Friday, August 30, 2013

Prague Night and Day

One of the benefits of traveling with older children is the freedom to stay out late without whining or major fatigue. In fact, with young adult children I am usually the one ready to call it a night well before they are. By the time we arrived in Prague summer was in full swing with both the crowds and the heat. Cooler temperatures and less people made wandering at night especially fun.

Charles Bridge

Charles Bridge

Prague reminded me of Budapest, but it is more compact. It has a castle hill, a river running through it with plenty of pretty bridges, and lots of beautiful architecture. The Charles Bridge in Prague and the Chain Bridge in Budapest receive the same attention from tourists and locals alike.

Church of Our Lady Before Tyn

Church of Our Lady Before Tyn

I am absolutely in awe of the churches all throughout Europe. From small and humble to large and majestic, every city and town is graced by these amazing beauties. In Prague they were as elegant at night as they were majestic by day. I couldn't help but think about the people who spent their lives building them, with many taking centuries to complete. What a precious gift.

Church of St Nicholas

Church of St Nicholas

Old Town Square
Old Town Square

Old Town Square 

Prague's Old Town Square reminded me of Warsaw's Old Town. Both the locals and the tourists were enjoying the wide open squares and the smaller, more intimate, surrounding streets.

We stayed in small, boutique-style hotels with helpful staff who gave good recommendations for restaurants. But I also found the free Tripadvisor app on my phone to be a very useful tool throughout on our trip. An added bonus was free WiFi in all our hotels. The 'Near me now' tab on Tripadvisor was particularly useful when wanting to local a good place to eat that was close by. Our hotel recommended Restaurace Stoleti and with the help of Tripadvisor we stumbled upon Rainer Maria Rilke. Both were small, charming restaurants where we enjoyed delicious meals served by attentive staff. 

National Theatre 

While we did not see the ballet at the National Theatre we did find a ballet pointe shoes sculpture hanging behind it. It reminded me of the ballet mannequins displaying jewelry in Vienna. The windows on Dancing House below look like pairs of ballet shoes.
Dancing House

Whether day or night Prague is a visual and culinary feast. I am eager to return.

Good Night Prague
Hello Venice 

Monday, August 19, 2013

Just Peachy

I still have more to say about our European trip. I realize it has taken me a long time to write about it, but it has been a busy summer. Before I get back to our adventures I wanted to share a recipe we have been enjoying before the last of the summer peach season slips away.

I first wrote about this pancake in February using apples, but I said you could substitute other kinds of fruit. Here is the recipe for the peach or nectarine version. It is slightly different from the apple pancake recipe.

Instead of tossing the peaches in cinnamon and sugar like the apple recipe, sprinkle half a tablespoon of sugar in the bottom of the buttered pan. Pour in the batter and arrange sliced peaches or nectarines on top. Sprinkle the other half of the tablespoon of sugar on top reserving the final tablespoon to use after the pancake is out of the oven.

When I make the apple version I peel the fruit, but I like to leave the skins on the peaches or nectarines for added flavor. Feel free to remove them if you prefer.

Oven Peach Pancake

3/4 cup (110 g) all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons (45 g) sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (250 ml) milk
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces/45 g) butter, melted
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 peaches or nectarines

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (218 degrees C). Generously butter a 10-inch cast-iron skillet and sprinkle with half of one tablespoon of sugar. Sift flour, one tablespoon of sugar, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk eggs, milk, melted butter, and vanilla, in another bowl. Add to dry ingredients and whisk to combine. 

Thinly slice peaches or nectarines. Pour batter in skillet and arrange peach slices on top. Sprinkle with the other half of the first tablespoon of sugar. Bake for 20 minutes then reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) and bake an additional 5-10 minutes until center is set and the edges are puffed. Sprinkle with final tablespoon of sugar and serve.

Our motto this summer was "Make every day happy." It isn't hard to do when you start the day with a juicy peach pancake.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Vienna Waits For You

Breakfast at the Cafe Museum Cafe

Like Billy Joel's song, "Vienna", I tend to move too fast. I find it hard to slow down, especially when traveling in Europe. There is just so much to see and do. But when we arrived in Vienna I tossed the itinerary out the window and allowed myself the luxury of viewing the city through my children's eyes.

I have to admit I wasn't all that excited about visiting Vienna. My memories of it were that it was expensive and cold. To be fair, I visited a long time ago, in the middle of winter, as a college student on a budget. It was my children who wanted to add this destination to our travels. Maddie is a dancer. She wanted to experience the music and culture. Addison wanted to see all the buildings he had been studying in architecture. When luck, and an excellent travel agent, placed us in the perfect location magic happened.

Vienna is a city of sophisticated and refined patterns. Every where I looked I noticed similar shapes and methodical patterns. We were a brioche's throw away from the Opera House with the Secession Building, the Cafe Museum, the Naschmarkt, the Majolikhaus, and Karlsplatz Pavilions all nearby. Without Addison's architectural knowledge we may have passed by these wonderful buildings unnoticed.

