Christmas market in Colmar

Colmar was voted in the top 3 Christmas markets in Europe in 2016

When we read Colmar was rated one of the top Christmas markets (also called Weihnactsmarkt) we decided to spend my birthday weekend there. Colmar, is approximately an hour from the Swiss-French border in the Alsace region.

One of the first surprises was how well organized everything was. Clear signs in the city take you to a parking lot. Parking was free for the entire weekend and there were free shuttles that took the crowd to the Christmas market. No wonder it was rated highly, and this was even before we had reached the market.

 

The entire town of Colmar transforms into a Winter Wonderland

Plan enough time to walk around all the Christmas market areas (there were 5 of them!) and also visit the “Little Venice” and other neighbourhoods in town. The entire town lights up in the evening and it is a sight to behold!

Vin Chaud and Warm Maroni

Christmas markets are all about the food and drink. What better way to keep warm on the cold, winter days than some hot wine. Vin chaud, gluhwine, mulled wine- whatever you call it, it’s as delicious! We also tried some warm maroni (chestnuts) which are popular during the winters

Colmar’s market is a wonderful day out for the kids

Christmas markets, especially in Colmar, are wonderful days out for kids. There are skating rinks, carol singing at wineries, carousels and fun rides throughout the town. The highlight was kids singing carols, floating down the “Little Venice” canals in illuminated boats.

All in all, experiencing a Christmas market, and especially the one in Colmar is highly recommended!

2 days in Athens, Greece – fall in love with the ancient city!

Athens has always held a special allure, and we jumped at the opportunity to visit it!

Though we spent a week in Athens, the primary reason for the visit was work, so there were some evenings for play. Putting all the hours together we actually spent exploring the city, as is our theme, 48 hours in Athens might be sufficient to give a good taste of the city, though Athens, or Greece, will definitely leave you wanting much more time!

What blew us away right from the beginning was how old everything was! To be able to see and touch structures from 2000 and 1500 B.C. was absolutely amazing!

An approximate 2 day itinerary could be:

Day 1: Begin the day like the Athenians, with a frappe!


Take a walking tour. We went for the free walking tour organized by Athens Free Tour and enjoyed it. Unfortunately the rain decided to really come down right as we were beginning so the route was altered slightly to give us more shelter, but as in most cities, the walking tour was a great way to get a general idea of the city and figure out where things were. They have 2 tours everyday, one at 9.45am and the other at 5pm.

The tour starts from Hadrian’s arch, which is right outside the temple of Olympian Zeus, so if you can get there early, use the time to explore inside the Olympieion.

Tip: Buy the multi-site, combination ticket. When in Athens, you cannot not go into at least 3-4 of the ancient sites, if not all of them! This ticket, for 30 EUR allows entry into: Hadrian’s library, Roman Agora, Ancient Agora, Kerameikos, Olympieion (temple of Olympian Zeus), and most importantly, the Acropolis and the North and South slopes, and it absolutely worth it.

Now that you have an approximate idea of where things are, if you can resist it, dont go to the Acropolis just yet.

Grab a gyro for lunch, on the go like the Athenians, or take some time to cool off and rest your feet before the next round of walking.

Use the rest of the day to explore inside Hadrian’s library and the Ancient Agora, and you still have the energy, the Roman Agora. Hadrian’s library is possibly the oldest library ever and some tablets that survived can still be seen! The Ancient Agora is a tiny city in itself and houses the best preserved Greek temple. We definitely recommend visiting both sites.

 

Temple of Hephaestus in the Ancient Agora
Stoa of Zeus in the Ancient Agora
Odeon of Agrippa at the Ancient Agora
Gate at Roman Agora
Tower of the Winds at Roman Agora
Hadrian’s Library
Stone tablets at Hadrian’s Library

Dinner can be in the Monastiraki area. The deeper into the alleys you go, the more local the restaurants feel, though there are tourists everywhere. Rule of thumb could be cost of moussaka (not more than 8-10EUR) or a glass or ouzo (not more than 2-4EUR). Read more about all the delicious food in Greece here.

Day 2: Acropolis!

