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Ribera del Duero Wine Trip

Traveler’s Spotlight

Have you ever visited Spain’s Ribera del Duero wine region?  Did you taste some amazing Protos wine?  Have you stayed at the historic Convento Las Claras Hotel?  Join me on a journey through Spain’s famous Ribera del Duero wine region.

I arrived in Penafiel via Madrid which is a nice two hour ride from the Spanish capital.  I was excited to visit the region again after a seven year absence.  The purpose of my journey was to research the area for World Travelers Today’s new Madrid & Ribera del Duero Wine Tour.  The month of October is a busy time of year in the area due to the harvest and wineries were crowded with visitors and locals alike.  Luckily, I was able to visit several local wineries and taste some delicious red wine.

Historical sites will always be apart of my journeys and this area is rich in history; from Penafiel Castle to the ancient Roman amphitheater in Clunia the area is an historians playground.  I was able to visit a few churches and century old bodegas that have a history all their own.

Check out my video to partake in wine tasting at several wineries along the golden mile, eat delicious meats at an Asador restaurant, and discover history all around you.

Don’t to forget to follow our blog to stay updated on WTT’s adventures and tours.

Places Sam visited:


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ADVENTURES IN AUSTRIA’S WINE COUNTRY


Traveler’s Spotlight


 

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By Sonja Eberly & Maria Milton

 

 

 

Being half Austrian, half American, I’ve been to Austria many times in my life. As a child, my visits centered around seeing my grandmother, or “Oma,” in Vienna. I have fond memories of walking with her to the local bakery for fresh rolls and cakes each morning, trying to catch hedgehogs in her garden, going to the Zoo at Schoenbrunn Palace, staring up at the impossibly ornate, vaulted gothic ceilings of Stephansdom (St. Stephen’s Cathedral) in the city center, and having an ice cream at Vienna’s famous Tichy ice cream parlor. All those things are great. You should do those things when you’re in Vienna.  More recently, though, my visits to Austria have been for its wine.

As the wine director of a busy neighborhood café and wine bar in the Washington, DC area, I was invited to come along this year on the annual wine buyers’ trip organized by one of the main importers of Austrian wine with whom I do business. This is fairly common in the industry. Buy and promote enough wine from one wine importer, and you might get an all-expenses paid (aside from airfare) invitation to Greece or Chile or France.

Through wineglass at Tegeernserhof vines

Of course, this is the importer’s way of saying thank you for the support. But it’s also an incredibly educational and enriching opportunity to understand the wines you’re buying on a much more intimate level. To see first-hand where the wines come from, smell the air, feel the soil. To meet the people who painstakingly tend the vines from winter’s dormancy to springtime budbreak to Autumn harvest, praying all the while for the good graces of mother nature and the weather gods. To meet the families who have made the wines for generations. To understand the unique culture and history and philosophies and traditions, which drive winemaking styles. To taste the finished, bottled product and to share a meal with the people who made it, often in their own home.

My first buyers’ trip to Austria was in 2013. It was life changing. Literally. I was inspired by the people I met, by the striking quality of the wines that I tasted, by the incorporation of wine in daily life, and of course by the desire to connect on a deeper level to my own heritage (I found out a few years ago that my great grandmother was a vineyard hand in the region of Burgenland). I was so inspired that I decided to quit my wine job in the US to work the harvest and live in Austria in 2014. Over a year later, to have the opportunity to return once again, to revisit old wine friends, familiar vineyards and cellars and to taste the new wines from those cellars, was something I wasn’t about to pass up. And this time I decided to bring along my friend and coworker, Maria. It was her very first time traveling abroad.

New to Austria

Start of the Trip

Sonja Eberly & Maria Milton

“If you’re like me, with a first grader’s grasp of German and you really want to practice, Austrians are just as happy, eager in fact, to help you polish your Deutsch.”

I can’t deny that I felt a certain sense of pride and excitement that Austria would be Maria’s first international experience. I did have a certain amount of apprehension about what it would be like for her being out of the US for the first time. (Book a direct flight; it’s absolutely worth saving the time and the achy muscles.) But in all honesty, for anyone deciding on their first international travel destination, Austria should be on your top five list.

