostess (we’re hoping the papers we left covered our pre-paid reservation). The room was nice though, and just what we needed (a shower and an actual queen bed!).
We had dinner off the beaten path (at Rick’s suggestion) and enjoyed some Italian-style Dalmation food – spaghetti, meatballs, and bruschetta. The owner of the restaurant was a grandpa and reminded me of Mr. G in College Station – classic happy Italian grandfather visits your table with joviality and a candle for the romantic young people. Sweet.
Gelato for dessert was again wonderful and Rick directed us to another off-the-beaten-path place (they always turn out to be good) and I enjoyed a wonderful lemon scoop and a new-to-me flavor: iced tea. Very tasty!! We strolled the pedestrian promenade and enjoyed some stellar people-watching and romantic gazing at the orange waxing crescent moon. Split wins my vote.
From Split, we took the train to Zagreb which we still had to pay for (although not as much) even though we had the Eurail pass (NOT a good investment in Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia). It was a special train that leaned so it could go through the mountains a lot quicker. And it did. Lean. And go quicker. The regular trains take twice as long. Once in Zagreb, we stored our bags and toured the center a bit. Zagreb is the Capitol city of Croatia and another town I think is underrated. We found it to be a pleasant business center with pretty parks and real Croatians working and eating in cafes. Plus, WAY cheaper shopping! Tourist towns are so overpriced! Points for Zagreb. I certainly think it’s worth a stay (although we didn’t stay there). We went to the car rental place to pick up our car. Another Seat (cute, tiny European car). We were already familiar with its slightly larger model. Once out of Zagreb, we followed Rob’s pre-determined route (he spent a lot of time on google maps deciding where he wanted to go) and enjoyed Croatian scenery all the way to Plitvice (plit VEE chay) National Park. Plitvice Lakes is the Croatian equivalent of Yosemite mixed with Yellowstone dropped into the Grand Canyon.
For miles before arrival in Plitvice, one sees signs for “sobe” all along the road. These are prolific in Croatia and range from small family-run hotels to single rooms rented from a family home. We found our sobe stays to be great value – private bath and nice room accommodations, low price, and interaction with local people. These are the type of places you know you want to stay, but you still stay in hotels because it has a familiar word. If you’re in Croatia or Slovenia, stay in sobes; trust me, you’ll be glad you did.
We knew Plitvice would have lots of options for sobes, so we simply kept our eyes open for nice-looking homes with sobe signs as we neared the park. We reached the park and retraced to the nearest sobe we both liked, pulled into the driveway, spoke the word “sobe”, were shown the room and agreed on a price (THE cheapest price for a room on the whole trip and maybe second or third nicest!). It’s that easy. She also gave us recommendations for dinner and directions to the nearest market (to pick up snacks for a picnic tomorrow). See? Sobes are nice.
Plitvice Lakes National Park
So, remember how I just couldn’t describe the beauty, scale, and scope of Iguazu Falls last spring? Well, Plitvice is like that. You can’t even come close to taking in all the beauty and colors. The large lakes are terraced as the limestone morphs and waterfalls connect the cascading terraces. It’s really striking.
We recommend starting your walk at the lower paths and working your way up so as to always be facing the beautiful waterfalls, even though it’s a little uphill (it’s not even close to climbing all the castle hills you would have climbed already). For the next 3 hours every corner brought a new surprise and an audible “ooooo” from Rob and I as we found each new view better than the last. Really. It takes a lot to get here, but GO here! It’s worth it!
The water was clear enough to see 60ft down. There is no fishing or swimming allowed, but there are so many trout it is hard to imagine no one ever fishing. We also experienced a new color in nature; who knew water could be this color blue.
After a half day at Plitvice, we drove through some more Croatian countryside and saw first-hand some of the evidence of the scarily-recent war in the region (we just don’t see war evidence in our own lifetimes very often). We passed bullet holes in buildings and vacant and deteriorating Serbian homes.