Go to the Acropolis museum first. Its a great way to hear the story about the Acropolis and Parthenon and see the real pieces they have preserved. Start from the top floor and make your way down, it felt like a more complete story doing it this way. Also the floor is glass, so maybe dont wear a skirt!

Now that you know all the history and have seen what the separate pieces look like, time to ascend to the Parthenon. (The hill with all the structures is called the Acropolis and the big temple on the top is the Parthenon).

You can get official guided tours, we didn’t, but I’m sure the stories would’ve been quite interesting. Climb up the Acropolis, soak in the views and feel the awe of being surrounded by stones that are more than 2000 years old!

Odeon of Herodes Atticus

If you havent had your fill of views, try to get to the top of Lycabettus (also known as Lycabettos, Lykabettos or Lykavittos) in time for sunset. The light guilds all the ancient structures, making them look even more impressive than they already do!

With more time in the country, definitely try to visit one (or many) of the islands. We only had a couple of days, so chose to visit Hydra (Idra) which was closer to the mainland than most, and really enjoyed our time! Read more about it in the post on Idra (coming soon).

To us, Athens felt so much like home- the warmth of the people, the summer heat, the traffic, the organized chaos- we loved every minute!

Food Guide: Athens, Greece 

Like Italy, one of the highlights of our Greek trip was the food! Heavily influenced by Turkish cuisine, Greek food was really delicious and very affordable. Some of what we tried and would definitely recommend include (we ate a lot- this is a long but tasty post!):

For appetizers:

Greek salad: When in Greece, how can you not?! The vegetables are some of the freshest, the tomatoes are flavorful and the fresh feta is delicious!


Tzatziki: In the land of the best yogurt in the world, anything made with yogurt is delicious. Fresh tzatziki with warm bread could absolutely make a meal on its own.

Eggplant salad: Also made with yogurt, but this time with smoked eggplant- how can one go wrong!


Saganaki cheese: Pan-seared hard yellow Greek cheese, eaten with a drizzle of lemon, sounds as delicious and sinful as it tastes!


Kopanisti: Made with sharp tasting cheese from the Cycladic island of Tinos, with sun-dried tomatoes and yogurt, it had a strong taste- not necessarily for all palettes, but we really liked it, especially washed down with ice cold Ouzo!

Spinach and cheese roll: Inspired from Turkish food, it also made for a great breakfast.

Given a chance to go to one of the islands, sea food starters are:

Seafood soup/stew: Made with a tiny local fish (with an unpronounceable name) it was tasty, heartening and extremely comforting.

Fried calamari: Yes, you can get them anywhere in the world, but how often can you eat them right next to where they were caught?!

For mains:

Gyro: Almost ubiquitously available, this meat and salad wrap, with fries, slathered in delicious sauce is messy, filling and delicious! We even took a couple to the airport for one last taste of Greece before we left.



Souvlaki: Also another form of kebab, this time on a skewer, it is normally served with fries, salad, and warm fresh pita bread. With the spicy sauce or tzatziki, it is finger licking good.

Kebab with yogurt: With pita at the bottom, kebabs and vegs in the middle, covered with yogurt and spicy tomato sauce, we really licked the platter clean!

Moussaka: One of the better known Greek dishes, the moussaka in Greece was probably the best we’ve ever tasted.

Saffron risotto: Saffron from Greece is world-renowned and when added to risotto, definitely made the dish something special.

Lamb shank: The Greeks pride themselves on eating only the most tender, well cooked meat- and true to form, the meat was delicious, juicy and literally fell off the bone!

And then the sea food…..

Lobster with spaghetti: A delicacy, sold in most restaurants by the weight, we were lucky enough to have it cooked for us in a Greek friend’s house, and oh was it d-e-l-i-c-i-o-u-s! Definitely a must have! Even if it isnt home-made, especially for you..

Hydra Octopus: Made specially on the island of Hydra (Idra), the olive oil and tomato sauce, along with the juicy octopus, come together really well!

Saganaki mussels: We tried this in Hydra, but might be available wherever there are mussels. Made with feta cheese, pump mussels and butter- what’s there not to love!