Nearly everyone—I mean, really everyone—even in the smallest of towns will speak at least a little English. Go to Vienna and you’re golden; practically everyone speaks English. If you’re like me, with a first grader’s grasp of German and you really want to practice, Austrians are just as happy, eager in fact, to help you polish your Deutsch. Just keep in mind that Austrians revert to regional dialects at times, even in Vienna, and especially outside of the city. They may throw in a word or two that doesn’t quite mesh with school-taught “High German.” Personally, that’s one of quirks I love about the country. Learn how to say “Oachkatzelschwarf,” correctly and watch peoples’ faces light up. You’ll make friends instantly.

Getting Around

Navigating our way through Vienna was easy from the airport. We took the City Airport Train (CAT) into the city center, where we switched to the subway. In Vienna, there are several modes of public transport, all of which are incredibly efficient, safe and relatively clean. Between the buses, the street cars, the subway, the CAT, and the actual trains which connect all of Europe, you can get basically anywhere you need to go. You can always ask someone in the OBB train info office at each station, or someone in a uniform around the station. I also discovered on this trip that Uber exists in Vienna! As long as I was connected to WiFi, I could use the Uber app I already have on my smart phone to request a car, which ended up being helpful more than once.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you have the time, getting lost in Vienna like Maria and I did our first day isn’t all that bad, either (though going 24 hours without sleep after an overnight flight was probably not the best idea). Wandering the city, you might happen upon a festival celebrating the food, music, crafts, culture and wine(!) of Austria’s Steirmark region right in front of city hall. Or you might wander into a nearly deserted amusement park after getting caught in a rain storm, discovering mirrored fun houses, giant clown faces, and bumper cars in the truly enormous city park called the Wiener Prater.

Vienna is big and is broken up into 23 different named districts, or “Bezierke.” But the city is delightfully walkable for the most part, especially within the Ringstrasse, the avenue that encircles all of the old inner city. And if you get tired, you can always pop into a smoky Stuberl for a little beer, or perhaps a stiff nip of schnapps to keep you going.

A note about most bars and restaurants in Austria: like most of the rest of Europe, smoking is still allowed indoors in most places, so if you’re sensitive to cigarette smoke, beware. On the plus side, Austrians love sitting outdoors and you can find beer gardens and wine patios nearly everywhere.  

Wine Regions

Sonja-Maria

There are very basically four main federal wine regions of Austria, which spread over the crescent of Austria’s eastern borders. I always tell people to imagine Austria as a chicken drumstick, with the bone pointing to the west. All of Austria’s wine regions form a crescent around the meaty other end.

Vienna itself is one of these wine four main regions and is one of only two European cities to also be recognized as an independent wine region (the other city being Madrid). We skipped Vienna for winery visits only because we didn’t have the time on our own and because none of the wines our importer carries are from Vienna.

The other three main wine regions are Neideroesterreich (“Lower Austria”), Burgenland, and the Steiermark (Styria). You can definitely travel by train, but to visit these regions properly, I recommend renting a car and spending at least a week exploring. You’ll save time with a specific itinerary and appointments set up in advance, but it’s just as easy to tool around, stopping into the small towns, tasting at wineries with open tasting rooms and discovering which of the local Heurigers are open that day. As a buyers’ group, we traveled on a swanky government wine marketing-funded tour bus, complete with beer cooler and a TV that played this beautifully choreographed video, which was really cool the first five times we watched it.

Heurigers
“I spent many a wonderful evening making new friends at communal tables, getting to know local grape growers, tasting the years’ new wines from productions way too small to be sold anywhere outside the family tavern.”

Heurigers are one of my absolute favorite parts of Austrian wine country, and it was one of my big regrets that Maria didn’t get to experience going to one. It didn’t stop me from pointing them out to her every time we passed one. I spent many a wonderful evening making new friends at communal tables, getting to know local grape growers, tasting the years’ new wines from productions way too small to be sold anywhere outside the family tavern.

