Greetings from Texas…and a shout out for a friend

6 Sep

Just a quick post – Justin and I are back in Austin…it’s only been several months since our move back, so I might be a little behind on this!  Life is good, things are busy, but I just haven’t been thinking about writing at the moment…

What I did want to do is to give a shout out to a friend who has embarked on a crowd-funding campaign to bring a new kitchen grater (this one will do oh-so-much more than just grate cheese).  The fundraising is through Indiegogo – if she doesn’t raise the $40k she hopes for, all money is returned to contributors.  If she does, then you can be happy being part of an entrepreneurial endeavor and go home with one of her thank you gifts (I donated $100 and can’t wait for my new grater!).  If you are a foodie, entrepreneurial investor, or parent interested in preparing your own baby food, take a look:   http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/gourmand-s-grater-retro-3-in-1-food-tool-that-grates-grinds-even-muehls?c=pledges

More soon…

20130815153446-Orange_sm

Advertisements

Bonnie Scotland

16 Mar

I finally managed to get the photos organized from our weekend trip to see a wee bit o’Scotland. Apologies to the Scots, but I was so happy to hear “wee” and “bonnie” often…although they’re not likely to make it into my normal vernacular, as I can’t say the words without giggling, I simply loved hearing them used.  We did hear some Gaelic spoken, but occasionally it was when someone spoke English with the strong Scottish brogue that I wished for wearable subtitles.   The Europcar man who took in our rental car at the end of the trip told us that the Lowlanders can hardly understand the Highlanders – how they preserve these regional accents is curious to me considering what a small country Scotland is and that the news media seems to be national. I hope they can keep those local identities – the culture and language are richer for those differences.

In a word, Scotland was incredible.  We were lucky with the weather, and since we opted to visit in the least-touristy time of year, the only issues we had were some of the distilleries that we might have visited on our road trip were closed on the weekends.  We had three days to amble from Aberdeen to Glasgow, a right-hand drive rental car to keep things exciting, our GPS to frustrate us, and a loose itinerary that required we make nightfall in both Inverness and Oban to use the free hotel stays I booked.  Our “loose” itinerary included mandatory stops at Loch Ness, as many castles as we could find, and two distilleries from different whisky regions (Highlands and Lowlands).  The rest of the time, we wandered!  The main goal of the trip was to enjoy some natural beauty, as a most of our other getaway weekends while being in Europe have been to learn about the old cities with their history and culture.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We did learn a bit about Scottish culture by making an effort to learn about whisky. Scottish whisky is double-distilled (except for Auchentoshan, the lowlands distillery we visited), and depending on the region where it is made, takes on flavors from burning peat (e.g., Islay whiskies) or the barrels where it is aged (e.g., Auchentoshan whiskies).  The stills where the spirits are distilled are each a special shape, which apparently imparts something different into each whisky, as well.  We’ve really enjoyed getting to understand more about the “scotch” that until last September, neither one of us had been particularly interested in.  Now, Justin is particularly fond of Islay single-malt whiskies (which can be rather strong in terms of the peat-smoke taste that you almost feel like you just drank a campfire).

Justin and our wonderful tour guide at the Glen Garioch distillery are checking out the mash tun.

Justin and our wonderful tour guide at the Glen Garioch distillery are checking out the mash tun.

We stopped at Glen Garioch for a tour at 9:30am, when they opened, and the lovely woman in the shop blinked at us a few times as if trying to decide what kind of people we might be coming in so early…before whisking us around on a ‘wee tour and giving us a ‘wee tasting of their Highlands style single malts for free.  It was fabulous, and we were able to visit another distillery our last day to see a rather different way of making whisky.  We paid for the tour and tasting at the Auchentoshan distillery on our way back to the airport, and it was worth the price of entry, as the guide was extremely knowledgeable.  Those whiskies take more of their flavor from the casks and barrels where the spirit ages (either American bourbon casks or Spanish sherry wine barrels).  We’re learning to spend the time tasting the various flavors – and really, you need to, unless you are accustomed to gulping firewater.

Enjoying our wee tasting.

Enjoying our wee tasting.

Justin is demonstrating how to give yourself "monkeyshoulder" which is an actual condition that the whisky workers have after moving all of the wet barley around.

Justin is demonstrating how to give yourself “monkeyshoulder” which is an actual condition that the whisky workers have after moving all of the wet barley around.

