What to eat in Mekong Delta area 

With traditional lullabies and unqiue dishes, Mekong Delta has become an interesting destination in Vietnam. Metioning to Mekong Delta, immediately, you can imagine the life of people here. They live together with rivers, canals and move by boats and sampans. Mekong Delta not only owns poetic natural beauty but also typical attractive dishes with names as below:

Barbecue goby in cane tubes


Goby is popular in Mekong Delta which is raised in salt marshes. Goby’s meat is a favourite ingredient in many meals of many people because of its unique taste, delicious and high nutritional values. Goby can be used in many dishes like goby braised with pepper, fried goby, grilled goby with salt & chili, goby sour soup,… Among them, perhaps the most distinctive one is barbecue goby in cane tubes.

“Banh Cong”

Why called “Banh Cong”? The reason is because the cake mold is a tubular measurement tool. Banh Cong has tubular or circle shape, crispy outside and soft inside, when eating, you eat with fresh vegetables, sweet and sour dipping sauce & pickles. I can enjoy “Banh Cong” in Mekong Delta tours.

Banh Xeo”

Banh Xeo rolled with ricepaper, when eating, it is served with vegetables like cabbage, lettuce, herbs, perilla, basil, water mint, banana, star fruit,… Depending on taste, you can eat Banh Xeo with soy sauce or fish sauce.

Grilled snakehead fish


Grilled snakehead fish (the most delicious one is grilled snakehead fish with straw), is a dish with charming flavor that many tourist come to Can Tho to enjoy. You will eat grilled fish with ricepaper, fish sauce with lime. With the burning smell of straw combined with the aroma of grilled fish, you will have chance to enjoy an unique tasty dish of Mekong Delta’s coutryside area.

Grilled snails with pepper


Snails are lightly boiled then grilled, seasoning fish sauce, pepper, and garlic into snails while grilling until water inside snails is dried, you totally have a plate of perfect grilled snails with pepper. You should not ignore this item when staying here.

Duck cooked with ‘chao”

This is the characteristic duck hot pot of Mekong Delta area because it can be served together with noodle, tofu, egg,… Let’s enjoy it one time when coming here.

Grilled rolls

Grilled rolls are made of minced pork then add garlic, sugar, salt and roll it till it has the shape of fingertip. The sellers will skew or clamp meatballs on bamboo chopsticks then placed on charcoal grill, you can see fat from meat dripping, hear the sound sizzling and smell fragrant fumes. That will attract you immediately at first sight.

Besides aboved meals, you can enjoy many other distintive dishes in Mekong Delta. Let’s pack your luggage, down the Mekong river and enjoy all delicious food of Mekong Delta’s gastronomy.

Reconsidering The Donut

If someone were to ask me what my favorite sweets are I’m not sure donuts would rank very high. Sure, there’s cake and its more portable cousin the cupcake, pain au chocolate, ice cream, cookies in all their various forms, cobbler and its stupider cousin pie…but donuts? Unless it’s fall and they’re made with apple cider I can take them or leave them. However, I’ve recently realized that my issue isn’t with donuts themselves. The problem is that I’ve been eating crappy ones. I blame the ubiquitous Dunkin Donuts for this development. They have saturated the donut market here in New England with their bland, crumbly donuts for too long! We need to rise up and demand hot, fresh donuts, the donuts we deserve. Where did this new found interest in donuts come from, you ask?

A buttermilk cake donut at 11 pm is always a good decision
Last month James and I visited my cousin in Martha’s Vineyard and then headed up to Maine for a few days. We also happened to eat a fair amount of delicious donuts. Martha’s Vineyard Gourmet Cafe & Bakerycame up with the brilliant/evil idea to sell fresh donuts out the back from 7:30 pm to 12:58 pm for the after bar crowd.


A post-donut walk around Oak Bluffs aids digestion
Back Door Donuts offers a variety of cake and yeast donuts as well as apple fritters bigger than your head (seriously). And if that’s not enough you can also get your gigantic apple fritter topped with ice cream for maximum caloric consumption. Luckily, we only stayed two nights, otherwise I would have been forced to continue eating hot, fresh, delicious donuts at 1 in the morning and we can’t let THAT happen.

Several days later we were in downtown Portland, Maine and walked byThe Holy Donut, which purported to sell potato donuts. By this point there was absolutely no hesitation on my part: “Oh, that place sells donuts? LET’S GO THERE.” At first I thought they meant potato flour donuts but once inside we realized that they were made from real Maine mashed potatoes. I had the chocolate sea salt and James had the chocolate coconut. They were crispy on the outside and cakey and moist on the inside with just the right amount of sweet.

Over the next few days we mentioned this place to friends and family who lived in the area and each time the reactions were intense: “Oh my GOD. I love that place. What did you get?” The more we talked about the donuts, the more we wanted, well, more. On our way back to Connecticut we made sure to stop at their original location. We got a savory cheddar and bacon-stuffed donut, a maple donut, and another chocolate sea salt because why not.

However good you imagine this was, I assure you it was even better
I should have followed my instincts and gotten two of the cheddar bacon donuts, but I was dissuaded by James, who does not share my penchant for gluttony and thought it would be “too much.” Note to self: never listen to James.

Local Woman Marries Cookie. Film at 11

Yesterday was just one of those days. You know the kind: Things are going swimmingly for a while until one thing goes wrong, then another, and another until suddenly you’re breaking out into a cold sweat with a tension headache coming on and that stupid dog next door just WON’T STOP BARKING.

You know, one of those days.

So I took a much-needed breather and made Dorie Greenspan’s World Peace cookies for the first time. Baking relaxes me. I like being able to follow step by step instructions that guarantee results. I’ve been burned by a few bad recipes in my day (I’m looking at you, Pinterest) but Food52 never disappoints and Dorie Greenspan is a baking legend. So naturally, I expected a lot from these cookies. I didn’t expect to fall madly in love with them but, well, you can’t predict these things. You bake a cookie, you’re overcome by its deliciousness, and then all of a sudden its “What should we name our kids?” and “Would you ever consider converting?”

The name comes from the idea that world peace would be possible if everybody ate one (or six) a day. I’m not sure these cookies will prevent a nuclear holocaust, but they definitely improved my mood. Even better, double the recipe and keep a few logs in the freezer. World peace may not be within reach, but the antidote to the day from hell sure is.

