Category Archives: Europe

Memories of Stavanger


In 2006, one month after we got married, we moved to Norway (because one major life event in 4 weeks just wasn’t enough). We had never been to Norway before, but there we were with 4 suitcases and 2 new rings on our fingers. We arrived on a grey, rainy day in Stavanger, a small city on the Southwest coast.

Tall ship Stavanger

Three years later we left Stavanger with a toddler, a few more suitcases, and a deep love in our hearts for the city. It was truly a gift to live there for those few years.

I often think of Stavanger with a mixture of fondness and melancholy. I feel a strange heartache to think that it is all still there – our house, our street, our supermarket, the forest, the harbour – but I am not. Bizarrely, it seems to me that places that are dear to you should really freeze when you leave. It should all just pause and be preserved for when you return. I struggle to think that a city that holds such a place in my heart doesn’t hold me in the same regard; my absence doesn’t even register as a bit of a frown on the face of Stavanger. Gasp!


This is crazy, I know. But not that crazy, right? Do you have places that you hope are just holding steady until your return?

Oh, but of course Stavanger is ticking along, as it should. And I will keep on loving it from afar.

There is so much to love: the cobbled streets of downtown that rose steeply from the harbour to the watch tower on the hill, the small tranquil harbour that somehow held enormous looming cruise ships, Gamle Stavanger (“Old Stavanger”) with its white wooden houses and cheerful flowers tumbling out of window boxes, the beautiful shops that adhered to the Scandinavian sensibility of effortless style, simplicity, and practicality with a quirky dose of fun.

Gamle Stavanger

Stavanger sign

Gamle Stavanger 2

Queen Mary cruise


I think about the Norwegian people who were fit and always so fresh-faced, who celebrated their national day by wearing traditional outfits called bunader, who valued family over work so much so that people would unflinchingly walk out of meetings simply because it was time to collect their child from school, who never balked at any weather but used every opportunity to get outside, who believed in the power of fresh air and would bundle up babies to nap outside in their prams.

People like our neighbours with their well-intentioned but unsolicited advice on everything from barbecuing to lawn maintenance, our Norwegian language teacher with her valiant effort to get us to say “Bare hyggelig” or “Jeg må gå nå” (any guesses?), or our midwives who proudly praised our choice of a Norwegian name for our baby.

May 17 Bunader

I picture the harbour where they held an annual food and wine festival called Glad Mat (“Happy Food”) at the height of summer that resulted in some of the best eating ever. There were vendors cooking over open fires, there were vintage boats serving cocktails, there was the French guy selling perfect creme brûlée in individual earthenware dishes, there was music and bunting, and the sky stayed light late into the night allowing everyone more precious time to taste and sip and be together.

Glad Mat

Creme brûlée

I remember the hills across the water just begging to be hiked on a sunny Saturday, beautiful trails through forests smelling of pine needles, clear pools of glacial water in the mountains and the way your feet ached as they soaked in the freezing water, the wild blueberries growing low and dense on the side of a hill.



I can still taste the Norwegian strawberries, too, so small, so sweet; the Skolebrød (“School bread”) – ubiquitous buns with a custard filling and a coconut topping; heart-shaped waffles with the heady fragrance of cardamom; the traditional, yet off-putting brown cheese that I happily and hungrily devoured in the hospital with my newly born baby girl swaddled next to me.

Boat house

I think of our cozy, but quirky house with its blue (!) toilets and wood-paneled walls. We had a backyard that was bordered by a beautiful forest and deer would visit regularly, usually to devour my tulips that had just emerged after a long, dark winter.  I also can’t help thinking of when I was accidentally locked out of the house in a torrential downpour by our 15 month old child. Hearing that bolt click closed was not a good moment.

Deer in yard

I remember winter days when the rain would come down in an endless drizzle and the sky would darken at 4:00 p.m, and I remember the lovely summer days when people would go to the beach in droves with their disposable one-use grills, and everyone would swim in the cold water until someone spotted a jelly fish and the kids shrieked. I also remember the poor boy who was stung by a jelly fish, and how his father propped him on the handlebars of his bike and cycled away to retrieve vinegar with his son screaming the whole way. Don’t worry – they were back 30 minutes later. You cannot waste a summer day in Norway!

Winter Hinna Beach


There is so much more about Stavanger that parades through my thoughts now and again from my favourite salad at Cafe Deja Vu to the resident swans at the pond behind the cathedral to the glass blower’s workshop to the funny shower curtains that were used to close off the alcohol sections at the supermarket after a certain time of day.

What an endearing, pristine place. If you have the chance, do go. As for me, I will remember it all with a smile on my face and hope one day that I can pick up where Stavanger and I left off all those years ago.

Winter Sola Beach


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


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.


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.”


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

Knock, knock. Who’s there?


* 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?


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.


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.


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

– Ernest Hemingway

Hook, line, and sinker


Where: Børøy, Norway


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 hills are alive with the sound of #*@&;!


Where: South Limburg, The Netherlands


While we lived in The Netherlands we would periodically get twitchy from staring out at the endless flat horizon. Whenever that happened we would head south to Limburg, a province which actually contains hills. Hurrah! The undulations would cure our twitches and keep us going for another few months.

Plate of food: Pannekoeken. Pancakes in The Netherlands are not even related to the small, fluffy only-for-breakfast version you might know. They are as large as a dinner plate, flat like a crepe, and can have sweet or savoury toppings that are baked into the batter. Traditionally you drizzle treacle syrup over the pancake, but I never liked the look of the nearly black substance that was plonked on the table in a large ceramic pot.

Across the country lane from our hotel was a small pannekoek restaurant with red plastic chairs and checkered table cloths. We sat in the garden overlooking green hills (hills!) dotted with dairy cows. After a day of mountain biking through the forests we unapologetically tucked into our pancakes.

Topped with bacon (Matt) and ham and pineapple (me) these pannekoeken were soft and warm, the edges golden and crispy. Simple, good food; a culinary hug as it were.

The Best: Being able to walk across the Belgian border.

Coming from Canada, the idea of many countries bordering each other in close proximity is so foreign and novel to me. Europe seemed like a neighbourhood where all of your friends live next door to you and, in fact, you all knock down your fences so that you can wander from yard to yard. Oh, look, Germany is grilling Bratwurst again – let’s go!

After an “incident” (see below), we ditched our bikes and walked on the final day of our trip. The paths through the forest were wide and quiet, only a few squirrels skittered past. There in the peace of the woods, with no fuss or warning, was a metal post. On the other side of that post was a WHOLE OTHER COUNTRY.

There you are, Belgium!

There you are, Belgium!

I loved that. I loved that the Dutch trees stretched their gnarled roots out across the border into Belgium. I loved that I could stand with a foot in each country. I loved that really there was no difference at all between one side of the post and the other.

You almost expect those lines on the map to exist in reality.

Story that needs to be told: Although we cycled every day in The Netherlands, it was on Mary Poppins-style bikes with only 3 gears of which we used 1 (maybe 2 if it was windy). So when we ventured to the hills of Limburg we excitedly hauled our mountain bikes with us. All of those gears! Front and rear suspension! Disc brakes! Tires with treads! Yes!

Not surprisingly my enthusiasm for mountain biking would wane fairly early on, generally after a steep climb or 15 consecutive minutes on that narrow saddle, whichever came first.

It pains me to see how the steep incline does not register in the photo. It was steep. I promise.

It pains me to see how the steep incline does not register in the photo. It was steep. I promise.

But on this trip I truly enjoyed our daily rides. The weather was perfect and the scenery was beautiful. I managed to let the gears do the work, so I was able to enjoy biking rather than cursing it. I was feeling a lot stronger, more confident, and capable. Time for a reality check.

On a downhill section Matt raced ahead, better able to just release the brakes and fly. I came down fast enough for me, particularly because the trail had deep ruts and large rocks in places.

Halfway down my front tire hit a big stone which spun the handlebars out of my grip. I planted my right foot to stop from flying over the front of my bike. My handlebars twisted completely around pinning my right thigh between the frame of my bike and the left side of my handlebar.

It seemed that each time I tried to extricate my leg it was pinched even more. I calmly alerted (yeah, right) Matt who was at the bottom of the track and he immediately started running back up to me. He was able to lift the bike and untwist the handlebars which released my leg.

We sat in the dirt and examined the damage: my outer thigh had a disturbing dent in it (about an inch deep) and some angry-looking burst blood vessels. We still had a long ride back to the hotel so, after some water and some general cursing of hills/stones/bikes/nature, we got back on our bikes and rode the rest of the way on shaky legs.

By the time we got back, my whole thigh was turning various shades of OUCH. I knew what had to be done: I put some ice on it and had a beer.

I rested on our deck and watched the cows amble past on their way to be milked. Some of them stopped to gaze at me with gentle eyes, but I also saw a few bovine looks that clearly said, “Have you seen my udder? Get over yourself.”

Just some minor discolouration.

Just some minor discolouration.

I had bruising for months and the dent in my leg was very pronounced for almost a year, which looked just awesome, thankyouverymuch. Even as I sit here now, I can still see and feel a slight dip on my outer thigh.

It all seems a bit extreme, really. I hardly need a constant reminder to stay off my mountain bike; I can avoid that just fine on my own.

The mysterious case of the Tuscan house


Where: In the countryside near San Gimignano, Italy

Plate of Food: I never struggle to eat in Italy – does anyone, really? Let’s not forget the epic feast in Tuscany which ended with me leaving with a new shirt.

When we arrived at our holiday home on this trip, our elderly hosts welcomed us with warm smiles and a bottle of their very own olive oil, pressed from olives grown on their land. Grassy green, rich, and fragrant. Can you imagine anything better drizzled over fresh pasta or crusty bread or ripe tomatoes? Nope.

Possibly having your very own home-made olive oil in Italy is as common as having your own toaster in other parts of the world. But to this girl it was a delicious symbol of a life full of simple pleasures. Italians really seem to have that figured out.


Later I discovered a cherry tree in their garden that was heavy with red, plump fruit. We laid on a blanket in the afternoon sun and reached out to the low-hanging branches to pluck a few cherries whenever we felt like it. How perfectly blissful.

The best: Being transported back in time as we walked through the gates of San Gimignano.

Have you ever been to a place where you actually felt time pause as your feet hit the cobblestones? San Gimignano does that for me. It is a place rich in history and full of charm; pigeons in clusters in the main square, looming church towers, narrow lanes filled with the scent of fresh bread.

It really does look like this!

I wondered if mentioning this popular village would be seen as a tourist cliché; that it is not authentic enough. Then I smacked my forehead (figuratively) and wrote about it anyway.

San Gimignano was such a beautiful, special place for me that the village still hangs on my senses like garlic lingers on your fingertips (I mean that in the best possible way!). That is authentic enough for me.

Story that needs to be told: We first drove along straight, divided highways with service stations selling good quality Parmesan cheese and espresso, then along narrow, unmarked country roads flanked by cypress trees, like sentries along the route.


We stopped at a tiny, bustling pizzeria to ask for directions to our holiday home. I approached the waiter, armed with my written address and my non-existent Italian skills. Amazingly we understood each other and the waiter knew the house, so he explained which direction to go and landmarks to help us on our way.

Surprisingly still, we actually found the landmarks and ended up outside the large gates to the house. No one answered the bell, though, so we tried the neighbours. I had another vibrant “conversation” with a woman who called down to me from her bedroom balcony while I stood in the dusty lane and shouted out random Italian words. (My knowledge goes beyond rigatoni, but only just.) She confirmed that we had the right house, but that no one was there.


With the day winding down, we drove into the next biggest town and wandered around looking for back-up accommodation. We came across a tired looking hotel which had a room, but more importantly had a friendly man working behind the front desk and he spoke English! We explained our problem and his solution was clear: “You must go to the police”.

The police? Aren’t they too busy with real emergencies? (Although in sunny, sleepy Tuscany, maybe not….)

He was insistent, so he sent us off with a written translation of our problem.

We reluctantly pulled up outside of the police station. We hovered outside the locked gate wondering what to do when we suddenly got buzzed in to the eerily quiet grounds. When we went inside the station it became apparent that no one actually worked at the police station. No hustle and bustle of dark-eyed officers (I can always hope), just a ticking clock and faded army recruitment posters.

Finally a man appeared at the front desk, took our paper and after a glance, disappeared again into the back of the building. We sat in the waiting room wondering if there had been any indication on his face that he could help us. A twitch of an eyelid? A curl of the lip? Nah. Nothing. So we waited.

Tuscany town

Then through the doors came two men. They greeted us warmly and chuckled with the police officer, then scooted us out the door. It became apparent that the older gentleman was our host and he had brought his son along, too. No doubt for the hilarious entertainment of picking up the foreigners at the police station.

They were friendly, but kept asking us where we had been.

To which we said, “We were at the house, where were YOU?”

To which they said, confusingly, “Yes, yes, where were you?” And so on.

We followed their car back along the road to the very same house we had been to and they settled us in. I had been full of questions, accusations, exhaustion, and confusion. But one look at their welcoming expressions, the clean terracotta tiles underfoot, and the silhouette of a church tower across the valley, made all of that disappear.

I think you’ll find that you always have a better time when you let all the “stuff” disappear.

Baby steps

“You lose sight of things… and when you travel, everything balances out.” 

– Daranna Gidel

I’m in the market for love


Where: Vienna, Austria


Has anyone ever surprised you with a trip? It’s truly fantastic. There is nothing quite like setting off for the airport, but not knowing which flight you’ll be on.

Matt planned this trip and only told me what weather to pack for (he’s not an idiot; not letting me properly pack would have been a disaster). When he revealed that we would be spending a long weekend in Vienna, I was thrilled – a place steeped in culture and history, and more importantly, a place with my beloved Christmas markets. Well played, Matt.

Plate of food: Growing up with the Calgary Stampede as a fixture in my summers means that I am not afraid of food that you eat with your hands or food that is deep-fried (please refer to deep-fried pickles, Oreos, Pop-Tarts, and so on). So I felt right at home when I discovered Langos at the Christmas market in Vienna.

Langos are large discs of puffy dough, deep-fried, and then – get this! – slathered with garlic. Imagine the glorious smell when the fresh garlic hits the hot dough….deliciousness.

The garlic vehicle

The garlic vehicle

I’ll confess – we ate a lot of langos. They were comfortingly hot on those cold nights; warming our hands as much as our bellies. And the salty, garlicky flavour was the perfect accompaniment to the sweetness of the mulled wine we were guzzling sipping.

You should definitely try these if you get the chance. Just make sure anyone you are with eats one, too. The saying goes, “If one has Langos breath, all must have Langos breath”. At least I think that’s a saying…well, it should be.

The best: I have fully admitted my love for German Christmas markets. Vienna, to her credit, did not disappoint.

There were a number of small markets, but the main one in front of City Hall was spectacular: loads of stalls selling decorations, nutcrackers, gingerbread, and food. In the centre of all the action was a huge fir tree that sparkled with white lights and smelled heavenly. There was a brass band that wandered around playing carols (is the French Horn not in its element during the Christmas season?).

Surely there is some joke here about cracking nuts, but it eludes me…

The trees surrounding the square were festooned with glowing decorations in different themes: there was an angel tree, a heart tree, a sweets tree, a teddy bear tree. The very best thing about this market? The city hall was one giant advent calendar with its lit windows being the numbered tabs for each day. You crafty, festive Austrians!!

View of the market with the city hall looming behind.

View of the market with the city hall looming behind.

Story that needs to be told: After many langos and a few grilled bratwurst thrown in for good measure, we nabbed another mug of mulled wine. We wanted to get away from the bustling crowds and sit for a bit; we’d been on our feet the entire day. We found a park bench under the trees and sat down to admire the decorations dangling from the branches.

Glowing hearts

Glowing hearts

It was a wintery night; the cold bit at our cheeks and I could feel the chill of the bench on the back of my legs. We could still hear the cheerful murmurings of the crowd and the distant notes of Christmas music.

Matt reminded me how much he loves me, spurred no doubt by the effects of mulled wine and the romantic scent of…garlic? I was touched, but could not be distracted from taking in the sights of the market.

Suddenly a family passed by, the children lingering over the festive scene and shrieking with delight. Matt seemed annoyed, which was unusual even for us who were childless at this point and therefore had a low threshold for noise, mess, and interruption. (Ask me about that threshold now.) Just as suddenly the family disappeared between the twinkling market stalls.

And Matt repeated his sentiments. Oooookay. I get it, you love me. Let’s get another langos!

Then he was on one knee.

Then there was a very sparkly ring on my finger.

And “Yes” became the sweetest sounding word in the world.

Turns out he had more than one surprise up his sleeve. Well played, Matt. Well played.



“Love withers with predictability; its very essence is surprise and amazement.” 

– Leo F. Buscaglia

This bunny ain’t so cuddly


Where: The Algarve region, Portugal (We spent our time in Faro, Tavira and Lagos)

Hello loveliness!

Plate of food: We stayed in a former fishermen’s village that they converted into a hotel complex. Nearby were the salt pans where they harvest (duh) salt from the sea water. So you have fish and you have salt; it makes sense to put them together. It was common to see salt-baked fish on the menus there.

This is a technique where a whole fish is covered in a thick crust of salt before baking. The result is a very tender, moist dish without a strong salty flavour. I decided to order this at a restaurant nestled on a spit of land, surrounded by water and swaying palm trees.

I was anticipating fresh, flavourful, delicate fish.

I got salt, salt, salt. Blerg.

Unfortunately, in this circumstance, the fish had had a life of abusing salts before he came to rest on my plate (I’m only guessing here). The result was a dish that was so salty that I drank the water from the vase of flowers on our table.

Well, almost.

I was particularly concerned about dehydrating my unborn baby with all of the salt coursing through my veins that evening. Whatever. I was a nervous pregnant woman.

That meal aside, we had a wonderful lunch at a small, open-air bar where plates of tapas offered up aged cheese, spicy sausage, cod fritters, cured ham, and other delights. Each item had a toothpick in it, and at the end you were charged by the number of toothpicks piled on your plate. I could have built a log cabin with my toothpicks, but let me remind you, I WAS EATING FOR TWO.

If we are going to be really nit-picky, this lunch spot was technically juuuust across the Spanish border. But if you could drive across a bridge and have lunch in a different country, wouldn’t you do it?

Sheesh, I have wholeheartedly under-sold Portuguese cuisine with these stories. Let me say that I ate very well in Portugal and my baby turned out just fine. She just has a penchant for salty food.

The best: It has to be a top three, really.

  • The incredible tiles that completely covered nearly every house in Santa Luzia, a village near Tavira. We never saw two houses with the same pattern. Just beautiful. They make me mull over which pattern I would choose for my Algarve holiday home (if I had one…).

  • The beaches. Dramatic. Clean. Stunning. The Algarve sometimes gets a bad rap for being full of British holiday makers watching Manchester United matches at sports bars, but the truth is that it has a natural beauty, and off-season it feels quiet and remote. Who wants to watch Man United when you have views like this?

Pristine water, dramatic cliffs. And all to ourselves!

  • Cork trees. Thank you to my brother-in-law for recently reminding me about the marvel of a cork tree (amazing what you discuss over a glass bottle of wine). We drove through groves of these short, gnarled trees and were awe-struck to see the enormous piles of “sleeves” of bark on the side of the road.

Amazing cork sleeves

Story that needs to be told: Our trip was full of charming, peculiar quirks. They are part of what made The Algarve so enjoyable and so memorable.

It started with warm temperatures in Faro, and us walking beneath trees heavy with oranges, with storks nesting on every rooftop. So Mediterranean! But, wait, there is the distinct sound of traditional Christmas carols coming from the cleverly hidden speakers in town. “Let it snow” becomes slightly laughable in this climate.

The Portuguese seemed determined to enjoy a traditionally wintery Christmas, no matter what. This was obvious from the huge ice skating rink at the outdoor shopping centre where we saw skaters teetering around, trying to avoid the palm trees in the middle of the rink. Huh?

Nothing says Christmas like skating between palm trees in 25 degree weather! (Or maybe it does for you? Hello, Southern Hemisphere friends!)

Later we found ourselves at one of the beautiful beaches where some rules had been posted on a colourfully painted board. There were the obvious ones: no littering, obey the lifeguard flags, and so on. The rule I loved the most? Don’t act crazy. You’re talkin’ to the wrong girl….

“No littering.” Sure. “Respect the lifeguard flags.” Okay. “Don’t act crazy.” Not so easily done…

The quirkiest of all sights was this little fellow who we found in a shop window:

Take a good, hard look at this fellow and try not to laugh or ask questions or have nightmares. Actually, just don’t look at him.

I know you have many questions. I can only answer a few.

Yes, that’s a real stuffed rabbit. Yes, he is wearing custom-made hunting gear. No, I don’t know why. And, yes, it still haunts me to this very day.

“I am not the same having seen the moon shine on the other side of the world.” 
― Mary Anne Radmacher

Park your super yacht here


Where: Cavtat, Croatia

A view of Cavtat from across the bay.

Plate of food: Burek, savoury pastries filled with ground meat or spinach and cheese. These are simply delicious. The filling of choice is rolled up in layers of golden flaky pastry, then that roll of pastry is coiled into a flat oval shape. We bought these daily from the bakery in the village and would take them, still warm, back to our rental apartment (if we didn’t devour them on the way…).

I also feel compelled to mention dried figs (what? You’ve never felt that way?). Dried figs were everywhere in Cavtat: drying in flat baskets on the sun-drenched hillsides, piled in bunches at the local market, and inevitably in my bag for every excursion we went on. These were plump, soft, sweet, and bursting with deep flavour. Don’t underestimate a dried fig until you’ve eaten one in Cavtat.

The Best: The Croatian coastline. Cavtat is a jumble of stone buildings nestled around two calm bays; a spit of land separates them as it stretches out into the Adriatic. The coastline is rocky and dramatic. The water is tantalizingly blue.

How badly do you want to dip a toe in that water?

In the heart of the town is a small bay with deep, dark water that welcomes gleaming super yachts, but also reserves a space for local boys to play impromptu water polo as evening falls. This is where you can sit at one of the cafes with a bottle of wine and the catch of the day on your plate. The sunset across the bay is spectacular. At night, shadowy fish circle beneath the glowing lights of the yachts.

Cavat is the gold medal winner for sunsets.

Further along the coastal road there are secluded swimming spots that can be your own private piece of paradise. We’d walk along until we found a good spot that hadn’t been nabbed by sneaky German pensioners who reserved prime spots by laying their towels out at DAWN. (Just a note that I have nothing against Germans or pensioners. I only wish I had been as organized as them.)

We’d scramble down the rocks and then float in the crystal clear water. We’d sit and examine the pebbles and sea glass, lazily count the bright fishing boats bobbing along the shore, gingerly touch sea urchin spines, and squint out across the shimmering water toward Dubrovnik. I would be astounded if there is a better way to spend an afternoon.

A collection of treasures

Story that needs to be told: Simply: Cavtat. I tell nearly everyone I meet about Cavtat and how they need to book a trip there…now, right now! And with this post I have alerted all the people I somehow missed, and Cavtat Tourism will surely give me a prize now. (You can pay me in Burek, thanks.)

It is a place blessed with a bounty of goodness: good weather, great food, stunning scenery, inviting seas, friendly people….

I have such very fond memories of my 2 trips to Cavtat:

  • The waiter deftly removing the fillets from the whole grilled fish at our table side with just two spoons. Look at that – so easy! I have since attempted this on my own and it resulted in me having to change my clothes. Look at that – NOT so easy!
  • Fresh scampi, fresh fish, fresh calamari, fresh, fresh, fresh!
  • Wandering along the port and watching the staff on the luxury yachts prepare to sail. They look so capable and efficient in their matching khaki shorts and polo shirts, polishing the brass, tying ropes, carrying crates of champagne on board, and tending to the 2 jetskis kept under the hull (what?!).
  • Getting a full-body hot stone massage at the spa as I gazed out at the blue Adriatic.
  • Matt’s Dad going snorkeling with the apartment keys in his pocket and losing them as he swam. AND THEN FINDING THEM AGAIN AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAY. Incredible, right?
  • Late night lemon sorbet.
  • Happening upon a religious procession with local villagers in traditional dress, parading with flowers and musical instruments.
  • Discovering our toddler could climb out of her travel cot much to my horror (you mean, she’s not contained now??!) and to the hilarity of my in-laws.
  • Buying beautiful red coral jewelry.
  • Strangely stumbling across a Country and Western music hoedown in the main square. Complete with cowboy hats, guitars, and two-stepping! This one remains a mystery. But I kind of like it that way.
  • The contentment of ending a splendid day with sand between our toes, salt water still dripping from our hair, and just the slightest tingle of pink across our noses.

“Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for a place you’ve never been to, perhaps more homesick than for familiar ground.” 
― Judith Thurman

Irish you were here


Where: County Waterford, Ireland

This 12th century tower was used by monks to escape Viking attacks. Not sure that would make me feel very secure.

Plate of food: We ate very well as we made our way through the loveliest of towns on the southeastern edge of Ireland: Waterford, Ardmore, Dungarvan, and Lismore. It was in Lismore, after touring the expansive castle gardens, that we wandered along Main Street searching for good grub and found O’Brien Chop House. A very small garden is concealed behind the building and this is where we were fortunate enough to find ourselves sitting.

The garden is slightly wild and overgrown with only a handful of tables nestled here and there, but it is exactly where you want to find yourself on a sunny Sunday in Ireland.

What with the sunshine and the charming village and the secret garden, I felt compelled to mark the occasion with a seasonal cocktail. (That’s normal, isn’t it?) The good people at O’Brien had anticipated this and had just the tonic for me: a rhubarb bellini. Rhubarb! Bellini! Fizzy, summery, celebratory. Yes, please.

I should really have a signature cocktail every Sunday…hmmm.

The menu was simple and rustic. The roast pork I ordered was flavorful, tender, and perfectly paired with a fresh apple sauce. Matt had fantastic roast beef with an enormous Yorkshire pudding (of which I ate half…or slightly more). It was as if lunch had been cooked by our Irish grandmother…who had taken some culinary courses over the winter months. What I mean to say is that it was traditional, comforting food, but with a delicate, discerning touch. Fabulous.

The best: The scenery in County Waterford. I think the County motto is “We will knock your socks off with our scenery”…or something like that.

We drove through vibrant green fields full of placid sheep and over rolling hills until – BAM – we would suddenly glimpse the bright blue sea and golden sandy beaches. Who knew they were hiding these beaches in Ireland? Sneaky devils.

The villages were composed of all the great things that rural Ireland has to offer: cheerily painted houses, cobblestones, friendly people, church spires, flowers in bloom, and pubs. (Not necessarily in that order!)

Imagine curling your toes into bright green seaweed on the rocks at low tide. Imagine the scent of velvety red roses in the castle gardens. Imagine the sound of fishing boats in small harbours gently tugging at their moorings. Those are all sensations that bring me right back to that warm June in Ireland.

You know what else takes me right back? Hearing any Disney Princess song, as we unfortunately had those on repeat in the car for our entire journey. Arguably, not County Waterford’s fault….

Story that needs to be told: This trip was full of surprises; the best of all was how extraordinary the area was. Ireland has so many secret delights and we felt smug that we had “discovered” one on this particular weekend. But there were other surprises.

  1. Surprise! Our son can sit. Not a big deal? I beg to differ. You take this for granted as you sit at your computer reading this, but when you are 7 months old and your head is the same size and weight as a bowling ball – sitting is HUGE. And he did it. Right there on one of those lovely Irish beaches.
  2. Surprise! Our holiday suddenly got all “Luxury”. We checked into our humble holiday cottage which was…adequate (that’s as generous as I can be). After looking around, bringing our bags in, and carbon dating the Formica in the kitchenette, I went to ask about a baby cot. Rather nonchalantly the woman behind the desk spun a key ring around her finger and asked if I would like to see a different cottage. At first I turned her down because I did not see the point in relocating. She spun the key ring one more time and said the magic words “It’s bigger and newer”. Done. Let me twist that key right off your finger. Our upgraded cottage was spacious (5 bedroom!), modern, and quiet. Now that’s how I like to start a holiday.
  3. Surprise! We’re moving to Brazil. Yup. There we were in our car with the kids strapped in and the Disney tunes cranked, ready to set off for a day of exploring, when Matt’s phone rang. We pulled into the car park of the hotel so he could take the call. I will never forget the tone of his voice that made me take notice, the morning sunshine glinting on the bay, and the giddy way I paced outside of the car until I could hear the official news: “We’re going to Rio!” Surprise. And the next adventure begins.

“Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.” – Irish Proverb