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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

 

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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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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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Les Glissades de la Terrasse Dufferin/Toboggan Slide Au 1884 – Quebec City, Canada


Traveler’s Spotlight


 

Nestled along the St Lawrence River is the world’s most famous winter slide, the Toboggan Slide Au 1884.  It sits in front of the famous Chateau Frontenac and is visited and photographed by millions of visitors each year.

The desent was much faster than I imagined and I had a hard time trying to hold my camera steady and also hold on to the rope.  You can reach up to speeds of 70km/h.

Dates

Open mid-December to mid-March.

Price

Single:  $3.00 (Canadian)

5 Rides:  $10.00 (Canadian)

Seasonal Pass:  $35.00 (Canadian)

Enjoy and Merry Christmas!


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©2016 TORO Media, LLC

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Seattle: Travel and the Beginner’s Mind


Traveler’s Spotlight


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Amy Arden

There was no rain when I stepped off the plane in Seattle, WA. Aside from a brief morning shower, the skies stayed dry and sunny for the remainder of my visit. My umbrella never emerged from my luggage. That was lesson one that the city taught me: don’t assume.

Having spent over a decade living and working in the Washington, DC area, tourists are as familiar as pigeons. They cluck and congregate in pu…blic places. They leave messes. They have a way of being in the way. But on my first evening in Seattle, as I gawp my way towards the Space Needle, I had a discomfiting revelation: I was the tourist. It was humbling. It was exhilarating.

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With the crowds of other tourists I shoot up 520 feet to the observation deck of the Space Needle. Panoramic and breathtaking views of the city surround us. Skyscrapers and high-rise apartment buildings fade into mere gray shapes. Just beyond Seattle’s waterfront passenger ferries cut their way across the shining waters of the Puget Sound. I understand, suddenly, why people came. It wasn’t simply for the bragging rights or the purchase of a souvenir shotglass. It was to be in the presence of something extraordinary.

The next Seattle shrine I visit offers no scenic views and carried merchandise of a different kind. After a 30-minute uphill slog on foot, I arrive at REI’s flagship store in Seattle. It seems appropriate to arrive disheveled and somewhat out of breath. Not only does the store boast an indoor climbing wall, there’s also an outdoor track for testing mountain bikes, two full floors of adventure clothing and gear, and an in-store café. For those expecting outdoorsy on an epic scale, the store delivers, and lots of it.

On my final afternoon in Seattle, I board the ferry to Bainbridge Island. Home to commuters and sequoia trees, it hovers off the coast of Seattle like a tiny green jewel. The ferry ticket is easily the best $8 I spent in Seattle. The weather continues to play along, and I’m treated to blue skies and blue water as the boat makes its short crossing over the Puget Sound. Once ashore, I head directly to Classic Cycles, rent a bike, and get advice on recommended routes from the exceedingly friendly staff. This is the best $25 I spend on Bainbridge Island.

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The bike route takes me northward on quiet roads lined with trees. Ferns nearly as tall as I am grow beside the roadway. As I go northward, the forest opens up and to my right, I can catch views of the water out over the Sound. Not a moment too soon Bay Hay and Feed looms over the next hill, and I stop to make a few purchases at the general store and sit in the garden next to a tiny café.

I push and pedal – the 13-mile route is hilly, and I’d been warned to expect it – feeling breathless. I rely only on the bike, and the power of my own body. My needs become extremely simple. When I reach my destination – the beach at Fay Bainbridge State Park – I sit on a stack of driftwood and stare at the water. I think only of water, and food, and a moment’s rest before making the return journey. Exertion has a way of drilling off the excess, of bringing us to only the simplest elements.

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When we travel, we are beginners. We are new. We gawk and take photos and ask directions because the place is new to us. Every experience in it is a new one. This is the way to the beginner’s mind. I think of the famous quote by Shunryu Suzuki, “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Travel allows us to reset, to become open again, to not know things, and to learn. This is the city’s second lesson.

As I return to Seattle, the sun slips behind the mountains and the sky turns a pale gold. The ferry carries me, and I sit on the open deck, alone in the wind, already picturing the day I will come back.

Food

5 Point Café

Simple, unpretentious food of exactly the type you want to eat after a cross-country flight. Try a burger with a pint of Maritime Pacific Old Seattle Lager. The burger will satisfy your appetite, and the beer is well-balanced and nice hoppiness – and not bitter. The Café is open 24 hours.

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Tapas for adults! Finally. Tango serves a small plates that offer generous, sharable portions. The green beans and harissa arrived crisp and flavorful, the roasted rainbow carrots were sweet and smoky (thanks to a brown butter and paprika glaze) and the papas bravas proved irresistible. I rounded out my meal with the carnitas del puerco, savory shredded pork in blackened tortillas and a glass of sangria with a pleasing kick instead of cloying sweetness. Open Table Diners’ Choice Winner in 2015.

