Tag Archives: travel

Utah: we really kept them hopping!

Okay, so I shared where we stayed in my last post. Now it’s time to share what we did during our vacation in Ogden & Salt Lake City. The question should be what DIDN’T we do? Here’s a rundown of our week with the grandkids and all the fun we had. And boy, was it fun. Exhausting, but fun. We wore those kids out!

A drive through Ogden Valley & the Pineview Reservoir:
The drive up Ogden Valley into the Wasatch Mountains began just blocks from our vacation rental. After a brief stop for Farr’s ice cream (the kids had Play Dough, which tasted like Fruit Loops) we were on our way to the scenic loop around Pineview Reservoir through the tiny townships of Eden and Huntsville. We stopped at a campground on the south shore so the kids could swim. What a breathtaking place to soak up the sun and take advantage of the clear cool water.

Ogden Canyon Drive

Ogden Valley Drive - Farr's Ice Cream stop

Ogden Mountain Drive - Wasatch Range from Pineview Reservoir

Pineview Reservoir - Lilly & Jonah in the sand

Pineview Reservoir - Sibling Love

Huntsville, UT - view of the mtns near Pineview Reservoir

A day at the Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden:
This fun park is located at the mouth of Ogden Valley on the edge of town. We arrived just before it opened and were surprised to see a pretty good line forming. As it turned out, we were there on a free day. Bonus! We started by walking through the indoor museum, but it was the outdoor area that the kids truly enjoyed. The paved walking path meandered through a beautifully landscaped and hilly area dotted with dinosaur statues. It wasn’t long, though, until the kids spotted the playground area and all bets were off. Still, they had a great time and we enjoyed the rolling hills and view of the mountains.

Ogden - Eccles Dinosaur Park

Ogden Dinosaur Park - Lunchtime

Ogden Dinosaur Park - Lilly tames the beast

Ogden Dinosaur Park - Meat Eater

Ogden Dinosaur Park - LOOK OUT!

A hike through the Ogden Nature Center:
On the northern edge of town, the Odgen Nature Center is a combination of a windswept prairie, desert garden and small forest. We enjoyed the collection of birdhouses that dotted the walking path from the parking area to the visitor’s center. Over 100 birdhouses that were part of a local contest were stationed along the path. After a visit to the gift shop and puppet theater, we hiked around the grounds following the paths to the bear den, observation tower and several ponds. While the only wild creatures we encountered were a swarm of rogue mosquitoes, we had a great time hiking the trails and looking at the local wild flowers and grasses. We also enjoyed the small collection of birds that were being rehabbed at the center, including a bald eagle, golden eagle, peregrine falcon, a few owls and a turkey that was allowed to roam the grounds freely.

Ogden Nature Center - Gift Shop & Visitor Center

Ogden Nature Center - Hiking the Birdhouse Trail

Ogden Nature Center - Lighthouse Birdhouse

Ogden Nature Center - Bee on Wild Flowers

Discovery Place Children’s Museum at Gateway Mall in SLC:
Best. Children’s Museum. EVER! You know when you spend five hours in a museum and the kids beg to stay longer that you’ve found a good one. Jonah & Lilly absolutely loved the Discovery Place in Salt Lake City. We played a few hours, took a break for lunch, came back for a few more hours and they STILL wanted more. Play stations they loved included the Construction Zone, the Farm-to-Market area including a grocery store, and especially the rooftop terrace area that included a real rescue helicopter complete with command center and mini-hospital with triage and ER. That rooftop terrace was their favorite, as they spent hours changing costumes, piloting the helicopter, and playing ER doctor, nurse and patient. They talked about it for hours after we left, and asked if they could go back the next day.

SLC Children's Museum - Construction Zone

Discovery Place SLC - rooftop rescue helicopter

SLC - Discovery Place - Dr Lilly on Call

SLC - Discovery Place - Triage Area

SLC - Discovery Place - Jonah in the Wind Tunnel

That last shot shows Jonah in a Hurricane Simulator. Even though it only lasted 60 seconds, wind in the tube peaked at 75mph, which was pretty intense. It also proved to be a valuable lesson for us. While Jonah loved it, Lilly got spooked and clung to him, screaming as the wind grew stronger. She was fine as soon as it shut off, but it helped clarify a few questions about our next adventure.

iFLY Ogden:
We talked about this with the kids before we left for Utah and at that point, both Jonah & Lilly planned to participate. After our museum wind tunnel experience, however, Lilly opted out and Jonah went full steam ahead. After sitting through the training video with a room full of adults, Jonah suited up and was ready to fly. He looks so grown up to us at seven, but next to his flying group, he looked so tiny. Still, he was pumped about getting into that air chamber while some of the teens in his group were nervous. Here’s our fearless flyer.

iFly Ogden - Jonah in his flight suit

iFly Ogden - Jonah Geared Up & Ready to Fly

iFLY Ogden - Jonah Waits for His Turn

iFly Ogden - Jonah in Flight

iFly Ogden - Jonah & Instructor Soaring

That last photo was snapped just as the instructor picked up his feet and they shot up to the top of the wind chamber. Twice! It was thrilling. After the students finished their rounds, the instructors played in the wind chamber showing off some of their moves. One guy would go so high you couldn’t see him, then shoot straight down like a rocket, turn just as he reached the cage floor, and fly out the door landing standing up on the bench just outside the air chamber. We all gasped. He was Super Man. Jonah came out of his experience high five-ing the instructors and bouncing with excitement. I think he will definitely remember his flight, and thanks to The Complete Package, who recorded it on his ION camera and the iFLY DVD, he can relive it over and over.

Speaking of flying, we visited Hill Air Force Base & Museum:
It’s hard to miss this museum when you see the planes in the outdoor exhibits from the highway. We passed it several times during the week and each time, Jonah would point them out and ask if we could go see them. Of course! We started with the indoor exhibits then worked our way through the airplanes outside. Besides the airplanes, we also had a great view of the mountains and saw several airplanes practicing for the air show that took place the next day. The kids enjoyed the exhibits and were thrilled to get a toy plane from the gift shop. Jonah picked a stealth bomber while Lilly picked a stunt plane.

Hill AFB - Aerospace Museum - Old Planes

Hill AFB - Aerospace Museum - Awesome Paint Job

Hill AFB - Outdoor Exhibits & Mountains

Hill AFB - Outdoor Exhibit - Cargo Plane

The Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City:
I’m not going to lie – we took the kids to this museum just to see the dinosaur exhibit. What surprised us was we found so much more and enjoyed all of it. With five floors of exhibits, we started at the top and walked our way down. This was a great place to spend half a day and it had just enough hands-on interactive exhibits to keep the kids interested. The Complete Package and I also enjoyed the architecture and views. The dinosaurs were still the star of the show, but the rest of the museum was terrific as well.

SLC Nat History Museum - Exterior

SLC Nat History Museum - Display Wall

SLC Nat History Museum - Dinosaur Hall

SLC Nat History Museum - Dig Site

SLC Nat History Museum - Ancient Bison

After the museum, we popped into a small cafe downtown for Belgian frites, burgers & waffles, then hit the LDS Conference Center to see the Mormon Tabernacle Choir’s weekly practice, which is open to the general public regardless of religion. After dodging thunderstorms outside and taking a brief tour of the center inside, we settled in to watch the choir. Growing up, I’d seen them from time to time on television and have always marveled not only at the sheer size of the choir, but how perfectly heavenly they sound. With approximately 360 vocalists and 110 orchestra members, it’s not just large – it’s HUGE. Seeing it in person was amazing and a really special treat.

SLC - Mormon Tabernacle Choir - Public Practice

A drive out to Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake:
Our last adventure was one I think The Complete Package & I enjoyed more than the kids – a drive to Antelope Island to see the Great Salt Lake. The geology and science behind the region was a little beyond both kids, but they enjoyed seeing the American bison (not buffalo, as I was schooled) and a few pronghorn antelope. While we found the landscape beautiful, stark and fascinating, the kids were bored and bickering in the back seat. Ahh… reality. Still, it was a ‘must see’ and we can only hope they’ll look back someday and remember seeing it in person. Here are a few shots from our day at the lake.

Salt Lake - lake& mtn view from Antelope Island

Salt Lake Park - Bison on Antelope Island

Salt Lake Park - Jonah & Lilly & the bison statue

That’s Jonah telling us if we find rattlesnakes, he’ll karate chop them.

Salt Lake Park - Jonah Master of All He Surveys

That’s Jonah, looking for rattlesnakes to karate chop.

Salt Lake Park - Pronghorn on Antelope Island

Salt Lake NP - Buffalo & Tourists

For the record – YES, that is a wild bison as big as a truck out on the beach, and YES – those are families with very young children getting dangerously close to him. WHY?!?! We had our own close encounter with the bison, even though it was unintentional. When we noticed a group walking near the road, we stopped the car so the kids could see them. When they turned and crossed the road in front of our car, we all held our breath collectively.

Salt Lake Park - Antelope Island bison crossing

We’ve been in bison jams in Yellowstone but it never ceases to take my breath away when they come so close. This small group with two babies crossed right in front of the car. We had to keep the kids from squealing with excitement. It’s hard to be quiet when you’re young and bison are right outside your car window. Heck, it’s hard for adults, too!

The Great Salt Lake and Antelope Island are really lovely. The contrast between the salt flats, desert flora and rocky terrain against the water and mountains is both surreal and stunning. It’s a little like being on the surface of the moon, with a view of Salt Lake City in the background. And that contrast is what makes the Salt Lake area beautiful. It’s a mix of high desert and mountain landscape. It can be lush one moment (Ogden Valley & the Pineview reservoir) and stark the next (the salt flats). It’s thrilling one moment (iFLY) and supremely relaxing in yet another (evening sunsets on the back patio). You can be as adventurous (mountains & rivers) or as zen (museums and parks) as you like, and have access to all of it within an hour’s drive.

We spent seven full days in Ogden and Salt Lake City, and still didn’t make it through our ‘must see’ list. If we are able to return, we’ll take those scenic drives through Big & Little Cottonwood Canyons up to Park City and Sundance. If you haven’t visited this part of Utah, maybe it’s time to add it to your bucket list.

Salt Lake Park - view of causeway & lake

Travel Links from Our Trip (click to open):

HomeAway.com: Vacation Home Rentals

Farr’s Ice Cream in Ogden, Utah & images of Farr’s Ice Cream

Eccles Dinosaur Park in Ogden, Utah

The Ogden Nature Center in Ogden, Utah

Discovery Place Children’s Museum in Salt Lake City, Utah

iFLY in Ogden, Utah

Hill Air Force Base & Aerospace Museum north of Salt Lake City, Utah

The Museum of Natural History in Salt Lake City, Utah

Bruges Waffles & Frites in Salt Lake City, Utah

The Mormon Tabernacle Choir in Salt Lake City, Utah

Antelope Island State Park & Great Salt Lake in Syracuse, Utah

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Utah: they wanted to see mountains

It happened because they wanted to see mountains. ‘Real mountains with snow on top’ they said. So last week, The Complete Package & I took our two young grandchildren – Jonah Bear & Lilly Bug – to Salt Lake City and Ogden in Utah to see the Wasatch mountains. Real mountains. With snow on top.

Wasatch Mountains - Ogden, Utah

Why Utah? That’s a legitimate question, I guess. Our answer is “Why not Utah?” It is beautiful, and the Salt Lake City to Ogden area offered us a unique opportunity to not only show the kids mountains, but also a high desert environment and the Great Salt Lake. More bang for our buck, if you will. While we stayed in Ogden most of the time, we were close enough to explore and play in Salt Lake City. And while the mountains were mere minutes away, so were the activities of both cities. It was a really good choice.

For this trip, as we do for most vacations, we found a vacation rental home at HomeAway.com. The craftsman style house we chose in the historic district of Ogden was perfect for us. It looks small. Don’t let that fool you. This house had four bedrooms, two bathrooms, a full kitchen, a breakfast room, formal dining room, sitting area, living room and a basement laundry room. It also had a great fenced backyard for the kids to play in when we spent time at the house.

HomeAway Rental - from the webpage

Ogden Rental House - Living Room

Ogden Rental House - Sitting Room

Ogden Rental House - Kitchen

Ogden Rental House - Kitchen Kitsch

Ogden Rental House - Breakfast Nook

Ogden Rental House - One of 4 Bedrooms

We loved the craftsman-style details of the home, but I especially loved the vintage kitsch that gave it personality. For antique junkies like me, it was a dream come true. Every room was adorned with pieces of the past and touches of fun. Check out the funky upstairs bathroom and some of the old paint-by-number pieces from around the house. They are a blast from my past.

Ogden Rental House - Upstairs Bath

Ogden Rental House - Vintage Paint-By-Numbers

The kids were really good about not trying to play with all the antiques. Instead, they were focused on the big screen TV, the fenced backyard and the front porch. Each evening, we spent time playing in the yard while the sun set. I’m including a diagram of Jonah & Lilly’s use of the backyard living space. I’m all for giving children a creative outlet, but if I hear ‘Let It Go’ one more time…

Ogden Rental House - Back Yard

Most mornings, their attention was focused on the front porch. Jonah loved to sit on the front steps and whittle the sticks he collected from everywhere we went. Sticks and rocks, sticks and rocks. That boy LOVES sticks and rocks.

Ogden Rental House - Jonah Whittles on the Porch

Lilly fell in love with the porch swing. If she wasn’t swinging in it, she was pushing it or laying across it. Some day, boys will line up to woo her on a porch swing like that, but not too soon. (Somewhere, her parents just shivered.)

Ogden Rental House - Lilly & the Porch Swing

Oh my gosh, we love these kids so much. They have our hearts, for sure.

Ogden Rental House - Lilly & Jonah on the Porch

When the weather was nice, we took evening strolls to explore our historic neighborhood. We especially loved the street behind ours, which was lined with huge trees and beautiful old mansions from a bygone era. To say it was lovely is to sell it short. It was like stepping back in time, which was magical.

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks1

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks3

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks2

I fell in love with the tiny barking squirrels in Ogden. They ran the phone lines each evening, and every time Jonah or Lilly started singing those squirrels would join in with their high-pitched yipping. It was hilarious. Throughout the week, they would come close enough to check us out, but not so close that we could touch them. This little guy ran circles around a tree, then started popping out of the knothole on the right like a jack-in-the-box. It was adorable. I tried to convince him to come home with us, but he was having none of it.

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks - Furry Friends with Arrow

Lilly, who loves all creatures, also found a neighborhood friend. Not as furry or cute, but just as friendly. Meet Turbo.

Ogden Historic District - Evening Walks - Lilly's Snail

Next up: what we did with the kids during our week in Ogden & Salt Lake City. It involves flying (but not in planes), swimming (but not in the Great Salt Lake), bison (not buffalo), and a few of these monsters. KIDS – LOOK OUT!!!

Ogden Dinosaur Park - LOOK OUT!

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Traveling TX: Lost Maples State Park

Do you ever dream of getting away from it all? Job, cell phone, e-mail, other people… all of it? The Complete Package and I found a place that does that for us. It’s called St. Clare’s Cabin near Leakey, Texas. If you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ll remember we went there last Christmas. This rustic, fabulous cabin is everything we look for in a getaway – quaint, quiet & remote.

