This little piggie went to Munich…and that was that.

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A gazillion years ago we went to Munich, Germany. Or maybe it was 2003. Same thing.

Munich Square

I have German heritage, so German food satisfies some deep, wonderful, hearty need in me. Or it could just be that I really enjoy pork and beer. Either way, when I travel to Germany I savour my meals.

Munich excelled on the food front. We would start our day in the market where we would eat weisswurst: chubby, white sausages that you slice open lengthwise and eat without the skin.

Locals say that weisswurst should never hear the church bells at noon. It’s a lovely way to say that these sausages are prepared daily without preservatives, so eat them in the morning and don’t dilly dally.

Add in a soft pretzel and a beer that you need to lift with two hands, and you’ve got yourself a breakfast of champions!

Munich street

One day for lunch we found an old, dark tavern across the river where there were wolfhounds lying under the tables (you can’t even make this stuff up).

I spotted “Pork Knuckle” on the menu and my mind was made up. Who knew pigs had knuckles? Who cares? I ended up with a huge platter of sauerkraut in front of me, and placed on top was a succulent, slow-roasted ham hock.

Those wolfhounds might have thought that I was in over my head, but they were mistaken.

Residenz

Right in the centre of the city is Munich Residenz - a royal palace that shames all other palaces with its opulence and extravagance. It is an incredible peek into bygone European royalty. We toured the rooms there and gaped at the floor-to-ceiling riches.

Remember when you thought having that spotted throw cushion next to the plaid blanket on your couch was too much? Take comfort in the Residenz design manual which states (roughly translated), “A room can never have enough patterns, or gold, or cherubs painted on the ceilings.”

Palace

I loved it in all its unapologetic glory. It was saying, “You go ahead and search for DIY decor tips on Pinterest, darling. This is how it is really done.”

City View

“Of one thing there is no doubt: if Paris makes demands of the heart, then Munich makes demands of the stomach.”

Rachel Johnson

Friday Photos: Stampede Edition

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Every July, Calgary, Alberta transforms into a boot-stompin’, hay-balin’, two-steppin’ kind of town. The Calgary Stampede takes over this big, booming, oil metropolis for 10 days which means that everyone from police officers to corporate executives wear cowboy hats, there is no shame in having free pancakes for breakfast every day, and everybody becomes an expert on chuckwagon racing.

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The Stampede is a rodeo, Ag show, fun fair, art exhibition, circus, concert, and party all rolled into one wonderful package.

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Plus there’s lots of deep-fried food…on sticks. What’s not to love?

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This year the whole city, including the Stampede grounds, was devastated by floods a mere 2 weeks before the Stampede was to begin. The tragedy seemed insurmountable. Maybe in its 101st year the Stampede would have to be cancelled.

But it wasn’t.

That good old cowboy spirit prevailed and the Stampede was as great as ever. Thank goodness, really, because those police officers in black Stetsons? The best part of my year.

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Knock, knock. Who’s there?

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* Remember my grand plan? The one that was to bring structure to this blog? Well, turns out that I have to come to dread that structure, particularly the last bit: Story That Needs to be Told. NEEDS to be told? Talk about setting yourself up for failure.

What if I have a story that can’t live up to that? What if all I have is a few memories that are neither here nor there? It has started to feel like I always need to deliver a convocation speech when all I want is a bit of small talk sometimes.

My solution up to now has been to stop writing, to abandon posts half way through writing them, and to allow weeks to go by without posting because I can’t get every post perfectly written.

I’d like to change that. I’d like to slip into the blog equivalent of elasticized pants. I want to relax and share more even if it doesn’t conveniently fit into the structure I laid out at the beginning. We’ll all enjoy this a whole lot more, just like we enjoy Thanksgiving dinner more when we allow ourselves to pop that top button on our jeans.

Wait…you do that, right?

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Let’s talk about…Barcelona, Spain (I personally don’t pronounce it as “Barthelona” which in my opinion should be left to the guy in black socks and sandals who is lisping his way through his holiday photo slideshow.)

Barcelona street

It is not difficult to find good food in Barcelona. You need only to wander the narrow, meandering streets with laundry strung above them, following the smell of garlic and the warm glow of candlelight.