We’ll be back.

Why yes, that man in the woods wore a Tyrolean!

17 Feb

Wikipedia notes that a Tyrolean hat is:

a type of fedora hat named for the Tyrol in the Alps. It is essentially the shape known as the trilby. Tyrolean hats are made of felt, traditionally having a corded hatband and a feather on the side as trim.

And why does this matter, you ask?  Well, it’s one thing to see a fedora on a nice Shriner back in the US who is telling you about the good work they do for a children’s hospital, and quite another to see one on a man who appears suddenly from a cozy-looking cottage in the middle of the woods, in a snow-blanketed landscape, speaking German with you and insisting that he take your picture.  You blink a few times and wonder if it’s real.

Last weekend, on a quick trip to see Vienna, Austria, we took a train to the Alpen town of Semmering, south-west of Vienna, to cross-country ski for a day.  Our morning had already had a few adrenaline-induced charges (the train station platforms were not terribly self-explanatory, and we had to do some searching before finding an outfit to rent cross-country gear), but finally we were set up in traditional skis (no skate skis available) and took off on the trail.  Few people were out, and after a few kilometers, we came across a log cabin, with a fire and all of the window shutters wide open.  We stopped, had a drink of water, and pulled out the camera.  To our surprise, a friendly Austrian man in his Tyrolean (or Alpen) hat came out to chat with us (in German) and insist on taking our pictures.  I was so focused on remembering German that I forgot to take a picture of him – he must have skied to his place, as there really was no other access.  He told us he owned one side of the property that was split by the cross-country ski trail, and it appeared that he spent a lot of time greeting people who ski up past his place.  It was definitely a highlight for us.

Our new friend in the Tyrolean hat insisted on taking pictures of us - I just wish I had taken a picture of him!

Our new friend in the Tyrolean hat insisted on taking pictures of us – I just wish I had taken a picture of him!

Cozy does not begin to describe this little abode!

Cozy does not begin to describe this little abode!

After approximately 130 turns where we would decide if we should keep going up the never-ending hill, we finally gave in and turned around.

After approximately 130 turns where we would decide if we should keep going up the never-ending hill, we finally gave in and turned around.

We spent most of the afternoon out skiing, primarily discussing our interpretation of the “trail” information and whether or not the trail was an out and back or a loop.  After a never-ending uphill slog, we decided that the trail must have been an out and back, and turned around to ski downhill.  For me, I practiced snow plow until my legs were jelly – Justin swooped along like he had never stopped downhill skiing years ago.  Back in Semmering, we had a very long lunch that would make our Spanish friends proud (and it was complete with 3 different hot alcohol drinks – hot chocolate with rum, Gluhwein and hot tea with brandy to warm us up!).  Completely refreshed, we made our way back to the train that would bring us the 180 km back into Vienna.

Many of the houses in Semmering used solar panels.

Many of the houses in Semmering used solar panels.

The following day in Vienna, our goals were to see the open air market, sample lots of chocolate, and experience the famous music scene.  We did the first two items on our list easy enough, and then finally ducked into a music store to purchase a compilation cd set of the famous musicians of Austria.  Our music collection is now graced by Mozart, Strauss, Haydn and Schubert.  The food in Vienna was fantastic, especially a dinner we had in a small restaurant recommended by our hotel that was out of the touristy center.

Temperatures were cold, with a blustery wind.  We took any and all opportunities to taste chocolate.

Temperatures were cold, with a blustery wind. We took any and all opportunities to taste chocolate.

The golden horns must be functional to keep the horses' ears warm, but there was a lot of eye rolling - we're not sure the horses liked being dressed up as cows.

The golden horns must be functional to keep the horses’ ears warm, but there was a lot of eye rolling – we’re not sure the horses liked being dressed up as cows.

...and after a while, the disagreement escalated to a lot of finger-pointing...

…and after a while, the disagreement escalated to a lot of finger-pointing…

The Naschmarkt was one of the best open air markets we had been to, as it was not too crowded.  We enjoyed the cultural diversity, including more eastern European foods.

The Naschmarkt was one of the best open air markets we had been to, as it was not too crowded. We enjoyed the cultural diversity, including eastern European foods that were completely new to us.

Sauerkraut is made from green cabbage and then fermented in enormous wooden barrels.  This fresh stuff looking amazing, although Justin gave the barrels a wide berth.

