Tuesday, September 16, 2014

TRIP: Amsterdam Part 2

Our cruise finished where it began, back in Amsterdam. We had one extra day in Amsterdam before we head to Belgium for our friends' wedding. The Amsterdam flag is the triple X which is part of it's coat of arms, I had originally thought the triple X marked the red light district.  I was further mistaken to think the locals were really proud of the red light district as I started seeing the triple X everywhere but was able to get a clarification from a tour guide. Well now that is out of the way....

Something I highly recommend if you take the cruise we were on is to take the Anne Frank House tour. Unfortunately no pictures allowed, so I got one of a statue of Anne Frank outside the house. The tour lets you bypass buying tickets a month ahead online and standing in a crazy 4 hour line. We basically shuffled in before the museum opened and got to see the whole thing.

You can't go to Amsterdam without taking a picture of a windmill. I was only able to snap this picture of the back of a windmill as we were driving around. There's a lot more to these windmills than I figured. Yes a lot of the original windmills were a local place for people to bring grains to be milled but others used the wind power for other functions such as powering pumps to keep the city (which is below sea level) from flooding. A lot of the old wind mills have been decommissioned and the remaining are now protected historical sites (that still function). People are trained to operate and maintain the windmills and are commissioned to live there. When not in operation the wind mills are locked in the "X" or "+" configuration. In the old days mills that were in need of repair were locked in the "X" configuration so that repair people could easily see who needed help.

The other must see from my wife was the Van Gogh museum. Again no pictures allowed but it was neat to see some of the classic paintings I've read about and seen as photos in person. I'm not usually one for museums but this was pretty spectacular. The museum was laid out chronologically to his body of work so the audio tour was really neat to fill in the historical gaps between paintings or what was going on in his life to influence the works.

To finish our we wandered into the sister hotel of the one we were staying. "Art'otel". It was a very modern hotel we actually randomly walked into the restaurant not realizing it was a hotel. It wasn't until after dinner that one of the hotel staff happily took us on a quick tour.

The hotel has a basement for art gallery installation as well as performances. There were large windows to allow passerby's to see and hear performances or rehearsals. Upstairs featured an interactive video display cameras watch for motion to affect the light display. The rooms were very modern and beautiful, if we come back we'll be staying here.

The restaurant "5 and 33" is the main restaurant for the hotel it features italian tapas and all of the ingredients are  locally sourced. The host was super friendly and gave us the run down on the place and it's inspiration. It's only been open a month or so but from our dining experience I'm expecting it to be here a while.

Just like the rest of the hotel the decor was very modern and beautiful. We ordered a bunch of small plates, the food was so awesome I decided to show each dish.

Burrata, heritage tomatoes and basil - their take on a caprese salad. The Burrata cheese was delicious and generous and the tomatoes were sweet and juicy. An impressive first start.

Asparagus, quail eggs, pecornio and Truffles

Green pea soup. The soup had a very "vibrant taste". We loved this dish, there was clearly some cream in the soup however the soup was light and airy so they probably put this thru a blendtec or vitamix to give it that clean and smooth texture.

Grilled Octopus, olives, and artichoke

Seabass ravioli, olives and thyme. Our opinion was that the fish was too dry alone to be in a ravioli might want a little fat to go with it.

Braised ox cheeks, mashed potatoes and wild mushrooms. Wow.

We were barely able to finish this last dish, Pork belly with peperonata.

This was an amazing meal. The hospitality an service was great. Definitely go visit this place, it's right across from the Amsterdam Central station right on the square.

Monday, September 15, 2014

NHK World: Bento, Global Lunchbox Project

I was invited to join NHK World's Global Lunchbox project on Japanese TV. I filmed a submission and sent into photos. The episode apparently aired 9/14 but I was unable to view it so I have no idea whether they used any of my video. They did feature me in the gallery with a shortened version of my video on making this bento here. Eating in a box goes global :)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

TRIP: Copenhagen Denmark

Our last port of call before returning to home port, Copenhagen Denmark. I'm not sure whether to classify this as our last stop or the stop before last.

I saw this sign on while we were walking down the street.... 'Nuff said yarr.

The big attraction we decided to hit was Tivoli Garden. This amusement park/regular park is very popular destination (especially with the beautiful summer weather) it has a lot more green space sitting area for people to lounge on unlike the amusement parks in America. This is the second oldest amusement parks in the world (built in 1843).

In fact Walt Disney modeled his Disney world parks after the Tivoli park. This is a shot of the Asian themed area of the park.

There were lots of green spaces and where park go-ers can sit and listen to music (a couple of open air theaters). This is a shot of the Mrs. Peacock herding her babies.

Denmark is the home of my favorite toy Lego! Lego seems to distribute all of its models all over the world so I was disappointed that I wasn't able find anything unique to bring home. I hope to come back one day and visit the factory.

Troll goblin thing. I don't know, it was just out there on the street.

We ended our tour with a late lunch at Cafe Norden. One last chance at a Smørresbrød (danish open sandwiches): Egg and shrimp, Homemade chicken salad, Pork loin with red cabbage. Once again very filling. I liked the rye bread, it was more like a multi whole grain shaped into a toast like thing rather than "bread".

I got the "three burgers": smoked salmon, beef and salmon.

