Spain’s Spin on ‘Happy Hour’

Spanish bar culture gives a whole new meaning to ‘Happy Hour’ with small, delectable bar food affectionally called “tapas.” My husband and I were surprised to learn that the Spanish eat the small bites during the traditional dinner time in the States and hold off on dinner until almost 8 p.m. We actually couldn’t have a sit-down dinner until 8 p.m. It’s really the complete opposite of the restaurant culture in the U.S. where you can grab dinner from 5 p.m. onward and then around 11 p.m. it becomes bar food only. The Spanish enjoy eating their dinner late into the evening and it doesn’t seem to affect their waistline either! Maybe it’s because they fill up on apertivo first, much like that basket of chips or bread that inevitably send me home with dinner leftovers.

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Patatas Bravas

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Roasted Peppers

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Stuffed Peppers

 

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Our New Travel Partner

Baby Backpack

Our new travel partner is due September 25! I suppose my travels will never be the same. Will I be trading in my backpack for a diaper bag? Not exactly. When my husband and I learned we were expecting, we of course thought about what having a ‘lil one would mean for our vacations, but we also knew it wouldn’t change our passion for traveling. Now, we just have someone else to share in the adventure. I admire those who make traveling with children work. For those of you that have traveled with an infant or toddler….any advice?

4 Airfare Sites to Snag a Deal

If you’re taking to the skies this holiday season to visit family or escape to warmer climates, you’ll probably spend some time searching for flights on websites like Expedia.com, Kayak.com or airline-owned websites. Trying to find a deal can be a time-consuming task and more websites are popping up hoping to ease the pain.

What site do you use to find the best deal? Let me know below in the comments.

1. GetGoing

getgoing.com

Apparently, it pays to be flexible and put caution to the wind. This travel-booking service for leisure travelers provides significant discounts when you allow them to choose your destination. As part of the Pick Two, Get One™ service, you can pick a region of the world you’d like to visit or choose travel based on activity themes like “History and Culture” or “Beaches and Sun.” From there you create two flight itineraries and enter your personal and payment information before knowing which destination GetGoing chooses for you. The site can also be used to compare and book flights in the traditional manner.

 

2. Hipmunk

hipmunk.com

This West Coast startup co-founded by the creator of Reddit breathes new life into flight search by visually displaying arrival and departure options in a timeline. Move the arrival and departure sliders to narrow your search and repopulate results on the same screen. Hipmunk aims to show you only the best results by filtering based on your priorities: price, duration, arrival and departure times, airline, number of stops, and the uniquely termed “agony” – a combination of price, duration and number of stops.

 

3. FlyinAway

flyinaway.com

If you’re a fan of eBay bidding wars, then you’ll likely get a kick out of this site that lets you bid against other travelers for flights. Key to this equation is that a route doesn’t open up until enough people have expressed interest. Currently flights are for U.S. destinations only.

 

4. Momondo

momondo.com

This colorful website shows best prices available through monthly bar graphs, making it easier to see daily trends in flight costs throughout a particular month. Momondo also offers different airlines for your trip out and back if it helps you save money. The footer of the website offers links to popular destinations and insightful information about the area including weather, hot spots, and the cost of items like water, beer and taxi rides.

Fall Spotlight: Charlottesville, Virginia

Afton Mountain Vineyards

Afton Mountain Vineyards in Charlottesville, VA

Why Go Now: Fall color is in full effect and there are plenty of ways to take in the beauty, including hikes and drives along the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Virginia Film Festival in downtown Charlottesville (November 7-10) showcases over 100 films, both high and low budget, and attracts the likes of Sandra Bullock and Anthony Hopkins. If craft art is more your thing, get a behind-the-scenes tour of local artists during the Artisans Studio Tour November 9-10.

Where to Stay: About a 20-minute drive from downtown Charlottesville is Chester Bed and Breakfast in Scottsville, VA. Take your mornings at a slower pace as Jean and Craig Stratton serve up a gourmet breakfast. Watch birds and other wildlife from the gardens. There is also the Budget Inn on Emmet Street which is within walking distance of the University of Virginia Campus, shops and dining.