LeakeyTX - Porch at St Clare's Cabin

The cabin is in the middle of nowhere in the Texas Hill Country – 4 miles from Vanderpool, 11 miles from Leakey. Still don’t know where that is? Well, that’s the point. It’s waaaaay out there, in the mountains northwest of San Antonio. So far out I had to drive to Bandera to get a cell signal. For real. And I loved it.

Last year, we went just before Christmas. This year, we decided to go right after Thanksgiving and I’m so glad we did. There was still some fall color to ‘ooh & aah’ over. To make the most of it, we visited Lost Maples State Park to try to catch the maples at their finest. We were almost too late, but there was still some beauty to behold. Here’s a sampling of our afternoon hiking Lost Maples.

Lost Maples - Lone Maple with Cliffs

Lost Maples - Pond at Trailhead

Lost Maples - Orange Maple

Lost Maples - Creek withTexas Rock

Did you notice that big rock in the middle of the creek? It immediately caught my eye. Why? Because it looks like the state of Texas, if the entire eastern side of the state crumbled and fell off. Err… sorry, Houston!

Lost Maples - Texas Rock

I’m taking that as a sign that we should move to the Hill Country. {wink} Another cool feature found near the water is the limestone rock that has literally been picked up by the cypress tree roots and incorporated into the trees.

Lost Maples - Cypress Stump with Rocks

The trails through Lost Maples are lovely. Some are steep and challenging; some are more level and lazy. Whichever you choose, the most important thing is to get out of the car and enjoy the trails. Pack a picnic lunch and find a quiet spot by the river. Take a nap under a maple or hike the loop & enjoy the foliage.

Lost Maples - Steps on Maple Loop

It’s so beautiful under the canopy of maples, you can’t help but relax.

To learn more about Lost Maples State Park, visit Texas Parks & Wildlife.

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My Favorite Season: Fall

Maine - Somesville Bridge

Oh, fall… I miss you so much. I miss experiencing all four seasons and the benefits of each like leaves turning, snow falling or bulbs blooming. But mostly I miss sweaters and drinking hot cocoa at high school football games. I long for those days when you can step outside and see your breath. In the suburbs south of Houston, we have only two seasons – Summer & More Summer. Our change of season comes down to this: in February, we stop mowing for 3-4 weeks.

The Complete Package and I both love Fall. So much so, we usually travel north each year just to celebrate autumn. Since we’ll be remodeling our master bathroom instead of traveling this year, I’m celebrating the advent of fall with a few photos from our trip to Acadia National Park in Maine back in 2008. It was glorious. So welcome, Fall. Please come see us. We miss you something fierce.

Foliage in Acadia Natl Park

Acadia Maine - Sun Through Fall Foliage

Acadia Maine Leaves in Water

Acadia - Path to Jordan Pond

Somesville Main Tree in Fall

Ever thought of visiting Acadia National Park? Learn more HERE. Some of our other fall favorites – Glacier National Park, Calgary & Banff, Yellowstone & The Tetons, and the Oregon coast. Do you have a favorite place to visit in the fall? Please share! You may just inspire our next fall vacation or someone else’s.

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Postcards from Small Town Texas

The Complete Package and I have been enjoying scenic drives to small towns throughout Texas. This is the fourth in a series of photos documenting our lazy day adventures and highlighting these small town Texas treasures.

Fourth Stop: Gonzales, Texas
Gonzales - Come & Take It 2

No single statement sums up Gonzales, Texas more than “Come and take it!” Why? Because that single defiant phrased uttered about a tiny but powerful cannon is believed to have launched the Texas Revolution in 1835. Rarely has such a small piece of hardware launched such a contentious battle.

Gonzales - Masonic Building

In a nutshell, it was borrowed from the Mexican military by the citizens of Gonzales for protection from native Indians. When the Mexican commander asked for it to be returned a few years later, the citizens of Gonzales declined his invitation. In fact, their response was “Come and take it” which, judging by the ensuing battle, was not well received. To learn more about this tiny cannon and its impact on Texas history, you can click here. As if to prove that Texans are tenacious by nature, the cannon still resides to this day in the Old Jail Museum. There you’ll also find the Gonzales Visitor Center.

Gonzales - Visitor Center & Jail Museum Bldg

Gonzales - Visitor Center & Jail Museum

But there’s more to Gonzales than one cannon. A town rich in history, this little gem is what leisurely drives to small towns are all about. Besides friendly people and a laid back atmosphere, Gonzales is beautiful. Just take a look at their Grand Dame of buildings – the historic Gonzales County Courthouse.

Gonzales - Gonzales County Courthouse

Gonzales - Courthouse Clock Close-Up

The Old Jail Museum, county courthouse and historic Gonzales fire department can all be found on the city’s main square. It’s a lovely picnic spot.

Gonzales - Town Square

Gonzales - Town Square Marker

Established in 1884 when the city first authorized the purchase of 200 feet of fire hose, Gonzales takes great pride in their fire house history. The original firehouse bell hangs in the town square as a tribute to the firefighters who’ve protected the citizens of Gonzales throughout the years.

Gonzales - Fire Station Bell

This great old vintage fire truck totally charmed my socks off.