Sauerkraut is made from green cabbage and then fermented in enormous wooden barrels. This fresh stuff looked amazing, although Justin gave the barrels a wide berth.

Car2Go is the same car sharing program that we have in Austin!

Car2Go is the same car sharing program that we have in Austin!

Vienna has its share of modern buildings, often nestled next to distinctive historical buildings.  This is the Haas House, located a stone's throw from St. Stephen's Cathedral.

Vienna has its share of modern buildings, often nestled next to distinctive historical buildings. This is the Haas House, located a stone’s throw from St. Stephen’s Cathedral.

This picture was my favorite of those I took of St. Stephen's - unfortunately a good part of the building was under restoration.  Many of the historical structures we have seen in Europe have been involved in these types of reconstruction or restoration.

This picture was my favorite of those I took of St. Stephen’s – unfortunately a good part of the building was under restoration. Many of the historical structures we have seen in Europe have been involved in these types of reconstruction or restoration.

We thought about renting bikes and exploring the city that way, but opted to walk since the zone we had targeted was in a limited area.  However, we always notice the bike culture of a place, though!

No track stands allowed!

No track stands allowed!

Curiously, the rider appears to be sidesaddle.

It’s probably better for your knees to not ride bow-legged.

We fully intended to have a beer here, but never made it!

We fully intended to have a beer here, but never made it.

Wir machten viel Spaß!

The Magical North Coast of Spain

31 Jan

Earlier this month, we took a detour north and east from Porto (Portugal) where we were spending some time on our sailboat to see the northern coast of Spain – the region we swore up and down would be one of the first trips we would take in our European adventures.  Since we’re just getting to the area eighteen months or so in, we did not quite meet that goal!

But…we should have – we were in awe.  Had we done this earlier, it’s quite likely that we would have done a few more trips to explore more.  The area reminds us a lot of the Pacific Northwest of the US, where we both are originally from – it’s simply beautiful.  The pictures don’t give it justice, either!

The two areas we “toured” (if you can call a drive through with as many stops as we could fit into the day) were the Spanish provinces of Galicia and Asturias – in the summer months, there are many outdoor activities (think kayaking, canoeing, hiking and the like).  It would be an incredible area to bike-tour, although important to stay off of the main drags with traffic.

Enjoy the scenery through the pictures we took!  Note – the raised tomb-like structures are called “hórreos” and are actually granaries that were erected to protect grain stores from rodents.  There may be a historical preservation requirement that bans their removal these days, as they were incredibly common.  Interestingly, the hórreos in Galicia were more like tombs, while those in Asturias were more square.  Before we knew what they were, though, we were brainstorming hard and fast to come up with crazy stories on what the heck they were (and stopping every 2 minutes for another picture)!

 

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Magic Kings

8 Jan

Somehow, another holiday season has come and gone…even in Spain, where the season lasts through the most important day for the children – el Día de los Reyes Magos on January 6th. This year’s el Día de los Reyes Magos was going to be a quiet one for us – we had just returned from a trip to the boat and were looking forward to a day at home that included going for a run, eating our Roscón de Reyes, and lots of reading.

roscon

Imagine our surprise when the Reyes Magos turned up – a true surprise – the house was a mess, and I was demonstrating yet another fashion faux pas with red knickers and black cycling socks!  Jokes aside, we were super happy to see our friends Begoña and Javier and quite overwhelmed with the goodies they brought to remind us of the fantastic foods in Spain.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The best gifts are those of great friends (but amazing organic Spanish cheese, jamón and a gran reserva from Rioja rate a distant but notable second!).

 

Ho ho ho!

2 Jan

Excuse our absence…we’ve been busy removing squeakers from our new toys.  Hopefully your holidays were merry and bright!

Stockings for doggies Jordan Haley

Cortylandia

18 Dec

Happy holidays, Feliz Navidad and Merry Christmas!

Recently, I got to see Madrid’s own Christmastime public display that is put on each year by El Corte Inglés (a huge, overpriced department store that has almost everything – kind of like Wal-Mart, but classier…).  This display is at Corte Inglés de Preciados, downtown, and it is worth going to see everyone’s faces light up at the songs and the animation.  The show was about 15 minutes long.  I understood some of the lyrics (with help from my friend, Yani) and almost learned the refrain for the Cortylandia song, which is in the video below – catchy, isn’t it?

%d bloggers like this: