The web is full of great travel blogs, travel stories, travel photos and travel videos – the hard part is finding them amidst all the garbage. Through the week, I am curating the best travel stories I find and then I will bring you the highlights here at the Vagobond Travel Museum.
These are my first Travel Museum Inductions
France Today always has incredible content, but this quirky piece on finding the best flea markets in Paris went beyond the usual Francophile and got into something that feels much more tactile. Want to experience France and take something home that is more than a trinket?
This picture from Timothy Allen’s ‘Pics from my travels’ was without a doubt my favorite picture of the week.
Sometimes, it’s easier to just buy a guidebook than to read a travel blog for ideas about where to go or what to do, but I found this piece about Hong Kong from Off The Meat Hook to be well worth reading. Great pictures, fantastic style and some very good tips.
I love it when I can find something that is short, well written, teaches me something and that is just a little bit wierd and interesting. This piece on snail farming in Italy from ItalianNotes fit the bill perfectly. Who knew?
FlipNomad offered a great piece this week on 10 Survival Tips for Visitors of the Monkey Forest. Great pictures, well written commentary, and interesting to read whether you are going there or not.
National Geographic’s Digital Nomad paid a visit to Tsukiji Fishmarket and took some great iPhone shots. This is a place that I’ve wanted to visit for a long while and Andrew Evans photos and commentary make it clear that it’s a very interesting destination.
And here is some brilliant travel writing and sad sad reality. I was in Viang Vieng back in 2001 and it was heaven, but I could already see that things were heading in the wrong direction. This piece from Old World Wandering almost makes me want to cry…and makes me glad that I haven’t been back there.
Finally, here is the best travel video I came across this week:
And while there were plenty of other great travel stories for this weeks inductions into the Vagobond Travel Museum. To let me know about any great travel pieces, contact me using the contact form here at Vagobond.com
Story by Linda Kissam and Photos by Allan & Linda Kissam
Some people like to bring a little comfort from home on vacation – like a pillow. Others want to know their TV shows will be available for them to watch while on vacation. Still others want to leave home behind altogether to learn all new things and broaden their horizons. This Wine Diva wants to bring her favorite wines with her on vacation AND learn about the newest trends in food and beverage combinations. Where did I do that? On a Holland America cruise to Alaska. Buckle up babe; this ain’t your grandma’s cruise line any more.
Cruise ships have so many onboard amenities now that they seem like floating hotels and special event centers all wrapped in to one. Carrying over 3000 guests along with fine restaurants, health spas, yoga instructors, and (my personal favorite ) sommeliers… that’s probably not totally inaccurate. Each day brings a wealth of interesting cruise activity and personal indulgences. A person could get use to this special treatment in a nano second.
Every evening before going to sleep, I looked forward to reading the ship’s daily list of activities. I woke up knowing that this cruise ship brings a wealth of cruise activities and indulgences, along with the freedom to partake in as many — or as few — as I pleased. No pressure, no hassle…just indulgent choice. Every day, every minute…in front of me was an opportunity to try something new that surprised and engaged me. Holland America’s tag line, “Dabble, discover, daydream — do everything, or do nothing at all” pretty much says it all.
Memories are what cruises are all about. Whether you want to work out in the fitness Center, learn how to make some killer cocktails, take afternoon tea, pamper yourself with a massage and spa treatment or sip a cappuccino and check your email in the Explorations Café, there’s a perfect onboard activity for everyone. As a known Internet junkie the last two options – cappuccino and Internet were some of my favorite moments. There’s something to be said about kicking back, surfing the Web, sipping premium coffee…all while doing some serious sightseeing between emails, cruising lazily by the beautiful green, green, green Alaskan scenery.
I could go on and on about the great shore excursions, sassy late night shows, spa services, beer tasting classes, endless exquisite cuisine, jewelry sales, and casino opportunities, but I think The Culinary Arts Center program presented by Food & Wine Magazine deserves some serious space. It is a groundbreaking facility and program that integrates guests’ love for fine food and wine by presenting a unique entertaining experience. I like the way they encourage you to immerse yourself in the unique traditions and tastes of the ports of call you will visit. The best, best, best part for me was the opportunity to dine with the ship’s executive chef Troy Wastell for a gourmet three hour , six course “Dine with the Chef” extravaganza, sample fine wines from California with executive winemaker Don Rhea, and learning to make a new gourmet dish in a cooking class taught by Master Chef Hervé Laurent.
A special toast goes to Mary Schimmelman, Holland America Line’s public relations manager, for allowing the group (50+people) I was with (International Food Wine and Travel Writers Association) the opportunity to customize a few tasting events over 4 days by bringing aboard our own chef, our own winemaker and our own wines. You may or may not want to do the same, but now you know the opportunity is available to you.