And finally, for dessert:

Greek yogurt with thyme honey: Simple and delicious, I could’ve eaten it for every meal! The yogurt is thick and creamy and thyme honey (honey from bees who visit only thyme flowers) has just the right amount of sweetness… ah heavenly!

Baklava: Also influenced by the long Turkish rule, they have baklava with pistachios, almonds, walnuts and even chocolate!

Orange cake: Made from Seville oranges, that are too bitter to eaten on their own, and sweetened with honey, this was oozing and moist and yummm!


Lemon coconut cake: We were offered it, on the house, in one of the restaurants and would definitely recommend ordering it! Tart and coconut-y, it made for a very interesting dessert.


Fresh fruits: They are everywhere, gorgeous to look at, and so cheap! Peaches, nectarines, strawberries, cherries.. all for only about 1 EUR per kilo! I wish I could’ve brought some back with me!

Drinks (of course):

Frappe: Reading about the frappe culture, is nothing compared to actually seeing it- everyone drinks frappes, all the time! Its a great way to consume coffee- unsweetened or sweetened if the coffee is too strong, iced to beat the heat, it can keep you going all day long!


Tsipouro: Greek brandy, the clear version is drunk before a meal as an aperitif and the aged smoky kind is drunk after meals.

Ouzo: Also drunk as an aperitif, tsipouro with anise came to be called ouzo. It was once called “a substitute for absinthe without the wormwood”. Clear in the bottle, it turns milky white when mixed with water.

Most locals will warn you to be careful when drinking ouzo, and they always recommend drinking it with food. It is generally considered poor form to drink ouzo ‘dry hammer’ “ξεροσφύρι”, xerosfýri, an idiomatic expression that means ‘drinking alcohol without eating anything’ in Greece. This is because, the sugar in ouzo delays absorption of alcohol in the stomach, making the drinker believe that s/he can drink more without feeling tipsy. Then the cumulative effect of ethanol appears and the drinker becomes inebriated rather quickly!

Go to Greece and eat! καλή όρεξη

Food Guide for the Czech Republic 

When thinking of the Czech Republic, while beer would probably be one of the first thoughts, food would possibly not feature on the list. However, for us, food is an important way to better learn about a new city or country, so doubtless, our explorations of the Czech Republic included culinary adventures!

Meat, especially beef formed a major part of Czech food (sorry veggies, this post is quite meat-heavy). Some of the food we sampled, and quite liked, included:

Goulash: Available in almost all restaurants (especially those catering to tourists) goulash is like a spicy beef stew with a thick gravy. Originally from Hungary, it has comfortably integrated itself into Czech cuisine. We had it served with dumplings, which were bland and unsalted when eaten plain, but served very well to mop up the last of the gravy!

Beef tartar: One of our first forays into the world of raw beef, and oh was it worth it! We were asked whether we wanted to mix the meat, eggs and spices ourselves or wanted it done in the kitchen- fortunately we chose the latter, and recommend that you should too! As a part of our preparations we had come across a food blog that very rightly said- why should you do the job you’re paying the chefs to do?! When served like the photo below, the way to eat it is: rub the clove of garlic on the toast- it is crisp enough that it serves as sandpaper and gets nicely coated, then slather on the meat and dig in!

We’re still hunting for tasty and affordable beef tartar outside the Czech Republic!

Stuffed dumplings: Coming from the bay area, we were used to stuffed dumplings being a part of dimsum, not European food, so this came as quite a surprise. These were stuffed with pork, and dipped in mustard, they were delicious! Move over XLB, there’s a new dumpling we like!

Soups: Apparently hearty soups also feature often on traditional Czech menus. In the harsh winters, they can be very heartening. We tried a pea and bacon soup and a potato soup in a bread bowl, both were tasty and comforting!

Fried cheese: What’s better than a tasty cheese, the fried version of the same cheese! Breaded and fried, it was sinful and yum 🙂 Apparently it makes a great late night snack after an evening of drinking, and we can completely understand why!

