Beer in Bohemia 

The people in the Czech Republic consume the more beer per head than anyone else in the world, and the country has topped the per capita beer drinking table for 23 consecutive years! In 2015, the most recent year for which statistics are available, the Czechs drank 142.4 litres per person, which is the equivalent of 250 pints – one every 35 hours! Read more here.

During our visit there, it was our duty, therefore, to contribute to national statistics and the delicious beers absolutely helped! We found that in Germany, there were fewer varieties of beer (weiss, dunkel, helles), all were light (around 5% ABV) and it was mostly about the quantity of beer (in liters!) consumed; read about the fun we had here! Almost all beer in the Czech Republic tasted like craft beer, with varied tastes, strengths, and we couldn’t get enough!

While all the beer we tasted was very good, according to us, the top 5 beers/breweries to try in the Czech Republic are:

Pilsner Urquell in Plzeň. Their traditional Pilsner, a blond lager, is very good, as are their darker, stronger beers- we tried Master (18°) which was yum!

Konrad and Hermann microbreweries. Our trip was perfectly timed to coincide with the Czech beer festival in Prague, a very lucky coincidence! As a result, we got to try a number of smaller microbreweries that might not have been possible otherwise. Konrad and Hermann were two that we only found at the festival and would definitely recommend both.

Kozel. More mainstream than the ones mentioned above, we found at least 4-5 different varieties of beer made by them and the few we tasted were delicious!

Bohemia regent. Also more mainstream, we got to try one of their craft brews, Lady vanilla, at the festival. It tasted like a very good cream ale, with a hint of lime, and now we really regret not having brought home any bottles!

Eggenberg brewery in Český Krumlov. Another famous brewery, this one truly deserves its good reputation! The restaurant has a nice ‘beer hall’ feel, their beers are really delicious and the food is tasty too! What more could one ask for?!

Na zdraví!!

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!

Street art in Florence

Florence is a great city to walk around. Besides all the conventional art and architecture, which in itself is extremely abundant and awe-inspiring, there are hidden treasures which make exploration by foot even more interesting. One such under-appreciated, and largely unknown treasure is the creative street art by the local artists Clet and Blub.

Clet

Observe the stop and no entry signs and you will notice each one has some graffiti / modifications. Only after a few did we realise that it is a pattern and indeed art, by the local artist Clet Abraham. While some see his work as defacing public property, others view it as contemporary art, which reflects a modern Florence. Either way, it was fun tracking the signs through the city! We even came across Clet’s studio where you can buy some of the stickers and signs. You can follow Clet on Facebook or Instagram

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Blub

Blub’s art is called L’Arte sa Nuotare which means ‘Art knows how to swim’. His aim is to make art more accessible and he achieves this by taking famous pieces of art, literally, for a swim. That’s why famous statues from Boticelli or Michaelangelo can be seen in water tanks and scuba gear.  His pieces are all over the city as well, in some of the most unexpected places. You can follow Blub on Facebook and  Instagram

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Clet with his famous road signs

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Girl with pearl earring, out for a swim!
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Sandro Botticelli holding Cosimo the Elder
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Other, less known, street artists also can be found all over the city. Truly, Florence itself is an open air art museum!

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

Sechseläuten: Spring festival in Zürich

Sechseläuten is a traditional spring holiday in Zürich, one of the first unique Zürich traditions that we got to witness!

The tradition of Sechseläuten, which directly translates to the six o’clock ringing of the bells, dates back to 1525. While the light faded early in winter causing workers to end their days by 5pm, with longer days in summer, it was decided that work should continue until 6pm. The ringing of the second largest bell in the Grossmünster at 6pm, signaled the beginning of spring and the new working hours, and the switch to summer time was the cause for celebrations.