Top Pot Donuts

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Dense, almost doughy delights made fresh on the premises and served up in an array of flavors. The classic old-fashioned proved a little too tame for my taste, but the apple fritter more than made up for that. The floor-to-ceiling bookshelves give you the feeling of sitting in a library – one that serves coffee and doughnuts.

Island Vintners

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Bainbridge Island is home to several small wineries, and here visitors are offered samplings from two of them: Amelia Wynn and Fletcher Bay. Small plates far better than your usual cheese and crackers are also available for purchase. The mixed charcuterie offered tasty samplings of olives, spreads, and numerous cured meats, including a particularly flavorful wild pheasant terrine.

Tips and Tricks

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  • Purchase tickets for the Space Needle online ahead of your visit. You’ll need to choose a time slot for your visit (and print out the tickets before you arrive.)
  • If you can snag a reservation at the Space Needle’s Sky City restaurant, you’ll be able to go onto the Observation Deck without purchasing a separate ticket. Make reservations at Open Table.
  • Ferries run regularly between Seattle and Bainbridge Island. Get your ticket online, or simply walk up to the kiosk at the ferry terminal to purchase. http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/

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Photos by Amy Arden.

©TORO Media, LLC

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Getting a Taste of Nashville


Traveler’s Spotlight


 

AmyArden

 

By Amy Arden

 

 

Think of Nashville, TN and perhaps inevitably, you think of country music: crooners in cowboy hats, the Grand Ol’ Opry, Loretta Lynn, and Johnny Cash. What Hollywood is for actors, Nashville is for musicians. Hopeful singers pepper the sidewalks of the city’s music district the way Starbucks ubiquitously claims space in other cities.

Music needs an audience, so perhaps equally inevitably, Nashville’s best-known neighborhoods now belong more to crowds of tourists than city natives. On a spring afternoon with temperatures already hovering near the 80s, middle-aged sightseers mingle with college students on spring break as they roam from bar to bar, buying sloganed t-shirts and downing $8 shots of apple pie moonshine served in tiny plastic cups, myself among them.

Beneath the hustle, I listen for the city’s soul. I hear a whisper of it in the silence among the upper pews of the Grand Ol’ Opry, “The Mother Church of Country Music,” whose first crowds sang hymns instead of honkytonk tunes. I hear another early one morning as the sun rises and I sit next to the Cumberland River, watching its endless motion downstream as on the far side, a train whistle and the clattering of rails carry across the water.

Carnton Plantation.

Carnton Plantation.

There are older paths to Nashville than the river. Centuries before the first white settlers arrived, the Shawnee, Cherokee, and Chickasaw tribes hunted in the region and followed an overland trail linking present-day Nashville to Mississippi; this rough trail later became a frontier artery known as the Natchez Trace. Two centuries, a civil war, and a building boom have all but obliterated any traces of wilderness.

All of the city’s downtown seemed to be in phases of demolition or construction. New condominiums rise in the midst of vacant lots and crumbling buildings. Everywhere, old Nashville is being repurposed for the new.

Nashville’s palette is changing along with the city’s shape. You can still buy Goo Goo Clusters, Nashville’s iconic treat made from peanuts, caramel, marshmallow, and chocolate. But artisanal chocolates are also part of the Nashville food scene, and diners can sate themselves on everything from fried bologna sandwiches to beef marrow and wagyu steaks.

I learned Nashville through its food. At City House, former warehouse in The Gulch neighborhood, woodfired pizzas and craft cocktails are the order of the day. After an 11-hour drive, my husband and I devoured a pizza topped with belly ham, and similarly chomped our way through most of a margherita pie that while tasty, would have benefitted from a sprinkle of fresh basil.

 

Coffee_Barista_Lounge

Barista Parlor\Photo by Amy Arden.

The following morning, I made my way to Barista Parlor, just down the block, a hipsterish hangout in an airy space of cinderblock and large windows. I was presented with a menu offering several hand-poured beverages, and I chose the Finca Idealistsa, a coffee of Nicaraguan origin with “honey processed pacas.” After a taste I couldn’t tell if there was actually any honey involved in the processing, but the brew’s rich flavor and artful presentation quickly chased away any cobwebs from the night before. The $5 price tag made me laugh and think of Pulp Fiction, and Uma Thurman’s debate with John Travolta over a $5 milkshake.

If you head south of Nashville on roads that pass gated apartment complexes and wind past a river still bordered by patches of open countryside, you’ll come to the Loveless Café. The service is sweet, the coffee is hot, and the biscuits are fresh. The restaurant has transformed from humble roadside stop to a brand in its own right, and the fame is well earned. Try the Cajun bacon and peach preserves on a stack of hot biscuits, and the world will begin to look better.