Heurigers are only allowed to be open 6 months out of the year and most will be open during the wine harvest, or “Wein Herbst,” from August to November. This is of course the optimal time to visit wine country. But there are always one or two Heurigers open in each town during other times of the year. Keep an eye out for a “Buschenschank,” a braided wreath or evergreen frond hanging over a doorway or a sign along the road reading, “Aus’gesteckt is,” to find the closest open Heuriger.

Food

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Get ready to eat. A lot. And really, really well.” That’s one of the first things I told Maria when preparing her for Austria. Each and every winery we visited made it a point to welcome us–how else—with lovingly prepared food to accompany the wines we were tasting. We toured almost as much of Austria’s food as we did its wines.

We were served the most comfort-foody of traditional dishes like the tears-of-joy evoking Paprika Gulash that Christine Netzl made for us in Goettlesbrunn, the melt-off-your-fork Tafelspitz with apple and horseradish sauce prepared for us by Mathias Jalits’ mother in their family restaurant in Eisenberg, and the perfectly tender and crispy Backhendl served for dinner at Weingut Strauss in the Steiermark, which Maria truly loved, Southern Belle that she is. I couldn’t get over dipping hunks of freshly baked bread in the most delicious Kürbiskernöl, made from local Pumpkin seeds.

We were also served the most gourmand of meals, including breathtakingly delicate Zander (freshwater perch) served with perfectly cooked Spargel (white asparagus) after an even more breathtaking tasting of single vineyard Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings (they’re, dry) with Martin Mittlebach of Tergernseerhof winery in Austria’s famous Wachau region. Our grand finale meal was hosted by Anton Bauer at the uber-fine Mörwald restaurant, housed at Graffenegg Palace. If you’re looking to splurge on an unforgettable culinary experience and you find yourself within driving distance of Schloss Graffenegg, make sure to visit and taste at Weingut Anton Bauer in Feuersbrunn, and then take a taxi up to the palace for dinner.

Amazingly, in the eight days we spent in Austria, not once did Maria or I eat Schnitzel. Take that, stereotypes. (Ok, but really, Schnitzel is actually fantastic, especially with fresh lemon squeezed over the top. If you’re in Austria, go to the most local non-chain looking restaurant you can find and order it. At least once.)

Spargel

Spargel

Spargel.

We visited Austria in March, which meant we didn’t see any grapes on the vines, but we were just in time to see the first bud breaks all over the vineyards. We were also just in time for Spargel! But just barely. Spargel is the supremely coveted and celebrated white asparagus that decorates farmers’ markets and roadside produce stands beginning around mid-March. While prices don’t get reasonable until April when the season really sets in, we were very fortunate to have been treated to numerous meals featuring this delectable albino vegetable. The best part is seeing your Austrian dining companion’s excitement when they see Spargel on their plate, an enthusiasm that’s easy to adopt.

Desserts
“There is no end to the fine selection of carefully confected patisserie in every bakery window, every glass café case, even on the breakfast tables!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I would be committing a grave mistake if I were to exclude a nod to the sweeter side of Austrian cuisine. Yes, perhaps it’s a truism to say that Austrian pastries—particularly Viennese—are the envy of the world (though I’m sure the Parisians would have something to say about it). There is no end to the fine selection of carefully confected patisserie in every bakery window, every glass café case, even on the breakfast tables! But of all the memorable desserts, the Kardinalschnitte made by Roland Steindorfer’s mother at their family home in Ilmitz by Lake Neusiedl is legendary. Perfectly airy, it’s almost a cloud of cake and cream, and there is nothing more suited to accompany this fluffy dessert than a sip of what the Neusiedlersee region is most famous for: Trockenbeerenauslese (“TBA”), i.e. liquid gold. This also happens to be one of the types of wines (though young Roland is developing his dry reds and sparkling roses now, too) that the Steindorfer family is most famous for. Impossibly, shamefully sweet, equally impossibly balanced and vibrating with acidity. Wonderfully harmonized. Amazingly long-lived. That is a Steindorfer Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese. Amazing cake and amazing sweet wine that create magic together; go figure. We definitely poured some of our TBA right onto our cake. Perfection.

