Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Business Class Pods
Perhaps I should call this from San Francisco to Dulles to Madrid to Zaragoza.  It was a long day, and a long night even though my hubby and I (much to the “It’s not fair” voiced by our fellow traveler and son Trevor and the “it’s cool”, from his traveling companion Evan) rode it in business class. Hey, when you earn the money, and you plan the trip, you get to ride where you ride :-)  That’s MHO. We arrive Madrid at 7:15 a.m. on June 22nd, our 19th wedding anniversary.  Excited, but tired.  After walking, what felt like a mile, to the Immigration Control area, more or less a place to turn in your “visitor declaration” and get an “official” cursory look at your passport, we were on our way to get our bags, get our car and drive to Zaragoza.  Our plan was to drive the short 190 KM (about 118 miles, so what an hour and a half two hours?) from Madrid to Zaragoza and spend a nice afternoon relaxing and taking in some of the sites.  We had booked an apartment that was close to the Basilica and old town and are chomping at the bit to get this vacation started.

 Our VW Passant awaits us, I told DH I thought we might want to get a GPS nav system, but being a man, he thought it would be easy enough to navigate ourselves AND after all, he had lived in Spain AND spoke and read the language.  So between my iPhone, a regular old-fashioned paper map and his manliness, we set out.

By the time we get on the road, it’s 9:00 on a Tuesday morning.  This is also called “rush hour”.  We are instructed by our “Avis” counter guy to take the R2 once we get out of the airport; take it straight to Zaragoza.  First things first, how do we get out of the car rental lot?  There are no signs to show the way to the exit.  There are no arrows, lines or other instructions, and damn they park these cars close together and the space between rows is TINY… most of what America drives would not  be able to drive in this lot, nor many of the streets we traveled.  When traveling in older cities, you drive on older streets.  Streets meant for horses, buggies and wagons.  But I digress.

Actually in Eppstein Germany, but it gives you and idea.

I’m just getting out of the airport, with all three of my helpful backseat drivers giving me the “watch out for that”; “oh, be careful there”; “why are you going so slow?” when out of the corner of my eye, off to the side of the road I see R2…”Um guys” I say, “was that my exit?”  Yes, yes it was.  Ok…I’m in a very cheerful and forgiving mood, so no problem, I’ll just go up here and turn back towards the airport and we’ll catch it the next time though.  After all, I know where it is now.  Problem.  Remember that thing about “rush hour”?  Well, they also have these things called “Roundabouts”.  It’s how you make turns and get on other routes in Spain.  You don’t go up to an intersection and wait at a light and then turn left or right, you get yourself into this roundabout and then go roundabout until you find the street you need to go onto and then you get out of the roundabout.  Sounds easy enough, but there are cars coming in from all those side streets too, the ones you want to get to.  And they are going across the roundabout to get in position to get out.  And they know what the fuck they are doing and I have no clue how this is going to work, so I sat there a few minutes, just to watch the “dance” and finally say “OK…here we go” and close my eyes (well, not really but kindof) and get into the fray and guess someone was looking out for us because no one hit us, I didn’t hit anyone, and I got out where I was supposed to.  Once I made it once again to the R2, things were much more civilized.

As the boys slept (napped) in the backseat, Brian and I got to see the sights.  Guess what there is between Madrid and Zaragosa?  Not much.  It looks like anywhere USA.  Except for the big old bulls.  Bull signs I mean.  They don’t have anything on them, but we were told they use to be billboards for a Spanish Sherry company, the government thought the signs were too distracting so they made them take the billboards down; now just the bulls remain.  Since everyone in Spain knows the back story, the sherry company is really still advertising on the highways.  Only for free.

Sherry Bull Sign on the R2

We soon found out our drive from Madrid to Zaragoza, was not 190KM, it was 190 miles…or 305 KM.  Oops, read that map wrong.  Our plan to have breakfast in Zaragoza was dashed, perhaps a late lunch?
As we drive, we notice some gas station / tapas places along the side of the highway; so we decide to stop, get a bite to eat and an expresso.  The one we choose, I don’t think it was the best one to choose.  The Spanish like to smoke, and they throw their cigarettes on the floor, no need for an ashtray. At this particular stop, they didn’t seem to see a need to sweep the floor either.  But hunger took precedence over our visual so we had our first, of many, Serrano ham and cheese sandwiches on a typical roll.  It held us over. And wasn’t half bad either.