Bone_marrow_canoes_Kanye_Prime

Kanye Prime\Photo by Amy Arden.

Kanye Prime puts together not just a meal, but an experience. And the experience is opulent: thick slabs of bacon topped with cotton candy brings a mix of savory, salty, and sweet flavors to the palette; split bones brimming with creamy marrow served alongside roasted garlic; cream corn brulee. Slabs of sous-vide steak brought to you sizzling and running with juices. To wash it down, select from a well-curated wine list and soak your senses in a meal to remember.

 

Robert's Western World. Photo by Amy Arden.

Robert’s Western World. Photo by Amy Arden.

But I didn’t come to Nashville only to eat. On our final night in the city, my husband and I make tracks to Robert’s Western World, where the walls are lined with black and white photos of country hopefuls and every available seat is already filled. We watch and wait for the band to set up. After what seems an eternity of connecting cords and plugging in amps and endless sound checks, they begin. The bass thumps, the guitar strums, and the singer launches into a tune I would know anywhere. As they round into the first chorus of “Folsom Prison Blues,” the bored and indifferent crowd begins to smile, even the girls on their phones. And I smile too.

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Edinburgh: Books, Bagpipes, and Muddy Boots


Traveler’s Spotlight 


 

AmyArden

 

By Amy Arden

 

 

After my visit to Edinburgh I discovered that J.K. Rowling and I have something in common – we’ve both haunted its coffee shops with our laptops, pounding out our stories, hoping to nurture tiny creative sparks into something that could be called art.

Edinburgh is known as the “City of Festivals,” and it frequently plays host, most famously for the Fringe each August. There’s also its celebrated landmarks, like Edinburgh Castle, home to a colossal 15th-century cannon known as Mons Meg, and the Palace of Holyroodhouse, once the residence of the doomed Mary Queen of Scots and now the site of annual garden parties hosted by British royals. Among Edinburgh’s Gothic spires and modern flats, tradition and creativity not only coexist, they swirl together in a captivating mix that draws tourists, artists, and voyeurs alike. What else would you expect from the first city named as a UNESCO City of Literature? As a result, it’s a great city for writers – and anyone else who likes to go exploring.

When I began working on a novel based on the life of the intrepid Lady Katherine “Kate” Cochrane and discovered that some of her correspondence still survived in Scottish archives, I found all the excuse I needed to head to Scotland. As the native of a small Pennsylvania town called Edinboro, namesake of the original, I’d grown up with bagpipes and Braveheart, and was eager to see how my childhood assumptions stood against genuine experience.

Bagpipes are indeed everywhere. Shops selling tartans – for you, for your kid, for your dog – are everywhere. Pub and bus tours are everywhere. Such amusements are yours for the taking, though you can just as easily opt out and strike out on your own.

 

“Inside the castle, you can view a 12th-century chapel, visit the National War Museum of Scotland, and see the Honours of Scotland.”

 

Sights

The Royal Mile

Tourists flock to this pedestrian-friendly street that stretches from Edinburgh Castle to the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Not only does it connect two of the city’s most visited attractions, it’s also chock-full of restaurants, pubs, and shops. You can take it a good bit of history just by walking around – you’ll pass Tron Kirk, dating back to the 1630s when a local parish lost their church following a decree by King Charles I and, in a fit of religious pique, built this one instead (it’s now a visitor center rather than a church), and Deacon Brodie’s pub. The pub is named for William Brodie, whose double life of both good and evil is said to be the inspiration for Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Outside of Paris, the Royal Mile may be one of the best places to play flaneur and simply engage in people-watching.

Edinburgh Castle

View of Edinburgh

Photo by Amy Arden

The castle casts an imposing shadow over Edinburgh’s Old Town, and the structure itself is intimately connected with Scottish history. Inside the castle, you can view a 12th-century chapel, visit the National War Museum of Scotland, and see the Honours of Scotland. The crown jewels have had a tumultuous history of being smuggled, hidden, and rediscovered over the centuries, and I found their story – truly a case of the truth being stranger than fiction – one of the most fascinating aspects of my visit.

There is also a tiny cemetery on the grounds where pets who served as regimental mascots are buried, a touching nod to the animals who have taken part in history’s conflicts.

Edinburgh Writers Museum

This small museum in a courtyard off The Royal Mile hosts displays on Robert Burns, Sir Walter Scott, and Robert Louis Stevenson. Here the literary legacies of these writers are given their due, along with humanizing touches: Scott’s childhood bout with polio that left him lame for life, Burns’ tumultuous love affairs, Stevenson’s real-life fascination with tropical islands that prompted voyages to Hawaii, Tahiti, and beyond. Admission is free.