Neusiedlersee and Burgenland

 

Lake

Lake Neuseidl in Austria’s Burgenland region is the largest body of water in the country. Yet, they say that a man over six feet tall can walk across the entirety of the lake without drowning. The lake itself is absolutely gorgeous and a favorite day-trip destination for people and families from all over lower Austria. On nice days, couples, families and individuals alike flock to its shores to sunbathe on docks, take boats out on the choppy waves, parasail, fish, raft, or just sit out on the deck of one of the many wine-centric restaurants overlooking the glittering waters. When she saw the photos we posted online, my mom was full of fond recollections of childhood trips to the “sea” with my great-grandmother Anna, who herself worked the nearby vineyards as a teenager.

This uniquely shallow body of water creates an amazing microclimate of humidity in the region, perfectly suited for the formation of Noble Rot, that grape-shriveling fungus which means death to red grapes, but sweet immortality for the right white grapes. This fungus is what allows for the extremely labor-intensive creation of ethereally sweet dessert wines.

The rest of Burgenland is primarily celebrated for its incredible range of red wines, from supple, silky Pinot Noirs like those of beautifully, wholistically Biodynamic Meinklang winery just across from the Hungarian Border, to Mathias Jalits’ structured, thoughtful, moody and complex library of Blaufrankishes, which come from the iron-rich soils of the Eisenberg DAC. And then there’s former super model Leo Hillinger’s super hip, ultra-modern winery in Jois, with its toasty, oaky robust reds. Burgenland nurtures reds for all palates and preferences.

Steiermark

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Further to the south, along the border of Slovenia, is the Steiermark, the “Green Heart of Austria,” where white wines dominate production, and mirror the styles of Italy’s Alto-Adige region more than the Rieslings and Gruner Veltliners of Niederoesterreich. Yet to put Styrian wines in any category other than their own is totally wrong. There is a distinct mineral expression in the wines that’s like no other wine region, while the whites can range from the lightest and most aromatic of Muskatellers to the nuttiest, creamiest of single vineyard Chardonnays. These are the sorts of wines and the sort of variety that you will find from Weingut Strauss, located directly across the road from the famous Gamlitzberg, a cross-hatched mountain of vines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Styria is by far, the most mountainous of all the wine regions, with gut-wrenchingly dramatic vistas and hopelessly steep vineyards. We learned that at least one person dies from a tractor tipping over in the vineyards every year. And yet, looking down at the vines plunging below the wine road along which we drove, I couldn’t help but feel an aching sense of beauty and connectedness as well. Those mountains felt like home.

Niederoesterreich

Klaus (left) Franz Netzl of Netzl Wineries (center) and Sonja Eberly (right)

If you like red wines, fear not, there are certainly parts of Lower Austria that boast a range of reds, from Burgundian-trained Anton Bauer’s subtly oaked Pinot Noirs and velvety Blaufranksich and red blends, to the ancient roman ruins of Carnuntum, where Netzl cellars regal red blends and single vineyard Merlot, Zweigelt and St. Laurent.

That being said, white wines—specifically Gruner Veltiner and Riesling (it’s dry!)—are crucial. And when you taste the whites from regions like the Kremstal and the Kamptal and the Wagram and the Wachau (all about 15-30 min apart from each other), you’ll see why each of these designations matters so much. 15 minutes, heck, 15 footsteps, can mean a completely different personality in a bottle of wine made from the same grapes in the same year, from even the same winery.

 

Do yourself a favor and take the time to really delve into the whites wines of this area. There’s Tegernseerhof, with Martin Mittelbach’s pure, mineral-driven single vineyard Rieslings that will leave your taste buds reeling. And Steininger, where father Karl and daughter Eva produce not only some of the most beautiful and classically expressive method-traditional sparkling wines in Austria (they might even let you try to saber or disgorge your own bottle), but also a mind-bogglingly wide array of Kamptal-specific and reserve still wines.

