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.

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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

Day 8 – Trip to India – Eating like a local in Mumbai while sampling flavors from around the country

I’m fortunate enough that one of my friends put me in touch with Reshmy author of http://bombaychowparty.com/.  She planned a survey of food from different regions of India:  Maharashtan (state in which Mumbai is located), food from Southern India, and Bengali food (from Bengal located on the Northeast coast of India against the Bay of Bengal).  We also stopped at Juhu Beach to walk around the chaat stalls.

The focus of our first stop was to sample Misal Pav. The preparation of this dish by our destination restaurant won an award earlier this year as being one of the best vegetarian meals I the world. Reshmi said she was a little skeptical that the dish could be claimed the best tasting vegetarian meal I the city given how much competition there is I the terms of options for vegetarian plates. Whereas Erin and I were not familiar with the dish, Reshmi had had the dish elsewhere many times. The restaurant is very popular and we waited 30 minutes for our table. We made the most of it by ordering about 10 dishes:

Misal Pav

Sabudana Wada – a fried “tapioca dumpling” which was our favorite, similar in concept to Chinese sesame seed dumplings had with dim sum

Thalipeeth

Kulfi Falooda – Kulfi is similar to ice cream and tips the Falooda which is a sweet drink in itself with a sweet, extra fine noodle and tapioca

Kharwas is another dessert it is steam colustrum milk which is the milk drawn from a new mommy cow

Our second stop was for traditional breakfast foods from Kerala. We had Upma that was perfectly prepared, I’ll describe it as a king’s “cream of wheat” the preparation was perfect in texture and temperature and achieved from decades of making the dish exactly the same way tens of thousands of times. Semolina is the grain used in this dish.

Rava Dosa – Wowza! What a dosa. This is a crispy dosa. A dosa is similar to a western crepe. It is flavored with  chopped curry leaves, coriander leaves, onions,green chilies and cashew nuts.

Neer (water) Dosa is a thin, silk-like dosa made of a thin batter. It was quite a treat

Masala Dosa – the masala (in this food a spiced potato and onion filling) was better than in any of the five star hotels in which we’ve stayed

Paan Poli is a dense sweet made of eggs, milk, and coconut milk that has been condensed

We then went to Juhu beach to see the waves – the ocean waves, the waves of clothed indian tourists entering the waves, and the waves of chaat coming from the beach snack stands. Our friend and hotel advised us against ordering street food during the monsoons. However when we told the butler at the Taj that we were interested in street food he had the kitchen prepare an excellent selection of snacks so we were able to have:

Vada Pav the king of Mumbai street food. Pav is a fluffy roll available from the Portuguese influence. Vada is a mashed potato veggie burger. The dish is the size of a “slider”. A masala (spice sauce) or chutney is spread on the bun

Dahi (cream) Puri. Puri is a crispy, mouth sized bowl about twice the diameter of your thumb. In this case the little bowl is filled with cream. One of my favorites

Bhel Puri – uses the same rice batter but in this case the Puri is flat instead of bowl shaped. Westerners will think it looks like a mini taco salad because the thin, crispy noodles on top looks like shredded cheddar cheese and the cream looks like sour cream

Pani Puri – a favorite Mumbaiker dish is not one of my personal favorites. In this preparation of the bowl shaped puri you pour a tamarind water into the puri immediately before popping it in your mout

Bhaji Pav. Bhaji is a dish/sauce prepared my smashing an assortment of vegetables and stewing into a sauce. It looks like tomato sauce primarily because of the curry powder added even though it will also contain tomatoes. At the beach every bhaji stand has a large circular griddle about 2.5 feet in diameter that will be half covered in a thin layer of bhaji that can be pulled toward the hottest central part of the slightly concave griddle to hear an individual serving. It is served with griddles Pav (bread). There are about a dozen ways to order the dish and any Angeleno will feel they are having an In N’ Out secret menu experience

We briefly stopped at the posh Indigo Deli in Andheri for fancy cocktails before heading to our final dining place, a Bengali restaurant.

sorsebata ilish mach Hilsa’ fish is the highlight of the local cuisine. The fish is marinated with turmeric and delicately simmered in a mustard-poppy seed paste along with the five-spice mix (panch phoron).

Lamb marinated in the comforting flavour of yogurt and cooked in mustard oil along with mustard seeds, almonds and castor sugar that adds a sweet undertone

Doi machch is a comforting fish curry. Tender chunks of fish are cooked in the soothing flavor of yogurt along with mild spices. It tastes best when served with plain rice.

Baigun Bajja is pan fried eggplant

Bengali fried prawns

Bengali fish curry

I sourced the Bengali descriptions fromhttp://m.food.ndtv.com/lists/10-best-bengali-recipes-695796. I wrote the others myself. For other food links try:

Maharashtra Food http://m.food.ndtv.com/lists/10-best-maharashtrian-recipes-695953

Kerala Food http://m.food.ndtv.com/lists/10-best-kerala-recipes-705255

What to eat in Mumbai, written by the friend who planned our food tour: http://m.food.ndtv.com/opinions/blog-10-meals-you-must-have-in-mumbai-705431

Categories: Bombay, food, India, Mumbai