Gonzales - Antique Fire Truck

We parked next to it while we walked around downtown. When we returned, we found this cute little stowaway on our truck tire. If only he knew how much I love squirrels. I took it as a lucky sign this would be a lovely day.

Gonzales - Tiny Stowaway

Just across the from the fire station, you’ll find a lovingly restored movie theater. I just love it when a small town takes the care to restore these great old landmarks. Too many of them are gone, replaced by giant mega-theaters. It’s a shame, really. The small, quaint & historic theaters are so much more fun.

Gonzales - Classic Old Movie Theater
Speaking of nostalgia, who remembers these great old gas stations from the road trips of our childhoods? This one is still in remarkably great shape. Makes me want to open a donut/coffee shop in it. Cool, huh?

Gonzales - Vintage Gas Station

And that’s convenient, because the perfect house is for sale across the street. What do you think? Too big for just the two of us?

Gonzales - Gorgeous Old Home

Yeah… you’re right. It’s too big. Maybe this one. It’s smaller.

Gonzales - House Built in 1895

Nah… probably not. Still too big. But this one? I think this one is just right.

Gonzales - Beautiful Home Fabulous Porch

I’m such a sucker for a big wrap-around porch, and I’m in L-O-V-E with this one. It’s easy to fall in love with Gonzales. It’s charming. It’s friendly. It’s proud of its heritage and comfortable with its place in Texas history.

Gonzales - Hero Square Monument

It’s a great place to spend a day, and a great excuse to take a day trip. And that’s my advice to you. Take advantage of the next pretty day, get in your car, and…

Gonzales - Come & Take It

Gonzales - Header with Courthouse

To learn more about Gonzales, Texas visit the Texas Escapes website.
To see the other small towns featured in my Postcards series, click on:

Postcards from Small Town Texas: Halletsville
Postcards from Small Town Texas: Yoakum
Postcards from Small Town Texas: Shiner

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My favorite wallpaper

A close-up of the Mucha stained glass window at St Vitus Cathedral

When I say wallpaper, I don’t mean wallpaper wallpaper. As in not on the walls of my home. This photo is the wallpaper or backdrop on my laptop. Many times a day I gaze at this photograph and still I can’t seem grasp all the glorious detail and exquisite color. I took this photo last fall on our trip to the Netherlands, Istanbul & Prague. This is the famous Mucha window in St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic. It was designed by Alphonse Mucha, whom I personally believe to be one of the greatest Art Nouveau masters of all time.

Note: to see the photos in a larger format, simply click on the photo. When you’re done, hit the ‘back’ arrow on your computer to return to this post.

Here is the window in its entirety:

A full view of Mucha’s glorious tribute to Prague’s Jubilee

Simply stunning. Until our trip to Prague, the stained glass windows at St. Chapelle in Paris were my personal favorite. But now? I just can’t stop looking at this window. No matter how many times I see it, I can’t get enough.

The detail and color in each panel is simply stunning.

Are you a stained glass lover? Do you find yourself planning visits to old churches when you travel just to see the gorgeous art? Because if you don’t, you’re missing some of the finest historical masterpieces the world has to offer. If you have any favorites, please share them in the comment section. I’d love to see what inspires you and perhaps add a few new destinations to my bucket list.

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Postcards from Small Town Texas

The Complete Package and I have been enjoying scenic drives to small towns throughout Texas. This is the first in a series of photo collections documenting our lazy day adventures and highlighting these small town Texas treasures.

First Stop: Hallettsville, Texas

Hallettsville, Texas is located between Houston and San Antonio on Old Highway 90, 17 miles south of I-10. To learn more, visit www.texasescapes.com.

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Prague – The Food

I’m still going through vacation photos; sorting them out and reliving our trip. As I am, I realized it only seems fair to post a few photos of some of the food we tried in Prague. I mean, Istanbul got a food post. And The Netherlands got a good bit of attention with Claudia’s herring and my beloved oliebollen. So, in the interest of all things fair and right and foodie, here are a few of the food snaps I managed to take before stuffing my face. Note to self: I really need to work on that whole ‘pause, show some restraint, photograph, then eat’ system.

The first thing you need to know about food in Prague is that it tastes better when you eat it in a quaint neighborhood beer garden like this one.

You can't beat the food or fun offered at a neighborhood beer garden

And it’s even better if your neighborhood beer garden is rowdy and festive and brightly painted, and has great beer and live music.

Who could possibly resist this place? Or polka music?

Not much of a beer drinker? How about a cup of piping hot honey wine, then?

Honey Wine vendor at Old Town Square

I’ll warn you – it tastes a little like a hot, oaky chardonnay but with a healthy dose of paint stripper and Nyquil. And not the good cherry Nyquil, either. Gird your loins, kids. This stuff packs a punch. It was warming and sweet at the first sip. It was punching me in the gut and trying to steal my wallet by the last. Frankly, they could have sold a lot more of it if they’d just served it up in one of these beauties. That little bit of marketing genius is free, honey wine man.

I'm guessing everything tastes better in hand cut Czech glass. Pinkies up!