And when you’re completely tuckered after a very full day of tasting gorgeous wines, and hiking the 7km winery-sponsored Weinweg through the vineyards of Langenlois, trust me when I tell you that the Loisium hotel and spa is exactly where you want to end your day. If there’s only one place you decide to splurge during your time in Austrian wine country, make it this hotel. I can’t think of a better way to start and end your day than by floating in a heated pool in the middle of the vineyards, the onion domes of Baroque churches peaking up over the tiled roofs of the town and a glass of your new favorite Austrian wine at the ready.
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Хамбара (Hambara): Sofia’s Hidden Bar


Bartender’s Best


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By Samuel Garza

 

 

 

It’s not very often that you walk into a bar and drop your jaw out of pure amazement. That is exactly what happened to me when I walked into Hambara in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Hambara means bar and what a perfect name for this hidden gem. The look and feel of Hambara is entirely bohemian. The bar can be difficult to find and that’s exactly what adds to its mysteries.  In the past, the bar was a rendezvous for an elite social class of Bulgarians or intelligentsia.  Knocking on the door did not allow access into their secret world.  You had to say the passcode to be allowed in.  There is no passcode needed today, but you will have to knock to be allowed into the bar.

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The door is always locked so you have to knock to be allowed into the bar.

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Once you walk in, you can go upstairs or choose to sit on the first level.  I walked around the bar to take photos and figure out where I wanted have my first drink.  I eventually found a seat at the bar and ordered my first round.

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The address is 22, 6th of September Street. Once you arrive at the address, the bar is behind another bar and its only access is through a small walkway that leads up to the entrance. Once you walk up to the door you will need to knock to be allowed inside.  However, be warned.  Leave your attitude, problems, and issues at the door.  If you don’t, the bartender will notice and you might not be welcomed back.

Drinks

The bar serves beer, wine, and whiskey.  They do not serve food, but they sell bags of chip so make sure you eat before coming to the bar.  My beer of choice was the Pirinsko.

Hours

Opens daily at 21:00.


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BALI: A LITTLE R&R WITH SOME TEMPLES


Traveler’s Spotlight


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By:  Sara-Jane Murray

 

 

 

Bali has been on my travel hit list for the past couple of years so when a friend mentioned she was travelling there a few months ago and asked if would I like to join, it seemed rude to decline. Undeterred by the fact it was rainy season and jollied along by the idea of sipping ice cold cocktails by the pool I re-juggled the travel plans I already had to include a five day trip to Bali- Island of the Gods.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure what my expectations of Bali were. I knew I wanted to relax, enjoy the sunshine and be a little bit of a culture vulture but without feeling exhausted by the end of the trip. I am lucky enough to have travelled in India, Thailand and New Zealand so I had no desire to ride elephants or go white water rafting. I wanted a little bit of R and R with some temples thrown in for good measure!

I was fascinated by the eclectic group of people waiting to go through customs and immigration at Denpasar Airport. Bali seems to pull people in from all walks of life. There were Australians looking for cheap beer and a good party, British families coming to celebrate weddings and get a suntan and those searching for something more spiritual. It would seem that Bali, although its tiny, has a little something for everyone.

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I spent my first two nights in Seminyak which is famous for its beaches, shopping and sunsets. It benefits from being a short drive from the airport and is more peaceful than its rowdy party time neighbour Kuta. I arrived late in the evening and was slightly surprised to find that most bars and restaurants had already closed for the night. Only the more questionable establishments were still open for business…I arrived at the hotel, was adorned with jasmine garlands, given a sugary fruit nectar drink and packed off to my room for the night.

After the 19hr flight and not the best nights sleep I was more than happy to kick back and enjoy being a pool bum for 24 hrs. After zooming around Europe for 10 days I embraced my day lazing by the pool, partaking of a siesta and waking to the sound of the afternoon rain bouncing off my balcony. Happy Hour cocktails, new friends and an early night finished off a stupendous introduction to Bali

Determined not to spend the whole time lazing by a pool we organised a two day trip to the inland town of Ubud. We used the same company (Buffalo Tours) who had successfully managed to extract us from the crowds of tourists at the airport to drive us to Ubud and back.The drive from Seminyak to Ubud was a superb adventure. The roads in Bali are still extremely rural so after leaving the motorway we spent two hours winding and bouncing our way through the potholed back roads.