This region was a front in the war (the first casualty of the war was a park policeman at Plitvice) and first the Croatians evacuated, then the Serbians as the land changed hands. Now the dynamited Serbian Orthodox church skeletons and homes still stand as a very present reminder of the conflict. Also, our rental car agreement specifically stated that it does not cover land mines, so no off-roading for us.
Most of Croatia is back to normal and it is hard to believe that not long ago such a bloody conflict had these people killing their neighbors.
Our route into Slovenia took us through a beautiful farm land, over the mountains, and our "highway" turned into a tiny dirt road which narrowly avoided 200ft chasms as it wound through the forest (just because Google maps takes you there does not mean that Slovenians think you should go). After several miles on the dirt we emerged back onto the pavement and make our way out to the scenic and famous, Predjamski Grad castle. You may have seen it in movies as a villain's hideout.
After seeing the castle (from the outside, the inside is drab) we got back on the highway to the coast and to Piran.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
Thursday, August 27, 2009
We arrived in Dubrovnik by plane from Bratislava (an hour train ride from Vienna), rode a bus to town, checked into our sobe (a rented room in someone’s home and THE way to stay in Croatia), and walked the city wall. Dubrovnik is like a modern small town 500 years ago, if that makes sense. If you’ve been to any Italian small towns, this is similar. - old buildings, beautiful scenery, all woven into tiny secretive streets. The wall affords great views of the old city, surrounding hillsides, and the Adriatic. *Sigh* I love the ocean. I love the way it smells, even when it’s mixed with all those other seaside smells! After our walk, we went for refreshment at the bar that is very highly recommended by all tourist scources - Buca. Very difficult to find (unless you already know where it is) one enters through a hole in the wall of the city (the name means “hole in the wall”) out to tables balanced on jutting platforms overlooking the Adriatic. This scenic spot is easily top of my list for places to have a drink! There’s no way I can describe precisely how perfect this spot is – you will just have to go there yourself! It’s the best!
After the sun set (yea, I watched the sun set over the Adriatic on the Croatian coast yesterday!) we went for dinner at a recommended restaurant in the market square and found ourselves waiting in a line for a table (with the cafes surrounding this one showing empty tables) so we figured it would be good and continued our wait. We were well rewarded! The octopus salad was a lot like a bruschetta with fresh, flavorful tomatoes and a perfect mix of spices. My mussels (best ones I’d had since Ireland!!) were splendid! I love mussels and was so pleased to taste these stellar specimens. I think maybe mussels are better in rocky clear water? Rob ordered the “fried little fish” at the server’s conformation that they were very fresh and very good. She turned out to be precisely right and the fish turned out to be sardines! I’d never had sardines before. These were so tasty! You ate the whole fish and they reminded me slightly of eating a plate of French fries. Both meals were excellent and very filling and we both had a bit leftover. We loved this place and have decided to wait in future restaurant lines.
For dessert, we topped our wonderful meal with cones of gelato. YUM! Dubrovnik has good gelato! The last night of the summer concert festival was that evening so we strolled around to the side of the cathedral and watched the backs of the symphony’s cellists and base players with the other non-VIPs; non-ticket-holders “cheap seat” style. Perfect.
This morning, we absorbed Dubrovnik a little more and this afternoon, we’re on a bus to Split to see Roman ruins and stay overnight along our trek across the long coastal country of Croatia. Rob and I have chosen the left side of the bus for it s breath-taking over-the-cliff sea views and now I’m picking up too much of a glare to continue writing. (You’re pretty much caught up anyway). Later.
We left Sopron early (again) and took a 9-ish train to Vienna. Already relatively certain I would fall madly in love with Vienna, I was excited to finally confirm my expectations. It’s a lot more modern than I expected with clean, efficient, and extremely well-marked public transportation (SO refreshingly wonderful!) Our room in Vienna was lovely with high ceilings, wood floors, and an informative hostess. Consistently, though, we are reminded that Europeans don’t like queen-sized beds (but favor two twins pushed together) and take showers in tiny phone booths. It’s just different. The weather in Vienna was lovely (we’d been rained on and chilled yesterday) and we took our first few hours in Vienna to tour the Art Museum. Rob and I saw some great Renaissance pieces, Italian and northern ones (ones I’m less familiar with, but growing to like), and I picked up a poster of one of my favorite paintings.