I wish we had a little more time to explore Copenhagen, we missed out on Royal residence and crown jewels, but it was a short port call so we had to pick and choose. We'll just have to come back.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

TRIP: Stockholm Sweden

We're rounding the corner home with Stockholm Sweden . We entered the port through the Swedish archipeligos, which was a beautiful site. The Stockholm archipelagos are made up of about 30,000 small islands some of them no bigger than a car poking out of the water some large enough for several houses. We arrived around 6am and it was a very quiet glide through the islands. This shot was from our balcony.

Once in port there were water taxis to take you to various points of interest including an amusement park, the ABBA museum (which I'm a little bummed we missed), and historical district. Since these are the things we missed I only have this picture of a family of fearless barnacle geese to show you.

We opted to spend our time with the Vasa Museum. Above is the remains of one of two famous 17th Century warships to herald the greatness of the power of Sweden sea power. Her name: Vasa.

Unfortunately, she sunk within 25 mins of launching out of port. #epicfail #headswillroll (actually no heads rolled). Long story short, the ship's center of mass was too high, this caused it to take on too much water through the gun ports as it swayed from side to side. They did test for seaworthiness but no one wanted to tell the king his new awesome ship was going to sink. Fortunately, the sister ship was corrected and did sail for 30 years until she was blown apart. Ironically, the brackish water and the mud at the bottom harbor actually preserved the ship and it is in far better condition than her sister. The museum is a wealth of information about ship building and what the lives of the sailors looked like and many people have come to study the ship.

Just outside the museum was one of the hotdog vendors that a fellow passenger told us to check out. Basically, they take a french baguette impale it to create a hole and squeeze in mustard and ketchup from this cow udder like device (to the right of the guy in the picture). It was pretty good, the crusty baguette was an interesting change from the American bun.

With precious little time left we decided to pickup lunch at the Royal Copenhagen where they serve sandwiches and tea from classically made royal floral china (porcelain).

The company was founded in 1775 and commissioned by the Queen of Denmark to replicate the fine dishware found in the far east. Turns out they do a nice lunch and tea.

I picked the "Sommartallrik" Summer plate featuring cured salmon with creamy dill potato salad, egg anchovy salad  with crisp (rye) bread and skagen with roe of shrimp.

My wife picked the Kokets Val which was three halves of smorrebrod (open face sandwiches), Rostbiff (roastbeef with cucumber, horseradish and roasted onion), Kyckling (chicken with chipotle mayo, bacon, tomato and lettuce), Chevre (Chevre with beetroot, leek cream and honey.)

On our way back I got a nice forward shot of our ship. NOOOO it's coming right for us!

We had a sea day on our way back to Denmark the next day. The executive Chef of the boat took our request for reinstating "High tea" at the Oceanliner restaurant and kindly invited us to the "captains club" tea for the frequent travelers. We had a great time talking to our fellow passengers and it was neat to be in the "cool kids" club.

Monday, August 25, 2014

TRIP: Helsinki Finland

We've passed the half the point quite a few points to hit on the way back and we start with Helsinki, Finland. Helsinki is a nice clean modern city we chose to just walk the city and wandered into the city center. This is St. Luther's cathedral it's situated at right at the town square next to the Parliament building. We did a little shopping here to replenish some clothing, the weather was amazing and the people were very friendly and helpful. I realize this is a rare sunny season for the area so it'd be interesting to see what winter looks like here.

We did swing by the tourist center and they suggested going Zetor for lunch, it featured a "rustic country" cuisine.

There were tractors, wooden benches and rusted signs everywhere. They really did it up with the ambiance. It would have fit right in back home in Texas.

The printed the menu in multiple languages and presented like a newspaper. I saw, Finnish, Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, German, and English just to name a few. I took pictures of the Finnish dish names in the hopes of replicating them.

We started with a Salmon soup (Lohikeitto), served with potatoes dill in a cream finished with white wine. So very yummy, the salmon was poached tender and fish broth was simply amazing. We almost ordered a second one.

My wife selected the Karjalanpaisti: Karelian Stew - Stewed beef, pork and lamb with boiled potatoes, lingonberries and pickled gherkins. I'm not sure about gherkins since they seemed like full sized pickled cucumbers. It was a nice combination of sweet, sour and meaty.

One of the big sells from the tourist center was the quote: "well if you're into rustic/country food you can go to Zetor, you can get stuff like Reindeer steak and meatballs." So, I had the Fillet of reindeer (Levin Hullua Poroa). The fillet was cooked Medium rare served with a barley mushroom 'risotto' (which I couldn't get enough of), honey roasted carrots and parsnips and stewed spinach. The reindeer was very game-y, it had a very livery finish and was pretty lean, it reminded me of a sirloin steak.

It's amazing how reliant we've become on the internet. My first few trips on a cruise it was simply relaxing knowing that the internet was near impossible to get to. Now however you realize how much you rely on the smartphone for currency, weather, various apps or just knowing where to go in a foreign city. Each wifi hotspot has become an oasis of information to see what's happening at home and just basic information about the city we are visiting.

It was a short port visit, we were back on the boat pretty quickly for a 5pm cast off. We went down to the wine bar and took a lesson on french wines.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

TRIP: Faberge Eggs Pt2

By request I'm posting the pictures of the rest of the Faberge eggs I was able to capture from the Celebrity Constellation exhibit. I don't know enough about the history of these eggs so I'll just be posting the pictures.

From the egg talk this last egg is one of the first ones produced by Theo Faberge. He was a wood worker by trade and it was the first time the Faberge eggs featured wood as a material to produce the egg. The inside is hollow and meant to hold something of value. The wood on the inside apparently will take on a darker purple shade as the egg ages. It was a cool exhibit.