When we arrived in Zaragosa, we put the address of the apartment in my phone and start the process of trying to navigate city streets filled with speeding cars.  As we get closer to old town, the streets narrow down, only enough room for one car in one direction, but these are two-way streets so you just stop as far over as you can get and let people go by, or if they stop, you go.  We were told the apartment is close to the Basilica del Pilar and the river.  Well, the river’s  to my left, the Basilica is to my right, we must be near…right?  But how to get there?  My iPhone is having problems keeping a signal and of little help; so I turn right, then turn left and we start down this little tiny street and I’m thinking holy cow, where did I get us into, when we spy the hotel where we are to pick up the keys to the apartment.  Lucked into that one.  No parking.  Wait, up there, just a ways ahead, there’s a space.  Lucked into that.  I’m glad that no one thought to video me trying to parallel  park on this very narrow street with cars on both sides in a car I’m not totally familiar with (I really am a good parallel parker) but I did get the car pretty close and as I was going to let Trevor try his hand at doing a better job an angry mean old Spanish man comes and starts yelling at us in Spanish “You hurt my car” (remember, my hubby speaks the language – so he translated) and then we told the mean old man, “we didn’t touch your car”.  Then the guy started yelling something fast and furious, we didn’t understand; finally a nice old Spanish man comes to  calmly explain that we had parked in a handicap space.  OK my bad…we’ll move the car.  Did they have any suggestions as to where one might be able to park?  ”Yes” angry old Spanish man says, “go 2 blocks, turn right and there is parking at the Basilica.  OK…now I’m a nice forgiving person, and I’m sure something was just lost in the translation, because when I went 2 blocks, made a right and drove down the mostly pedestrian crowded street, I ended up on the Plaza del Pilar with the Basilica looming straight ahead and the customers at their tables in various restaurants eating their lunch just staring at me as I tried to figure out how to get out of the Plaza del Pilar without running anyone over.  Apparently in Spain nobody even flinches when a car drives onto a plaza filled with people and restaurants.  I made a K and a U and another K turn (avoiding the man in the middle of my exit way who had decided right then set up shop and sell lottery tickets) and found my way back to playing chicken with the pedestrians and finally to the underground parking lot.  Whew! I’m done driving for today.

We get the keys to our apartment, and it is GREAT.  Close to the Plaza, how about practically on the Plaza.  The Basilica is right there.  Restaurants; beer, pizza…WOW, let’s go.

Daytime view from our room

Nighttime view from our room

Trevor and Evan decide to chill for a bit at the apartment and then they are going to go off and explore.  That’s cool.

I think they might have been trying to figure out what this extra toilet was for...

Brian and I decide to go get a bite to eat and a beer for him, a glass of wine for me.  So we set off to the plaza to find a place.  It’s like a friggin carnival.  Each restaurant has someone standing outside calling to you “Here, here, a table here for you”.  They all serve about the same things so we sit at a nice shady table and order a Pizza Margherita and the beer, wine and a large water.  The pizza is not good.  We should have known better, it is after all just a big tourist attraction.  But the beer and wine go down well, and the pizza fills a void in the belly soooo….it’s all good.  We are on vacation.  No worries.

The local beer, it was cold, it was good.

After lunch we walk into town, it’s a cute town, filled with little shops, clothing stores and shoe shops.  We catch up with the boys and decide to “buy them their first beer” at the local bar.  About halfway into them we all decide that we are just too tired to stay up and walk back to the apartment for a much needed shower and nap.

Don't bother me, I'm sleeping

LindySez: Coming up – Anniversary Dinner and a sly dog…

More photos on my Facebook

TheTalel of Herr Dr. Frei

Trouble in Munich
Did we eat our way through Spain, Germany and a very small part of Alsace?  Yes, yes we did.  We had memorably good and not so great meals.  But memories they are.  And while this foodie journey is NOT going in chronological order, it is going to go in some sort of order.  I’m just not sure what order it will be.  But come along, and I hope the tales are good.