You know what else is really attractive (to me, anyway)? Big honkin’ hams smoking on an open fire pit. I can’t look at this stuff without wondering where the big pan of biscuits is hiding. Yes, I’m southern. Why do you ask, darlin’?

This is Old Prague Ham and That is the Old Prague Ham Master

I could go into the history of Old Prague Ham, but frankly I don’t care how it got here. I just want it really bad and I can’t stay focused on anything other than its smoky goodness long enough to put any more effort into it. Here’s what you need to know – it’s gorgeous and it smells like smoky meat heaven. Period.

Don't you wish you had smell-o-vision right now?

But wait! There’s more! The OPH man also sells sausages with rye bread and spicy mustard. AND kraut with little Czech dumplings and chunks of smoked ham in it. And Nestea, evidently.

Oh yeah, baby. We're about to get our Eastern European on!

The sausage was tasty and the bread was lovely and that kraut was a work of art, but let’s talk about the ham for a minute. Stay with me.

I would eat this on a boat. I would eat this on a float. I would eat this in a car...

Now, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “Dang! That’s a lot of smoky ham!” And you’d be right. Which brings me to my one and only tourist rip-off cautionary tale from our trip. The sign above the Old Prague Ham quotes a price. A very reasonable price. What you won’t notice (because I swear it didn’t say it anywhere) is that the quoted price is for a certain size portion of ham and that OPH is sold by weight. So unless you step up and say, “I’ll take the 80 Czech crown portion” (which translates to roughly $4.00 US), they will give you a giant plate of ham and tell you it’s 200 crowns (here, I’ll do the math – that’s $10.00 US). Now, ten dollars isn’t going to break anyone’s piggy bank, but what it will do is feed everyone standing within 10 feet of you. And that’s 10 feet of space in Old Town Square where all the tourists mingle in close proximity. I ate ham. The Complete Package tried the ham. The four Asian tourists sharing our tiny cocktail table were invited to try ham, but giggled at the absurdity of the size of my ham plate and politely declined. So instead, it fed two young homeless men who were scrounging through a garbage bin rescuing bread that others had tossed aside, and it also fed their little dog. Little dog got that crusty piece of ham skin, and he totally rocked it. Which leads me to my last two bits of advice about Old Prague Ham.

1. Too much Old Prague Ham may lead to massive stomach cramping and over-consumption of anti-diahrreal medications. It may also cause you to curse the day you ever laid eyes on 200 crowns worth of OPH, and say things to yourself like, “I’m sorry, Istanbul. I packed that Immodium assuming that I’d be sharing it with you. But I was wrong. So wrong. Please forgive me.”

2. If the wish I threw into that wishing well comes true and I do, indeed, return to Prague some day, I’m having what TCP had.

Because that's the way *uh huh uh huh* we like it

And now for something sweet. While at Prague Castle, a smell danced past my nostrils that was so intoxicating, I found myself drifting toward it much like those old cartoons where the besotted floats above the ground being pulled in a trance-like state towards something irresistible.

One whiff, and you'll want to hand over your wallet & credit cards

In this case, it was trdlo. I know. It’s an odd name. But what it lacks in vowels, it more than makes up for in aroma and flavor. Imagine the smell of warm cinnamon sugared toast. Picture the texture of soft warm white bread hot out of the oven. Now imagine the combination of those two things – a warm, soft cylinder of piping hot bread, enrobed in a crunchy cinnamon sugar hug.

Trdlo stands draw crowds of visitors, all following their noses

Here’s how it works. Bread dough is rolled into a thin rope and wrapped around a metal cylinder. A board is sprinkled with sugar crystals and cinnamon, and the cylinder is rolled through it, as though rolling out a pie crust or pizza dough. Rolling helps to flatten the dough onto the cylinder and helps the sugar/cinnamon mixture stick to the dough. The cylinders are then placed one at a time onto a special rack over a hot fire.

This stuff is heavenly, which makes those holy rollers

As each trdlo is taken off on one end, another new one is added at the other end. By the time each cylinder makes it across the fire, it is perfectly golden and ready to eat. Each roll is broken in half, forming two beautiful golden cuffs of deliciousness. If they weren’t so darned irresistible, I’d wear them like bangles on both wrists. So not kidding.

Another sweet treat was our stroll through the small but interesting History of Chocolate Museum. It’s tiny and kind of kitschy, but also fun. Your reward for paying the entrance fee is the live chocolate making demonstration, where a candy shop employee shows you the steps to making hazelnut creme filled chocolate stars.

The live chocolate making demonstration in progress

Oh, the magnificent aroma of that chocolate room. It’s so strong and so heavenly, it seems to permeate every cell of your body for at least 20 minutes. If I could bottle it as perfume, I could buy a summer castle in Prague. It was glorious. If you’re into tasting over smelling, the pay-off comes at the end of the demonstration when you get to sample the goods.

Twinkle twinkle little star, cuter than a Hershey Bar

And while I’ve always made it a practice not to publish photos of myself or TCP, he did manage to snap a shot of me coming out of the tasting room. It’s not flattering by any means, but what are you gonna do? Sometimes the truth hurts.

Oh, snap! I was sure NanaBread was a brunette!

Prague is primarily known for it’s pork dishes and dumplings, but there were a few culinary surprises. Take this appetizer, for example.