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The scenery was spectacular, lush vegetation and rolling mountains but possibly more enjoyable were the sneak peaks into village life. The Balinese are wonderful people. Kind and utterly charming with a strong sense of family and religion. I was kept highly amused by the antics of the ridiculous number of free range chickens who seemed have a death wish and didn’t mind playing in the roads. In India you could easily get stuck in traffic should a cow decide to stop in the middle of the road but chickens ?!?! We took our time driving up, pausing along the way to visit silk and printing factories, silver markets and various art studios featuring pieces from local artists.

Before arriving in Ubud our driver suggested we stop for lunch at a local place for some delicious Mie Goreng (Indonesian Fried Noodles).The dish reminded me of Pad Thai and was equally as delicious. We had noticed a distinct change in the weather and watched in amazement as the rain clouds started to gather for the afternoon downpour. Being Scottish I am more than accustomed to a bit of rain but the downpours in Bali are quite spectacular and extremely enjoyable to watch but only if you are safely inside. If caught, even with a huge umbrella and jumping to avoid puddles you can still end up extremely wet!!

Quietly nestled in terraced rice paddies Ubud is like a salve to the soul. It is very popular area for yoga and spiritual retreats but its probably better known for its arts and crafts. On your way into town you pass by the Monkey Forrest, home to some extremely cheeky long tailed macaque. We were lucky enough to spot some visitors feeding a group of macaque who were chilling by the roadside enjoying the late afternoon sun. Not only did the monkeys leave with full bellies but they also took two pairs of sunglasses and an umbrella. So be warned, if you visit take care of your belongings!

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Our hotel in Ubud (Wapa di Ume) was remote but simply stunning. As there was no tv or internet access I made full use of the mammoth sized bath tub and was rewarded by a spectacular show from a posse of fireflies outside the window. It was magical !! Serenaded by the chirps, croaks and peeps of the numerous beasties who had taken up residence in the lush gardens and woken by ducks quacking out orders as they moved from one rice paddy to the next. I took my coffee out to the balcony and watched the rice planters slowly and methodically tending the rice paddies, chasing the ducks away as they went.

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After breakfast,we took a taxi into town to visit Ubud Palace and spent the morning wondering around the grounds and keeping an eye out for meandering monkeys. As lunch time was looming we decided to go in search of the famous Babi Guling. Bali is famous for its Babi Guling (suckling pig served with rice, vegetables and a heavenly mix of spices) so it seemed only right to test it out. It was pork overload but worth every mouthful.The rest of the day was spent meandering down main street and the market buying jewellery and other trinkets, drinking coffee and fresh juices and enjoying the very laid back vibe of Ubud. After such a stressful day we rewarded ourselves to a traditional Balinese massage and an evening of cocktails at the hotel bar with some other travellers.

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To make the most of our drive back to Seminyak we stopped by a small nature reserve that produced the famous Kopi Luwak coffee (civet coffee). While it sounds disgusting I have to say the coffee was extremely delicious and smooth but nothing will ever take the place of my beloved Italian espresso. The reserve also produced various teas and other coffees including a coffee and durian concoction which smelt as bad as it tasted, but while in Bali it seemed wrong not to try it. We left after an hour with enough boxes of tea to open our own tea shops.

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On the way back our driver told us about the Balinese new year celebrations which were rapidly approaching and especially Nyepi which is their day of silence. New Years Eve, or Nyepi Eve, starts with blessings at the family temples and continues with a ritual where family members chase away evil spirits called bhuta kala from their villages. Using pots, pans, drums or any other loud instrument they make their way through the village with fiery bamboo torches chasing away evil so they can start the new year fresh and pure. Its a great party time. However on Nyepi day Bali comes to a complete standstill and calm enshrouds the whole island. No flights leave or land, cars stay parked and people stay inside with family and loved ones for a day of contemplation, meditation and relaxation. No electricity should be used and in the traditional communities there are patrols to enforce the rules. Sadly we flew out several days before the celebrations began but it would have been an amazing experience.