We arrived in Munich on the 29th of June; flying in from Madrid.  It’s 8:30 at night, but of course it’s still light.  We get our luggage and head for our first taxi ride…on the autobahn.  For those not familiar, the autobahn is the German highway’s answer to the Indy 500 but without the “only left turn”…and unless otherwise indicated, the speed limit is up to the driver.  Let’s just say, if you are faint of heart, you want to be sure to stay out of the far left lane.
 Our taxi driver, a nice man and apparent expert in autobahn driving took an easy cruise to our hotel, at 250 km (that’s about 155 MPH) all the while showing us sites left and right…and talking to my husband sitting shotgun.  Trevor and Evan, both 17, are thinking this is really cool as does my husband, but they are not sitting on the hump in the middle of the backseat with precious little to hold onto.  The Door’s song “Keep your eyes on the road and your hands upon the wheel” jumps into my head, repeatedly.  But we make it safely to our hotel, the Kings Hotel First Class in downtown Munich.

The Kings Hotel First Class is a 4 star hotel.  If you have never traveled in Europe, a 4 star hotel may only mean you have room for you AND your luggage being in the same room at the same time.  AND it may have air conditioning.  That may work. Or not.  The boy’s room is fine for them, but our room is smaller…hubby off to the rescue.  Upgrade to a suite.  We now have two rooms, a bigger space but unfortunately unknown to us, the old air conditioning unit that doesn’t work…and it’s a record hot spell…oh well, we do have extra room.

The boys are so excited to get out and “taste” the beer gardens.  They make arrangements with the hotel for bikes (free) and off they go.  It is then we look outside to see what we can see, and what do we see?  The porn store, the strip club, the casino…ummmm 4 stars?  Well, it is a nice hotel…and entertainment is close by…another added plus???  As it turns out, there were many people riding bikes at 11:30 at night and it was actually a very safe area.  Got to get my head out of American logic…

The next day, after tooling around town, we decide to go to a beer garden for dinner.  I mean what else are you going to do in Munich?  We decide, after many recommendations, to go to Augustiner Keller Beer Garden.  I’m not expecting much, and at first they really deliver.

It is a huge place, they serve around 7,000 people a day during the season.  First order of business, find a place to sit.  There is the beer “garden”; literally tables set in the trees where they will bring you your steins of beer and you go to various stands to get food.  No places to sit, but I really wasn’t so much into the serve yourself mode anyway,  so we mosey up to the “we serve you here” part of the garden.  There are many tables open, but they all have reservation signs on them (the hotel told us they didn’t take reservations but apparently they do, if you have the right number of people or a special occasion..I’m hungry, and in Germany, special enough?…)


Augustiner Keller Beer Garden

The tables are long with one butting up against the next.  As I pass through a party of 4 gets up to leave…thinking it’s the “In n Out Burger” model, cruise around until you see someone leave and then snag the table, I am ready to jump in a chair and spend the $.50 to text the others I have conquered a seat.  But to my dismay the waiter comes over and gives me a look…”Can we sit here?” I ask sweetly.  ”How many?” he responds brusquely.   Smile…”four”…he looks around and give me a nod…yes, I have been honored to sit.
I’m still not expecting much…after all, if they serve over 7,000 meals a day, then how good can the food be?  And then there is this whole feeling of the “cross sale” and the “sell as much as you can” and the feeling of “move the customer, turn the table”… but we are seated…big ass beers are served, along with my tiny little Pinot Grigio,  and dinner is ordered…


These are some big ass beers!

By our waiter’s suggestion Trevor and DH are getting the “everything we make and serve in Munich plate”… Evan and I are holding out for Wiener Schnitzel.  The food is promptly brought…(remember…move the customer, people is money, more people is more money) and you know what?  It’s good.  Well done.  Well prepared.