After the art museum, we walked and rode trams to some of Vienna’s sights: the Opera House, City Hall (where I was ecstatic to dine on some perfect Chinese noodles!), and St. Stephen’s Cathedral. We thought we would get some Vienna cake that evening, but were dismayed to find that our desired destinations closed at 8, along with many others.
A note on the international food market in front of City Hall. This is where I got those amazing noodles. Rob and I walked up and down all the booths to find exactly what we wanted. Each booth represented a different food ethnicity. Rob followed his nose (and is usually rewarded for such behavior) and ordered what he thought was from a big stewing pot of Mediterranean meaty goodness. It turns out that he ordered a salad. Rob almost cried. Of course, it wasn’t just a salad. It had potatoes, and thinly sliced chorizo (which Rob said tasted like liking a horse). Knowing he “made his own bed,” he slept in it and ate most of the salad but finished off my noodles.
The next day, we got to the Schonnbrunn Palace just when it opened (a brilliant touring suggestion for anyone!) and toured the rooms and halls with hardly any other people! We looked later and saw the halls teeming shoulder to shoulder with lines like Disney World. We win at touring.
The rest of the morning, we toured the palace grounds and gazed amazedly at the sculptured gardening and different idea of “far” in those times before metros and cars. The Palace was the country getaway, taking about half a day to get there from the city center. It took us about 15 minutes on a metro.
For lunch, we hit a great outdoor café and finally got our Vienna cakes. They were wonderful! Light, moist, flavorful, fancy, and perfect with a cappuccino. The rest of the day we filled with shopping and touring any last-minute sights around the ring of the city center. While I was shopping, Rob had been smelling a sausage stand so we dinner-ed there and could not have been more pleased! Rob let me taste his (I was holding out for cake) and I decided he would have to get another one because I would be eating this one. It was basically a large pig-in-a-blanket, but it was also so much more. Mmmm. Next stop: Croatia!
They say Vienna is like Paris without the French. I’ve never been to Paris but I really like Vienna. The people are kind, the city is beautiful with a great mix of old and new, and who needs the Eifel Tower anyway (Cobraaa!) This was the home of the Hapsburgs when they weren’t in Prague hiding from the Ottomans. These are the guys that ruled about half the continent for 600 years and lost it all in WW I. Needless to say they had cash. If you can think of a way to Bling something they have done it. Their palace in the country rivals Versailles with a minimum 150 acres of forest and lawns for grounds. The inside of the palace would make the most extravagant rappers blush with envy. They also had two other large palaces in the city which were equally lavish, with smaller grounds. I can’t even fathom the amount of money this takes. One of the longest sitting Emperors was Josef Franz, seeing the people’s need for rights and the beheading of some of his relatives in the French Revolution, he became a very frugal and hard working ruler. The people liked the change and they felt more included in the government.
Vienna is not a late night town. Our previous attempt to get cake had been shut down by the early closing of EVERYTHING. We figured it was Sunday night; that makes sense. Monday evening after the “hot dog” in the square we planned on another round of cake. Again! Everything in the main square shuts down at 8PM. So lame.
We had about an hour in Bratislava, Slovakia, before we had to be at the airport. We decided to take a tram downtown and see a little of the town and then catch the bus to the airport. To our dismay once we got to the town we couldn’t find the bus stop for our bus; 25 other buses but not ours. It went by but didn’t stop. Anyone who spoke English either didn’t know or didn’t care how to help us. There was a driver for a different line who spoke no English who tried to help but could not understand. When we broke down and asked what a good price for a taxi was, his eyes lit up, “Taxi, there, there, is taxi” and proceeded to show us where the taxi was. We knew where the taxi was already and just paid one to take us to the airport. It was an adventure.