Our last day in Seminyak was spent back at the pool and enjoying happy hour. I took a walk through town in the early evening before sunset and again, I was amazed at the mixing pot of people who come to visit Bali. I understand why some people come to visit and never leave and while others would never visit again. It has a strange charm, a gentile manner and I am looking forward to returning in the summer.

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[VIDEO] Travel Security Training Promo


Training 


 


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(VIDEO) SER Part One: Interview with Javier Candon


Fab Food



This week I had a chance to sit down with Javier Candon, one of SER’s owners, to talk about the restaurant’s vision and menu.  Javier shared with me how SER came to fruition and what the restaurant offers visitors.  He also shared some of his future plans and SER’s goals.  Below is the full transcript.

Interview with Javier Candon

Samuel Garza: Javier, thanks for having us here at your restaurant SER, tell us a little bit about SER and how this came about.

Javier Candon:   My pleasure and thank you for having me and cheers/salud.  SER came from an idea after working in many restaurants in the DC area and seeing what is going on in the market.  We thought that there was some potential, a market for traditional Spanish food, but not in a tapas format.

Samuel Garza:  Great, because that brings me to another question.  Because D.C. is full of tapas restaurants, as you well know, I was a you know, a regular at La Tasca; what makes SER so unique away from the tapas menu from Spain.

Javier Candon:  We are simply not a tapas restaurant.  We are a restaurant that serves traditional Spanish food, and as a matter of fact, most of the traditional Spanish dishes cannot be served in the tapas format because they are simply too big to be in that type of format.  For example, one of our more popular dishes is the Cochinillo; which is the roasted suckling pig and it is big,  so we serve a quarter of the pig, but if you wanted to do it in a tapas concept it will need to be small.  And the texture of the meat is completely different if it comes from the ribs or if it comes from the leg.  So we serve a main dish that can serve two to three people.  The size is a quarter of the pig.  This includes ribs and the leg of the pig.

Samuel Garza:  That’s fantastic, because, as you know, I’ve been to Spain many times and when I’d come back to DC or a lot of cities in the US, you get tapas, but tapas is usually something that you get, you know at the bar, with a nice little drink, when they welcome you in.  That’s why I see SER so refreshing. Talk about your success, this has been the talk of the town for about a year.   There have been a lot of rave reviews from many, you know, well established magazines inside DC.  What makes SER so successful?

Javier Candon:  I think it’s because we stand for what we are.  SER means “to be.”  But SER also stands for Simple. Easy. Real.  That is what we want to be.  We are not a fancy restaurant.  We are a simple, easy-going, and real.   You will eat here what your mother or your grandmother would cook for you at home.

Samuel Garza:   I think this is unique and I think that’s an edge or a part of your success because you know, like I said, there are many tapas restaurants, but this sticks out.  So talk to me about your chef, I mean he’s well-known.  Talk a little bit about him and what he brings to SER.

Javier Candon:  Well, Josu is not my chef, we actually own this restaurant together.  Josu, came to this country almost 30 years ago to open one of the most well-known restaurants in the city and one of the best Spanish restaurants outside of Spain.  Josu, is just the best traditional chef that I have ever known.  Together, we want to be a simple, easy, and real restaurant.  We are not reinventing  the wheel.  We are just taking a very good product and cook it with a lot of love and there is nobody like that,  like Josu, to do that kind of work.

Samuel Garza:  That is kind of hard to find, but you have him and that is fantastic.  What makes SER so unique as far as the menu, you know, you talked about the bigger plates but you do have some smaller plates?  Can we talk about those plates, because people need to realize that they can come and have those at Happy Hour?

Javier Candon:   Absolutely, yeah we are a full service restaurant.  We have small plates.  Some people call them tapas and some people call them appetizers.  At the end of the day, we have some of the most traditional items from Spain.  So you can come and have a couple of appetizers and share a pitcher of sangria, or you can have a full meal.

Samuel Garza:   Is Happy Hour seven days a week?

Javier Candon:  Yes, seven days a week from 4:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m.  Most of  our appetizer items on the main menu are in the happy hour menu.