Fried Sardines & a cold Pilsner - TCP was one happy cat!

I don’t heart stinky fish, but The Complete Package does and he was tickled to pieces with this plate of sardines, fried up crispy and dipped in mayonnaise. And for the record, that’s not lumpy American mayo from a jar. That’s the good stuff. The homemade version. And if you ever eat it (especially on fries while in Europe), you will never look back. I think TCP could have sat in this little Italian cafe and eaten sardines all day long. The beer didn’t hurt, either.

And then there was this steaming platter of Spaghetti Carbonara. It was lovely, but it tasted even better than it looked.

Proof that everything is better with bacon

This was TCP’s lunch. I was hoping he’d filled up on stinky fish, but no such luck. Evidently he was just getting started. But I did get one bite, and it was tasty. Don’t feel bad for me, folks. Mama didn’t raise no fool. I did my research and knew October was at the peak of the wild mushroom harvest season. So guess what I ordered?

Read it and weep - Wild Mushroom Risotto

Oh, yeah. It was creamy. It was earthy. And it was fabulous. Which reinforces what I’ve said all along. When you travel, give yourself a gift you’ll always cherish. Try local foods. Immerse yourself in local customs. Try to live, as much as possible, as a local instead of a tourist and you will create memories that will last a lifetime. And, truth be told, that works just as well when traveling to other states as it does abroad.

If you missed the Prague post, you can click here for a shortcut.

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Vacation Photos, Week 3 – Prague

A violinist serenades tourists on Ke Hradu below Prague Castle

Words cannot capture the beauty of Prague. Simply put, it is breathtaking. It’s also romantic, historic and magical. Every day in Prague offers yet another opportunity to take a scenic walk back in time. From Prague Castle and St. Vitus Cathedral, to the Old Town Square with its gorgeous old churches and Astronomical clock, Prague offers visitors a chance to recapture history, from medieval times to the present day. And each step of the way, the Czech people have beautifully and lovingly preserved that history. Everywhere you look, you will find something to take your breath away. Prague has to be among the most beautiful cities in the world. Take a look, and see if you don’t agree.

The charming & historic Charles Bridge over the Vltava River at sunset

Prague Castle & the Mala Strana at sunset, from the Charles Bridge

An afternoon stroll into Old Town Square

One of the most spectacular timepieces in the world - The Astronomical Clock

A close-up of the fascinating faces of Prague's Astronomical Clock, built in 1410

An example of Prague's beautiful sgraffiti buildings

Beauty is everywhere in Prague; sometimes in unexpected places

The serene and uncrowded gardens of Prague Castle

A view of St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle from the top of the hill

St. Vitus Cathedral at Prague Castle

The ornate tomb of King Wenceslas I, St. Vitus Cathedral

Alfons Mucha's stunning stained glass window in St. Vitus Cathedral

The tomb of St. John of Nepomuk, a beloved Czech national saint

View of the courtyard from the St. Vitus Cathedral Bell Tower

Prague as seen from Prague Castle; Charles Bridge at center of photo

The Zamecke Schody - the stairs below Prague Castle

The Senate & Gardens in the Mala Strana District

The Loreto's stunning Church of the Nativity

Prague at night is romantic, enchanting and magical

Prague's pastel buildings & orange tile roofs paint a pretty picture

St Nicholas Church, a Baroque gem in Old Town Square

Our Lady of Tyn Church seen from the Astronomical Clock Tower

If you dream of traveling the world and keep a list of “must see” places, you must add Prague to that list. From the friendliness of the Czech people to the stunning architecture, from their rich history to their young independence, Prague and the Czech Republic truly are a treasure; one I hope you’ll experience for yourself very soon.

This trip to Europe was a dream come true. To see more from this series:
Week 1, Netherlands – click here
Week 2, Istanbul – click here
Istanbul – The Food, click here

As always, all of the photos included in this blog were taken by me and are my sole property. Use without expressed written permission is strictly prohibited. Contact information, if needed, is listed in the ‘About’ page of this blog.

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Istanbul – The Food

Turkish Baklava & Turkish Delight - delight is an understatement


The problem with blogging about vacation food is remembering to snap photos before you start eating. If you lose focus and get carried away with the fabulous dish in front of you, you’re faced with nothing but memories. That said, I had every intention of documenting all of the regional cuisine we sampled while in Istanbul. I was not entirely successful. I was able to snap a few though, and here they are – for your enjoyment. While it’s obviously not the same as being there, until they develop scratch-n-sniff computing it’s the best I can offer. Suffice it to say, the food was every bit as good (in most cases better) than it looks.

Buffet Lunch in Sultanahmet - varied, traditional & incredibly flavorful

This buffet lunch was one of our first meals in Istanbul. It was in a tiny family owned restaurant in the ancient Sultanahmet section of town, almost next door to our hotel. The manager greeted us at the door and took the time to explain what each dish on the buffet was and how it was made. We then picked the dishes that sounded interesting and waited for them to prepare our plate. Among the dishes we sampled – stuffed bell peppers, eggplant tangine, spicy green beans, a baked squash and tomato casserole, a seasoned rice, and lamb from the rotating kebab spit. Verdict: a perfect introduction of the week to come. It was varied, flavorful, traditionally Turkish, and as warm as the people who served it.

Lunch on the Run - a street vendor doner kebab & a cold ayran

There are a myriad of options for meals on the run. Our favorite was the doner kebab. Each vendor serves a different version, and each version is delicious. This was one of the first of our many doner kebabs. If you love doner kebab like we do, keep reading. Our favorite is listed below.

The Perfect Snack - dried fruits & nuts from the Spice Market

Know what’s better than gorgeous dried fruits & nuts in the exotic atmosphere of the ancient Egyptian Spice Market? Dried fruit stuffed with roasted nuts. We sampled the succulent apricots stuffed with almonds & the dates stuffed with pistachios. It’s a perfect “carry around while you shop the Spice Market” snack.

Simit - warm & smothered in toasted sesame seeds

Dear Simit, you look like a donut or a skinny bagel, but you are nothing like those imposters. You are warm and toasty; brushed with sesame oil and smothered in gloriously roasted sesame seeds. If you were smaller, I would wear you on my finger like a ring. A wedding ring.

Giant irresistible mounds of Turkish Delight in the Spice Market

There’s no escaping it. Turkish Delight is everywhere in Istanbul. There are almost as many varieties as there are shops selling it. Some are rolled into small square-shaped logs and dusted in superfine sugar. Some are rolled like a jellyroll and have the flavor and texture of a chewy marshmallow. But the best are made from honey & roasted pistachios and are more expensive than other varieties. Bottom line: they’re all good; some are better than most; you get what you pay for, so go for the good stuff. Also, try the pomegranate. It will rock your world.

A cold Efes Pilsner hits the spot on a warm day

The Complete Package will attest to the fact that I am not a beer drinker. What I miss out on, TCP makes up for. He enjoys a good beer, and loves to sample the local brews. However when we travel, I make it a point to try new things. Local things. Even exotic things I might never try at home. So I tried the local Efes Pilsner. And it was good. It’s even better on a warm day.

Picnic Supplies - a meat & cheese vendor in the Spice Market

I was blown away by the giant wheels of cheese and ceilings dripping with cured meats at the Spice Market. I don’t know why this surprised me, but it did. We saw shop after shop of dried fruits, Turkish Delight, and spices. But to come around a corner and see giant blocks of gorgeous cheese and big, beautiful cured sausages and salamis – well, it was a joy and an unexpected pleasure. My tip for travel food: ALWAYS try the local specialties. Even if it means crawling out of your box and your comfort zone. Life is an adventure, so live it!

Lunch on the Bosphorus - Olives in Lemon & Octopus Salad

Our lunch break on the Bosphorus was terrific. Sitting in a little cafe right on the water, eating seafood just pulled from the water by local fishermen – well, it was beyond memorable. We picked a handful of appetizers instead of a lunch plate, and we were not disappointed. Among our choices, olives brined with lemons and whole peppercorns and a lovely octopus salad. I can still taste it just looking at that photo. Followed with a hot cup of Turkish tea, it was a perfect meal.

Our favorite restaurant - The BarBecue House

The BarBecue House restaurant was conveniently located a few doors down from our hotel. We passed by it each time we walked to the trams on Divan Yolu Cadesi (the main street that runs past the Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque). Each time we passed, the engaging waiters would try to tempt us in for a meal, regardless of the time of day. With a lovely dining room upstairs, a lively dining room downstairs, and a charcoal grill right by the front door that was perpetually tempting us with the smell of grilled meats and fresh bread – well, let’s just say they didn’t have to sell it too hard. In all, we ate dinner here three times in six days, and we thoroughly enjoyed it each time. If you’re in Istanbul and looking for a meal near the Hagia Sophia, stop in and visit The BarBecue House. And tell Ramazan his friends from Houston say “Merhaba/Hello!”

Favorite Food - this doner kebab outside the Rustem Pasha Mosque

Every vacation produces a favorite dining experience. Usually, The Complete Package and I have differing opinions on what that favorite meal was. In this case, we agreed. Hands down. Our favorite meal was this fantastic doner kebab from a small stand outside the entrance to the ancient Rustem Pasha Mosque near the Spice Market. It had everything the perfect doner kebab should have – warm, lovely bread, lamb sliced right off the rotating spit, a creamy yogurt sauce, fresh tomato slices, some thinly sliced onion, and in this case – golden french fries. But the frosting on the cupcake, the cherry on top of the sundae, was the addition of a few blazing hot chili peppers set out on the dining tables. This was one of those sandwiches that had you rolling your eyes back in your head and moaning with delight. As we washed it down with two cold ayrans (a salty yogurt drink), we both leaned back in our chairs and simultaneously said, “Now THAT was one fabulous sandwich.” It was all we could do to walk away and keep sightseeing. If we’d hesitated even 5 minutes, we would have ordered another one and done it all over again.

And that, my friends, is the best reason to immerse yourself in the place you are visiting. You never know when something will surprise you. Do yourself a favor. Try the real cuisine, not the fast food joints that are sprinkled about more and more cities around the world these days. You can have those things at home. Take a chance and enjoy the best your destination has to offer… while you can.

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