My first trip to Berlin Day 1

November 19, 2017 1 comment
Today I arrived in Berlin on a 7:00 am flight.  I had arranged for my hotel, Das Stue to send a car service to pick me up at TXL as I did not trust my ambien induced brain to successfully navigate the taxi stand.  Thus I had quite an easy entry into Berlin and was soon cozied up in my hotel bed to sleep off the last of my sleeping med.  This left me bright-eyed and bushy tailed for a morning walk from Tiergarten to Charlottenburg Schloss (Palace).  Saw two Christmas markets being set-up for the holiday season along the way. The Charlottenburg Palace and ground were much larger than I expected.  In addition, the audio tour that describes some of the history of the palace’s construction and how each room was used for different purposes was appreciatively informative.
We took a respite following our walk of the halls of the palace at Monkey Bar, a stadium seating bar with views over the Berlin zoo (including the monkey house).  Had a Munich Helles beer.
Ran into a bit of a SNAFU with our dinner plans this first night.  I had reservations at Reinstoff; but as the restaurant tried to contact me while I was in flight I did not receive their calls or emails.  Thus they canceled my reservation.  Doh!  I rescheduled for Thursday and set on figuring out where else to eat.  My next pick was Rutz Weinbar but that was also fully committed.  I then pursued Nobelhart & Schmutzig – also fully committed.  Dauntless I decided to go to Rutz Weinbar and try my luck.  I asked if I might grab a glass of wine at the standing room only bar.  This was permitted.  I then asked if we might order some food at the standing room only bar.  This was permitted.  The server chose a series of german wines that we enjoyed while ordering some starters.  We first had a fabulous blood sausage, which came with four decently sized slices of blood sausage alongside pureed potatoes.  We then opted for a tripe dish that was delicious and the least tripe like dish I’ve ever had.  This is a tripe for people who are squeamish about tripe.  I was also curious to try the cucumber, goat cheese, and kefir dressing salad.  Pairing this dish with the rich tripe was a good idea as it gave it a counterbalance of acid.  People really linger at their tables after dinner in Germany and few people came in the bar after 9pm; those that did were often turned away as they were looking for a sit down table and the bar was fully engaged.  However, by the time we ordered our mains a spot had opened up and we got to sit ourselves down.  I greatly enjoyed a health portion of duck confit breast and a perfectly dense dumpling served alongside.  Erin ordered the local fresh water fish of the day and was equally pleased.
Thus ended our first full day in Berlin.
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Categories: Berlin

Preparing for my first trip to Berlin & Vienna – The books I read in preparation

November 18, 2017 Leave a comment

I enjoy preparing and planning to visit for a first time about as I much as I enjoy actually experiencing the city.
Selecting a trip destination, is a way to set an intent to learn a little bit more about the world we live in and its history.
I also enjoy planning an itinerary for the seven or ten days I typically take for vacation ahead of the trip. The itinerary is a back up plan rather than a to do list.
I am comfortable deviating from something “planned” when a better opportunity arises; but with a full list of potential activities I’m never bored or left frantically trying to figure out what to do for two hours stuck in my hotel room.

Fodor’s travel guides are my go to reference as I begin planning any trip. For this Berlin & Vienna trip I bought the following two books on Kindle

* Fodor’s Germany http://amzn.to/2B1jufm
* Fodor’s Vienna and the best of Austria http://amzn.to/2hKJPtB

In addition to learning about restaurants, sites, and activities in my destination city, I also like to immerse myself in the city’s history. Thus for my trip to Berlin, I got exposed to the history of the Kingdom of Prussia. I was vaguely aware that there was a country named Prussia and this country was somewhat of a military powerhouse in the 19th century. I believe my first exposure to Prussia came in 2006 when I read War & Peace. The second exposure was reading A Very Brief Introduction to the military theories of a Prussian General Clausewitz in 2016. http://amzn.to/2j7vqnx . I googled some lists to find “the best” histories of Prussia. And several sources pointed to Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947 http://amzn.to/2zMKsK1 Unfortunately this book is not available on Kindle. While I was debating whether or not to buy a bound paper book, I first purchased a kindle book for $0.99 titled A Short History of Prussia http://amzn.to/2yWGBpW that turned out to be a great intro and overview of the country. Eventually I broke down and bought the IRL The Rise and Downfall of Prussia which turned out to be an even better account of the, well, rise and downfall of Prussia. You’ll learn that Frederick III of Brandenberg was quite a successful noble and was able to crown himself as Frederick I King of Prussia. His offspring were as interesting and accomplished as himself; the son Frederick William zigged to Frederick’s I’s zag; did a way with all pomp and focused single mindedly on expanding Prussia’s military (which was already reknown under his father); Frederick William’s son Frederick II zagged back to a more stately presence but kept the drum beating on continuing to expand Prussia’s military.

