Rooftops, Cava, and Game of Thrones. Welcome to Seville

Seville if you go once, you be back again and again and again.

Seville, the Southern Spanish city and capital of the Andalusia region is a city unlike any other. I have to admit despite my love of travel, Spain wasn’t really high on my list. I had heard endless stories from friends who traveled to Spain in their late teens, early twenties and most stories revolved around bars, clubs and beaches. Likewise the British families we knew seemed to view Spain as a sun and resort destination. So it fell off our radar also because we were too lazy to just understand how much more and I mean much much more Spain had to offer and how diverse it really is.

So back in 2015, @benton8tor started talking about wanting to visit Spain, I started ignoring him and preparing my argument for why we should visit Rome. (back in 2014, @benon8or paid a hefty like transatlantic airfare hefty price for a parking and speeding ticket in Italy, he was pretty bitter ). However, being someone reasonable adults which include absolutely no sulking fits, we compromised and greed to do both Spain and Rome. I had read a little about Seville and Granada bu we ended up picking Seville. I thought it was because of its proximity to Sherry production, I later learned it was because of it Game of Thrones connections. and the food… oh my the food is simply delicious.

I mentioned Seville is in Andalusia in Southern Spain. This is more important than I realized, Spain s exceptionally regional. For instance, paella should come from Valencia etc.. Seville takes pride in its Moorish culture an architecture and it is truly on of the mos visually stunning cities I have ever seen. Courtyards with plants, inlaid stone and tile work, clean beautiful streets, Seville was a site to behold. From he Golden Tower to the Cathedral, to the Place de’Espagne, http://www.andalucia.org/es/turismo-cultural/visitas/sevilla/otras-visitas/plaza-de-espana-2/ Seville was a site to behold. But the Alcazar, oh my gosh. IMG_4232The Alcazar is now a museum but was a former Royal palace. It is beautiful  and beyond beautiful. The tile work and stone work is almost incomprehensible in its beauty. the gardens and water features are equally gorgeous. Full of history, you can easily spend a day there. And if you are a fan of Game of Thrones, you will definitely want to see it as many of the scenes of the Water Gardens of Dorne. Both the Alcazar and Place de’Espagne are well well worth it. http://www.alcazarsevilla.org/

 

As is the rooftop patios. Seville is literally full of them and hey afford stunning city views, usually a pool and poolside drinks. Our hotel the Fontecruz Sevilla Seises http://www.fontecruzhoteles.com/hotel-fontecruz-sevilla-seises/ had a beautiful rooftop with views of the cathedral and poolside drinks. Seville is very hot in the summer, often 40 degrees so a poolside dip can make all the difference. that and the mists they spray you with both on the patio and street level. But part of he fun of the rooftops is the drinks, Spain is famous for its reds and Sherries. Both are exceptional but its cavas on a a hot day with their crisp flavours, light bubbles and overall deliciousness really captured my heart. that said, Spain’s wines should be tasted as much as possible, far more diverse than we often see, the reds can be both light, fruit forward and full bodies, with deep flavours from several regions. The wine pairs exceptionally well with the food here but hat is a whole other post. Suffice it to say, try the gazpacho and oxtail lasagna for sure!  In fact if I would have to go back to Seville just so Ben can eat that lasagna again and hen talk about it for the next 364 days. and shop. Seville’s artisans produce beautiful tile work ,jewelry, and clothing. Seville has fabulous streets for wondering and exploring shops, spices, stopping for wine and hen continuing on your day with more exploring.

Seville is also and easy spot for day trips to the beautiful villages surrounding. Seville if you go once, you be back again and again and again.

5 Must Try Under the Radar Wine Regions

) Georgia is one of the oldest if not the oldest wine producer in the world. Again like Jura it uses more traditional methods such as making the wine in clay pots in the ground.

If you have read my blog before it might be a tiny bit obvious that I have a thing for French wine. You know, just a tiny thing. In fact out for drinks this past Friday night with friends, i was splitting a bottle of wine with some at the table. ” what are we drinking?’ she asked. Before I could answer, my other friend piped up ‘You know its French.’ she was right it was and it was delicious. We all have our wines we love, our go to wines or wine regions, but I also find it is incredibly rewarding to go out of our comfort zone and try new wines, wines we aren’t sure if we’d like, from a country that makes us say ‘really they make wine?’ or simply something you haven’t tried before. Sure there is a chance you won’t like it but what if you love it? There are so many under the radar, under valued, undiscovered wines out there. Here are my top 5 picks for the must trys