Arthur’s Seat

Arthurs Seat summit

Photo by Amy Arden

Arthur’s Seat offers a taste of the wilderness in the heart of the city. Ramble over its winding paths and craggy bluffs to enjoy superb views over Edinburgh and catch glimpses of the sea. I climbed here very early one morning and had the place nearly to myself – much of the path was still in shadow, every new turn brought a new view over the city, and the sound of birds crying overhead and the damp grasses underneath made it easy to imagine I’d stepped back into another century. As I climbed, the sun rose with me, and I reached the summit under bright blue skies and a feeling of pure exhilaration. Be sure to take sturdy footwear and be prepared for steep ascents and descents. If you’re planning on an extended hike, bring a snack!

Dunfermline

Photo by Amy Arden - Ruins of Dunfermline Abbey.

Photo by Amy Arden – Ruins of Dunfermline Abbey.

A short train ride from Edinburgh, the town of Dunfermline is home to Dunfermline Abbey, the resting place of King Robert the Bruce. The church itself has a fascinating – and long – history! And in case there’s any doubt about the church’s connection to Scotland’s most famous monarch, a glance at the name carved into the top of the abbey’s tower makes it plain.

Culross

Heading further into Fife, I took a local bus from Dunfermline into Culross. This tiny village perched on the Firth of Forth dates back to the 16th century. It too has an abbey – partly in ruins – and like any good Jane Austen heroine would do, I made a beeline for it as soon as I stepped off the bus.

Photo by Amy Arden - Culross Firth of Forth.

Photo by Amy Arden – Culross Firth of Forth.

Here too I could explore at will, alone, snapping photos as quick as my smartphone could take them, and wandering among the ruins. A metal ladder led to a second story, and standing under those ancient stones again allowed past and present to collapse.

Nearly next door to Culross Abbey is Culross Abbey House, boyhood home of Admiral Thomas Cochrane, husband to my heroine Kate. The house has stood for over four centuries on the high ground overlooking the Forth. It is a fitting place for a boy who loved the sea to grow up; Thomas returned later in life with Kate hoping to buy the place back after his father had sold it off to settle the family’s debts. On the afternoon I visited, sheep grazed in the adjacent meadows, sun split between the gray clouds and fell sparkling onto the windows and the waters of the Firth, and I could only wonder at who now called it home.

Photo by Amy Arden - Culross Abbey.

Photo by Amy Arden – Culross Abbey.

Food
“I tried the daily special of trout with steamed seasonal vegetables – hello, fancy! – served up with a pint and found both food and drink delicious.”

There is far more to Scottish cuisine than haggis, Scotch eggs, and ale.

Feeling luxurious or literary? Try afternoon tea at the upscale Balmoral Hotel. J. K. Rowling stayed here and famously finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. If you are feeling posh, you can book a stay in the “Rowling Suite.”

The diminutive and popular Jolly Judge Pub offers friendly service, a wide selection of ciders, ales, and beer, and a cozy nook to escape the crowds. Seats fill quickly.

If you are craving the tastes of Asia, Ting Thai Caravan has reasonably-priced rice and noodle dishes served at communal tables. My order of pad Thai with chicken was pleasantly spicy with a complex mix of flavors. It’s location near the University of Edinburgh campus means that hours are student-friendly (it’s open ‘til 10pm). Beer and wine are available. NOTE: Cash only.

In Culross, the Red Lion Inn is a charming pub within a few minutes’ walk of the town center. The menu includes many traditional favorites, like a ploughman’s lunch or Cumberland sausages, but the offerings are wider than most pubs. I tried the daily special of trout with steamed seasonal vegetables – hello, fancy! – served up with a pint and found both food and drink delicious. Also in Culross, the Biscuit Café serves soups, light fare, tea, coffee, and pastries. I ended my visit to Culross with a very restorative cream tea at this delightful café. There’s also a small patio where guests can sit when the weather allows.

Stuff

Wardrops Court Edinburgh

Photo by Amy Arden – Wardrop’s Court

After you’ve bought your kilt and CD of pipe music, what else should you bring home? A spurtle, a wooden spoon traditionally used for stirring porridge, makes a fun and easy-to-transport souvenir. If porridge isn’t your thing, your spurtle could be just as easily used for oatmeal, soups, smoothies, etc.

For something with a literal flavor of Scotland, skip the shortbread and try the Edinburgh Gin Raspberry Liqueur. Made from Perthshire raspberries, it has a lovely and authentic raspberry flavor that is neither too cloying nor too fake. I mixed mine with a bit of tonic water for a refreshing version of the classic gin n’ tonic.

In short, visiting Scotland was like stepping into a cross-century game of six degrees of separation. Each person and place had connections to the others: Robert Burns had visited Dunfermline Abbey, Sir Walter Scott played a hand in recovering the lost Honours of Scotland, Kate Cochrane toured Edinburgh and attracted the attention of Scott during a night at the theater (Scott dashed off a poem in admiration). I followed along after them, walking in invisible footsteps that led us to each other.