Tuesday, November 03, 2015

The Meatloaf Trilogy



Before you start getting warm and fuzzy over the idea of your grandmother's and mother's meatloaf recipes, or three generations or more worth of comfort food, lovingly presented to your family, let me stop you. We are not talking about the American staple made of ground beef. We are wandering into the realm of familiar words used in a foreign country to describe something very different from your normal frame of reference.



The item I ordered from the menu, at a small family run delicatessen, that incidentally was owned and operated by three generations of butchers in the Austrian city of Melk, were technically loaf shaped, and made of meat, but entirely different. To their credit, I think the younger members of the family knew the joke was on English speakers and were  most likely the translators of the German menu into English, since they seemed fluent when speaking it.



I can't say I was completely surprised when the "Meatloaf Trilogy" arrived at the table, because I had seen variations of these loaves all over Austria, and had been tempted to try one. More like Mortadella or its American counterpart, baloney,  these were meat products obviously made from pork and pork fat. 


The loaf I had noticed most often was spotted not with fat, but with cheese. What surprised me the most was that they had been cooked. These could easily have been thinly sliced in their cold state for a sandwich. This cold cut was very good served hot. The selection was a loaf made with either cheese or pickle and pimento, or just plain. Served simply with some mustard and potato salad, the meal was both filling and tasty.





As long as we're already here, let's discuss the Josef Sdraule Restaurant on the same premises as their butcher shop. The space was old world to the core and charming with walls lined in wood paneling, antique light fixtures, and a menu that didn't break the bank. In fact the most expensive item was Fried Chicken for 9.5 euro.
 



The warmth, as well as the   charm, of this family run restaurant, continued with the old stove that kept the room cozy on a seriously cold afternoon. Beer helped to lift 
the spirits.



























Oh, about that chicken dinner; it was pretty filling for under 10 euro. And the Meatloaf Trilogy at 6.9 euro was a steal.

Address
Hauptstra├če 2, 3390, Melk, Austria
Phone
+43 2752 52447
- See more at: http://www.austriayp.com/company/43497/Sdraule_Josef#sthash.JgAIqHas.dpuf
Address
Hauptstra├če 2, 3390, Melk, Austria
Phone
+43 2752 52447
- See more at: http://www.austriayp.com/company/43497/Sdraule_Josef#sthash.JgAIqHas.dpuf
Address: Hauptstrabe 2
3390, Melk, Austria
Phone: +43 2752 52447

Josef Sdraule Website 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Finding Bad Food in Italy

Since the very day I started traveling there, I have said that you would have great difficulty in finding a bad meal in Italy. Italians are exceptionally proud of their culture and express that through their food, by keeping their recipes regional and passing them down from one generation to the next. You, as a traveler, only need to seek out restaurants that advertise regional specialties to find a good meal.




That was then, but this is now, after a visit to Bolzano. You can easily find a bad meal in Italy if you try ordering a pasta dish or a pizza in this town. Travelers expect to eat pasta in Italy, but in Bolzano, you are better off ordering Austrian specialties. Bolzano is too Austrian for the Italians and too Italian for the Austrians. You hear both languages in the streets, but there seems to be no blending of the cultures, unless you choose fusion type food, which I suspect, satisfies no one.

I was so upset after our 2nd meal, that I wondered out loud why Italy didn't just give it back to Austria. I later mentioned this to a young waiter we met from Trento, and his response was matter of fact. He said that Austria didn't want it, thinking it too Italianized. He went on to say that after World War II, when the borders changed, Italy transported many Southern Italians to Bolzano in an attempt to integrate more of their culture into the area.




















 



If Southern Italians migrated there, what happened to their ability to make pasta? They invented tomato sauce and Pasta Puttanesca. How could they be abandoned?  The tomato based lasagne I ordered would have been better if it were the frozen product of Stoffer; ironic since the company name sounds Germanic. Our pizza was soggy; yes, we stooped to that for dinner, because we craved an Italian taste. This is something one does not expect to find in Italy, the country that invented the pizza.












Bolzano has a lively open air market in town and as we wandered through it, we saw all the ingredients one would need for making traditional Italian recipes; tomatoes, herbs, meats and classic Italian cheese. There seemed no good excuse for the lack of classic Italian dishes.



If the truth be known, we decided to add Bolzano and Trento to our itinerary, just to get away from schnitzels for awhile. As much as we liked Bolzano as a small city, we looked forward to finding good Italian food in Trento, and we did.

 


Bolzano is worth a trip for architecture, shopping, strolling and just about anything else except food. The one exception was the pastry, which looked spectacular, as you can see by the following photo. Those in front are made with chestnut puree and rich dark chocolate.