First up was a private food & wine pairing tasting with executive winemaker Don Reha and Chef Laurent. We learned about food and wine matching while exploring the wines of Monterey, California. The wines selected for this tasting were chosen based the unique attributes of the nine diverse AVAs that make up Monterey Wine Country’s Thermal Rainbow™. The coolest regions are north moving to the warmer regions in the south by time dependent thermal gradients that stretch down the valley. The cool to warm gradients present a Thermal Rainbow® effect that reflects the diversity of growing regions and the specific varietals that are grown within each AVA. For example, cool climate-loving Pinot Noir and Chardonnay do well in the north while Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel and many Rhone grape types flourish in the warmer south. It was great fun having both a chef and winemaker explaining how and why food & wine pairing work. This particular tasting served as the foundation for our next three tastings. Hervé and Don did a great job bringing us all up to speed on the most current trends. The Monterey wines were exquisite and set us on the road to expect excellence throughout the next days.
The next day we were back in the Culinary Center with Don Reha tasting three new wines: a bright green fruit and citrus Un-Oaked Roche Winery 2009 Carnerous Chardonnay ($18.95), a 2008 North Coast Cab ($33.95) food friendly red berry beauty and Chocolais ($12) a gorgeous rich Swiss chocolate, thick Dutch cream & fine Italian wine combination. Each wine was paired perfectly with a bite of food. The group was beginning to get their wine & food pairing groove on.
Our next tasting was sponsored by Thornton Winery fine Champagnes. Conducted up in the Eagles nest, this was a one hour casual tasting that included 4 Champagnes with small tray passed hors d’oeuvres. Talk about indulgent pleasures, the group of 40 people were pampered with NV Blanc de Noirs ($24), NV Brut ($24), NV Cuvee Rouge ( $26), and a 2004 Brut Reserve($38).
Our class demo in the Culinary Center with Chef Laurent on salmon pairings was inspirational. We learned how to prepare salmon and three tasty sauces to go with. Chef Laurent is a master of his trade. We were all very glad we were able to spend some time with him.
A new day brought a new tasting adventure. This time we treated to an extensive Niner Wine Estates Bootjack Ranch Paso Robles tasting. Niner sent us a short CD to watch which set the mood and helped us better understand the Niner philosophy. The crowd of over 40 attendees was wowed as Don Reha once again led us through a unique food and wine tasting asking us to stretch our wine and food pairing skills. Of note during this tasting were the 2009 Sav Blanc ($17) with tart kiwi, lime and lemongrass notes. It had a beautiful crisp mineral characteristic; 2008 Sangiovese ($24) showing strawberry and carnation spice with big bright juicy raspberry and cherry flavors. Yummy mouthwatering finish; 2007 Syrah ($20) showcasing complex layers of black fruit, berries, plum and a smoky oak character with black pepper and spearmint attributes. My favorite by far; And finally a 2007 Cab ($28) that would knock it out of the park with a Cheddar Bacon Burger or Filet Mignon with Gorgonzola Sauce. Classic herbal notes , fine tannins and a long finish made this a group favorite.
Our final tasting before going home featured Zaca Mesa estate grown and bottled wines. Zaca Mesa is a Santa Ynez Valley Estate vineyard and winery dedicated to Rhône varieties. Each wine is hand crafted with integrity using traditional methods from grapes sustainably grown in their Santa Barbara County vineyard. Once again the 40+ members of our group loved these wines for their rich distinctive characteristics. The tasting included a bite of food to go with each wine. Each wine was presented and discussed thoroughly by wine expert Don Reha. Starting with the fabulous 2009 Viognier ($20), this wine had a gorgeous nose of honey suckle and orange blossoms. What the nose promised the palate delivered with rich flavors of melon and peach. A stunning white, worth whatever price you can get it at. Next up was the luscious 2007 Roussanne ($ 25). This is a wine for people who want to explore different white wines. It’s a full-bodied beauty featuring rich apricot, spiced pears, figs and a hint of minerality. Yum! The 2007 Z Cuvee( $ 20), a blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Syrah and Cinsault was a charming medium-bodied wine with flavors of blackberries, herbs and some light smoky oak. Our final taste was the 2008 Syrah ($25). Another winner for sure, everyone was delighted by is rich blackberry, cassis and spice nose. All in all, Zaca Mesa was one of the best tastings of the cruise.
So I guess between the beer tasting classes, the high tea adventures, learning how to make new cocktails, dining with two outstanding chefs, getting coaching from a master winemaker, and sipping cappuccinos while watching the gorgeous Alaska scenery float by… I’d have to say that this type of vacation is just what this Wine Diva ordered. I know you’ll enjoy this new kind of wine, brew and spirits adventure as much as I did. Think about booking a cruise for your next vacation.
Chef Hervé Laurent‘s SALMON PAIRINGS
10 people INGREDIENTS:
1 Salmon filet
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 cup Washington red wine
1/2 cup Maple syrup
50 g Dark chocolate
1 cup Washington white wine
50 ml Cream
100 g Unsalted butter
1 Orange (juice and zest)
200 g Firm papaya
50 g Fresh ginger
1/2 cup Sugar
250 g Smoked bacon
1. Chop shallot for both sauces.
2. Reduce red wine by half with maple syrup and 1/2 of the diced shallots. Remove from the heat and add dark chocolate. Season.
3. Reduce white wine and the rest of the diced shallots until dry. Add cream and season – on a low heat add small cubes of chilled butter.
4. Cut papaya in cubes and ginger in small strips – cook with sugar and the same amount of water.
5. Bake the smoked bacon until dry. Then chop using the food processor.
6. Scale the salmon, wash under cold water dry then cut in high cubes, leave the skin on.
7. Season the salmon with salt.
8. Cook the salmon in a hot nonstick pan, with olive oil, ¾ on the skin side, ¼ on the over side.
9. Garnish the dish with turned vegetables (pan fried with butter) or stuffed vegetables with mushrooms (and baked).
10. Decorate the plate, 4 cubes of salmon, 3 with different sauces on top, 1 with chopped bacon, finish with vegetables.
This Wine Diva loves …well… her wine. That includes pretty much anytime and anywhere. But it’s the unexpected wine adventures that call my name and beckon me to throw caution to the wind. Perhaps one of my most unique wine escapades was the sunny summer afternoon I spent on a wine cruise aboard the Schooner Zodiac in the beautiful Pacific Northwest. The 160 foot windjammer Schooner Zodiac set sail for 6-hour wine and dine tour in the scenic waters of Puget Sound. My vision for the day was a wine and dine where a professional staff would take care of its guests every whim – mine included. Well…there’s a yes and a no in that scenario.
With a main mast that towers over twelve stories high and the largest working mainsail on the north coast, the gaff-rigged two-masted tall ship Schooner Zodiac is a living, working piece of maritime history. Her decks and beams are living testament to the wide array of faces and places this Windjammer has seen on her 88 year journey.
The Zodiac is operated by a licensed captain and experienced team of volunteer crew members. Note the term “volunteer.” This would have a big impact on my time on the boat. She departs her dock in Bellingham, Washington for a wide variety of public and private charters, as well as evening and day sails from spring through fall, exploring the untouched anchorages of the San Juan Islands and Canadian Gulf Islands. It’s a gorgeous “ride,” but wait there’s a catch. Guests are encouraged to help out with some of the sailing duties.
Yup, whether you are there for a day or a week, you become part of the sailing team. At first I resisted the “call” to assit, wanting to soak in some rays, chat with friends, enjoy the changing landscape and sip some Sauvignon Blanc; but darn there’s something about the wind and the tides and the romance of getting involved with this old schooner that dictates a self-immersion course on volunteer activities.
Actually raising sails and dropping anchor between sips of great wine and food is quite special. In all honesty, I did more cheering for the other volunteer crew than actual hands on stuff, but still the thrill of being involved was very cool. The crew is patient and good at reinforcing positive participation and tolerating guests with minimum skill and strength. As Captain Bob Bitichin says, “The difference between an adventure and an ordeal is attitude.” The opportunity to learn to sail, reading charts, and taking a watch at the helm is all there for each guest to be a part of should they wish. If you take a multi-day cruise expect a day of beautiful sailing and in the evenings, after anchoring in a peaceful bay, time to explore an island or paddle a kayak. Anticipate seeing pods of orca whales, spiraling bald eagles, sprinting porpoises and inquisitive harbor seals on your voyage. Hearty, delicious meals are served by the Zodiac’s experienced cook. My sail included lovely hors d’oeuvres, wine, a deck-side barbeque, lots of yummy side dishes and a lip-smacking dessert. Certainly, there is no rustic living in the food and wine department.
Sleeping arrangements are a bit more casual. You’ll sleep on board in the ships’ quarters. The ship has three bathrooms and two hot showers on board. Expect to share most facilities, but you can pay extra for your own compact stateroom. Pack light but purposeful. Summer can be anywhere between cool to warm to hot on any given day – bring sunblock and a hat, and a pair of sunglasses. A pair of shorts is a must and if you feel like braving the ocean temperatures, swim wear is a great idea. Part of the fun of visiting the islands is going ashore on remote beaches. There isn’t always a dock, so you may be landing on the beach trekking through water, sand and mud. A pair of cheap waterproof boots – or just sandals that can get wet – is a good idea. Layered clothing, including turtlenecks and tights or long underwear are necessary for most mornings and evening comfort. Foul-weather gear like waterproof footwear, pants and jacket is necessary when it rains or you’ll be stuck down below in your cabin or bed while everyone else is having the time of their lives in the summer rains. An inexpensive hooded rain jacket and pants is a good idea.