The Best Roast Chicken I Have Ever Made

I’m not much into New Year’s resolutions. For instance, this year I’m pretending to learn how to play Careless Whisper on the saxophone (though if anyone feels like teaching me how to play we can make this really happen) and actually sort of trying to use Twitter more. However, my friend Pete is determined to learn how to cook for himself this year and he enlisted me to help him achieve this goal. It has been an interesting exercise for both of us because he gets to ask all sorts of questions while I’m making something and I have to actually figure out how to answer them. In doing so I’ve realized just how much of my cooking skills came from watching my relatives. I’ve also come to really appreciate the fact that I grew up in a family where cooking and, well, food in general was kind of a big deal. If you aren’t exposed to that on a regular basis I can see how cooking can be a bit of a mystery.

So far we’ve made lasagna, marinara sauce, and roast chicken. I’m going to talk about the roast chicken because oh my God, it was amazing. Now, you may be thinking “What? A roast chicken? I’ve made that before. It’s no big deal.” Which is my point. This chicken is a big deal. This chicken will change your life. Ok, maybe not. But, if for some reason your life revolves around not being able to make the best roast chicken of all time, then this actually will change your life.

I actually have been interested in perfecting my roast chicken technique ever since I saw those lovely golden birds while in Paris last year. I could always make a perfectly serviceable bird, but it was never quite right–the skin was too soggy or the breast meat was too dry. Well, I’m proud to say that this chicken had a wonderfully golden, crispy skin along with the moistest meat (worst word combo ever) I’ve tasted. So I’m just going to go ahead and belatedly declare this my New Year’s Resolution. Status: Accomplished.

Recipe Notes
I combined two recipes from Thomas Keller and Ina Garten and the result was the most golden, moist, and flavorful chicken I’ve ever had. I like Keller’s method but it lacked any seasoning besides salt and pepper. I’ve made Ina’s famous engagement chicken before but I liked thissimpler recipe for lemon chicken which still makes use of the lemons and onions which provide the base of the incredible sauce that is served with the engagement chicken. Instead, this recipe includes home made croutons as an accompaniment, which I made using some bread I had baked earlier in the day.

For this recipe I used a kosher chicken which comes basically brined (more on that here). If your chicken isn’t kosher I would strongly recommend brining it yourself (good how-to here) in order to get the moistest bird possible. In any case, make sure you spring for the highest quality bird you can get, as it really does make a difference. I also used my trusty grapeseed oil instead of the butter in Ina’s version and the nothing in Keller’s. I think it gave the chicken a nice, even golden brown color.


1 3 1/2-4 pound chicken unwashed, at room temperature, with giblets removed

1 medium yellow onion, thickly sliced

1-2 lemons, cut into quarters

Kosher salt


Grapeseed oil

Butcher’s twine


Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

1. Dry chicken using paper towels both inside and out. Make sure to really dry the chicken as much as possible as any excess moisture will make your chicken skin soggy.

2. Sprinkle inside and outside of chicken liberally with salt and pepper.

3. Stuff cavity with lemons and onions

4. Brush chicken with grapeseed oil

5. Truss chicken with butcher’s twine (great video here)

6. Place chicken breast side up on the roasting rack of a roasting pan and pour about a 1/3 a cup of water or a couple of ice cubes into the pan. This will help keep your oven from getting too smokey during the cooking process. 450 degrees is super hot and my oven got pretty smokey from all that sizzling fat, but the water or ice cubes should help combat this a bit.

7. Cook chicken for 50-60 minutes, until the internal temp is 165. Try not to open the oven during the roasting process as that increases your cooking time and can dry the chicken out.

8. Remove twine and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

9. Carve that sucker up and enjoy the BEST ROAST CHICKEN EVER.

I have a terrible aversion to leftovers but even I thought this chicken was still great the next day. Of course, after that I cracked and set about turning the Best Roast Chicken Ever into the Best Chicken Soup Ever, but that recipe will have to wait for another time.

P.S. I have a piece up on The Toast that I’m really proud of. Give it a read!

Food, Glorious (Trip) Food

It should come as no surprise that food is an integral part of my travel experience and even though I wrote a fair amount about some memorable culinary delights, there was still a lot I left out. The foods mentioned here (broken down by city) shaped my trip as much as strolling along the Seine or climbing to the top of Saint Paul’s.


As you may know, I started off my trip housesitting in North London for a great family with the most wonderful dog ever. Before the fam left I was invited to dinner where I was exposed to British-style oven roasted potatoes.


This sounds so stupid because, I mean, I’ve definitely had oven roasted potatoes many times here in the states, but these were different. Thanks to a dusting of cornstarch and some good fat these crispy potatoes come closer in taste and texture to french fries. I knew from the first bite that I wanted to make my own when I got home and I found a great recipe here on BBC Good Food. I subbed grapeseed oil for the goose fat instead of olive oil because it has a higher smoking point. (That basically means that grapeseed can withstand a higher temperature than olive oil.) It worked like a charm when I made these with a roast chicken last month and they are by far the best potatoes I’ve ever made.


I’ve already talked about the croissants and the duck confit and the rotisserie chicken so I’m just gonna plug the pastries here. What kind? Doesn’t matter. Try them alllll. Laduree’s famous macarons were amazing as were the tarts from Eric Keyser, although I’m sure anything from either of these two places is divine. Check out this pistachio-apricot tart:


So pretty!

It’s worth a trip to Laduree just to see the store (I got scolded for taking this photo). We bought eight macarons and they were gone within an embarrassingly short amount of time. Rose petal, violet, and orange blossom were my favorites just because they were so different, but the more traditional flavors like pistachio and caramel were equally delicious and intense.



I’ll admit: I wasn’t expecting a whole lot food-wise from Oktoberfest aside from giant beers, sausages and strudel but I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of things:

Cheesy Spatzle, which is the egg-noodle-meets-gnocchi dish pictured on the right (also notice the half-chicken. I finally had one!) and knodel, grated potato dumplings served in the most delicious dark beer sauce were revelations:

Unfortunately, both of these dishes involve a maddening level of steps and require tools (ricer, spatzle-maker) I don’t have so I won’t be recreating either of these any time soon. However, James and I plan on checking out the Munich Haus in Chicopee, MA at some point and if they have even passable versions of these dishes you’ll be the first to know.