Having lost over 1200 digital photos during this trip, I regret to be unable to inform you of the restaurants to avoid, but I will caution you to follow your nose for the best options. If it smells good, it usually is. Just remember to not expect too much in the way of Italian fare. Here is a visual reminder:
        Special thanks to William J. Thomson for permitting the use of his photos taken in Bolzano.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Train Travel in Europe

There are a number of options to consider when traveling through Europe by train. Should you buy a train pass, what class, should you buy an open ticket, or specify the time, do you need a reserved seat? Whether making specific plans for your chosen itinerary, or flying by the seat of your pants, even if you choose to do that on a train, there are many things to consider.

Eurail passes: you can travel to any country or select specific countries, when buying a pass, but what advantage is it to have one? If you want to save time and not stand in ticket lines, or try a self service machine, they can save you time, but can they save you money? That only happens when you consider the cost of the tickets if purchased separately. For years I purchased the pass and forced myself on day trips, so I would be using up all the money prepaid for the pass. The convenience of the pass fell apart when traveling during peak hours and the only way to sit on the train was to have a seat reservation, which required standing in long ticket lines. The romance of having the pass and hopping trains at will soon faded.

Rail pass classes: which class offers the most benefit? When I was single, my answer was based strictly on finances. 2nd class was good enough and took me to the same places the 1st class passengers were going. Perhaps it was more crowded, but it was comfortable enough and would still allow me to take the fast trains. When I married, my husband wanted to travel 1st class on the trains, because the cars were less crowded and therefore quieter. Even though I groaned when buying those passes, thinking of all the money I was wasting, I could understand his logic...until cell phones were invented and until we discovered that many places we wanted to visit were not serviced by trains equipped with 1st class cars. My groaning continued, until my spouse realized that 2nd class cars, had become perfectly adequate.

Open tickets or specific times: what are the advantages of each? When purchasing a ticket with no specific time on it, if you change your mind about when you want to leave, you can use it for up to 2 months, or exchange it and travel to a different city. Sounds good until you discover that you cannot use it on every train traveling to your desired destination. That usually happens when the conductor tells you that your ticket is for a regional train and you have just boarded a Eurostar, requiring you to purchase another ticket on the spot, at an increased price. Another disadvantage of an open ticket is that you have no seat reservation, so if you are traveling at peak times, or have boarded a Eurostar going to a popular travel destination you may discover that most seats are reserved and unavailable, and you have nowhere to sit. Worse yet, you may be unable to move to another car, seeking an open seat, due to the throngs of other travelers who also boarded without reservations, most of them holding Eurail passes, wondering why the train was so overbooked, and thinking how inefficient the European system is.

Buying a ticket with a specific time takes away many of the risks involved with an open ticket. You know the specific time to travel, and the specific train. If you miss your train, the worst thing that happens is that you will have to exchange the ticket by standing in another ticket line. Just remember to book a seat when you do that, especially if you travel during peak hours. The ticket sellers can advise you about whether or not you may need the reservation.

About paying for that reservation: what can you do when it's too late to book one? Here are a few tips. It's generally a 2 class train that has the potential for restricted seating. If you can move through the cars, you can also look for unreserved seats and take one. Seats will either have a reservation ticket on the top of the seat, or in the case of compartments, the position chart on the door will have the reservations inserted on reserved seats. Once the train starts moving, assume the reservations are for people getting on at the next stop or two and take the seat until that person boards the train. Since you cannot determine if seats are reserved, before entering the train, try getting on the train near the dining car if you are holding a 2nd class ticket. You can sit in the dining car and it may have a closet for your luggage, while you are ordering and dining. Since it would be impossible to eat enough to justify staying in the dining car on a long distance ride, try asking the conductor if there are available seats in 1st class, and ask if you can upgrade your ticket. 1st class ticket holders seldom have problems finding an available seat.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Selfie Less

When we travel we seldom take notice of tour groups, other than to make fun of the group guides who wander around with bright colored umbrellas, oversized flowers or  flags,  even teddy bears, so as to stand out in a crowd and not lose their fledglings. Perhaps that is because we visit so many large cities. Traveling to a smaller destination makes them stand out, every individual in the group.

I often joke that I had lost my greatest  opportunity to add the ultimate travel photo to my blog, after I failed to take out my own camera, when conscripted to take a  photo of a Japanese tour group at the Arc d' Triomphe in Paris. If the groups are more like those seen recently in Cesky Krumlov, my services may never be demanded again.

I know that people want to be in some of their own travel photos, but the selfie  craze has hit a low point when people feel the need to be in every photo. Common courtesy vanishes as people crowd in front of the attraction and one another, jockeying for their position in the perfect selfie, however, that perfection seems never to be achieved and the process continues at the next spot that catches their fancy.