What IS difficult is being pregnant in Barcelona and unable to eat that good food.

The rules about what a pregnant woman can and cannot eat are as confounding as, say, the reasons why the Kardashians are famous.

Meat, but only if fully cooked. Cheese, but only if pasteurized. Eggs, but not undercooked. Fish, but no sushi. Vegetables, but only if washed.

I found it difficult to navigate Barcelona’s menus with these limitations swirling in my mind. Really tasty tapas include things like cured meats, marinated raw fish, pâté, farm-fresh cheese, and shellfish. As much as the logical part of my brain told me that Spanish mothers eat all of those things, all the time, it was nerve-wracking.

Yes, I probably played it safer than necessary (and may have even eaten at a bagel place once), but I knew that Barcelona would welcome me back another time to feast on ALL of the food with only my appetite as a limitation.

As if I need an excuse to go back.

Barcelona alley

There are numerous spots around Barcelona where you can see the fantastical creations of architect, Anton Gaudi, but the most famous is Sagrada Familia. This enormous church is still under construction, but it is already incredible to behold.

Church towers

I loved the soaring pillars and the colourful stained glass. I also loved that his designs were slightly wonky, dreamy, and playful. It seemed as though Gaudi was equally inspired by nature as by Dr. Seuss.

Sagrada Familia

This trip to Barcelona had many purposes: to celebrate our first wedding anniversary, to escape the Norwegian winter, and to stay in a swanky hotel in a big city before we had a baby and swapped swanky for swaddling.

To this end, we booked into a very posh hotel right downtown – a place that had fluffy robes and a shower head the size of a dinner plate.

Hotel

One night as we slept, cocooned in sheets with a high thread count (for the price of the room, I would hope they were), we were startled awake by someone knocking on our door. Before we could make sense of what was happening, the knocking turned to banging. Then the banging turned to shouting.

Matt checked the peephole and asked the guy what he wanted. (What could we offer, really? A shower cap?)

The guy started yelling at us to let him in, but not in a menacing way, just in a drunken-can’t-remember-his-room-number way. He clearly was convinced that his friend was inside our room, refusing to open the door for him. He kept on shouting until finally Matt was shouting back at him, “YOU’VE GOT THE WRONG ROOM”.

With all of this middle of the night hoopla my luxury hotel experience started to feel distinctly youth hostel-ish. We should’ve just sealed the deal and invited him in to share a beer, wash his clothes in the sink, and hand-stitch a Canadian flag on his backpack.

We didn’t, though.

Facade

“Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind…”

- Ernest Hemingway

Hook, line, and sinker

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Where: Børøy, Norway

Coast

Plate of food: Since Børøy is an island off the southwestern coast of Norway, we had to travel by ferry. If you have ever been on a ferry in Norway you will know that any self-respecting ferry will serve hot dogs on board. And any self-respecting Norwegian will eat one on board.

I secretly love this hot dog phenomenon in Norway, and had no qualms about eating one at every opportunity when I lived there.

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As I sat nursing our baby girl on the ferry, I sent Matt to buy me a hot dog (only the very best for breastfeeding mums). Inadvertently he was given a cheese hot dog which has a molten core of orange processed cheese.

I bit into my hot dog and a geyser of bright orange cheese sauce erupted out the end of the dog, arching over my feeding baby, and splattering onto the floor.

I was shocked, to say the least, but I was relieved to see that the cheese incident had no witnesses: Matt was off paying for the ferry ticket, my baby was sleeping, and no one was sitting near us.

Then I looked up.

And locked eyes with a pre-teen boy who gazed at me with a fair amount of disgust.

I did the only thing I could – I stared straight at him as I took another bite of that hot dog.

The Best: The highlight for me was simply staying in a Norwegian hytte (cabin). Norway is dotted with thousands of hytter from the rugged coasts to the snowiest mountains. Most are remote, a lot of them are painted bright red, some you can rent for your holiday, and all of them are as cozy as can be.

Hytte

We were lucky enough to stay in a number of these picturesque cabins during our time in Norway. This one on Børøy was one of the best with its location right on the water, its tranquility, and its private boat that we could use to explore the surrounding islands.

We had two holidays there – full of fishing, card games, walks to the apple orchard, boat trips, views of glass-like water, and complete silence.