The best part about relaxing an itinerary is it allows you to lose yourself in places like the Naschmarkt. The series of building are not necessarily an architectural wonder or a sophisticated performance, but they create a vibrant, bustling world of sights and sounds that make their own music. Full of delicious aromas and bright colors we fell in love with the market. We were intrigued by all that could be found within its few block radius from produce, seafood, baked goods and flowers, to spices, chocolate, soaps, and clothes. We found ourselves wandering there every day.



Roses in the Volksgarten, the people's garden, climb the Majolikhaus.
Secession Building


Secession Building
The curly patterns on the mosaic urns at the entrance of the Secession Building mimic the shapes of fruits and vegetables at the Naschmarkt.

Colorful flower pots at the cafe behind the Secession Building compliment the rich jewel tones of the fruits at the Naschmarkt.
Hundertwasser Haus

The rectangular containers holding savory treats at the Naschmarkt mirror the windows and colors on the facade of the Hundertwasser Haus.

Secession Building


Assorted olives at the Naschmarkt would fit snugly in the oval holes on the exterior of the Secession Building.
Secession Building

Can you find the patterns on the Secession Building and the lily pond at the Volksgarten?


At Demel, an elegant pastry shop we enjoyed a delicious, sophisticated lunch of cream of asparagus soup and a composed chicken Caesar salad. We ended the meal with a traditional Esterhazytorte.


Cream of Asparagus Soup

A Very Civilized Chicken Caesar Salad


Unfortunately, there was not a ballet performance while we were in Vienna, but we did go to the opera to see Tosca. The performance was magnificent. The beautiful glass lights at Demel reminded me of upside-down tutus.

Although we did not see any ballerinas on stage, we did see these exquisite ballet mannequins in the window of a jewelry story displaying their elegant jewels.

I had not expected to fall in love with Vienna, but I did. An elegant jewel, refined and sophisticated Vienna waits for you.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bountiful Budapest

Hungarian Parliament Building

We arrived in Budapest late in the evening which can be disorienting when in a new place, but our kind driver, Stephen, pointed out the many lit monuments to help us get our bearings. Unfortunately, the well-known Chain Bridge was dark because its transformers were under water. Stephen explained there had been torrential rain in Central Europe that had caused major flooding. Budapest was on high alert as the Danube River was ten to twelve feet above its normal level, submerging the roads that run adjacent on either side. 

Our charming hotel was located on the Danube River with a view of the Hungarian Parliament Building one way and the Chain Bridge the other. We watched as volunteers filled sandbags to shore up the river wall and protect the city. Although it came within inches, the water did not breach the wall and flood Budapest any further.

A submerged speed limit sign

Our view of Parliament, submerged road, and sandbagged wall

Chain Bridgehigh waterSt. Stephen's Basilica
Liberty Bridge

Budapest is a city of rich, ornate, layers. The normally gentle river provides the base. Elegant bridges connect Buda, the left bank that rises majestically to the Castle District, to Pest, on the opposite side that is home to the stately Hungarian Parliament Building

Budapest has no shortage of impressive architecture. The exteriors are indeed commanding, but like an onion there are more layers to explore the deeper you look. Art, music, and culture permeate the interiors of the spectacular museums, churches, monuments, and the grand State Opera House.

State Opera House

Food adds another rich, flavorful layer. At a charming restaurant across from the State Opera House I enjoyed a simple plate of pasta with pesto sauce that was layered with peppery arugula (rocket), and shaved parmesan cheese, taking the dish to a sublime level.  Addison had Piglet Knuckle, a dish I would have never thought to order. I have a friend who used to order pork when we would dine out, but after biting into unpalatable hard bits that we jokingly called 'pig knuckles' she stopped ordering pork. Addison's pig knuckle was nothing to poke fun at. In fact, I was envious. I wished I had ordered it. The meat was succulent and juicy under perfectly crisp skin. It was served in a beautiful copper dish with sour cabbage and roasted potatoes. Addison has an uncanny knack for ordering the most tasty dish on a menu.  

Pasta with Pesto Sauce

Piglet Knuckle

Gerbeaud is perhaps Budapest's most famous cafe. Its beautiful interior is as much a treat as its delicious pastries and ice cream sundaes. We escaped a sudden rain shower in this charming patisserie where we enjoyed decadent ice cream sundaes while we leisurely waited for the rain to stop.


Gerbeaud pastry case

Perhaps one of the reasons I enjoy desserts and architecture so much is because of their similarities, both in form and in function. They each please in so many ways. They often mimic each other's shape as well. The ice cream sundaes had layers of flavors and their form had an architectural structure.

The macaron tower mirrored the shape of the chandelier nearby and the towers of the Fisherman's Bastion

Fisherman's Bastion

Rich Pastry Layers

Ornate Layers at Matthias Church

Color Layers of a Vintage Car

Perhaps the best layer of Budapest was its people. From our helpful driver, to our pleasant hotel staff, to the neighbors who gave their time to protect their city. Everyone was kind, helpful, and generous. We were even given a complimentary bottle of wine because of our 'inconvenience' due to the flooding. We were not inconvenienced at all, just the opposite, but the gesture was indeed kind and left us with even more fond memories of a lovely city. Thank you Budapest, you are a fine city indeed.

Good Night Budapest