I ordered the tasting menu (I’ve always wanted to!) and Rob ordered another tasting menu. We began our courses with goose liver (which admittedly, I thought I wouldn’t like) and it was superb! Who knew goose liver tasted so good? The Hungarians. It tasted a little like fois gras (duck liver) and mine was done with a lightly sweet and a little fruity layering paired with a muscat wine (mmm, tasty!). Rob’s was a little more robust with a smoky flavor and a less sweet wine.
They used mostly local Hungarian wines.
The first course was listed as
Goose Liver Torte with Sour Cherry Balm and in Tokaji marinated dried Apricot-Cranberry Ragout
Tokaji Aszu-flavored Goose Liver Pate stuffed with Golden Raisins, paired with Brioche and Red Paprika Jam
The second course was
McKay: Tomato Soup with Celery Oil, Vodka and Parmesan Chips. I feel now that I have finally tasted tomato soup. For a comparison, it tasted similar to the Campbell’s tomato soup, but also as different as the tiny overflow of water down a steep hill is from the pounding magnificence of the Iguazu Falls – both waterfalls, but one substantially more so.
Rob: Home-made Pea Soup with buttered noodles. It was like a light broth. Tasty with you-know, veggies and noodles in the bottom. I think som pea soups can be heavy and it wasn’t. It was very good.
McKay: Pan-roasted Tiger Prawn served with Vegetable Blini, White Wine-Garlic Sauce and slowly baked Paprika Cubes. Good texture, light dish. The garlic sauce and paprika cubes (like roasted red peppers) gave this a pleasantly spicy taste while still being delicate with the taster’s palette. Also, blinis were served at our wedding! They are small pancakes, but much more.
Rob: Pan-fried Filet of Balaton Fogash with Vegetable Batons. Those veggie things looked like Lincoln logs stacked. Cooked very well and to the right consistency. The fish wa very good. A tad drier than I like it, but good. Not as good as the prawns, though.
McKay: Home-made Goat Cheese Sorbet. Yea, I was really curious too! How do they do sorbet (which is normally sweet) with goat cheese (which is normally, well, goat cheese)? With help from heavenly taste angels! That’s how! Oh. My. This may very well be the best thing I have ever tasted. Ever. Period. It was indeed sweet, but light, with a slight lemon tone, all with a smooth, creamy goat cheese undertone. I LOVE goat cheese sorbet and WILL try to reproduce this. Best thing. Ever.
McKay: Grilled Veal and Beef Filet with Green Asparagus and Bernaise Sauce. Of course this was good. Filet and Veal are always good. The texture was excellent and the dish was certainly above average, but being from Texas and a family of meat-lovers, I’ve had some pretty good meat in my time. I only write so little about this course because the other courses were so outstanding that this one pales in comparison.
Rob: Crisp-baked Duck Breast and Drumstick Mikszath Style served with parslied Mushroom Pudding and Cherry Sauce. Rob wins at main dish. It was crispy and flaky like a pastry on the outside and soft and juicy on the insdie like a Sunday roast. It was perfect. It ranks number two of my best meals ever.
McKay: Floating Island Dessert with Raspberry Pearls. This one looked a little, well, odd. There were three large balls of foam (a little bigger and fluffier than big marshmellows) in a bowl. The server (with ceremony) poured a pitcher of cream into the bowl. Hmm. Okay. Rob wishes he took a video of my face because as the flavors registered, my face went from “hmm…” to “ooo” to “wow” to “holy tastebuds, Batman! This is amazing!” The texture was between a marshmellow and a soufflé – much like meringue. But the flavor was packed in that light pearl! It was like all the best parts of the ripest raspberry burst on your palate at once and remained there having a wild dancing party until the foam dissolved and you were left with a happy buzz. Further, the cream he poured was so much more! It was like the really good, melted, remaining part of the tastiest vanilla bean ice cream. I found no shame in spooning the succulent cream straight.
Rob: Classic Crepe a la Gundel. The name says it all. It was a wonderful really thin pancake served with a huge dollop of dark chololate sauce. It was a perfect end to a perfect meal.
My meal ended with a cappuccino and a little sadness that such a wonderful meal experience must end. But like they say… all good things… *sigh* I’ll still have the memories… and the constant noble foodie quest to one day find something even better.