  1. Vin de cuit- Provence. i know I know, we are still in France. But this sweet wine produced in Provence has grape must cooked over an open fire for 10 hours. It is traditionally served at Christmas with the 13 desserts. Here is the thing, sweet wine, especially in North America has had a bad reputation. Due in large part to the culture of the late 80s and early 90s that had heavy emphasis on wine coolers, bad and I do mean bad sweet sparking wines, sweet red wines that tasted like cough syrup mixed with sugar (double shudder) and the worst offender….white Zinfandel , a wine so ridiculously sweet and disgusting it almost ruined Zinfandel grapes and rose for me. Luckily for me I like roses (thanks to Provence and 2benton8tor) and Zinfandel now but i almost didn’t try them. Sweet wines are the same. Whether it is port, sherry, or the sweet sauternes of Bordeaux, sweet wines have an undeserved bad rap. Good sweet wines are meant to be drunk after a meal with dessert or cheese. Yes they are sweet often with flavours of honey, prunes, plums ect but they are nuanced, they can have high acid to offset the sweet and are flavourful complex wines to be enjoyed. Vin de Cuit is no different. Try it as soon as you can.
  2. Sparking Wines from England. What you are probably asking? and yes yes yes I say. England does a have a small wine industry. In fact in Kent, the chalky soils and cliffs share the same soil as the famed Champagne region.Albeit a distinctly different climate. England is starting to produce some very interesting sparking wines. Not overly expensive but they can be hard to find. But definitely worth it.
  3. Green Wine from Portugal. Before leaving this year to go to Portugal, I was hearing a lot about Green wine. I am embarrassed to admit that I didn’t do to much (read any ) research into what it actually is. I am even more embarrassed to admit I thought it was wine with a greenish tinge. Well it is not. Green Wine is in fact more commonly known as Vinho Verde is a DOC wine region f Northern Portugal. it is usually slightly sparking due to malolactic fermentation that happened accidentally in the bottle in early years of production, consumers liked it so it stayed although the effervescence is produced differently today. 157Not all Vinho Verde is slightly sparking, it can be still, white, red, or rose. I have tasted both still and sparking. Both were good but I prefer the sparking, paired with a bifana YUM!! It is an easy to drink wine, light in the glass and on the palate with slightly fruity notes, an excellent summer wine. Next time I will try the red Vinho Verde rumored to be dark and peppery.
  4. The Jura wine region. Yes another French wine region but with excellent reason. Jura borders both Burgundy and Switzerland. A fairy small wine producing region but one of the most interesting. Jura is at the forefront of ‘natural wine production. really meaning they have kept the tradtional methods. All Jura still wines should be decanted for at least 4 hours before consuming. These wines are complex. The red and and whites age for a considerable time in oak with controlled oxidation, giving the wine interesting and unexpected flavours as in the case of whites, strong almond flavour. But Jura has 3 wine stars:                                                                                                                               -Vin Jaune literally translating to yellow win. This wine ages in oak barrels under yeast with controlled oxidation for 6 years. It has interesting nutty flavours.           -Macvin du Jura a sweet fortified spicy wine ages 14 months in the barrel.               -Vin de paille or straw wine. grapes are dried on straw allowing the grapes to almost dry, once pressed the flavours are concentrated producing a unique sweet wine. Jura also happens to be incredibly beautiful so….

5. Georgia, the republic not the state. Though there are arguments over where grape vines and viticulture began (was it Croatia? Was it Georgia?) Georgia is one of the oldest if not the oldest wine producer in the world. Again like Jura it uses more traditional methods such as making the wine in clay pots in the ground. Georgian wine can be hard but worth it. The wines have a different mouth feel and flavor on the palate most likely due to the clay pots and grape varieties but they are easy to drink and even easier to enjoy. Georgia like Jura is stunningly beautiful so maybe a wine vacation is in order.

Honorable mentions should go to : Croatia also a wine originator and produces some very good wines, Bulgaria and Uruguay both producers of some very interesting wines. Also Romania Lebanon, China, and India are worth a try. Where do you get these wines? Well if in London, try Gordon’s wine bar, one of the best stocked wine bars , I have ever visited.  https://gordonswinebar.com/ Wine Quay in Porto Portugal is another option with excellent wine selection and knowledgeable servers. .http://www.winequaybar.com/ But do your  research on wine bars, wine stores and tastings. Most importantly don’t be afraid to ask.

 

 

 

 

Port or Sherry? Porto or Jerez ? Both Please

But take a chance on Jerez and Porto, and sherry and port. I guarantee you’ll be back for more.

Most people if not everyone know, i love wine, in particular reds from France (especially the Rhone) so it should come as no surprise that I love port and sherry, fortified wines and in the case of port sweet. Or maybe it does. Certainly the majority of wine drinkers I know detest both port and sherry. But that is not the fault or either port or sherry. Rather I lay the blame on Harvey’s Bristol cream sherry or a ruby port, cheap, smelling and tasting like cough syrup. I can’t blame them. However this is prevalent in Canada, In Europe it is much more common to understand the diversity of both port and sherry.

It took me a long time to drink either. My first foray was Christmas 1998. @benton8tors parents served me sherry, Harvey’s Bristol cream sherry. I brought champagne every Christmas since then. However, I knew in the back of my mind, there had to be more o sherry but I was to preoccupied with discovering red wines and champagnes to find out.

Fast forward to 2015 and a wine store in England hosting a port tasting. My introduction into good ports! Fast forward 1 more year and @benon8tor and i are in Seville, about an hours drive from Jerez de la Frontera,  the sherry capital and home of its production. IMG_4214Now @benton8tor really likes sherry so he wanted to do tastings, try the different styles, and really discover sherry. I wanted to eat tapas and sit rooftop and poolside at our hotel overlooking the cathedral but unfortunately it isn’t all about me so I wen with good grace to Jerez. Our first stop was Tio Pepe http://www.tiopepe.co.uk/. Tio Pepe is omnipresent in Spain when it comes to sherry.. Bonus points they offered a tapas and sherry tour! But it didn’t start for another hour and a half. The staff at Tio Pepe were very helpful and suggested waiting in a cafe on the square. Which turned out to be a great idea. Southern Spain in August is very very hot and Jerez is fairly arid so a cafe with some petty views an a tortilla (Spanish omelet) was a perfect was to kill some time. Once again, the service was awesome.

The Tio Pepe tour was good, informative but a little corporate. However the sherry is awesome.We had 4 tastings, a ranging from dry to sweet and all made differently as you’d expect. I was embarrassed to admit I didn’t understand the diversity of sherry and the nuances. How could a dry sherry still have a taste of hazelnut and 20160828_195228sweetness without being sweet. Why did the sweet sherry remind me of Christmas cake and not just pure sugar? It definitely awoke a taste for sherry. Unfortunately we didn’t have more time n Jerez but I want to go back and visit and taste at the smaller sherry bodegas. However that night back in Seville (one of the most stunningly beautiful cities) we did sit poolside and enjoy a rebujito, a refreshing sherry cocktail made with dry sherry, sprite or tonic water and mint.

With a love of sherry now certain, it was time to conquer Port and to do that you best go to Porto. Which is what we did. Porto is the epicenter of Port production. In fact the entire side of the river bank is depicted to port houses. We were lucky enough in Porto to visit Port houses (Kopke and Sandeman) do part tastings at the Wine Box http://www.thewineboxporto.com/ ( a must do) and tour the Douro Valley, home of port production and fabulous views.

Port is diverse as Sherry, if not more so. The menu at the Kopke Port house https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Attraction_Review-g580268-d6965338-Reviews-Casa_Kopke-Vila_Nova_de_Gaia_Porto_District_Northern_Portugal.html showcases just how diverse port is, you can have white port, rose, ruby and tawny, all aged differently , made with different levels of sweetness. Despite all the tastings, I still found myself drawn to the tawny ports, aged ones in particular. the nutty, Christmas cake, dried fruit taste of an aged tawny port with a blue cheese? out of this world!

Sandeman is as omnipresent in Porto as Tio Pepe is in Jerez. http://www.sandeman.com/ That said, they have amazing port offerings and some of the best views of the Douro Valley. In fact to truly appreciate port, tour the Douro Valley with its terraced vineyards, beautiful river and some of the most relaxed and petty settings to sip your port, smell the wisteria and watch the world go by.

Both Porto and Southern Spain are often overlooked as tourist destinations in favour of there more famous regions. Spain has Barcelona and Malaga, Portugal has Lisbon and Madeira. But take a chance on Jerez and Porto, and sherry and port. I guarantee you’ll be back for more.220

Happy Canada Day

a French band plays while you eat, drink wine, and watch the fireworks. Happy Canada Day indeed.

In honour of Canada Day and our 150th birthday as Canada, I thought I would dedicate this blog post to my home country. I don’t want to discount the fact that the First Nations communities lived and made their home here on this land long before we recognized Canada. I am happy to call Canada home and am grateful for the opportunities afforded to me in this country. Canada has a lot to offer and  I have certainly been a tourist in my country many times over and have a wealth of stories, tips and events to chose from. I could write about Toronto, Quebec City, the Maritimes, Victoria, Kelowna, even Saskatoon. But not Vancouver ever. Seriously go to Northern BC, it is stunning. But I chose my hometown, Winnipeg. I wouldn’t be surprised if people are shaking their heads and asking ‘Seriously Winnipeg?’ Yes Winnipeg.

Winnipegers often make terrible PR people for their hometown. We often tell others about our extreme cold and snow but neglect to mention the warm/hot summers. And if we do we will focus on mosquitoes. Mainstream media often portrays us as a violent crime ridden city . Despite the fact we are often behind other cities in crime rates with a gentler reputation (I am looking at you Saskatoon). Winnipeg isn’t perfect but it has more to offer than you think. Our RWB ballet is world renowned. Our symphony has an impeccable reputation, Our Fringe Festival actually has the reputation of being one of the best in the country. Folk Fest has legendary performers and crowds. Scott Bagshaw, a local chef has an acclaimed reputation nationally and deserves it, his food is blow your mind amazing.http://www.enotecarestaurant.ca  . or http://maque.ca/#!/Home  And if you are really brave you can eat an expensive dinner on a tent in the river in Februarythumbnail_IMG_8258, with guest chefs from Winnipeg and the country cooking. Even Vikhram Vig. I should mention it is 7 gourmet courses and after your done you can wander across said River to St Boniface ( a large French Canadian community that is part of Winnipeg) and continue to freeze while attending Festival du Voyaguer, a festival celebrating French Canadian and Metis culture. You can even drink caribou’ a fortified wine’ out of an ice glass. But don’t do that, that stuff is disgusting and caused the most legendary hangovers my group of friends ever experienced.

Winnipeg has a lot to offer and because I like to travel so much, I forget to be a tourist in my own city. It is easy to get caught up in your daily routine and friend circles and forget or have the energy for other new things. Recently and completely by accident, I am rediscovering Winnipeg (while still planning my next vacation New York or Provence) It started a few weeks ago. I was looking for Bordeaux wine for tastings to augment my French Wine Scholar course and I wandered in to a Government run liquor store known for its wine selection. After picking out a couple Bordeaux the staff told us to check out the free wine and food tasting at the back of the store. The cynic in me assumed it was 2 wines and a pack of warmed up ready made appies they had bought at the grocery store but hey it was free and it was wine so of course I would check it out. @benton8tor and I wandered into a room celebrating Canadian wines in honour of Canada’s 150 birthday.thumbnail_IMG_8259 There were a total of 10 different wines you could try though we limited it to about 6. Most the wines featured were from BC’s Okanagan region. I was surprised at just how much I enjoyed them. We had a Gewurztraminer from Inniskillin Wineries http://www.inniskillin.com/ that was deceptively complex and not overtly sweet, A Cabernet from Jackson Triggs http://www.jacksontriggswinery.com/ that was plummy but not overly fruit forward. We had some other interesting wines but those 2 stand out. Far from the Safeway appies, they had chefs preparing honey and ginger glazed arctic char and ribeye with horseradish cream on a baguette. Winnipeg Who Knew?

Well apparently the wine store guys know. A couple of weeks later I found myself in Kenaston Fine Wines (one of my favorite wine stores) https://kenastonwine.com/ and they told me about a natural wine tasting hosted by Elevage Selections https://www.elevage-selections.com/ at Forth a local restaurant. So off we went to that as well. Only to discover that Forth has a spectacular rooftop patio (who knew?) and an amazing cocktail bar in the basement. The wine tasting was amazing natural wines including a sparking and rose from the Okanagan, a red from Spain and a white Jura wine from France that tasted unlike anything I have ever tried before. In a good way. Apparently these tasting happen once a month.

Now here on June 30th, I am making plans for Canada Day Celebrations. Last year we went with friends to a local French restaurant across the river from the Forks and Human Rights museum (you must go) with a perfect patio view of these landmarks. Ben enjoyed Steak Bearnaise while I enjoyed BC salmon with a blueberry glaze and Manitoba wild rice, paired with French wine while we watched the fireworks. Plan for tomorrow? Same thing but I will probably order something different, because Promenade Bistro’s menu is amazing. http://www.cafeandwine.com/And to top it off they cordon of the parking lot so a French band plays while you eat, drink wine, and watch the fireworks. Happy Canada Day indeed.thumbnail_IMG_8254

 

 

A Francophile French Favourites

So grab a patio, order your wine, find your favourite specialty to order and enjoy! After all you are in France!