Samuel Garza:  That is fantastic.  Now talk to me a little bit about Pajama Sunday.   That sounds like a novel idea.  Share a little bit about that.

Javier Candon:   That is working very well.  You know, on Sunday people wake up after having a big Saturday and they are tired.  Maybe they don’t feel like dressing up.  They just want to jump out of bed and come in their pajamas.  They will get a free mimosa or a bloody Mary when they come in.  However, the most important thing about the pajama menu is that it is made in a way that people don’t need to think too much about what to choose  You have four appetizers,  four main courses, and four desserts.   They are brunch oriented items and they don’t need to go through the entire menu.  They can may make it a quick decision.

Samuel Garza:  That is something I will definitely need to try soon.  That leads me to ask, what’s next for SER.  You have been so successful at La Tasca and now you’ve been successful here.  What will we see next from Javier Candon?

Javier Candon:  You never know.   You may get a surprise, but at the moment, it has only been one year with SER and there are a lot of things that we need to improve.  There are a lot of areas that we need to focus on.  At the moment, it is to continue to work on SER and make it even better.  I’m obviously focusing on creating new ideas at SER that will bring us to the next stage.

Samuel Garza:  Well, we are looking forward to ordering some food, and thank you for your time.  Salud!

Javier Candon:  Salud!


Stay tuned for SER Part Two:  The Food

Coming on June 29, 2016.  


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(VIDEO) TWO DAYS IN SAN SEBASTIAN


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Of course I couldn’t cover everything I did in San Sebastian in the video, but here are some other things to see and do during  your visit.

Ondarreta

Ondarreta is the western part of San Sebastian.  Here are some recommenations:

  1. Playa de Ondarreta (the beach).
  2. Palacio Miramar.
  3. The Ondarreta Gardens (near the beach).

Parte Vieja/Old Town

The old town was where I spent most of my time due to the fact that this are is filled with restaurants, bars, historical sites, and museums.  Here are some recommendations:

  1. Castillo de La Mota.
  2. Plaza de la Constitucion. (Constitutional Palace).
  3. San Vincente Church.
  4. Santa Maria Church.
  5. The Naval Museum.
  6. The Aquarium

Centro/Center

  1. The Victoria Eugenia Theatre.
  2. Bar San Marcial.
  3. La Espiga.
  4. Bar Antonio.

Gros

  1. Kursaal Congressional Palace.
  2. Pintxos Pote (Thursday Nights).
  3. Plaza Biteri.

 

More recommended Places to Eat Pinxtos 

The Center

Bar Iturrioz, Bar Antonio

Parte Vieja – Old Part

Sport, Goiz-Argi, Borda Berri, Txepetxa, La Vina

Gros

Bergara, Bodeguilla Donostiarra

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WTT 001: Jim Sutton’s Tips on Traveling Safely Around the World


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Recorded on June 27, 2016, two days before the airport bombing in Istanbul, Turkey.  We would like to express our condolences to the families of the victims of this terrorist attack.

Joining me this week is Jim Sutton, Founder of the North American Intelligence Exchange.  Jim is also a former U.S. government intelligence analyst and FBI Special Agent.  Jim is a travel security expert and contributor to World Travelers Today.

I met Jim over 10 years ago while working on a contract with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Jim was the project’s Intelligence Director and over the years, has served as my mentor and colleague on multiple security projects.  Jim has traveled the world for both business and pleasure, notably in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Today, Jim is going to share some valuable tips on how travelers can stay safe while overseas.  He will also share some insight into why terrorist groups target modes of transportation.  One question I had for Jim is, will the level of security at airports expand?

You will learn:

  • Traveling comes with inherent risks such as system failures, natural events, criminal activity, and terroristic events.
  • Tips on personal protection discipline.
  • How to stay alert while traveling.
  • Practice situational awareness.
  • How to know where you are at all times.
  • Calibrate your intuition by learning from past events.

I am looking forward to you hearing Jim’s tips on travel security.

Don’t forget to follow our podcast on iTunes and to also follow our blog.

Thanks for listening!

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