If you’re like me, you’re already thinking about your next vacation. The Schooner Zodiac offers a cruise, theme and price point for everyone. Join us for a unique and memorable cruise in the San Juan islands as we visit local wineries and experience the flavor and variety of Pacific Northwest seafood
There’s a lot to be said for the adult “pit stop” on a road trip. Long after the kids have left the backseat empty and are on to their own adventures, there comes a time when adults pile in a car and are off on their own wild escapades. No longer is there the constant whining in the van of, “Are we there yet?” Now, just a mild war cry “Is it wine time yet?” floats melodically through the Mercedes.
The most interesting pit stop I’ve experienced lately is at Exit 106 on Highway 99 at Traver, California. Somewhere on my San Francisco to Porterville road trip I discovered Bravo Farms. I’ve heard it described as a “…small, enhanced Knott’s Berry Farm without the entrance fee.” Maybe. I thought more of a casual Bristol Farms or Whole Foods in a sprawling barn kind of atmosphere. I think it just depends on whether you bring kids or not. We didn’t, so I am sticking with a casual gourmet barn kind of experience.
Bravo Farms could be classified as a tourist destinations so don’t forget to bring your camera and a working credit card. You’re going to find wine, cheese and produce shops. There’s also hundreds, if not thousands of antiques. Get ready to cruise the aisles for old artifacts: barrels, antique advertising signs, bicycles, meat grinders, and so forth. What you may think of as a 30 minute stop will surely whirl its way into a 2-hour extravaganza.
Since my roadies were looking for wine we started at the wine tasting bar. The wine shop is stocked to the gills with hundreds of wines – some local and some not so local. The wine bar is not always open but when they’re pouring enjoy the experience of pre-selected wine and expect to leave with bottles of terrific local wines that qualify as true liquid gems. A slight wine tasting charge is in play, but don’t fret, you’ll get your money’s worth.
There’s also a cheese factory where you can watch cheese being made and a cheese bar where you can sample several different types at your own pace. I liked everything they offered. The chipotle cheddar was tasty, with rich smoky overtones and a nice hit of spiciness. Their sage cheddar surprised me with its herbal notes. I bet it would be magic melted onto toasty slices of artisan bread, olive bread, or a plain French baguette slice. The sharp aged cheddar was also magnificent. Yup, you guessed it…a whole lot of cheese went into our car’s cooler in preparation for a great cheese and wine pairing that night.
Having had our fill of wine and cheese we were off to discover the grocery store area. We found local nuts and olives from the valley, along with an endless assortment of gourmet food including a cold case of prepackaged items. We lingered a bit at the unique nostalgic memorabilia and reproduction signs, greeting cards, seasonal items and garden décor. It was easy to find a gift and score more tasty treats for the road. This is exactly what an adult pit stop should be.
All this sampling primed us for lunch. There’s a couple of ways to go. A stop at the indoor/outdoor 99 restaurant is a good idea. A mix of lively Mexican style dishes as well as Americana staples like sandwiches and burgers are there to please. Or visit the interior patio area for some rocking lip smacking BBQ. I liked the festive picnic atmosphere and the prices were reasonable for the food offered. Leo’s BarBQ is perfect some of the best, slow cooked Tri-Tip or BBQ Chicken roadside stop sandwiches ever. Expect a line…but it moves pretty fast, and its well worth the wait.
Ending our visit we mozied (more like waddled) over to the ice cream shoppe. If creamy ice cream, date shakes, or coffee/lattes/espressos are your thing, it’s a great final stop. It certainly was for us.
If you find yourself with children, these added features will enhance their visit.
7 Story tree House: 25 cent admission…entered in the Guiness Book of World Records as the Tallest Real Tree House. The kids can climb and climb.
Petting Zoo: A multitude of smaller animals like donkeys, hens and flying rats is sure to amaze and amuse you the kids. For 25 cents, get a handful of grain to feed the animals. You may just get the best parent / grandparent award.
Mini Golf: 9 old time golf holes…some easy, some not so easy. $4round…if the kids get a hole in one on #9, they get a free round and you’ll have time for another bite of cheese.
Shootin’ Gallery: One of the most advanced interactive “shootin” galleries anywhere