Like Munich, Prague is a part of the Bohemian region and thus shares many of the same foods (meat, potatoes, bread, repeat). For our first meal we wanted something authentic so we checked out local favorite Hastalsky dedek. I had the (crazy cheap) duck which came with two different kinds of weird dumplings (think canned bread) and some absolutely delicious red cabbage. I’d eat a bowl of it if I could. In addition, the menu’s English translations were…interesting.


I came for the red cabbage, but stayed for the pig-slaughtering bread. And of course, a trip to Prague would not be complete without this:





We’re still in the land of meat and potatoes, people, but now we have Austrian coffee. Viennese coffeehouse culture is a huge part of Vienna and is even listedas a UNESCO Intangible Heritage so yeah, it’s a pretty big deal.

I chose the Ubersturzter Neumann, or Upside down Neumann, partially for the name and mostly for the whipped cream, which is put into an empty coffee cup while a double mocha is poured over it.


Many Austrian coffees have very specific instructions for their preparation and presentation, which can seem a little overwhelming at first but is all part of the fun.

During our visit to the famous Cafe Sperl our waitress gave us a little booklet called the ABC of Coffee which helped explain the extensive offerings while making Starbucks look like McDonald’s dollar menu.



Confession: I had a pretty bad cold during our two days in Budapest so I didn’t really experience much in the way of Hungarian cuisine. I did make sure to have goulash for dinner on our first night and, from what I could taste, it was good and spicy. But my appetite was rather wain for most of the trip. However, we spent a nice afternoon at 1000 Teas, a cozy tea room with the largest tea menu I have ever seen. I had a pot of elderberry tea which was supposed to help with colds and I was good as new within a few days.


We also had some pretty great Thai food on our last night night, which was a welcomed break from the meat-and-potatoes express.


I’ve already rhapsodized about the wine, bread, and cheese so now I’m going to talk about the ham. Specifically, Dalmatian ham:


A thick-cut, smoked ham reminiscent of prosciutto, Dalmatian ham is a Croatian specialty and was featured on nearly every menu we saw.


Dubrovnik also has a great selection of high end restaurants (many of which were out of our price range) but we had a particularly memorable meal at Lucin Kantun, a Mediterranean tapas-style restaurant that included a delicious stuffed squid and beef carpaccio.


For our last meal in the walled city we decided to try something different and checked out Taj Mahal, a misleadingly named Bosnian restaurant. The food was a bit of a mix between Turkish and Greek–lots of spiced mets, phyllo, and yogurt. Katie ordered the sausages pictured above, which were a highlight, along with the teeny baked potatoes topped with thick yogurt.


Oh Rome, I could write about your food forever. Instead, I’m limiting myself to only three things:


We stopped at a random cafe for breakfast on our way to the Colosseum and happened upon the best breakfast pastry of the trip: coronetto (little horn) alla marmellata–a sort of Italian version of the croissant filled, in this case, with some kind of red jam or jelly. I’m not exactly sure what it was, actually. Marmellata can refer to what we think of as orange marmalade along with jam and conserves, but it didn’t distinctly taste like raspberry or strawberry. If anything, it was some kind of mysterious red stuff. And man was it good. My cousin and I each had one and then we each got another before we left because well, when in Rome!


We had the BEST meal at Nipotino del Solitario, a tiny traditional family-run restaurant in the Esquiline neighborhood. Everything was fresh, home-cooked authentic Italian food at a very reasonable price, but the carbonara was outstanding. So, so good. I still dream about this dish. I’ll be dreaming about it for the rest of my life. In fact, I need to go make some carbonara right now….

(Twenty minutes later)
Nope. Not as good.


We had our second best meal at Piccolo Arancio an inventive and reasonably priced restaurant near the Trevi fountain, an area that can be a bit of a tourist trap. I had lasagna with saffron and zucchini flowers (a long-standing obsession) which was light and flavorful.

Despite all this indulgence, I actually lost weight on this trip thanks to the hours of daily walking. But even if I hadn’t it still would have been totally worth it.

The Grand Tour III: All Roads Lead To Rome


Like the cultured young gentlemen centuries before, our Grand Tour ended in Rome. The idea was that exposure to the great works of antiquity and the Renaissance would give these gentlemen the polish they needed before moving in society. So after five days in sunny Dubrovnik we boarded a night ferry and traveled across the Adriatic to Bari in order to get some polish.


Since it was the low season only one ferry company was running and because we booked our tickets just three days in advance we ended up with seats on the deck instead of a cabin. I think the ten hour bus ride may actually have been more comfortable because there weren’t immovable armrests between each seat and we weren’t kept awake and then woken up by super loud Italians roughly my parents age who were partying next to us. FYI: no one wants to hear A Whiter Shade of Palebeing blasted from your iPhone at 6 in the morning, old Italian guy. Eventually it was time to get off the boat and find some much needed coffee. We took a bus to the train station in Bari that was driven by one of the handsomest men I’ve ever seen in real life. That’s Italy for you–even the bus drivers are hot.


Our train wasn’t leaving for a few hours so we parked it in a cafe for some espresso and cornettos, which are like Italian croissants. All through the trip my cousin Katie had been talking about the coffee in Italy and how amazing it is. Now, I’m not saying I didn’t believe her, because I did. I just didn’t know what that actually meant. I see that now. I had coffee and espresso in every country I went to and while none of it was bad per se (with the exception of the instant coffee topped with cool whip we had on the train in Budapest) none of it was this good. Like thecroissant I had from Stohrer in Paris, this cappuccino was on an entirely different level I didn’t even know existed. And they all tasted that good. Everywhere we went! Ugh. I can’t talk about it anymore because it’s making me sad just to think about.


Moving on. As we progressed through our trip proximity to the train station became increasingly important because it just made things a lot less complicated. Thus, when I started looking for our hotel in Rome I only considered places within walking distance of the Roma Termini, the city’s main train station. I feel like I should mention that I used Booking.com for most of our reservations because they seemed to list more independent and family-run places than say, Hotels.com. I usually then cross-checked potential places with TripAdvisor just to make extra sure the place was legit.