By now, you will all know just how much I love France and part of that love is the French food. The French pride themselves on food, how they prepare it, the quality of ingredients and of course la technique! And if you have ever read a Julia Child or Peter Mayle book, you know just that enjoying french food is a national pastime. That isn’t to say you can’t have a bad meal in France, you can (ahem I am looking at you Cafe Le Dome near the Eiffel Tower) but they can be easy to avoid given the prevalence of quality ingredients, talented chefs and pride in the enjoyment of food. While you can have a great meal anywhere in France, it is important to understand that French food has dominant regional roots and to best enjoy and  try the regional specialties in the actual region  Here is my handy top 10 list/ guide to enjoying French Food.

1. Tapenade in Provence. This Provencal olive paste is best spread on bread but is also enjoyed in Provencal dishes. In a word it is my favouite French dish. Made from either green or black olives, it is savoury and surprisingly mild. Which is not to say it isn’t full of flavour because it is is. Best enjoyed overlooking lavender fields, the Luberon, or the Mediterranean, you can’t go wrong. It goes best with a Provencal rose (if you are @benton8tor in which case you will never ever ever eat the green again) or Bandol red if you are me, in which case you will happily eat both. * I have had great tapenades in both Bourgogne and Bordeaux but nothing compares to Provence.

2. Choucroute Garnie- a Alsatian dish with sauerkraut, ham hock/pork knuckle/salt pork and, 3 types of  sausages (usually Strasbourg, Montbeliard and Morteau) flavored with Alsatian Riesling, 555975_10151083480535140_2025428517_nit is usually a winter dish. And despite my love of tomatoes, vegetables and usually eschewing meat, I love this dish. A definite must try and a dish both Benton8tor ( a dedicated carnivore) and I agree wholeheartedly on. Pairs with you guessed it an Alsatian Riesling.

3. Cassoulet a Langedoc speciality complete with debate on which city is home to the original Cassoulet10517584_10152536479930140_4790389457117546671_n A high  and I do mean high protein dish with white beans, pork sausage, duck or goose or partridge comfit and lamb or pork. slow cooked, it is a truly truly delicious dish but plan to eat light the next day! Drink with a Langedoc red, preferably from Cahors or Minervios.

4. Gazpacho-though traditionally Spanish, French tomatoes are among the most succulent, flavorful and amazing tomatoes you will ever try so it stands to reason with their warm/ hot summers gazpacho in France is amazing. I have tried green tomato gazpacho in Provence and Red gazpacho in Beaune. Both times I have been clamoring for more. In fact after trying gazpacho in Spain and please don’t hate me but the French gazpacho is the very clear winner for its more defined and flavorful versions. A MUST MUST try. Also pairs extremely well with the light but flavorful Provencal reds or  the complex pinots from Bourgogne.

5. Bouef Bourginon- A Burgundian specialty, this beef stew simmered in the famous Burgundian wine, you really can’t go wrong. La Grilladine in Beaune does a superb Bouef Bourginon. http://lagrilladine.fr/ You absolutely must drink this with a wine from Bourgogne. This might be @benton8tor’s all time favourite french dish. So much so he would eat it on a 30 degree summer day. Bourgogne/Burgundy is infamous for its plethora of amazing food so to stand out in this region, the food has to be amazing!

6. Charcuterie- a charcuterie is widely available across France. Usually smoked meats, sausages and pates complete with mustards, breads, cornichons and other picked vegetables, you will no doubt be overjoyed.IMG_5010 I have had an amazing charcuterie at Cafe Absinthe in Paris, https://www.tripadvisor.ca/Restaurant_Review-g187147-d4341374-Reviews-L_absinthe_Cafe-Paris_Ile_de_France.html but for a truly amazing charcuterie go to Lyon, a city famous for its sausages and the more famous Bouchons (small bistro style restaurant) would be the place to try it. That said Restaurant L’Instant in Le Lavandou on the Cote d’Azur serves the often underrated Corsican meats on their charcuterie which still stand as the best I have ever had. http://www.restaurantlinstant.sitew.com/#ACCUEIL.
Pairs best with a regional wine.

7. Gougeres- Burgundy/Bourgogne lays claim to these tasty, mouthwatering choux pastry delights. That said they are widely available throughout France. Made with choux pastry and cheese (often gruyere or comte) they are a great start to your meal or a fabulous snack. The best ones I ever ate where at Olivier Leflaive https://www.olivier-leflaive.com/ in Puligny Montrachet in Bourgogne. They were light, fluffy. and full of amazing flavour. Pairs exceptionally well with the whites of Puligny Montrachet. Coincidentally, Olivier LeFlaive is also where I had the best souffle ever.

8. Croque monsieur- the french version of a grilled cheese is usually made with bechemel sauce and gruyere or comte cheese and is a true delight. try the croque madame with an egg on top. pairs well with wines from Bourgogne, Jura, Savoie and Loire as well as Northern Rhone

9. Pastry- French pasties can not be understated. Go to a patisserie with an empty stomach and try!!! From croissants and pain au chocolat to the more ornate pastries you can’t help but have your mind blown. and possible gain a few pounds but oh my will it be worth it!

10. The French are famous for their markets so go for a picnic. Go the the market in the morning, get a baguette, some cheese ( I recommend the goats cheese from Provence) and some ham and veggies of your choice. I obviously pick the most delicious cherry tomatoes. Get some wine and find a beautiful spot (not hard you are in France) and enjoy!!Don’t forget your wine opener as using your shoe and banging the bottle on the sidewalk is more challenging, just ask Benton8tor.  The bread in France is beyond amazing. In fact so much so that my dad buys flour, butter and yeast in Provence when he travels to make bread at home. Apparently this isn’t an unusual thing.