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Norway – I love you, your hytter, AND your hot dogs.

Story that needs to be told: I am not a fisherman. In fact, at the age of 27, I had never caught a fish before. Matt, on the other hand, enjoys fishing and was keen to fish while on Børøy; he often took the boat out for an hour or two.

I patiently waited while he fished, spending my time with an infant who had no desire to fish nor, more depressingly, to sleep.

After a particularly sleepless night and a bleary-eyed day, Matt suggested that I fish off the pier as evening approached. He insisted that it would be relaxing, distracting, and peaceful.

I begrudgingly dragged the fishing rod out to the pier, muttering about not knowing what I was doing. As I settled into the rhythm of casting, listening for the satisfying “plop” of the lure, and reeling in, I had to admit that this was exactly the simple task I needed to unwind.

Fishing

And then I caught a fish.

And another.

And the next day in my new-found obsession with finding time to fish, I caught a pollack big enough for us to actually cook and eat.

BOOM. Hunter-gatherer extraordinaire.

Here I am looking distinctly terrified at having actually caught a FISH.

Here I am looking distinctly terrified at having actually caught a FISH.

Except I didn’t want to actually touch the fish. Or gut it. Or clean it. But still, BOOM.

“Too often. . .I would hear men boast of the miles covered that day, rarely of what they had seen.”  Louis L’Amour

The power of a picnic

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SA Snapshot 

*I am slowly sharing snapshots from my trip to South Africa. If you want to linger over your cup of tea, you can read other posts about The Kitchen or Root 44 Market.

There is a place in South Africa that I can’t get out of my head. I thought the best way to tackle this problem was to tell you about it so that it plagues you, too. You’re welcome.

Gardens

Tucked away in the Cape Winelands, down a broad tree-lined avenue, is the sprawling estate belonging to Vergelegen Wines. We intended to eat lunch at their acclaimed restaurant, The Stables, but it was fully booked. The fact that we had neglected to make a reservation only briefly registered on the guard’s face at the estate gates before his professionalism took over and he warmly invited us to enjoy a picnic instead.

Heading off to pick up a picnic basket, we felt like we were settling for a distinctly “second choice” lunch option. With the kidlets in tow, though, perhaps eating sandwiches on the grass was the best we could hope for….Turns out that the best we could hope for was WAY better than we expected.

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Our picnic basket was expertly loaded up with fresh gourmet food while we chose a bottle of wine from the vineyard’s list. Already this picnic was looking much better….

I was eyeing a patch of grass nearby, considering it for our picnic, but before I could sit down, a lovely woman offered to lead us to our lunch spot. She guided us a short distance into a forest of elegant Camphor trees where we came upon – a table! And chairs! And a wine holder! Picnics be praised!

Camphor trees

As she dressed the table with linens, cutlery, and parcels of food, we gazed around at the magical woodland: trees towered above us, wide pathways led off in different directions, autumn leaves carpeted the ground, and interspersed through these enchanted woods were tables and chairs for picnicking – Vergelegen style.

Picnic

As I sipped my wine in these fairytale surroundings, I changed my entire opinion of picnics. This was no “second choice”; this was, most definitely, the first and best choice.

I could have wept with joy at how Vergelegen got so many things so very right: the food, the service, the stunning grounds, the wine…. Instead of weeping I just swore that I would be back to do it all over again. Until then, a few love letters to Vergelegen:

Thank you for infusing your cream cheese with truffles to create a spread fit for woodland Gods.

Thank you for hiding my kidlets’ desserts in a tree stump and giving them a treasure map to find it. I’m thinking of doing that for all of their meals….

Thank you for packing Coronation Chicken in our picnic basket. It is an undervalued lunch dish; but chicken, curry, apple, and raisins are all good in my books.

Thank you for protecting trees that were planted in the 1700s. Jeepers, what a treasure.

Thank you for an experience that made me feel like all was right in the world.

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“Pleasant it was, when woods were green,
And winds were soft and low,
To lie amid some sylvan scene…”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Time flies when you’re…wrong

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Where: Iguazú Falls, Argentina

Iguazu

Plate of food: The breakfast buffet at our hotel was a huge affair including tropical fruit, smoked salmon, caramel crepes, and even a diet section which as far as I could tell consisted of apples, turkey, and non-fat yoghurt. The way I felt when I looked at that section of the buffet is strangely the same way I feel about diets in general: nauseated and cranky.