Insider Tip: It’s apple season in Virginia and Albemarle Cider Works has several varieties available for you to sample and buy, including Crispin, Albemarle Pippin and Pink Lady. They also make ciders for those who would rather drink their “apple-a-day.” Cider is celebrated throughout the region with tastings, classes and special events for Virginia Cider Week November 15-24.

Create Tasty Travel Memories

When you shop at your nearby grocery or convenience store, you probably have your preferred brands, right? Let’s say you’re travelling in another country, and you’re really in the mood for a Gatorade or Snickers bar. And, lo and behold you can’t find either. Do you settle for international brands like Coca-Cola and Nestle? Or, do you try a brand you’ve never heard before?

We get so use to our favorite brands and products. It can be a shock to see shelves lined with brands you’ve never seen before. That quick visit to the store suddenly takes much longer when you have to read packaging more carefully. I would encourage all travelers to try new things. That is one of the reasons we travel in the first place.

Double Decker chocolate bar

A Double Decker is made up of a nougat upper layer and a cereal crispy base layer

I had no idea it would be so hard to find Gatorade outside the United States. If you prefer Powerade, you’ll be happy to hear it’s everywhere — though it tastes quite different. While in England I discovered Lukozade, an alternative to both. You’re also less likely to find a Crunch Bar or Butterfinger. Instead you’ll find Cadbury Buttons, Blue Ribands, and to my amazement on my most recent trip to England, Double Deckers. Another great find was Smirnoff’s Vodka & Cranberry Juice in a can. Already mixed!

While in Interlaken, Switzerland in 2009 I went for a walk through town while my travel partners took a nap back at the hostel. I walked into the Coop Supermarket and found a can of wine with a straw (Sofia). Seriously? I had never seen such a thing. How convenient. Though it wasn’t the best tasting wine, it was the sheer novelty that I couldn’t resist. It wasn’t until this last year that I started seeing it in wine shops at home.

By far my favorite find from abroad are Kinder Surprise Eggs. I’ve been able to purchase them in Italy, England and Switzerland. These hollow chocolate eggs pack a surprise toy that requires assembly. I’ve never questioned why they were not sold in the U.S. For me, that made them more collectable. Each time I buy one, I can’t wait to assemble the pieces within the tiny yellow time capsule. Well, it looks like a time capsule anyway.

Kinder Egg Toys

My assembled surprises from Kinder Eggs

And now, I find there’s an Official White House Petition asking for the import of German-based Kinder Eggs to the United States. Of course I found it funny that other people had discovered these addicting chocolate eggs and perhaps loved them enough to petition the government. It’s quite likely that this petition will never reach the 25,000 signatures needed to have the White House review it. And for that I am thankful. If they were sold in the U.S., they would lose their charm for me.

Part of traveling to new places is discovering new things and having unique experiences. Things as simple as a drink brand or a chocolate egg become lasting memories.

What new drinks or food have you discovered on your travels?  Share your finds in the comment section below.

Make Your Resolution a Travel Resolution

Interlaken Canyoning

Getting ready to rappel, slide and jump down rocks and waterfalls in a local canyon in Interlaken, Switzerland

A recent article by travel writer Maureen Jenkins highlighted some great travel-themed resolutions worthy of seasoned and unseasoned travelers. I’m personally inspired by “start a travel-specific savings account” and “say you’re not a “tour” or “cruise” person? Give one a shot.”

Here’s her top eight:

  1. Take off on your own — even if you’re traveling with a group.
  2. Don’t let the lack of a foreign language keep you at home.
  3. Say you’re not a “tour” or “cruise” person? Give one a shot.
  4. Don’t be ashamed to fall back on what’s familiar.
  5. Vow not to leave vacation days on the table.
  6. Start a travel-specific savings account.
  7. Do at least ONE thing that scares you while you’re on the road.
  8. Don’t let other people’s fears keep you from going.

Source: http://www.cnn.com/2012/12/27/travel/travel-resolutions/index.html?hpt=hp_bn10

Happy New Year! What’s your travel resolution for 2013?