On our 2 night stay at this diminutive World Heritage site, my husband and I reshot countless photos, because after we set up our shots, groups taking their selfies would step in front of us. They didn't see us because they were looking behind themselves to set up their own shots. In Hallstatt, I decided to give one man a taste of his own medicine, when he planted himself less than 3 feet in front of me, as I was about to take my photo. I repositioned myself 3 feet in front of him, as he attempted to take his shot. If looks could kill...now I know the meaning of that cliche on a personal level.

Well, that was nothing compared to the man we passed in St Peter's churchyard in Salzburg. He bellowed a loud "f--k you!", as we passed him along the path. Didn't he know about the delete button on his digital camera? I thanked my lucky stars that I could delete all the disrupted attempts I had made in taking photos. This man wouldn't have lasted 10 minutes in Hallstatt or Cesky Krumlov without resorting to fisticuffs or having a nervous breakdown. He really needed to toughen up; taking successful photos is not for the impatient nor ill tempered traveler.

What about these accessories that allow the iPhone or Samsung to be held 2 feet away from the self involved photo taker? Does the background even get in the shot when the photo subject/photographer is busy craning their neck to see if they are ready for their closeup? I kept observing and not one person looked at anything but their camera, even when it was above their head.

We decided to break for lunch and get away from the group tours. Two women sat at the table next to us and spent their entire time taking posed photos of one another until their order arrived. Even though they were not selfie indulgent it was still annoying. When one approached us and asked if we wanted her to take a photo of us, we answered in unison "No thank you!"

OMG, I just had a frightening thought...what if these people decided to use drones next year?

If You're Full, The Food Is Good




This was an old Czech saying, according to our waiter from The Hotel Grand Cafe located in Cesky Krumlov, a World Heritage site in the Czech Republic. It was embarrassing to hear, because it  reminded me of how very little deprivation the American public has suffered in recent history. We expect food to be much more than filling in order to be good, although that doesn't seem to stop us from over eating at fast food restaurants.















 


Our meal was filling alright, in fact, a cardinal rule was broken by not cleaning the plate. Because of being just too full to eat another bite, I placed one of the more than generous dumpling slices onto my husband's plate, so my plate would look as though at least an effort had been made to finish the meal. That is a technique that is generally successful, but not this time.
 



Since we had started with the chicken soup, loaded with what looked like the same bread that had been the primary ingredient within the dumplings, we seemed doomed from the start.
Judging by his selection of roast pork with cabbage, flanked by not one form, but two kinds of dumplings, bread and potato, my husband was already in the weeds when it came to being full. He was overcome by the sheer volume and weight of his own meal, so the "gifted" dumpling languished on his plate.
 
 


















He jokingly remarked that the Budvar was causing the dumplings in his stomach to expand at a rapid pace. 



 





Although I could not identify the cut of the venison, it may have been from the shoulder, the cream sauce and red currants added a nice note to the flavor. 


As we scanned other restaurant menus the following day, we couldn't help but notice that the menus with photographs were showing plates with at least 4 or 5 slices of dumplings swimming in cream sauces. We had learned our lesson and dined at a restaurant that didn't even list dumplings.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Flying into Vienna? You May Need a CAT.


Buddy may have climbed into my suitcase before I started packing for this trip, but he is not the CAT of which I speak. Nice try, Buddy, and better luck next time. But I digress.

For those of us who may not have searched ground transportation before we arrived, I have a one word solution...CAT. City Airport Transportation is the simple way to go. They have lime green ticket kiosks all over the baggage area, also a desk to your right as you leave the baggage area. It couldn't be more simple. Their train into Vienna runs every 30 minutes at 6  and 36 past the hour. You needn't worry about getting on the wrong train, because they have painted their trains the same colors as the kiosks.


At this writing, there are 2 types of tickets. The 12 euro ticket is for the train only, but the 2nd option, costing 14 euro, includes an underground Uban ticket. Lines 3 & 4 are available at the end of your train ride, just outside the train station. Luckily for us, our hotel was just a block away from a U3 station, so no transfers were required.

CAT Website


Thursday, October 08, 2015

Back in Earl's Court



On most visits to London, we find ourselves in Earl's Court, because it is serviced by both the Piccadilly and District lines of the London Tube. It is the closest central (Zone 1) London Underground stop to Heathrow airport, since once you board the train, it takes less than 30 minutes to get there. If you're going to Kings Cross you can add another 20 minutes to your commute.


The fact that it has an easily accessed elevator, for transporting heavy luggage to street level, is a big plus. This vibrant neighborhood is diverse and colorful with good value hotels and inexpensive dining options. Earl's Court Road is also filled with shops that I find very appealing when it comes to bringing home gifts for family.

My two favorite places are Boot's the chain chemist shops that have nice prices on cosmetics, and Marks & Spencer's MS Simply Food. In late October, Boot's starts stocking  gift boxes of assorted colors of nail polish, or eye shadows, sometimes lipsticks and assorted scents of bath gel, and body lotions.


The food hall has fresh produce and various take out foods like sandwiches and salads, perfect for impromptu picnics, but what I love most are the tins of cookies, or should I say "biscuits", that travel well. I have never tasted better shortbread and the tins are gifts in themselves.



These Belgian chocolate biscuits make a great gift for friends and were very easy to pack. I do have to wonder why my memory of their taste is so vivid; perhaps these never even made it to a friend.



This flavor combination  was what piqued my interest to try more M&S Simply Food products. I'm happy every time I see that it's still in the product line. But on occasion, when it wasn't available, there was never any disappointment in having to select  something new. It seems that each time you walk into a Simply Food, you can rest assured that something new and interesting will be available in the biscuit department. Remember, there's always the shortbread.




If you couldn't possibly trust yourself to eat just one biscuit at a time, and that's more difficult than imaginable, you might be able to satisfy your sweet tooth with a four pack, rather than a ten pack of these tempting morsels. The volume will be the same, but you'll feel better about it.

If it hasn't  occurred  to you, that I'm fond of chocolates, maybe the photos here might give you a hint. M&S, Fair Trade Chocolates are some of the richest I've tasted. They're all intensely flavored, and feel like velvet.




























One can never have too much chocolate, can you? So, let's take a look at the cereals. Both of these samples actually made it home with me and truthfully, they were a bit overkill in the chocolate department, but a child would love them. Who wouldn't like dessert for breakfast?



















If you're thinking about adding to a gourmet pantry or would like a gift for an avid home chef, Simply food can help you find more than chocolate. Maldon salt is a flaked sea salt that would be well received by any cook

You can easily find it and its smoked flavor in London. M&S also sells other European salts like Falksalt, which produces a broad range of flavored salts. This was the first I'd ever seen of a chipotle flavored salt. Besides the smoke flavor this, offered a spicy flavor too.


 









Don't bring these back to a foodie friend unless you want a marriage proposal. You don't understand? Perhaps you have never had the opportunity to eat potatoes fried in goose fat. I assure you that these will pass U.S.Customs, unless there's another outbreak of Bird Flu, so buy them while ye may, and expect a very sincere thank you.

Our only excuse for buying this cheese and pickle sandwich had to be temporary insanity.  It was so very British it just begged to be tried. It's better to try one in a pub. We wanted to stay in, and made do.


The bottled water, however, was a nice and refreshing surprise, in more ways than one. The flavors were fresh. The elderflower water is on my list of items to pick up on our next trip.



When it comes to hotels, we have had good luck with The Mayflower on Trebivor Road, the Coronation along Nevern Square, The Ibis Styles Kensington Hotel on Hogarth Road and even the small Russel Hotel, again on Trebivor Road, although these days I prefer a hotel with a lift (elevator). Trying the Best Western Burn's Hotel this year has made me rethink my aversion to American Corporate properties in Europe. It seems they just affiliate with locally owned properties if their standards are met and maintained, in order to broaden their brand. The operation of the hotel is left to the original owners.

The trick to finding a decent sized room in London is to never accept a "standard" room, but to go for the next type at a slightly more expensive rate, such as a deluxe or executive room. When a hotel does not have an elevator I request a ground floor room or nothing higher than the 1st floor. Another good idea is to request the largest room available at that rate. The website LateRooms.com has been a fine resource for me to use in finding the lowest prices possible, and the prices are better the later you book, however, the selection also decreases.

The Fuller's Pub, just across from the station is a good place to find a "Full English" breakfast if  your room doesn't come with breakfast. For a chain, which I try to avoid, Masala Zone has broadened my perspective. New Asia on Hogarth Road is decent for Indian, but Masala Zone on Earl's Court Road to the left of the station has won me over. Another restaurant that provides great value is The Little French Restaurant that has operated on Hogarth Road for the last 20 years. No one can match their £12.95, 3 course menu. Costa Coffee Shops has a location on Earl's Court Road and they are a nice alternative to Starbucks. Unfortunately, Earl's Court Road is now flooded with American fast food joints. Just remember that you didn't need a transatlantic flight  in order to buy or order chicken 
from KFC, or a sandwich at Subway, or a burger at McDonald's or Burger King.


TO BE CONTINUED...with photos added of the shops, hotels and restaurants.