@benton8tor says I need to add these honorable mentions (i.e. his favorites)

  1. Foie gras- widely available, controversial and native to Gascony this delicacy of goose  liver tastes like the best butter you will ever eat.
  2. Charolais Beef- Burgundian of course, Benton8tor swears it is the most flavorful beef.
  3. Coq au vin- Another Burgundian specialty,  it is chicken/rooster slow cooked in Burgundian wine. Drink with a Red Bourgogne.
  4. Jambon au Buerre- A ham sandwich, simple but amazing due to the quality of ingredients. Even better with a hard boiled egg and a Loire rose.
  5. Flamkuche- an onion tart which is a delicious Alsatian specialty. A must must have.
  6. Salads in France- never to be underestimated and always filling.

So grab a patio, order your wine, find your favourite specialty to order and enjoy! After all you are  in France!

One Night in Banyo

One of the other passengers echoed my sentiments when taking a look at the plane said ‘I like 2 pilots and 2 engines.’ Me too buddy, me too.

In 2012, My friend Lisa spent 4 months in Cameroon teaching violence prevention to girls so they could be leaders in their own right It was an amazing thing to do but it meant we missed her like crazy. Lisa’s mom is a Lutheran Pastor and had been supporting women in Cameroon to become pastors, which was no easy task. So in May 2012, with Lisa in Cameroon, and the Cameroon Lutheran Church ready to ordain women pastors, Lisa’s mom Carol was able to go to Cameroon. I of course decided I would go to, obviously.

This was my first experience flying Air France. I flew Air France from Montreal to Paris, and then from Paris to Yaounde. I t was going to be a lonnggg flight. Luckily for me Air France serves champagne, wine and cognac with every meal, even if you are in economy. and very fresh bread. Ahhh. Carol wasn’t really in a cognac mood so she asked for a tonic water. The flight attendant was amazing but he brought her back a bottle of gin with a straw and set it on her tray table and left. She eventually got her tonic as well, which it as it turned out we would need as we diverted to Douala for a few hours waiting or a thunderstorm to pass. Welcome to Cameroon in the rainy season.

We finally arrived in Yaounde after a very long flight and quite honestly I wish I could remember it more  but the only thing I truly remember is our trip coordinator telling us we would be flying to N’Gaoundéré tomorrow. To say I was relieved was an understatement. I had heard Lisa and Carol’s stories about the train. Technically it took 12 hours but often could be closer to 24. Lisa had never flown to N’Gaoundéré, only the train which she believes is an essential part of the Cameroon experience. She is right and she has lots of amazing stories (and video!) of the train but I was glad to miss. At first

The next morning we made our was to the private airfield to take our 6 seater plan to N’Gaoundéré. despite my hesitations about the train, I was privately hoping for the train at this point. thumbnail_IMG_6107Taking a tiny plane in a country I knew nothing about? huh, not so sure. One of the other passengers echoed my sentiments when taking a look at the plane said ‘I like 2 pilots and 2 engines.’ Me too buddy, me too.

However we sucked it up and got on the plane. The journey was smooth and countryside beautiful. I soon fell asleep and when I woke up I could see a very very angry loothumbnail_IMG_6104king rainstorm to the north, where we were headed. then lightning. I hoped my shaking wasn’t visible. I needn’t have worried, my 2 pilot friend was shaking Carols seat so badly she felt ill. Our pilot announced we would be landing at the Banyo airport tonight and we would make it to N’Gaoundéré tomorrow. So I guess the flights were 24 hours too albeit much more comfortable.

the airport turned out to be a strip of red dirt that the local kids chased the cows off of so we could land. the hangar turned out to be a patch of trees and 2 men were going to have to sleep in the plane in the thunderstorm as security.  This made me feel incredibly guilty as it should. I was headed for a warm dry bed.

thumbnail_IMG_6105
the Banyo airport

Banyo doesn’t have hotel so we were staying with the local doctor and his wife. Despite being happy to avoid he the thunderstorm, I was feeling incredibly sad about not getting to N’Gaoundéré and seeing Lisa. But that’s the thing about unexpected detours, you don’t know what you are missing and I would have never seen Banyo otherwise. And Banyo is incredibly beautiful. the mango tree lined streets, the beautiful flowers, the banana trees, it was all stunning but nothing compared to the warm welcome we received. In fact this incredibly warm welcome was repeated in N’Gaoundéré as well.thumbnail_IMG_6102 Especially in the current political climate where there is much rhetoric about restricting people from entering nations of great wealth, I am even more amazed that we were welcomed so warmly and everyone was so willing to share whatever they had. This visit and its welcome stands out today more than ever. We toured the town, visited the local radio station that the residents had recently built. One of the DJs was pretty young ( 17 or 18) but was so happy because his parents in Nigeria could now here him on the radio (Banyo is very close to the Nigerian border). We toured the hospital, met more residents and came back for a dinner of pasta and salad. fairly non Cameroonian but with Cameroon mango so delicious that even 5 years later I am still disappointed by North American mangoes and bananas too. Cameroon bananas are amazing.

Unexpected detours make for strange bedfellows as well. Literally. One of the other women on the plane (KIm)  was on her way for the women’s ordination as well and had lived in various African countries.  she became my roomie for the night as Carol bunked with Bishop Elaine ( the female bishop! from Winnipeg). I would have never gotten to know Kim otherwise and she had a fascinating stories from her time in Africa and her current work and so on. After the very best shower of my life in thumbnail_IMG_6103a beautifully tiled bathroom we boarded the plan once again. This time we made it to N’Gaoundéré in time to see Lisa jumping up and down on the tarmac. I was thrilled to see her but now I wouldn’t have traded my night in Banyo for anything.

N’Gaoundéré is another blog in itself and I will reference wine but suffice it to say, the best wine was on the Air France flight.