Foliage and Wine

October is peak time for fall foliage in the Shenandoah Valley, and my husband and I were up for a long weekend getaway last month. So, we made plans for a hike and a day of wine tasting. As the weekend approached, so did Hurricane Sandy. We didn’t let the storm push back our plans, and I can say without a doubt that we’re glad we didn’t. While family and friends were readying for the storm and keeping their eyes glued to the weather channel, we were kicking back tasting wine. It worked out to be a great time to take a long weekend and enjoy a slower pace.

During the weekend we went for a hike in Shenandoah National Park. I went through a few maps on the National Park Service website and chose the Overall Run Falls Trail because I was excited to see a waterfall. Unfortunately, we didn’t get out early enough to reach the waterfall before dark, so we had to turn back early. There was still some beautiful scenery.

For two nights we stayed at a bed and breakfast in Front Royal. The Woodward House on Manor Grade got some good reviews online, and they were a more affordable option in the area. Even better was a 24/7 bar with wine and beer on tap. The owners, Joan and Bob are characters in their own right. Every morning while they were serving their “skip lunch” breakfast, they dressed in halloween costumes. One morning Bob spoke with a fake Scottish accent. They definitely enjoy entertaining their guests. Their hospitality and customer service were amazing. The hurricane’s forecast caused some room cancellations, and they upgraded us to a bigger room for free.

Kathleen’s Retreat

Bar

Unlimited beer and wine

And of course the wineries! It’s nice to visit vineyard tasting rooms and get the backstory on the wine’s production. There are plenty of wineries to choose from in and around Front Royal. Throughout the weekend we visited six based on their tasting list: Rappahannock Cellars, Fox Meadow Winery, Naked Mountain Vineyard & Winery, Chester Gap Cellars, Glen Manor Vineyards, Desert Rose Ranch & Winery.

If limited on time, I would recommend checking out Rappahannock, Naked Mountain and Fox Meadow. The theme and decor of Desert Rose also makes it a unique winery to visit. Owners Bob and Linda make you feel like you’re stepping into a ranch out west with saddles, leather and horseshoes decorating the walls and tasting bar. The top of the bar is glass encased with currency from all over the world. Prior to retiring and opening the winery, Bob traveled the world working for the CIA. To the left of the bar you’ll also find a pin cushioned map showing all the places the couple have been together. Desert Rose was also where we met Dick, who spends his retirement hanging out at the local wineries. He also turned up at our next stop, Rappahannock Cellars. I thought we made a good choice to stop here if it was a regular stop for a local.

Rappahannock Cellars

Rappahannock Cellars

Naked Mountain Vineyard & Winery

Naked Mountain Vineyard & Winery

Fox Meadow Vineyards

Fox Meadow Vineyards

Desert Rose Ranch & Winery

Desert Rose Ranch & Winery

Stories and people seem to intertwine in the winery community. Kelly, who was doing our tasting at Rappahannock had recently found out she was pregnant, and the regulars were passing  along their congratulations. Kelly and her husband were of course excited to be new parents and the word apparently spreads quickly among neighboring wineries. One of our last stops during the weekend was Chester Gap Cellars. While we were there a man came in and was speaking to the lady pouring. “Congratulations, news travels fast,” she said. My husband then felt compelled to ask, “Does your wife work at Rappahannock?” Yea, that was her. And he actually asked us, “do you know Dick?” Yes, yes we do.

As far as the wine, Rappahannock had some solid wines available for tasting including a Rose, Viognier, Chardonnay, Noblesse Rouge, Merlot (which I liked the most), Meritage and two dessert-style wines. Naked Mountain definitely sells you on their “Drink Naked” motto, but their wines are tasty too. [look at pic of tasting notes]. Fox Meadow paired each of their wines with food, allowing you to explore the complexities of the wine. We sampled their Le Renard Gris, Chardonnay, Blue Mountain Mist, Le Renard Rouge, Cabernet Franc and Freezeland Red. I really enjoyed the 2009 Le Renard Rouge, a blend of cabernet savignion, cabernet franc and merlot. The 2008 vintage won the 2011 Virginia Governor’s Cup. I can also say that was the first time I ever paired a wasabi-encrusted almond with wine (2011 Blue Mountain Mist).

Overall, getting away for the weekend and from the Superstorm Sandy craziness was a great idea. Every once in a while, you just have to slow things down a bit.

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