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And for dessert, Trdelnik. It is made by spirally winding dough on a spindle and slowly roasting it over hot coals. The fragrance of the cooking trdelnik is hard to miss and harder to resist! Once cooked through, it is covered with sugar (powdered or granulated, either works as well) and can be eaten plain, filled with molten chocolate or ice cream. We tried one with ice cream and another with chocolate, and they were both absolutely delicious! (my mouth is watering at the remembered taste, as I write this post).


Of course, no Czech meal is complete without copious amounts of beer, but there is so much to say about the beer, that we have a separate post about it!

Oktoberfest!! And 48 hours in Munich, Germany 

Experiencing Oktoberfest had been on the to-do list for many years, considering how much we liked beer, how could we not attend the festival solely dedicated to it! Finally everything fell into place and in Sept. 2015, K, conveniently, had a work trip planned in Germany and Norwegian airlines had a great ticket to Oslo, so we gathered the troops and made it happen!

The extremely affordable Oakland-Oslo ticket, allowed 24 hours to explore Oslo, an added benefit.

Day 1 was spent exploring Munich and its sights, Marienplatz, the Deutsches museum, BMW museum and Olympic village, ending with dinner at the Viktualenmarket2.jpg
We warmed up for the next day with a few beers and kaiserschmarrn (a delicious dessert of caramelized pancake) at a local pub Nihar found and loved. He might’ve over-indulged just a little- the next day didn’t begin as well for him!1.jpg

The next day, we explored the Englischer Garten and soaked in some sunshine before an afternoon/evening of debauchery!

Finally, it was time! The train to Theresienwiese transported us to what felt like a city unto itself. Large beer tents, fair rides and games, food stalls and more people than would’ve been imagined. Needless to say, we were delighted! The evening saw us in the tents of Hacker Pschorr,  Spaten and Paulaner. Since we had no reservations anywhere, finding a table was often a challenge but we did get to know a few interesting people in the process, our and their friendliness, no doubt, fueled by all the beer.

With all the joy-rides and games stalls beckoning, a few of the braver souls rode the roller-coaster and claimed that they loved each of the 4 loops it took them on! Emma and Teja also shot targets and won a rose each.

The fest really ended for us, with an extremely satisfying meal from McDonald’s- probably the best we’ve ever had there!


While the next morning was not much fun, it was a great experience and highly recommended, if you’d like an evening of beer, music and some drunken singing along, lots of people, a roller-coaster ride and some more beer!

Eat-aly part 3: Food Guide for Rome 

We ended our Italian holiday in Rome, a fitting end to a fantastic trip! While the sights took our breaths away, the food of the Eternal City was almost as good and as interesting as its architecture. Read about food in Florence and along the Amalfi coast.

Pizzas from wood-fired ovens and fresh pastas are ubiquitous in Rome, but typical Roman food does comprise some unusual, tasty dishes, some of which we tried and would recommend.

Flore de zucca (fried courgette florets- right) and Carciofo (globe artichoke- left), either is eaten as a delightful first course. 

Coda alla vaccinara: Oxtail stew with celery, which we were surprised to find, is a Roman speciality. So delicious that every last piece of the meat was picked off the bone (with fingers!).

Saltimbocca alla romana: Veal escalopes in wine sauce, eaten with potatoes or artichokes.4.png

Of the different pastas available, the Roman specialities included,

Pasta Amatriciana: the sauce is made with tomatoes, pecorino cheese and cured pork cheek. Served with any pasta, it is definitely worth trying!IMG_5424.JPG

Orecchiette in trastevere sauce: pasta shaped like tiny ear-lobes, with anchovies, olives and cherry tomatoes. Tasted as pretty as it looked!IMG_4489.JPG

Home made pasta on the way to Vatican City: apparently begun by enterprising locals to combat the financial depression, these small shops allow you to pick the freshly made pasta and the sauce, and they put it together as a hot meal, all for a mere 5 EUR. It is a quick and tasty sit down or take away meal.

No post would be complete without pizza,

Pizza romana: not traditional pizza- but pizza romana looks like a sandwich, and is light and delicious! Especially on a warm day with beer or a spritz- it makes a great snack. 

While not conventionally Roman, we found baked brie with ham in a few restaurants and oh was it delicious!! 4.png

Walking around Rome can also be hot and tiring work. Gelato offers a cold and delicious break, and is available at almost every corner. We tried 5 of the 150 flavors offered here and wished we could’ve tried some more! IMG_3963.JPG

And finally to end each meal, home made tiramisu: as alluded to in part 2 of this series, Roman tiramisu was different from the tiramisu along the Amalfi coast. It was always yellow and with a layer of coffee soaked biscuits at the base. Sooooo good!! 

Eat-aly part 2: Food Guide for Amalfi coast

From Florence (read about food recommendations here), we drove to Sorrento and along the Amalfi coast, continuing our culinary adventures.

With a long coastline and a number of quaint towns perched on the hillsides overlooking the water, the Amalfi coast provided a picturesque setting for delicious sea food!

Food we sampled, and would recommend includes:

Orata and fresh pasta: Orata was the fish of the day in Capri so of course, we ate it. Cooked in a tomato garlic sauce, the plate was wiped c-l-e-a-n! 2.png

Sauted mussels: plump juicy mussels need no more explanation! 1.png

Mixed sea food pasta in squid ink: finger-licking good! IMG_2951.JPG

Walking around in the sun can be hot business, but with the abundant fresh fruits, iced fruit drinks (with no added sugar) are a great way to bring down the temperature!

 

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Fresh strawberry crush

Moving away from the sea food, the locals also make delicious smoked hams and salami, served with fresh cheeses from sheep or cow’s milk, sundried tomatoes and pickled artichokes. While normally served as the first course , one can easily make an entire meal of the meats and cheeses. Yummm! IMG_6019.JPGIMG_6010.JPGHere, it was served with the house wine, made with no suphites. While quite different from the bottled wine we are used to, it was delicious and made for a really fun evening!

With the strong Neapolitan influence,Napolitano lasagne and Napolitano patata (potatoes baked with meat and cheese) are also worth trying, and quite nice. IMG_6016.JPGSuppli or Arancini: Fried rice balls, with a variety of stuffings, including ham, cheese, spinach are cheap, easy to find and make a great snack. img_2886.jpg

Also cheap and easily available are ‘family’ pizzas, which are 6″ x 15″ rectangular pizzas, with proscuitto, mushrooms, or veggies (eggplant and bell peppers- a different but delicious combination!) and which can satisfy 4 hungry adults! 3.png

What better way to end the meal than with freshly prepared tiramisu! Very different from the tiramisu in Rome (featured in part 3 of this series), with white mascarpone and no ladyfingers at the bottom, this one was so delicious that one serving was not enough at all! IMG_6087.JPG

And finally, no trip to the Amalfi coast is complete without copious amounts of limoncello! Best served ice cold (keep the bottle in the freezer and chill the glasses before serving), it makes an amazing digestifIMG_3436.JPGIMG_3300.JPG

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Making limoncello like his grandmamma used to!

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For the real food aficionados, a large number of cooking classes are offered all over the Amalfi coast, and those who attended the course (we ate the food they learnt to make!) said it was extremely informative and lots of fun too. IMG_6076.JPG

Eat-aly part 1: Food Guide for Florence 

Italy is a foodie’s paradise! We spent 10 days traveling through Southern Italy- from Florence, though Tuscany, along the Amalfi coast and ended in Rome, sampling the sights and sounds, and of course the food and drink! This post is part 1 of a 3-part series of the food we ate and loved, in Eat-aly!

Here are some must try foods in Florence.

Bistecca alla Florentina: Florentine beef steak, which was first prepared for the wedding of Isabella de’ Medici, is seared on the outside and medium rare or rare inside. Eaten with artichokes or potatoes, its delicious! img_1916.jpg

Gnocchi with truffles: it is just impossible to go wrong with this, it was half gone before it even occurred to us to take a photograph!IMG_2152.JPG

Tripe: not for the squeamish or faint-hearted, but cooked with the right kind of sauce, it can be quite tasty. The texture takes some getting used to though.