In Camden Town

For those in the Real Ale Movement, the Bree Louise pub is where it is at. This pub is old school London but clean, very friendly and the food is out of this world

By now I have been to London roughly a dozen times and it never disappoints. London is full of things to do for the tourist and/or traveler, history buff, theatre buff, shopping aficionado, well you get. London is also big. It is very easy to stay in Westminster and think you’ve seen London. Mainly because you will have done so much!! Over the years I have stayed in Westminster, Bermondsey/Southwark, Kensington, tower Hamlets, and Bayswater. We have explored more. But I had never been to Camden and if I am honest had no real desire to go. I loved Westminster and its theatre scene and Southwark. I got comfortable.

This past spring, work brought me back to London so we decided to tack on a few vacation days at the end. However where I was presenting was by St Pancras Station. It wasn’t convenient to stay in Westminster so Camden it was. A couple of hours after I arrived, all I could think was why did I wait so long?IMG_0699 Camden has to be seen to be believed. At any given time of the day Camden High street ( and one you are over the bridge Chalk Farm Road is bustling. But not with the frenzied, focused energy you find in Westminster or the City. You get the feeling that people would actually stop to chat and a lot of them do. After the conference, we could really explore and we did.

For those in the Real Ale Movement, the Bree Louise pub is where it is at. This pub is old school London but clean, very friendly and the food is out of this world. @benton8tor nearly lost his mind at the beer selection which unlike other London pubs had a huge variety. Some from local brewers. Fun Fact Camden is home to local breweries, Camden Brewing. IPA, Bitters, the like. It is mainly cask ales. Side note: they also serve the best ploughmans with local cheeses.http://www.breelouise.pub/

If you are in the mood for pubs, Camden has lots to offer Some are a little rougher, (i.e. the Good Mixer, home to Amy Winehouse and Noel Gallagher) and it doesn’t accept cards but a fabulous spot for any music lover, full of history (and probably other things). It was in the Good Mixer 061, watching pool and listening to Camden’s own group Madness that we knew we were really here! http://www.thegoodmixer.com/  But the Lock Tavern was one of my favourites. It on Chalk Farm Road and Harmood. Harmood is the street where @benton8tor’s grandfather lived so it had special significance for him. It was still March and London was 21 and sunny ( I was both horrified global warming! and ecstatic sunshine!!! In March ! In London!!) so we could sit on their roof top terrace overlooking the famous Camden Market. They had a good beer selection too. http://www.lock-tavern.com/080

Camden Market, located in the old horse stables has to be seen to be believed. Not high fashion but trendy fashion forward shops alongside steam metal punk shops, shoe stores, food vendors of every persuasion, milliners, antiques, and tourist shops. A definite must do. I bought one of my favourite dresses ever in Camden street. @benton8tor bought a watch. Ben’s approaches to watches are not to tell time but rather do they look interesting or cool. So when he was looking at a rather interesting watch in a Camden store, I knew he wasn’t serious about buying it. Also it was 50 pounds. He ended up getting it for 20. 069Considering he didn’t really want it to begin with, I am not sure who won that barter. That said it is an awesome watch. https://www.camdenmarket.com/

Though Camden was fascinating, it was new to me and new can be overwhelming. So when we met Ben’s cousins for dinner, I was relieved it was in Westminster. Alighting at the Leicester Square tube station, I took a deep breath, touristy, busy and full of energy I felt like I was home. I knew where I was going, where to find my favourite shops, pubs ect.. I relaxed. And dinner was a Joe Allens famous for its position in the theatre district and a good place to watch for celebrities. The food is good and wine list even better.  http://www.joeallen.co.uk/

But back to Camden we went. We had little time left and new we couldn’t possibly do everything we wanted to. Gin tasting, a visit to the breweries, that would have to wait until next time. However we managed to squeeze in dinner at Chutneys a very delicious vegetation Indian restaurant. And my piece resistance, snack and champers at Searcy’s champagne bar in St Pancras station. Searcy’s manages to mix a 1930s art deco vibe with very modern decor, right in the middle of a train station. Literally right beside a train. We had some lovely champagne and we said our farewells to Camden. http://searcys.co.uk/

We were in Camden 1 week after the Westminster Bridge terror attacks. Since then, England has suffered 2 more horrifying attacks. But the British culture of resilience and support is stronger. If you are thinking about visiting England, don’t be deterred. You would be far more disappointed not to go and despite media reports, there is a far greater chance you will be completely safe and have the time of your life.

 

Wine Not Strasbourg?

However my real disappointment came when I finally tried the cremants from Alsace back in Canada. not because they weren’t amazing they are! they are so amazing all I could think was ” I could have been drinking these the whole time.’

I can’t quite remember why I wanted to go to Alsace, especially Strasbourg but if I think back, it is probably because I love the French dish Choucroute garnie. IMG_6041Choucroute garnie is a regional dish from Alsace . It is made from sauerkraut, sausage and often ham hock, shoulder or even bacon. It is made with white wine (Alsatian of course) and it is all kinds of delicious. Enough of a reason to visit Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace for me.

If you visit Alsace, Strasbourg in particular, you could be forgiven for not knowing if  you are in Germany or France. Alsace through its history has been both German and French and both cultures have a historical and cultural presence in Alsace. The half timbered houses, meat and sausage heavy dishes speak to its German influences (as does the use of sauerkraut). The love of wine, baguettes and its tarte flambee/flammekueche suggest its French influence. Despite the name flammekueche is a onion tart dish with cream that reminds me more of France.

Strasbourg in Alsace is beautiful. The Petit France area in particular is full if life, good food and plenty of pottery that is beautiful and unique. (seriously bring and empty suitcase and buy lots of it!!!) the river in Strasbourg is scenic, and dotted with tons of little river boat cafes.

We didn’t eat here but it was a great spot to stop for a mid afternoon drink. Which I did of course. Strasbourg is also the host to the European Parliament . It is well worth a visit. http://www.europarl.europa.eu/portal/en

So obviously when we arrived  in Strasbourg we were on a mission. Te mission included eating as much local cuisine as possible, (check), buying as much pottery as possible (check and check) , exploring the beautiful city (check), and of course appreciating the Alsatian wine (check but really fail)

I love French wine and if you asked me, I would have told you I truly appreciated the wine from Alsace. And to be fair I did try it but as a person who doesn’t really drink white wine, I failed to understand what I was ordering and didn’t really take the time to understand and appreciate it. I quickly switched to back to reds (mostly from the Rhone) and carried on smugly thinking I had given Alsace wine a fair shot. I didn’t though.