The Böögg, or bogeyman, is said to have ancient (read pre-christian) roots. In Zürich, the Böögg was designed in the form of a snowman, symbolizing winter, and burnt on the spring equinox. Each quarter burnt its own Böögg, independent of the Sechseläuten celebrations. In 1902 the two merged into one tradition and the Böögg became the protagonist of Sechseläuten celebrations.

Today, Sechseläuten is celebrated on the third Monday of April (unless it is Easter Monday, then it is celebrated on the 4th Monday- they have a rule for everything!). It begins with a parade of the guilds, comprising up to 350 horse riders and almost 3000 guildsmen, all dressed in medieval costume, and ends with the burning of the Böögg, filled with firecrackers, at 6pm precisely. Zürich’s inhabitants claim that the Böögg serves to predict the weather in the coming summer, faster the Böögg’s head explodes, the finer the summer will be. The one we watched took 9 min 56 sec – here’s hoping for a really good summer in 2017!

1.jpg2.jpgThis is followed by the largest outdoor BBQ.

Having read this, we arrived armed with toasting forks, sausages and sides, and beer (of course) but from the cordoned off streets, the parade and the big blaze, it wasn’t clear at all how the BBQ would happen. Fortunately most people had picnic bags, so there was hope. What followed was very interesting. Once the parade was completely over, the area around the huge bonfire was covered with damp sand and the barricades were lifted, opening it up to us all. All you needed to do was find a spot, dig a shallow ditch in the sand, bring a shovel-full of hot embers, and voila- the BBQ pit was ready! Fortunately there were enough people with shovels to let us borrow one, and soon we had our own little fire pit, tiny, and cute (we’d like to believe), that it even drew an ‘awww’ from a passerby..!

Note to self: next time bring foil, bacon wrapped sausages and s’mores!

Satiated, and grateful for the balmy evening, it was a great way to begin, what we hope, will be a fun-filled, warm summer!

Interestingly, it reminded us of the fires lit during the festival of Holi. While the stories behind the festival are different, the underlying motives seem similar, both symbolize the end of winter and are an excuse to come out and celebrate!

Hidden labyrinths around San Francisco

Looking for something to do off the beaten path in the San Francisco Bay Area? If you don’t mind short hikes there are hidden labyrinths worth visiting in Oakland and San Francisco. Both are true labyrinths i.e. only one path to the center rather than a maze, which offers several choices. Read on!

Labyrinth at Lands End, San Francisco 

One of the best kept secrets in San Francisco is the Lands End hike. A mostly flat hike, you start from the Sutro Baths area in Golden Gate Park. It’s amazing that even though this place is so easily accessible from within city limits, not many people know about it.

Follow the coastal trail signs. Along this well marked, paved trail and you get great views of the Pacific Ocean and the Golden Gate Bridge.

After following the trail for about an hour, mostly along the ocean, you will see stairs that take you closer to the ocean. If you don’t see signs for the Labyrinth, follow the crowd.

The labyrinth itself is man-made and can be slightly underwhelming. It has been destroyed a few times but people have collected the stones and reassembled it. Just for kicks, try to get to the middle of it. We did 🙂 The view of the ocean and bridge, especially around sunset is stunning and well worth the walk.

Labyrinth at Sibley Volcanic Regional Preserve, Oakland 

A short drive from downtown Oakland gives you access to many regional parks like Tilden (Berkeley) and the Sibley Volcanic Preserve. It is one of the East Bay Regional Park District’s oldest parks and is best known for the mysterious labyrinths that have appeared at the bottom of the quarry canyons.

Drive up to the parking lot and pick up a brochure/map. We took the Round Top Loop Trail which is a self guided trail with notes on the volcanic history of the reserve and of course, the labyrinth.

The trail isn’t very steep. After 2-3 miles you come to a view point where you can see the labyrinth below. You can take the detour along a narrow path to reach the labyrinths. It is called the Mazzariello labyrinth, named after the East Bay resident who created it in 1989.

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The labyrinth itself is easy, but there is a certain pleasure in discovering these hidden treasures!

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