The "everything we make" plate


Schnitzel

Wiener Schnitzel Recipe

 

As we are prone to do, we start talking to our waiter.  The pace of the dinner slows…a reserved sign goes on the tables next to us, taking up 8 places…reserved for Dr. Frei at 12:00 midnight.  Our waiter, Tilo starts to talk to us about foodie things, he brings us some cheese that a friend of his makes…we have a couple of Jagger shots…I have another glass of wine, it’s a fine evening.  Dessert is fresh berries and cream, Apple Strudel…good times.  He’s telling us about how many people they serve and how many large steins of beers they can each carry (the best can do 12, 6 in each hand)  and how it all works.  I comment; “and you work late hours too, as I see you have a reservation for midnight”.  He laughs and lets us in on his secret.

Reserved

He had been having a bad day and was in a bad mood.  His boss had been on his ass and he wasn’t happy at all.  When I asked if we could sit, his first gut jerk reaction was to say no…go away.  But he didn’t and between our talks of life in the states, his sharing his life in Germany, including many hopes and dreams, he felt happy.  He was glad we were there and didn’t want anyone jostling behind us with big mugs of beer or plates laden with food, so he put the “RESERVED” sign down so no one would sit there.  Yes, he took out a table for 8 for us.  And Dr. Frei, will it’s just his Dr. Free…as in, keep the table free.  Did he get a little extra on his tip?  Yes, yes he did.  And a meal that was supposed to take less than an hour to serve and get us out of there, went on to about 3 hours…each and every minute a pleasure.  We will all remember his as one of the best meals we had!

A fine time was had by all...


But maybe more for some than others :-)

LindySez:  Remember it’s the experience.  And you always have the ability to change your experience…at any time.


A European serch for...Iced Tea

I drink iced tea.  It’s my beverage of choice when I’m not enjoying a fine glass of wine or a cocktail.  And not flavored iced tea, no lemon, no sugar, just plain black tea served over lots of ice.  Lots of ice.  I don’t like warm iced tea.  Then it’s not iced tea, it’s just bad tea.  Iced tea, it’s the pause that refreshes.

Iced tea is not common in Europe.  Not common? That’s an understatement.  While Lipton has founds its way into some of the grocery stores, it’s all sweetened, lemoned and or peached.  Not my cup of tea.  So after many many bottles of water (we did hit Spain right after the cold spell snapped directly into unseasonable warm humid weather) I was thrilled when on Day 7 I spied a Starbucks in Madrid.  Starbucks, a Tazo Black Iced Tea, Unsweetened, extra ice…I could visualize it.  Oh happy days.

We enter, they have the usual suspects, Caramel Frappuccino, Iced Latte, Mocha Iced Coffee and tea.  Not iced tea, just tea.  So how hard can it be? I’ll just tell them how to make an iced tea.  They have tea, they have ice, they have iced tea and just don’t know it yet.  My husband speaks good Spanish so I set him to the task.  ”Tell her” I say, “that I want a tea and a venti cup filled with ice (I know y’all speak Starbucks, but just in case you don’t, venti is the tallest cup, with tall being the smallest cup).  She looks at him, puzzled.  He repeats it, in a slightly different way.  She again looks puzzled…”You want me to put a tea bag into a cup of ice?” she asks him in Spanish…”No” he explains, “make the tea and then pour it over the ice”.  She shrugs, but goes on to get a cup with hot water, puts in the tea bag and gets the big (I mean venti) cup of ice.

While the tea brews we stand aside.  There is here, as in most Starbucks, a line.  About 6 people stand in line when my tea is ready.  She looks over at us, a questioning look in her eyes, my husband demonstrates the move, pour the hot tea over the ice. She does.  The line gasps.  They start talking amongst themselves.  They have never seen anything so crazy before, they are all a twitter.  I walk up and take my prize.  Their mouths gape as I take my first delicious sip.  AWWWW…yes!  Heaven.

We move on.  Day 10 approaches.  We are in Freiburg, Germany (Deutchland)…viewing a wonderful old church.  The town of Freiburg was totally demolished in WWII, but it was generally understood that churches were to be spared, it’s one of the reasons there are so many beautiful churches to see.  This particular church did suffer some damage and the results of the bullet holes caused by strafing are evident on the exterior.