Since then I have been taking the French Wine Scholar Course online through the Wine Scholar Guild (Yes that is an obvious humblebrag) and After studying the Alsace region. Well I knew nothing and failed to appreciate it even more! Alsace uses the German method of labeling ( that is putting the grape on the label) and use Riesling, Klevner, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir (to make whites and roses!! and a few reds) and Gewurztraminer as the main grapes. Few of the varieties are blended and if they are they are known gentil (contains 50% of the Noble grapes)or Edlezwicker which is blended with any Alsace grapes. Knowing and understanding the grapes (especially the blends) with the soil type and vineyard (is it a grand cru?) can make for a more pleasant wine drinking experience. For instance if you like Rieslings and blends, you may want to try a gentil. also the Alsatian wine glasses are beautiful. Short clear goblets with a green stem!

However my real disappointment came when I finally tried the cremants from Alsace back in Canada. not because they weren’t amazing they are! they are so amazing all I could think was ” I could have been drinking these the whole time.’ They were smooth, easy drinking but still sparking. Perfect for the warm summer day! I encourage everyone to try them, they are incredibly enjoyable and considerably less expensive. Also if you don’t enjoy the sweetness that often accompanies a prosecco or the crispness of the cava, the cremant from Alsace is for you! That said, If you like white, Alsace has truly amazing whites, which I have also since discovered.

However to truly appreciate the Alsace wines, take a road trip on the wine route down to Colmar. I know that is my plan for my next visit to Alsace, that an an empty stomach for the amazing food and empty suitcase for the pottery!

Bordeaux, Worth the Hype?

We were pleasantly unsurprised at their amazing wine selection. Yes these definitely are my people too.

By now, my love is of France and all things French is well documented. However I have always been reluctant to visit Bordeaux. There is no real reason, except the well documented rivalry between Burgundy (Bourgogne to be exact) and Bordeaux, my heart has always been with Bourgogne. Bourgogne is renowned for being a culinary and wine epicenter. The culture embraces , relishes and celebrates its famous dishes and wines with gusto. Food fads (looking at you quinoa) and calories counting don’t have a place in Burgundian culture. There wines and wine making are known the world over for their velvety smoothness, complexity and all around amazingness. So why would I go to Bordeaux?

Bordeaux and Bourgogne are the best known and most revered fine wine producers from France. They are held in the highest esteem (and price tags) the world over. Bordeaux is known for its Chateaux and large vineyards on the west and south (ish) corner of France. ( It is also known for the Merlot grape,as well as Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon blanc) Bourgogne is known for its Domaines and small vineyards on the east and north (ish) corner of France ( it is known for its Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes ). Both regions produce amazing and sometimes unpredictable wine. In short as the World Atlas of Wine states “If Bourgogne is sensual, than Bordeaux is cerebral.” So why would I want to go there?

Well as its turns out, World Atlas of Wine does not mean this as an insult, so the answer is lots and lots of reasons. Bordeaux is a wonder.IMG_4503 But just how did I get there? Well as it turns out @benton8tor has a thing for rather intense borderline insane drives. He wanted to drive through the Pyrenees and the best place to start from that has an airport connecting to Rome is Bordeaux (side note: It is Ryanair that flies from Rome to Bordeaux, though the staff are very kind, the airlines policies are terrible so there is a good chance you will pay another regular airline ticket price for extras, I DO NOT recommend them, there are many other airlines regular or budget that are infinitely better any one from City Jet, East Jet to Air France or British Airways, Many other better airlines fly to Bordeaux, rant over)

Arriving somewhat hesitantly in Bordeaux, my sulky mindset was determined not to like it. This took about 45 seconds before I changed my mind. 20160901_153038Arriving at the luggage carousel is a giant bottle of Bordeaux wine (yes it is fake). Could these be my people too? Bordeaux is a beautiful city, old with stunning architecture but surprisingly easy to navigate. Upon arriving at our hotel the Best Western Gare St Jean http://www.hotel-bordeaux-saint-jean.com/en/ We were pleasantly unsurprised at their amazing wine selection. Yes these definitely are my people too. Our room was modern, clean and quite pretty. The hotel itself is full of old world charm and beauty. Just like Bordeaux itself.

We were able to settle in and the hotel staff recomended some wines from Bordeaux to start us off. Tasting wines from St Emilion and Pomerol on the right bank of the Medoc, I was surprised at how good they were. I had always believed unless you paid top dollar (which I can not afford) Bordeaux wines were boring. Not at all, these wines were amazing! Velvety and silky. I had to have more. I then tried a Saint Julien from the left bank. Also great, albeit different than the right bank with more tannins  and spicier? flavours present. What the what? Even more surprising I thought Bordeaux food was also rumored to be boring. Again not so, my amuse bouche snacks of olives, tapenades and nuts were surprisingly tasty. Bordeaux was slowly sneaking its way into my heart.

We toured the city and its quaint but robust shopping in the centre, beautiful churches and walked along the River Garonne. Walking along the river is not only beautiful there are some amazing almost hidden restaurants and wine bars to sample the amazing Bordeaux wine.

Cafe du Levant is a Belle Epoque esque restaurant near the train station. It is worth a visit for the decor alone but as I was starting to discover its wines were amazing. Stick to local specialties like steak with bordelaise sauce or fish. http://cafedulevant.ch/IMG_4527

Unfortunately for me, we were off too soon to to the Pyrenees ( but not before sampling the Sauternes YUM!!!) and I was full of regret, regret for my snobbish preconceived notions preventing me from going to an amazing place, trying amazing wine and tasting amazing food. Regret for not enough time and most of all regret for not having enough time to visit the chateaux,  the villages and taste more wine.