Since I’d gone to the trouble to learn about Prussia up through it’s dissolution in 1917 at the end of WWI when it was replaced by the Weimar Republic of Germany, I decided I ought to read up on Austria and the Habsburgs in equal measure. To this purpose I bought The Habsburg Empire (Kindle Edition) http://amzn.to/2zfL3Eq The book starts with Maria Teresa and then recounts the Empress or Emperor leading the Habsburg family up through the break-up of the empire at the conclusion of WWI.

After completing all these books, I wonder whether or not the expense of travel is necessary. I get as much if not more context and inspiration from sitting down and reading world history. It’s certainly a more affordable way to understand the world. I like the fact that when I select a place to travel it gives me a topic to dive into.

Categories: Berlin, Vienna

Day 12 – Trip to India – Some planning tips and Departure through Mumbai

Day 12 started a full day of travel to return to Los Angeles.  We started in Goa and were leaving through Mumbai.  We had a few hours in Mumbai and finally had a chance to explore Bandra.  We checked out a few retail stores and tried a delicious western meal at Indigo.

We booked our trip to India through Kensington Tours.  It’s an expensive way to travel.  In the past I’ve always booked my own travel.  The experience was great.  We were greeted by a guide in every city and had an arranged driver who spoke English.  In addition to the logistic guides Kesington arranged to take care of our transfers from airports and hotels, we had a professional tour guide nearly every single day to either take us through historic sites such as those in Jaipur or Agra, or show us the living city as we did in Mumbai.  I recommend booking an India tour through Sunita at Kensington Tours.

If you want to book your tour on your own then I recommend checking out the Love tour guides selection of guides for the luxury vagabond Love Travel Guides  Guides currently exist for:

  • Love Delhi
  • Love Mumbai
  • Love Jaipur
  • Love Goa
Categories: Bombay, India, Mumbai

Day 11 – Trip to India – Further explorations of Goa and dinner at Gunpowder

IMG_2636Though the bulk of our stay in Goa was spent relaxing, this morning we had a guided tour of the churches of Old Goa and the neighborhoods of Panjim. We saw ruins of an old church on a hill that gave the impression the church was vanishing, the church which houses the relics of St. Francis of Xavier who’s nearly completely intact body you can view through glass, the large cathedral that Portugal built, and a recently, partially restored church with a great view of Old Goa named Our Lady of the Mount.
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We walked through the small Latin Quarter that has heritage Portuguese houses, stopped at the fashion designer Wendall’s boutique, and has well prepared Goan food at Mum’s Kitchen. We had the red chili based Peri Peri preparation of pomfret and a curry of kingfish steaks.
Erin and I had an excellent meal tonight at Gunpowder. Gunpowder is owned and operated by the same team running the store People Tree. In fact, the store and restaurant are collocated. In the monsoon season Gunpowder only has four tables sitting on the verandah of the old Portuguese house. In be on-season, a larger outdoor patio is used as the main dining area.
The menu features South Indian cuisine from Andrah Pradesh, Kerala, Mangalore, and Goa. We focused on good from Kerala but made an exception for a sweet and sour pumpkin dish from Andrah that was highlight d in our Love Goa travel guide. We started with a spiced whole fish that had been grilled. We then orders a chili based prawn preparation and a delicious coconut and potato dish is that tasted like an Indian fusion version of potato chowder with spices of black pepper and fresh (very spicy) whole green chili peppers. The desserts were scrumptious as well. We had a mango Lanka cotta and a chocolate ganache atop a crumble similar to graham cracker pie crust. We also sampled a local cashew feni – a liquor sourced from cashew nuts. Erin craved the taste, but it’s sour notes were not for me. You will want to browse the artisan textiles at people tree before or after your meal. There is a great reading library spread over two bookshelves and some literary/political journals for purchase. The neighborhood of Assgao where Gunpowder is located has beautiful Portuguese houses and churches.
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Categories: Goa, India

Day 10 – Trip 2 India – Goa Relaxation

Our second day in Goa was the most chill on our entire trip. Erin hired a  Belgian masseuse to give her a massage in our hotel room. She highly recommend’s hiring Natalie for a 75 minute session costing 2500 rupees. Meanwhile, I went to the on-property spa, Jiva, and enjoyed a 45 minute foot massage. I had a swim in the pool waiting for Erin to finish her therapy.