I discovered a traditional section of the buffet full of earthen ware pots with the most delicious smells wafting out of them.

One item was puchero which is a rustic meat stew with as many variations as there are people in Argentina. This one contained tender pieces of beef in a thick gravy with peppers and onions. It was served with a homemade pasta/dumpling dish (very similar to “knepfle“, if that helps at all!). Never have I had a heartier start to my day, or tastier for that matter.

Hotel view

Plus, it went surprisingly well with a Mimosa.

If you can pour yourself a glass of orange juice at a buffet without topping it up with the bubbly conveniently sitting on ice, then you are a better person than I am. I, however, am completely content being lesser than because, guess what, I get a Mimosa out of this deal.

The Best: Those gosh-darn waterfalls. Criminy, they will take your breath away.

Falls

Iguazú Falls are shared by Brazil and Argentina. They span 3km and are split into many drops – the most dramatic being The Devil’s Throat (there could be no better name, could there?).

Devil's Throat

There was something so powerful and exhilirating about walking through dense jungle with butterflies and birds flitting around, hearing the rush of water get louder, until finally you are standing on the edge of a thundering waterfall with spray on your face and your heart in your throat.

It was one of the most beautiful sights I have ever laid eyes on. Truly magical.

Thundering

Story that needs to be told: I feel as though this trip highlighted a few reasons why I should not be dispensing travel tips…

Firstly, we functioned in our own time zone for the majority of our trip. I don’t mean that we ditched our watches and consciously decided it’s “holiday time”, I mean that 4 adults all remained totally unaware of the fact that we had crossed into another time zone.

This had a number of repercussions: we were confounded as to why the dining room was never open on time, we marveled at how quiet the breakfast buffet was, and we cursed the tardiness of the jungle train with its complete disregard for the schedule.

It was on our final day that the time warp was corrected, and days of mysteries were suddenly solved: “Oh! So, that’s why….”

Webs

Secondly, we naively had no Argentinian pesos on us when we arrived at the national park gates…in our hideous rental van…in the middle of the night.  The guards helpfully directed us to a cash machine at the main gates. But when they said ‘cash machine’ they meant a small windowless hut on the edge of a dense, looming jungle. Not surprisingly it was not working because, well, that whole JUNGLE thing.

We were then led to the “commercial hub” of the park where there are small shops and restaurants, and supposedly access to another cash machine.

I will tell you this: there are fewer things more butt-clenchingly fearsome than your husband and your father-in-law walking off into the darkness of a deserted national park with two armed guards.

Fact.

They were gone a long time. Long enough for me to listen to the entire nocturnal repetoire of the jungle creatures. Long enough that the kidlets started softly snoring. Long enough that I decided pesos were the LEAST of our worries.

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And, then, out of a darkness so deep it looked tangible, came our men and the guards. Breathe a sigh of relief with me.

You know, come to think of it, maybe they weren’t gone so long after all….we cannot be relied upon for proper time keeping.

“Adventure is worthwhile.” – Aristotle

Friday Photos

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Hellooooo! Sorry for disappearing on you for the month of July. I was in Canada with my lovely family, and although I ALWAYS think I will have heaps of time to blog, I never, ever do because the choice between typing something worth reading and having a cup of tea with my sister is an easy one. Needless to say, there were many cups of tea consumed (thanks to the delightful DAVIDsTEA).

Other than being very well hydrated, I also did many other wonderful things in Canada, and I will endeavour to share those with you as long as you all agree that Canada is the loveliest country in the world (and one which puts a ‘U’ in endeavour).

I’m kidding! (But, seriously, LOVELIEST.)

To whet your appetite for all things Canadian, here are some photos of the incredible Alberta skies. They will wow you, even more so when I say that I have done nothing to amp up the colours – all credit goes to Mother Nature herself.

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“…up north it’s saddle broncs and it’s hockey and honkytonks…
And he may go to Hell or even Vancouver
He’ll always be Alberta’s child”

“Alberta’s Child” by Ian Tyson