Our day of Hungarian small towns was fast-paced to say the least. We awoke at our beautiful hotel at 5:15 and left on the train at 6. We arrived in Vesprem before anything opened and successfully took a bus then got directions to walk to the city center, all without speaking any Hungarian (nor they speaking any English – fun challenges!). We walked (carrying our packs) about 45 minutes around Vesprem and saw where the queen used to be crowned. Just as things were opening, we took the bus to Csopak where we got off at a stop that required a 30 minute walk that happily showed us some small town Hungarian living: yards, streets, some thatched roofs. We arrived at the train station (downhill from the bus yay!) and took another 10 minute walk to the beautiful lake, picnicked outside the fence (we had to pay to get in where we were, so we just sat outside the fence and looked), and then walked back to the train. Csopak reminded us of Panama City Beach because it’s all about the lake (crystal clear water) and is full of the wide range of bathing-suit-clad floaty-toting beach goers that flood Panama City.
We took the train to Sϋmeg where we (sick of carrying our packs) hid them in some bushes near the empty train station, prayed they’d be okay, and started our walk towards the center and the uphill medieval castle. We were lucky the church we wanted to see was open because the town was completely deserted. Eventually, we made it to the castle and found the townspeople. Apparently, Csopak puts on this medieval show every summer weekend for paying Hungarian tourists. We were thrilled with the novelty of the show we watched at the castle, however cheesy. Then, we toured the castle (one the few medieval style ones left) and then made our way down to watch the joust. A little pricey, we opted for the commoners’ view – standing in the bushes, peeking over the ledge with other cheapskates. The joust was entertaining, although no one aimed a lance or knocked anyone off, but rather threw axes at targets and lanced hanging rings.
Returning to the train station and ready to move on, we found our backpacks intact (thanks, Lord!) and waited for the train to Ukk. Now this is where the transportation adventure gets even more fun. They were doing construction on the area of train track we were on and were using buses to pick up the routes. The train that arrived for us was two trolley cars long. We were dropped at the Ukk train station and walked to the back to get on a bus (like a greyhound bus). We picked seats far away from the obnoxious children with frosted hair, annoying in any language. We could tell by his vulgar English-word t-shirt and the heavy metal music playing on the speakers that this bus driver didn’t mess around. As the bus wound its way through the tiny towns, children ran out to the street and waved and motioned for the driver to honk the horn, also fun in any language.
When we arrived at our transfer station, the train we rode was actually just ONE car. Teased by bigger trains, this little guy found fulfillment carrying weary travelers to connections through small Hungarian towns. The business-meaning bus driver picked up the conductor with the bus en route. The nicest conductor I have ever encountered, he made sure we got on the right train to Szambathely, practically walking with us to the door. I tried to send out positive vibes for our little train to arrive in this bigger station proud and with his ego intact, but I’m sure I detected some smirks from the high-speed trains.
Once in Szambathely, we stowed our packs (at a locker this time) and made our way through the horrible weather (it was dark, raining, and cold) to the medieval festival the town is famous for. This one is more like the Renaissance Fair in Texas than the cheesy show we saw in Sumeg. Starving, we ordered a gyro and a wonderful Hungarian pizza baked in a clay oven and ate them huddled under a building overhang. Weather being what it was and time being short (taking a train-bus-train is a little longer than one anticipates), we browsed some of the fair, got an amazing dessert (rolled, spiraled dough, cooked rotisserie style over coals to caramelize the sugar coating – heavenly!), and walked cold and wet back to the train station.
As we rode the train to our last (thankfully!) destination, my eyes were actually rebelling against me and closing without permission. By the time we arrived at our hotel at almost midnight, we were exhausted. Therefore, my information I printed about Sopron went unused except on our walk back to the train station in the morning as we turned and took a look at the firetower (one of the town’s attractions).
Our train to Vienna was restful to not be on my feet and we reached our hotel with no problems (and with the help of a very nice bus driver who, knowing what street I wanted) actually got out and pointed me down it. So nice! (but I certainly hope it isn’t because I look clueless!)