The boys see the results of shell damage to the church


The interior

It’s another hot, and unseasonable humid day.  We are walking when off to the left, right under the historic archway entry into the city, what should I see?  McDonald’s!  Another of my best places to get an iced tea, since they are still one of the few that actually does fresh brewed tea.  Well, I reason, if they don’t have it on the menu, I can certainly explain once again how to make one.


Not your typical golden arches


Different McDonalds Menu

First problem, they don’t have it on the menu.  Second problem, none of us speak German.  OK…we can do this.  So again, I order a hot tea, and a large cup of ice (eis).  The young girl at the counter shrugs, and brings me my hot water, tea bag and glass of ice.  Life moves on to the next person in line.  I go over to a table and brew my tea; wait, I need a top for my big cup of ice so once I pour the water in I have a proper McDonald’s Iced Tea.  I go back and ask the young lady for a top, she gives me one for the tea.  No, I need one for the ice.  Confusion on her face, but shrug, she gives me one.  I complete my iced tea…good to go.  But my hubby says “You should go show it to her”…so I do.


Everything you need, for a proper iced tea

I walk up to the counter and she looks at me.  I open the lid with the straw in it and show her, perfectly brewed black tea poured over ice.  She looks at it…surprised.  ”Ja??? Just tea on ice????  ”Ja”, I say.  ”I’ve never seen such a thing” she says.  ”It’s on every menu at McDonald’s in America” I reply.  An incredulous “NO” is the response.  ”Ja Ja” I say, “and at Starbucks too.”  She was stunned.   I’m sure she Googled it that night while trying to prove to her boyfriend that such insanity did exist, but only in America.

LindySez: Imagine the pure joy of arriving at Dulles International Airport.  Walking up to the Starbucks counter.  Ordering a Venti Black Iced Tea, unsweetened, extra ice…that’ll be $2.40 is the only reply.

Recipe for a Perfect Iced Tea

4 tea bags (your choice, I like black or green, but use whatever)
2 cups water (preferably filtered or spring)
Additional Water (same as above)

Put the tea bags in a 2 cup glass measuring cup.  Add 2 cups water.  Place in microwave for 4 1/2 minutes.  Allow to sit for 10 minutes.  Remove tea bags squeezing out any excess water.  Pour tea into a 1 quart container and add water to fill.  Pour over a large glass filled with ice.

If you have to add a sweetener use a simple sugar.  Put 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar into the 2 cup measure.  Microwave for 2 minutes or until the sugar is dissolved.  Add, as desired, to your tea.  (This way you don’t have to stir stir stir trying to mix the sugar with the ice cold drink).

You can also muck this up with lemon.

I am Not Martha Stewart

So I’m sitting, enjoying my beautiful Saturday morning.  A cup of coffee and the paper. I open up the Home and Garden Section and peruse the Martha Stuart column; this one happens to be very timely, it’s about “How to keep your grill glowing”.  And here’s her advice for Gas grills:

With EACH use: Preheat grill with all burners on high, 10 – 15 minutes.  Scrub the hot grates briskly with a brass bristle-brush. Now, that makes sense.  You do need to preheat the grill before cooking, so preheat it, then clean it, then put the oil on it, then cook.  Gotcha.

Now here’s the part that made me think WTF: After grilling, close the lid and leave the burners on for 10 – 15 minutes to burn off any food, then scrub the grates again.  Really?  Martha, did you buy stock in  American Gas?  Are they a new sponsor?  I don’t know about you all, but propane costs money in my world, and not just a little bit of money.  I can’t afford to be running the tank when there is nothing to heat up for or cook.  In LindySez’s world, you heat it up, cook, then turn it off.  10 minutes of propane is enough to cook a steak, or a least some burgers.

So here’s the LindySez version of keeping your grill glowing:

1.  Do check your drip pans, and empty them of grease.
2. Do preheat your grill for 10 minutes or so before putting food on it.  And once hot, scrub off any residual food.
3. After cooking, make sure you shut off the tank and the burners, immediately.  Close the lid, to keep the bees and other critters out, and when your are ready to cook again, go to step #1.

Here’s my grill when I start:

Not pretty

And when I actually put food on it…
Now, that's ready for food!

LindySez: You can be fussy,  you can be overly fussy, and then you can be Martha Stewart fussy.