Ribollita: a tasty potage, made with white beans and a number of vegetables, it makes a nice break from the meat and carbs that constitute most meals. It is also amazingly warming on a cold evening. While not available in most of the ubiquitous pizzerias, it is worth the effort of finding a local trattoria to try it. 

Arancini: these are fried rice balls, stuffed with anything ranging from ham, cheese, salami, mushrooms, spinach, to the ones we tried with squid ink! They’re sinful and delicious!

Meat and cheese (and everything in between) at the Mercato Centrale. The central food market in Florence is a great place to sample small portions of a number of local dishes, including the famous lampredotto sandwich.

When it comes to desserts, the Italians have some of the best sweets we’ve eaten.

Panna cotta: Forget about the panna cotta you’ve eaten before. This has the perfect sweetness, a melt-in-your-mouth consistency- it cannot be resisted! Served with nuts or fruit compote, it is a must-have.img_1917.jpg1.png

Creme brule with orange zest. Again, sweetened to perfection!

Cannoli: Piccolo or grande, filled with cream or chocolate, it is the perfect infusion of sugar to keep you going as you explore Florence. So versatile is the cannolo, that we had it at all times of the day, including breakfast, with an espresso to perfectly balance the sweetness! 3.png

And of course, wash it all down with a lip-smacking glass of Chianti from the Tuscan wineries! Salute!

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Food guide for Amsterdam: (i)Eating iAmsterdam!

As with most places, sampling the local fare constituted an important part of our trip to the Netherlands. Joining a structured food tour could’ve been an option but doing it on our own, added the thrill of discovering new places and allowed us to explore the city and try the food at the same time. Of course, we ran the risk of not finding anything good, but  fortunately that didn’t happen!

First up, waffles. The aroma wafting from the stall at the Easter fair at Dam square was too much to resist!

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Waffle with nutella!

How often can you get hot food from a vending machine?! The delicious croquet from the Febo vending machine served to balance the sweetness of the waffle very well.2.JPGNo trip to the Netherlands could be complete without a healthy portion of Vlaamse frites, we were told. We had ours with the ‘special sauce’ which was mayonnaise and a peanut-based curry sauce (it tasted like satay sauce)- they absolutely hit the spot! 5.JPG

To wash it all down, and because it is what we do (and love), Dutch beers were sampled. We visited Arendsnest, with 52 beers on tap, and Brouwerij ‘t IJ, with its iconic windmill. Both did not disappoint! Arendsnest had a wide variety of beers including a lot of darker and stronger beers, ‘old enough to drink’ boasted 21% ABV! Brouwerij ‘t IJ felt like a local watering hole with a very relaxed atmosphere, and had fewer, inexpensive beers on tap. 4.JPG7.JPGDutch pancakes constituted dinner one evening, and although they looked a lot less substantial than their American counterparts, they were delicious and quite filling. We had one with ham and cheese and one with apple strudel and ice cream. 9.JPG

Since it is the birthplace of the famous Gouda, we tried a number of flavoured and aged varieties, and preferring the sharp clean taste of the aged cheese, ended by buying half a kilo of 2 year old Dutch Gold! How long this lasts (how much self control we can exercise) remains to be seen….!

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Of course, there was another waffle, this one fully indulgent, smothered in all the toppings possible- Nutella waffle with whipped cream, strawberries and more chocolate sauce! Needless to say, it was one of the best we’ve eaten, ever! 8.JPG

Walking around the Hague, we found the last two pieces of street food we’d read about, that added the finishing touches to our food tour.

Poffertjes, mini Dutch pancakes, with butter and powdered sugar, eaten hot during a drizzle, lent a wonderful warm fuzzy feeling that helped combat the cold very well! 10.JPGAnd of course, the herring. Eaten raw, with onions, under the awning of the shack to prevent being attached by the vicious sea gulls, it made for an interesting, one time only, experience! The smell lingered on my fingers for hours!11.JPG

Finally, because Amsterdam is (in)famous for its special foods, no post about the local fare would be complete without a special mention! 3.JPG

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