Rome is pricey, like Paris pricey–but unlike Paris my hotel wasn’t free. I ended up finding a budget hotel for $37 per person per night. Of course, calling what we stayed in a ‘hotel’ might be stretching it but our room was clean, had three beds, and a private bathroom. It certainly wasn’t located in the nicest neighborhood and at night it looked downright sketchy, but the worst thing that happened was some creepy guy said ‘I love you’ when I walked by and really, creepy guys saying ‘I love you’ can happen anywhere.

So after a few hours on the train we arrived in Rome very excited, but also tired and hungry. We all needed some cash so we went to an atm on our way to the hotel. This is when The Bad Thing happened. Katie went first and got her cash then I went. The way the atms work there is they give you your card back and then your cash, except my card got stuck in the card slot. I could see it there but I couldn’t grab it. Naturally, I started to panic and pressed on it thinking the machine would spit it back out again more forcefully. This didn’t happen. Nothing happened. My card went back in and then the machine stopped working. No money, no card. Oh, it was also around 6 pm so the bank itself was closed for the day.

Next to the bank was some kind of auto parts store, or maybe it was an auto club like AAA–I don’t know, I don’t speak Italian. Anyways, my cousin asked a man who was working there to come help us and he was even more handsome than the bus driver from earlier. Unfortunately, he didn’t have any better luck so he suggested we come back the following day. I felt completely helpless, but there was nothing we could do at that point so I mostly focused on not freaking out. I bring up this whole situation because it was a good learning experience.

I had tried to go to the atm earlier in the day when we were in Bari, but my card wasn’t working there. Why, I don’t know. Perhaps the universe wanted me to have this terrible experience so I could share it with you. So, here it is: If you’re using an atm, try to use one attached to an actual bank that is open in case your card gets eaten before you can get your cash. The best (worst) part is that the transaction still showed up on my bank account. I got my card back the next day but the very unhelpful bank manager basically said it wasn’t his bank’s problem and that I needed to take it up with my bank. When I got home I explained the whole situation to my bank and they filed a dispute and comped me the money. That was almost two months ago and I haven’t heard anything, so I’m guessing it all worked out in the end.

But, back to my first day in Rome. After checking into the hotel we went for dinner at Sapori e Delizie, a lovely neighborhood pizzeria I found using TripAdvisor’s Rome city app. TripAdvisor has a bunch of these free apps for different cities and they were so helpful to us during our travels. Not only did we find great places to eat but the Point Me There feature was invaluable. And it works even if you don’t have a phone plan or wi-fi! I only wish I had realized that sooner than Vienna…

By this point I hadn’t had a beer since Oktoberfest but given the day’s events a giant Peroni was looking pretty great. We ordered a few pizzas along with arancini, fried zucchini flowers, and grilled vegetables. Everything was delicious and cheap–my favorites. I know I said earlier that Rome was on par with Paris price-wise, and in a lot of ways it is, but I think it’s cheaper to have a great meal in Rome than in Paris because some of the best Italian food tends to be made from less expensive ingredients. Pizza, pasta, and vegetables aren’t terribly expensive. Duck confit is. This place also had a delish spicy olive oil that I am still desperately trying to recreate here at home.

We only had three full days in the eternal city, but that was enough time to hit all the major tourist spots. We spent a day touring the Vatican museums (if you go on Wednesday during the Papal Audience it isn’t as crowded) and getting pushed around St. Peter’s Basilica. The museums are actually a collection of 54 art galleries and pontifical museums culminating with the Sistine chapel. It is a huge and impressive collection of art that rivals (if not surpasses) the Louvre. In particular, I think the experience of seeing the Sistine chapel was much more satisfying than seeing the Mona Lisa.


The Basilica itself is beautiful but verrrrry ornate. Gold and marble everywhere. It was a bit of a shock after spending time in the more *ahem* austere churches of England and Germany. What I’m saying is…I can see why the Reformation happened.

We then hiked up to the top of the Duomo, which was about as high as St. Paul’s but an easier climb and not as scary as the Golden Gallery. I yelled at some obnoxious guy trying to sell us tickets which felt weird since we were right in front of the Vatican, but it was the only thing that got him to stop. On reflection, I did a lot of yelling in Rome. The street vendors are relentless.

When we visited the Spanish Steps vendors were everywhere hocking these little squishy balls that would splat on the ground and then reform. They also made this almost mournful noise, like a broken squeezebox, so in my mind my visit to the Spanish Steps is accompanied by a chorus of dying musical instruments. In addition, there are also guys trying to sell you roses and when you say no they then try to hand you one like it’s a gift or something, but don’t take it! This also resulted in me having to yell again. Here is a candid photo of me after the 50th guy tried to give me a flower:

I realize that so far it sounds like I didn’t really like Rome, but that’s not true at all. Right after this photo was taken we went to the Keats-Shelley House which is beside the Spanish Steps. A visit here seemed quite fitting since I had visited his home in Hampstead months before and kind of made the whole trip come full circle. There we learned all about the Romantics and their connection to Rome and even saw the room where John Keats tragically died at just 25 from tuberculosis.

We also toured the Colosseum and the Roman Forum where I developed a new obsession with the Vestal Virgins and learned that people don’t like it when you go around yelling ‘Are you not entertained??’ Man, remember when Russell Crowe was bad-ass and hot? Those were the days.

As I’m writing this I’m realizing something: I could go on and on about all the places we visited and the foods we ate, but to be honest we did what everyone does when they go to Rome: we ate, we drank, we saw everything one is supposed to see–not exactly breaking the mold. But even still, it was magical. I can see why the traditional Grand Tour ended in Rome because it really does live up to the hype. Even the annoying bits, and boy were there a lot, didn’t take away from the experience. Rome is an easy and fun place to visit. Everyone pretty much speaks English and they aren’t dicks about it like the French. The food is delicious, the weather was great, and the whole city really does have this relaxed ‘La Dolce Vita’ vibe that is infectious.

But for me Rome was also the end of the road.

After three months abroad this was my final stop before heading home–the culmination of a year spent first on meticulous planning and then on traveling. By this point I was exhausted and looking forward to plopping on the couch for a while, but at the same time I was scared about returning home and going back to ‘real life’. I had seen so much and got used to spending my days exploring the wonders of Europe. I didn’t want to lose that excitement, that enthusiasm on my return.

I think you learn more about yourself when you travel than you do about the places you visit and looking back I’m not sure I knew what I wanted to get out of this trip when I first left. I think I had some vague hope about going away and having everything change for the better while I was on the road and in a lot of ways it did, but not how I expected. I didn’t come back with a book deal or a dream job–nothing external. Instead, the changes I experienced were emotional. I learned things about myself and what I am capable of because that is what travel does. So to merely talk about what I saw and did and ate doesn’t really tell you about my experience in Rome. What I want is for you to go out and experience something that truly moves you, changes you in some fundamental way.

I’ve been home for nearly two months now and it hasn’t been easy. There’s a kind of depression that settles over you after returning from a big trip like this one. It’s strange because even though I feel like I’ve changed, home still seems the same as when I left. There’s a bit of a disconnect initially and getting over that involves going back to the way things were. I suppose that’s partly why writing these last few posts have been so difficult because it means it’s really over. Everyone keeps asking me what my next trip is but I honestly don’t know. I want to figure out how to be content at home first before I go away again.

The Grand Tour Part 1: Oktoberfest, Prague, and Vienna


Nothing can be more unpresuming than this little volume. It contains the account of some desultory visits by a party of young people to scenes which are now so familiar to our countrymen, that few facts relating to them can be expected to have escaped the many more experienced and exact observers, who have sent their journals to the press–The Shelleys,History of a Six Weeks Tour

The Grand Tour has its roots in the 1600s, when wealthy young Englishmen recently graduated from Oxbridge would travel though Europe to get a cultural education in classical antiquity and the Renaissance. It also attracted artists and writers who sought to learn from the Old Masters in both arts and letters. With the invention of the steam engine in 1825, the practice extended to the middle class and by the end of the century it was even common for young women to make the trek. The traditional itinerary varied a bit depending on which countries were in style, but one always began in England and ended in Rome. Of course, I am neither rich nor a gentle(wo)man but even still, I figured I could use a little cultural polish. I had been to England, sure, but before this trip I hadn’t traveled much in Europe aside from a weekend in Belgium. The great thing about traveling the world is that you can finally see what everyone has been talking about through your own lens. Some wonders will disappoint, while others will move you in unexpected ways, but in the end it is an experience that belongs solely to you.

My personal journey began in London and then it was on to Paris followed by Munich where I was joined by two of my cousins for a train ride through the rest of Europe. Over the course of 21 days we travelled from Munich to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Dubrovnik, and Rome. We each bought a Eurail Global pass, which is good for 10 days of travel within two months and includes 24 countries. It is also expensive and if you are over 26 you have to buy a first class ticket. We bought this ticket because of the flexibility, but if you have a set itinery it is worth your time to price out the individual tickets to see if you’ll actually save money.

Something else to consider: not all trains are equal. Our train from Vienna to Budapest was lovely–wide leather seats, complimentary wifi, snacks, etc–however, this was also our shortest journey by a lot (2 1/2 hours). The rest of the trains we took weren’t anything special and often not that much different from second class. However, on most trains (except Italy) a first class ticket gaurantees you a seat on the train even if you don’t have a reservation. So, again, this ticket gave us maximum flexibility. It was one less thing for us to worry about while on the road.


A first class ticket also meant we could hang out in this schmancy lounge for a couple hours in Vienna and have as many lattes and glass-bottled orange juices as we wanted. Additionally, all Eurail pass carriers get discounts on various activities and some times even free public transportation in certain cities, like Munich and Vienna. In Rome we were even able to use one of our travel days on the express train to the airport, so I suppose it really was worth it in the end.

As for the actual traveling, yes it’s nice to take the train, but only when you are literally in the act of travel–that is, sitting in your seat enjoying a glass of wine (the wine is necessary). Otherwise, it still involves all the other bits that make travel a nightmare. Yet, because you don’t have to go through security it has retained more of an air of romance than, say, the airplane. Because of our itinerary there were times when we were traveling all day (and night) so even though our journey was roughly three weeks, it still felt like we were whizzing through countries at an impossibly fast clip. It was just a taste, really.

So, in keeping with that here are some moments from the first part of the Grand Tour:


Munich, or more specifically Oktoberfest, was a sea of beer, lederhosen, and dirndls. Seriously, this is not an exaggeration. Everyone wears them. Luckily, they sell them at the train station so you can pick one up if you want to fit in. I wore my dirndl again when I got home for Halloween, so I think I got my money’s worth.


We went to Oktoberfest twice during our four days in Munich. During our first visit we got there at 10:30 am on a weekday but by that time all of the tents were full. The outside tables were mostly empty though so we sat down and ordered a round of ‘Lemonade’, which is beer mixed with Sprite. It’s pretty gross but you can have a couple and not get completely hammered. An hour later even the outside was packed but we made some German friends and learned from them that in order to make it inside, you have to get there very early and wait in line. Reserving a table inside can cost thousands of dollars but it is free to sit there during the day.


A day later we forced ourselves to get up at 6 am to try to get inside. We reached the fairgrounds close to 7:30 but by then every tent already had a huge line. Even still, we managed to make it into the Augustiner-Festhalle tent, which looked like a set from “A Very Hobbit Christmas”. I later learned that this tent is known for being the friendliest. Indeed it was, though I suppose everyone gets a little friendly after a few liters of beer.


I booked a lovely apartment in the suburb of Gilching through Airbnb. It was about 30 minutes from the Oktoberfest grounds but proved to be a peaceful oasis away from the crowds.

Between all the singing, cheering, drinking, and pork products I felt like I needed a vacation after Oktoberfest. I’m glad I went, but I’m not sure I ever need to go again.

In Prague we stayed in an apartment about five minutes walking distance from the main square, which is an architectural delight in a city full of them. We walked to the top of the Old Town Hall, which also houses the famous Astronomical Clock, to take in this marvelous view.

A trip to Prague wouldn’t be complete without a stroll (or five) across the Charles bridge, which features artists, vendors, musicians, and street performers along with 30 statues of saints and patron saints.

We also learned about the history of the city during a visit to Prague Castle, situated on a hill above the city. It was the home of the kings of Bohemia and the Holy Roman Emperors. Good King Wencesclas, the subject of everyone’s favorite Christmas carol, and Maria Therese, the grandmother of Europe, both lived there (during different centuries, of course).


In keeping with my earlier tradition in London and Paris, we took a sunset river cruise along the Vitava. I may have been with family, but not gonna lie. It was pretty romantic.


After we got our fill of Old Bohemia we were off to Vienna, ‘the wedding cake of Europe’, named for its many beautiful white buildings.


It is also known as the City of Music because prodigies like Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Strauss (among many others) all lived and worked here. Indeed, you can hear music everywhere. One of the highlights was walking through St. Stephen’s Cathedral while an orchestra and choir performed Lacrimosa from Mozart’s Requiem, one of my all-time favorites.


We stayed in a pension, a step between a hostel and a hotel, on a lovely street in the city center. There weren’t very many cars about and most people seemed to be either on foot or on bikes, which gave the streets a more relaxing feel. Not much of the same kind of hustle and bustle you get in other cities.

Vienna is famous for its cafes and our trip to the beautiful Cafe Centralwas a highlight. We were waited on by the most formal/bordering on snooty manchild I have ever seen. He was tall and skinny with the face of a 14-year-old, yet he was the most graceful and impeccable waiter I’ve ever had.

While there I had this chocolate raspberry deliciousness and a cappuccino which, at that point in my life, was the best I had ever had. But that was before Italy.

You can’t go to Vienna and not visit one of the Hapsburg palaces. We chose Schonbrunn, the summer residence, because the palace and gardens are a UNESCO World Heritage site. There’s also a labyrinth:

Labyrinths sound cool until you’re wandering around one on a cold, rainy fall day with the beginnings of a fever. Then they are definitely NOT COOL.

We also made the trek to Beethoven’s grave in the city’s Central Cemetery and finally found it after looking for an hour. Fellow composers Brahms, Schubert, and Strauss are also buried in the area known as Composer’s Corner.

My dedication to food markets has been well documented on this blog, so it should come as no surprise that we spent an afternoon wandering around the Naschmarkt, the city’s most popular market.

I was expecting Vienna to be pricey but really, nothing seemed that expensive after London. It’s not cheap, for sure, but everything seemed to be pretty reasonable. Prague, however, was not as cheap as I was expecting. My cousin Katie had been there seven years earlier and said that the place was definitely more expensive than she remembered, and a bit more upmarket too. Again, it’s still cheap for Europe and in terms of value, it’s high since the city is beautiful and remarkably well-preserved. I’m not sure if I’ll ever return to any of these places unless it’s in combination with some other destination. As part of the Grand Tour, certainly. I’m glad I went and enjoyed my time there but I can’t really see myself getting on a plane and spending a week in just Prague or Vienna any time soon. Not when there’s still so many other places to explore.

Part Two will pick up in Budapest!

The Grand Tour Part II: Budapest and Dubrovnik


After Vienna we boarded a Railjet train (the train that may or may not turn into a plane) for Budapest. This was when that expensive first class Eurail ticket was actually worth it–big leather seats, actual working wifi (!), complimentary snacks, and entry into the first-class lounge before boarding. It was also our shortest trip at 2 1/2 hours because, of course.


The city is huge, one of the largest in the EU, and is separated by the Danube River (you know, this one) with Buda on one side and Pest on the other. We were only in town for a couple of nights though so I’m not sure we really got the full ‘Budapest’ experience, but it was the cheapest place we stayed–$11 per person per night for a triple in a pension in Buda. The thing I was most excited about though was the baths. The city is home to over 80 thermal springs that feed the baths enjoyed by locals and tourists alike (here’s a good overview). After doing some research I decided to check out the famous Gellert Baths because it was within walking distance and is designed in the Art Nouveau style. I always base my bath house choices on which artistic movement they favor. Get out of here, Dadaists!


It’s important to do your research because some baths are men or women only on certain days. We also couldn’t figure out whether or not it was customary to wear bathing suits, but at Gellert everyone wore a suit and they even sold them in the lobby.


Apparently it is one of the most photographed baths in the world but I felt a little weird taking pictures inside when people were relaxing, so here’s a link to other people’s photos. Really though, it is a beautiful building–just like you would imagine a Hungarian bath house to be.


In addition to a large Roman-style swimming pool, there are several outdoor pools as well as indoor thermal pools of varying degrees. My ever-present sore hip demanded that I head straight for the warmest pool, which was 106 degrees. After we spent some time in the warmer pools we decided to take the plunge in the 68 degree pool and after the initial shock it was actually really refreshing. When you get out your skin feels all warm and tingly and your muscles feel like they’re expanding and contracting–it’s hard to describe. We hopped around from pool to pool and every time I got to the cool one I tried to stay in longer, though I probably only worked my way up to a full minute. It was also really interesting to see so many different people of all ages and body shapes just chilling in their suits, perfectly comfortable in their own skin. I nominate Budapest as the capital of Body Positivity.

Afterwards we went to a lovely little tea shop called 1000Tea, where I sipped on some elderberry tea. There were lots of nice, independently owned places like this near where we stayed. We even had great Thai food one night. Though there are definitely reminders of the brutal decades spent under Soviet rule, Budapest is a city coming into its own as a tourist destination.

Getting to Budapest may have been a first-class leather-bound dream but leaving Budapest, well that was a little more complicated. Our next destination was Dubrovnik which isn’t exactly easy to get to, at least from where we were. Flying from Zagreb would have been ideal, but by that time they were too expensive. Same with the ferry. So after running through a few scenerios it looked like our best bet was to take the train from Budapest to Zagreb ( an 8 hour journey) and then hop on a overnight (10 hour) bus to Dubrovnik. We could have shaved a few hours off of our trip but that would have involved changing trains which is a huge pain in the ass. So, in the name of simplicity we chose the longer, but less complicated route. Unsurprisingly, our train was no Railjet. It was pretty dated and the first-class cabins reminded me of an early 90s dentist’s office–lots of pastels and busy prints. Of course, then we were kicked out when the first-class part of the train was literally taken away from us (those cars were then attached to another train) so it really was a case of not knowing what I had until it was gone. Sing it,Cinderella.


So, what do you do on an 8 hour train ride? Well, we played a lot of phone Jeopardy, performed a horrible edition of Name That Tune, imagined what life might be like in the town of Balatonszentgyorgy, and befriended the very old train attendant who implored us to come visit him in the dining car. All the while we were psyching ourselves up for the sure-to-be-uncomfortable bus ride that awaited us in Zagreb.

Croatia’s railway system isn’t that great, but it has a pretty well-serviced bus system. The bus itself was nice, like Megabus or Greyhound, but it didn’t have a bathroom. We freaked out a little bit at first until it became clear that the bus going to stop every hour or so for at least ten minutes. This may have made our journey longer, but negated the need for adult diapers. We left Zagreb at 9 pm and arrived in Dubrovnik around 7 am. I slept for a few hours but every time I looked out the window we seemed to be right at the edge of an insanely steep cliff, so I would quickly shut my eyes and pray for sleep to come.


Budapest had been a bit cold and was going through the first shades of autumn but when we woke up in Dubrovnik we were greeted by a warm breeze off the Adriatic and palm trees. Walking along its marble streets (yes, marble) filled with visitors one would have no idea that it was the site of a war 20 years earlier. Indeed, after Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 Dubrovnik was attacked by the Yougoslav People’s Army in a battle that lasted seven months. The city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sustained some damage from the artillery shelling but was fully repaired by 2005.


In the last few years the city has become a popular tourist destination thanks in part to its use as a port on Mediterranean cruises as well as a filming location for HBO’s Game of Thrones. One of my cousins is a GOT fanatic (to put it mildly) so I learned more than I ever wanted about where what was filmed for which episodes. But even without the GOT connection Dubrovnik is a beautiful and interesting city all on its own. After our 18-hour journey we stayed here for five days, the longest of the trip, and because we had just missed tourist season it was incredibly cheap. We rented a little apartment with a kitchen and patio with ocean views for $22 per person per night. This was our view. No, really:


Compared to the other places we had visited thus far Dubrovnik was easy. Mostly everything is centrally located in Old Town, the part of the city contained by Dubrovnik’s famous walls, which was an easy walk from our apartment. October was also a great time to be there because it was the low season but the weather was still nice. Dubrovnik is tiny so it can get pretty crowded in the summer when up to three cruise ships a day dock in the harbor. Our landlord said that he doesn’t even bother going to Old Town then because he can’t even walk down the street. That’s a shame because the streets of Dubrovnik are magic, especially in the later part of the day.


On the day we arrived it was my cousin Samantha’s 24th birthday so we tried to make up for those first few bus-bound hours by taking her to Mala Buza, a great bar that is literally built into the wall and offers amazing views of the sunset. Seriously, if you go to Dubrovnik you have to go to this bar for the sunset. It’s one of the few places where you can see the sun fully set on the ocean. It’s still a great view every other time of day but the sunset, my God. It reminded me of Key West, a very laid back, celebratory vibe. Everyone clapped after the sun disappeared before heading off to their next stop.


For us that meant D’Vino, a wine bar that had some great Croatian wines, including one of the best sav blancs I’ve ever had. This is a shot of the red wine flight we tried along with a selection of local cheeses, breads, and olives. I’m pretty sure I could live on Croatian bread, cheese, and wine. I probably wouldn’t live very long, but it would be delicious and therefore worth it.


Dubrovnik may be small but we actually had a lot of good food there, though most of it was of the meat, bread, and cheese variety that seemed to dominate much of our trip. Price-wise I’d put it on the same level as Prague, but because we were there for so long we ended up buying groceries and eating in more here than anywhere else. As for the sites, the city walls are the big attraction here and for good reason. You can walk around all of Old Town and get some amazing views of the city and the sea. Admission is $16, not exactly cheap, but it is well worth it and a must if you’re here. I may have gone a little overboard with the photos here…

Another place for breathtaking views is from atop Mount Srd, which is accessible via a footpath, car, or the newly opened cable car, which we used.

See that island? That’s Lokrum, accessible by ferry, and where we spent a day. It used to be inhabited by Benedictine monks until they left in 1808.

In 1856 Archduke Maximilian, a lesser Hapsburg, tried to build a palace there but supposedly the monks had cursed the island and after a few mysterious deaths the Hapsburgs fled, leaving behind the peacocks they brought which now rule in their absence.

Strangely, it is illegal to stay overnight on the island and has been largely undeveloped apart from the ruins of a fort and the monestary, which is now a pizza place.

There’s also a nude beach, if that’s what you’re in to, a botanical garden, and a swimming pond called the Dead Sea.

After nearly two weeks of packed days and long journeys, it was nice to stop for awhile in Dubrovnik. This was the longest I had stayed put since Paris and by this time I was in need of a little R&R.

The city’s tourism seems to be ramping up as more and more visitors discover this jewel on the Adriatic and prices are steadily climbing as well. But for now, it is a bargain for the area and offers a rich and unique history all its own.

I hope someday I’ll return, but for now I have the memories.

Next time: All roads lead to Rome.

Turning 29 In Paris


This post is long overdue but free wifi has been scarce over the past couple of weeks. At the hotel in London they were charging 7 (!) pounds a day, which I didn’t pay of course. Here in Paris wifi is free but, well, I’m in Paris. I want to give Bronte country and London the attention they deserve, so it may be awhile before I post again. But for now I figure I’d do an update on where I’ve been, where I am, and where I’m going:


Places I’ve Been: The Peaks District, Haworth, York, London, and Salisbury.


Where I am: The Hotel de Louvre in Paris until Oct. 2nd

Where I’m Going: On Wednesday James and I will take the train from Paris to Munich where we will meet up with my cousins for Oktoberfest. James heads back to the US on the 6th but I’m staying on through the month with my cousins and interrailing to Italy. I’m calling it Eurotrip Part Three: The Cousining. Our route will take us to Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Dubrovnik, Split, Florence, Sienna, and finally ending in Rome.

In truth, I am pretty exhausted–I know, tough life–but we’ve been packing in a lot of stuff during James’ visit and as much as I like playing tour guide and interpreter, it can wear on a person after awhile. Hopefully I’ll be able to relax a bit and recharge in Munich and Prague, where we’re spending four days each before moving on to a faster travel schedule. In the meantime, I’ll continue eating and siteseeing my way through Paris. Mangez bien!

Postcard From The Peak District: Austen, Bronte, The Plague, and Mr. Darcy

“We shall not be like other travelers, without being able to give one accurate idea of anything. We WILL know where we have gone–we WILL recollect what we have seen. Lakes, mountains, and rivers shall not be jumbled together in our imaginations”~Elizabeth Bennet

I first read about the Peaks District when it played a pivotal role in the plot ofPride and Prejudice: Elizabeth journeys to Derbyshire on a holiday with her aunt and uncle because the lakes were too far. As she says before their trip “What are young men to mountains?” Of course, it is also home to Mr. Darcy and, well, we all know how that worked out.

But I became more aware of the area’s outstanding natural beauty while watching one of the many television shows or films shot there. The Peak District seems to have embraced it’s association with televised costume dramas–but it’s worth pointing out that before the location scouts came, the area served as inspiration for settings in both Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte’s most beloved works.

Some places let you down, like Epcot center or your local harvest fair. (Every fall I get duped into thinking fairs are cute and quaint but then when I go it’s full of packs of rural teenagers huddled together gorging on cotton candy and wearing far too much eyeliner.) But, unlike Walt Disney’s vision of the future or the Big E’s cream puffs, England’s Peak District surpasses your expectations. You can spend the whole time wondering if you’ve actually wandered onto a movie set. Pop in your headphones and play the soundtrack to Pride and Prejudice and you could be the star of your own film. Not that I would know anything about that…

I stayed at a youth hostel in the tiny village of Eyam, also known as ‘the plague village’, because if you’re me, you want to be as close to a historical bubonic plague site as possible.

It looks like the quintessential English village–something you might come across in an Agatha Christie novel. Except instead of a disgruntled school marm or vengeful stable boy, the bubonic plague was doing most of the killing.

The only thing scarier than the bubonic plague being delivered to your doorstep are awkwardly posed mannequins in bad wigs.

The downside to staying in Eyam was that when I had to actually get around the area I was at the mercy of the local bus system. I had prepared for this by spending far too much time on a TripAdvisor forum solely dedicated to the purpose of helping visitors without cars manage public transportation. I don’t want to say it is impossible, because clearly I managed. But if you do go, I strongly suggest driving unless you like the idea of carrying your luggage up deceptively steep hills or returning to your hostel by 3 pm each afternoon.

This photo is on an incline because I was on an incline. Also, llamas!

In Pride and Prejudice, the nearby (but poorly bus serviced) town of Bakewell fills in for Lambton–very pleasant, rather touristy and the namesake for Bakewell puddings and tarts.

Though much like NYC’s Original Ray’s pizza there is much debate over which establishment was the first to offer it. My money is on The Old Original Bakewell Pudding Shop, mostly because it was the best one I had.

A short (and frequent) bus ride away is Chatsworth, the grand estate of the Duke of Devonshire, inspired Pemberley, the ancestral home of the Darcys.

“It was a large, handsome stone building, standing well on rising ground, and backed by a ridge of high woody hills…”

In the 1995 miniseries starring little known actor Colin Firth, Lyme Park in Disley, a couple hours northwest of where I was, served as Pemberly. But in the 2006 film version, Chatsworth takes on the part it was born to play. Perhaps it isn’t surprising then that about a quarter of Chatsworth’s giftshop is devoted exclusively to Mr. Darcy.This includes a greeting card featuring an illustration of Colin Firth making this face:

I actually felt embarrassed for a moment because such a thing actually exists for people to buy. I prefer this face instead:

“Dearest, loveliest Emily. You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire the new Monsoon dress I bought for you.”

“Yes, of course we can sit on the couch and watch the entirety of the television program Parks and Recreation. I too enjoy Ron Swanson’s moustache and Andy’s silly antics.”

“Is it really necessary for me to walk around in this wetted shirt all afternoon? It is? Very well.”

But, if I’m completely honest with myself, I probably would have bought the card if no one had been around and if the cash register was instead manned by a fancy robot with a British accent–think C3-PO in a powdered wig. I mean, who am I to judge? I had just spent the entire tour pretending to be Elizabeth Bennet during her inaugural visit to Pemberley.

It was a bit difficult, what with the mob of tourists around, but if I closed my eyes and tried to ignore the swarms of old Germans on either side (it’s always Germans), I could, for a very brief moment, hear Darcy calling to me from the boudoir. And, in that instance, he was definitely making this face:

After visiting Chatsworth I decided to check out Haddon Hall, a Tudor manor that was supposed to contrast nicely with the Georgian elegance of the former. And, like Chatsworth, it also has it’s fair share of movie credits: The Princess Bride, Elizabeth, Jane Eyre, etc, etc.

It was amazing. The place even smelled old, which probably sounds gross but really just added to the whole experience.

But, I think it’s very telling that there weren’t any souvenirs of Orson Welles or Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester. There may have been some DVDs, but that’s it. No one goes to bits over that character. I suppose he’s a bit too dour for that sort of thing, plus there’s the whole ‘locking his first wife in the attic’ debacle. Whereas Darcy may act all dark and serious, Rochester actually lives it. And it ain’t pretty.

A little to the north, near the village of Hathersage, one can visit North Lees Hall, which was allegedly Charlotte Bronte’s inspiration for Thornfield Hall in Jane Eyre and, as several area brochures made sure to mention, where Mrs. Rochester threw herself off the roof. First of all, spoiler alert? Secondly, what– ‘Home of Mr. Rochester’ wasn’t dramatic enough? Even the Peak District tourist board seems to adhere to the adage: “If it bleeds, it leads.” Interestingly, Jane Eyre got her surname from a wealthy local family, and as is befitting a well-respected family, they now have several area pubs named after them.

Hathersage is also home to Little John’s grave, which made my earlier observation that the area reminded me of Robin Hood: Prince of Thievesslightly less embarrassing, and
Stanage Edge, where you can recreate Keira Knightly’s stance in the inferior non-Colin Firth version of Pride and Prejudice, as a twentysomething British guy helpfully informed me. Apparently he has a picture of himself doing the same pose. But, sadly on the day I traveled to Hathersage it poured for hours. I tried to wait it out but when the lone bus back to Eyam came, away I went.