Bourgogne has my heart but Bordeaux? Well Bordeaux has found its rightful place there too. Both regions are a love letter to wine and too life. Neither should be missed and with that, Bordeaux, Toute le monde.

Ich Bin Ein Berliner

I was hooked, just what was this city? A hot bed of intolerance? (yes during the Nazi regime) a hotbed of acceptance? (yes currently and before World War II) Producer of some of the greatest minds/artist and / theologians? (all yes)

As a kid growing up in the late 70s (a very little kid) and 80s, Berlin was a city divided. Technically it was West and East Berlin but as a Canadian during the cold war, we viewed it as free (the West) and oppressed ( the East) . This view was no doubt influenced by media but also the omnipresent image of the Berlin Wall and the terrible stories about what would happen if you tried to cross it. My Auntie Barb, the truly most glamorous worldly aunt I had was on a European tour in 1977. In my small Manitoba town, my brother and I would wait for her postcards from exotic postcards from places like Greece., while my grandmother fretted about her whereabouts and when she was coming home., And when she did finally come home, my grandmother fretted about why she ate so much foreign food now. It might have been feta cheese. Auntie Barb visited a lot of European cities that year, but her stories about Berlin stuck out, especially as I got older. My dad distinctly recalls her telling us about having to surrender her Canadian passport at Checkpoint Charlie to visit East Berlin. This is why my aunt was so awesome. Most North Americans wouldn’t even bother. But it hooked me and I started to wonder if I would ever visit Berlin.

Fast Forward to the 1990s. The Berlin wall came down in 1989 and by 1990, Germany was reunified. The fall of the Berlin Wall was one of the most famous historical events of my youth and I still remember watching it happen and being ridiculously happy even if I didn’t really know what it would mean. In the 90s I was also a university student who rediscovered the movie Cabaret which is set in Berlin during the Weimer Republic. I was hooked, just what was this city? A hot bed of intolerance? (yes during the Nazi regime) a hotbed of acceptance? (yes currently politically and before World War II) Producer of some of the greatest minds/artist and / theologians? (all yes) Still I never thought I’d get there.

So in 2014, where did I find myself? Berlin of course!! Berlin is a city like no other. Munich, one of my favourite cities embodies Bavarian Culture that many of us believe is German. Germany is very different from region to region but Berlin stands alone. A truly fascinating city that should be on everyone’s must do list.

There is so much to do, how do you start? I would strongly recommend a Walking Tour. Yes it will cover the recent history we are so familiar with, Nazism, the death place of Hitler, World War II, Communism, The Wall, The fall of the Wall etc.. But also the Weimer republic, the cabarets, the acceptance of the LBGTQ Community, Martin Luther and the Reformation,  Fredrick the Great, Kaiser Wilhelm, Albert Einstein and more,

I wanted to see Berlin for all of its history and it certainly doesn’t disappoint however despite my wanting to discover the older history, 3 things stood out that are still more recent.

  1. On Unter den Linden, Bebelplatz, near Humboldt University memorializes the book burning started by the Nazis. An empty bookshelf meant to hold 20,000 books (that were burned ) is visible through glass in the ground. Many of these books were written by Jewish writers. It is supported by the quote’ First they burn books, then they will  burn the people.’  by the writer Heinrich Heine over 100 years before World War II. It was one of the most chilling, heartbreaking sites that I have ever seen in the midst of one of the most beautiful streets in the World. http://www.visitberlin.de/en/spot/book-burning-memorial-at-bebelplatz
  2. Museum Island. Berlin is a cultural nexus. There is so much to see from Lutheran Cathedrals to amazing museums with Prussian artifacts to Egyptian treasures. The museums themselves are stunning. With bullet holes in the columns still visible reminders of the Battle of Berlin. A must do.
  3. Potdsamer Platz and Brandenburg Gate. Potsdamer Platz is not that interesting of a street. It is full of glass, chrome, opulence and money. It has a beautifully maintained green boulevard and some remnants of the Berlin Wall.

    It is fascinating because just under 30 years ago, Potsdamer Platz was the infamous no mans land The side of East Berlin that was empty and full of stone. Also infamous for trying to cross it may cost your life. 30 years late, it tells a story of a different Germany w10393151_403940179744942_6716812741640472551_nith only the green boulevards left to tell the story it may not have always been a commercial epicentre. Brandenburg Gate, the ornate, beautiful gate synonymous with Berlin was behind the gate in East Berlin, with no care or access. Now Brandenburg Gate is restored to its former glory and the symbol of a reunited Berlin. Visiting in 2014 during World Cup, Brandenburg gate was THE place to watch the game full of energy and pride. To top it off, Germany won. https://www.berlin.de/en/attractions-and-sights/3560266-3104052-brandenburg-gate.en.html

Berlin however is more than its recent history, so take the time to find out. Boulevard Fredrichstrasse Restaurant  has been in business sine the 1920s.  10438992_10152516782655535_2669096692882747273_nIt tells the story of a changing Berlin while still keeping that 1920s vibe alive and well. The food is out of this world as is the wine. http://www.boulevard.berlin/

Also The TV tower is a reminder of Berlin and its history. Commissioned by Communists and built by Christians, when the light hits it, a cross is visible. Despite its hidden messages the TV tower is a wonderful sight to behold on its own.10356209_10152516782015535_8613507653599588717_n

Also worth a visit is Hackescher Markt A wonderful market with unique and interesting restaurants, beer gardens,local crafts and boutiques. It is in an older part of East Berlin on the U Bahn as a stop. @benton8tors favourite part of Berlin. ps://www.berlin.de/en/shopping/1761522-2947095-hackescher-markt-sh

Berlin in 2017 is a very different Berlin than that of my childhood.  Berlin, its every thing you hope it would be, a city that has been the centre of almost any type of history to keep standing, learning, remembering, and thriving. Oh and avoid Checkpoint Charlie, once the fearful scary checkpoint into East Berlin, now a bizarre macabre Disney version of what it was but don’t avoid East Berlin by far the most interesting, culturally fascinating and resilient part of the city.