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We encourage you to hire Nathalie Zoelorelei.  Text Nathalie at 98226 86617 to book a private massage appointment.

We went on a shopping excursion in the late afternoon. Erin made her first visit to FabIndia to add to her collection of clothes from Indian chain stores “W” and the more craft based block printing store of Anoki.

After a few shops we sought out the Pousada beach shack on Caligueta Beach. We were set up on two cushioned beach loungers and enjoyed beers and well prepared Goan food as we attempted to see a sunset despite the clouded sky. The sun went down without releasing color, nevertheless we enjoyed the evening.

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We kept it low key in the evening and had dinner at the Taj Vivanta Banyan Tree Thai restaurant.  It is built beside a large 300 plus year old Banyan tree.  The food was decent.

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Categories: Goa, India

Day 9 – Trip to India – Arrival in Goa

Day 9 - Goa - Ajuna Beach

Ajunta Beach

Day 9 - Goa - Vagator BeachVagator Beach

Day 9 - Goa - CocktailsCocktails at Fort Aquada Bar

 We are ending our trip with a vacation within in a vacation by spending three days at the beach in Goa. The pace of life and our intent is certainly slower than Mumbai! We checked into a beautiful property the Vivanta by Taj Fort Aguada property. We tried Goan cuisine prepared by the Beach House restaurant on premises stewarded by Chef Rego, Goa’s most acclaimed chef, who has worked with Taj in Goa for 30 years. Our favorite dish were prawn coated i semolina fried and served with a chili masala. We also had boiled potatoes served in a sweet grilled onion masala, grilled squid in a chili masala, and a shrimp cox it and chili curry.

The beach at Fort Aquada is beautiful especially as the Portuguese built a wall and rampart on which the waves strike up against at our end of the sandy beach. Nevertheless we were eager to see two beaches we had read about in our guides… Ajunta and Vagator. We only stopped by Ajunta to look at the waves above the seawall. We splashed around a bit in the water at Vagator. People like Vagator because the backdrop to the beach is lush with grasses and Palm trees… Very little development. It reminded me of Guiones in Costa Rica. The splashing in the water was my first touch of the Arabian Sea.

We returned to our hotel to sit I the seaside bar for some twists on classic ingredients incorporating Indian spices/fruits. Goa is famous for spice plantations. I had a modified Mai Tai which was less sweet than the traditional preparation.

For dinner we went to Casa Portuguesa. A Portuguese restaurant Id reserved a table at before our trip began. As the monsoons have just begun we are in the low season and Erin and I had the privilege of bent the only guests this night. We were parity faithfully served by a spry older gentleman. We enjoyed a bottle of Portuguese wine, a Portuguese Chorizio filling with the most scrumptious lardons of fat, chili shrimp, and sliced of roast suckling pig served in a sauce with crisped potatoes.

Categories: Goa, India

Day 8 – Trip to India – Mangoes of India – My experience with Alphonsos and Langras

I have been anticipating my first taste of a real mango for ten years. I was thus tempted by Madhur Jaffrey’s journalistic ode to the variety and flavor of mangoes native to India and unavailable in the U.S – “King of Fruits”.
I brought a Langra mango from Varanasi to Mumbai. I intended to have the Langra prepared for breakfast in the hotel dining room. However, The waiter suggested I take the mango back to my room to eat it as the Alfonso mango he would prepare for me would far surpass the variety in my hand. I challenged him to give me a taste test and he complied. He had the kitchen prepare each mango and asked me to sample each. I preferred the Alfonso he had prepared but suspect that the Northern Langra was not completely ripe. I later spoke with my two friends living in Mumbai that grew up in Delhi and Kolkata respectively. They each said that Mumbaikars are too proud of their Alfonsod to recognize and appreciate the complexity of their favored Langra. My friend, who is encyclopedic when it comes to food, described the Alfonso as “one note”. Oh, but what a sweet note! The Om of mangoes resonates with your taste buds and distills the spiritual essence of mango flavor and delivering it directly from tongue to mind. The mango is extremely sweet but not cloying. The Costa Rican mangoes we get in the U.S. are not remotely close in experience and flavor. The texture and color for the Alphonso’s fleash is as rich as its flavor.

I held on to a second Langra a few more days. It ripened and revealed why my friends and its other proponents are fond of it. Unfortunately I’m a poor food writer and unable to translate and recorder my experiences. All I remember is that both mangoes were much better than the ones available to me in the U.S. I’ll have to return to India in order to consumer more mangoes and properly capture the flavors for posterity.

Categories: Uncategorized