Hungary For A Little East-EuroPop?

April 9, 2010 at 8:20 am | Posted in Europe, Hungary | 3 Comments
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by Tripatini staff

Meet Gabriella, Ádám, and Zsolt, Budapest thirtysomethings who formed the electro-pop group Unique in 1997 — and who’ve been music-obsessed ever since they were mini-Madyars. Blonde Gabi, for example, made a splash way back in ’92 when she walked away with “best solo singer” on the Hungarian TV show Teenage Star Search. With her on vocals and her pair of wingmen on keyboards, the trio persevered finally hitting the big time in 2001, when a Unique tune was picked as the theme for the country’s first reality show and they released their first recorded single. Now five albums and various singles and remixes later, they’re a fixture in the top tier of Hungary’s pop music scene, and here’s their latest hit single, Hiszed vagy sem. Its music eminently danceable (as usual), in this video Gabriella dons racoon makeup and a shimmery dress and swans around a dark, glistening pool of water while crooning about a girl dreaming of her departed significant other. We’re told there’s an English-language version of this, with the ungrammatical, slightly garbled title “Unhappy Ending Dream,” but the actual translation of the Hungarian original is “believe it or not.” Confusing? Well, whatever — it’s the most kick-butt boo-hoo we’ve seen in a while, that’s for damn sure…


Iceland to Relocate to Costa del Sol

April 1, 2010 at 5:27 pm | Posted in Europe, humor, Iceland, Spain, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Las Chapas, Spain (Tripatini NewsWire) – Spanish Prime Minister José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero and Prime Minister of Iceland and former Loftleidir flight attendant Jóhanna Sigurdardóttir today announced the official launch of Operation Sól og Fjara (Sun and Beach) at a beachfront signing ceremony that concluded a six-month negotiation for the purchase of a strip of aging condominium buildings in the town of Las Chapas on Spain’s Costa del Sol. Under this unprecedented plan, the entire population of the North Atlantic island nation, currently estimated at 317,000, will be transferred in stages to their new home, which will enjoy full sovereignty under the terms of the agreement. Sources close to the negotiators have hinted at a figure in the billions of krona, not counting a 20-year installment plan of barter payments in sardines and backstock whale blubber.

“It just makes sense,” said Ms. Sigurdardóttir, who admits that her name is sure to confound her new Spanish neighbors. “We have bad weather. They have good weather. Honestly, we’re sick of the cold and the puffins.”

Mr. Zapatero, whose name will likely confound the average Icelander as well, added, “The Brits have bailed on so many condominiums, and that whole coast is way overbuilt. Sól og Fjara is good for Spain too.”

Every Icelander pitched in to make the purchase possible, according to the Icelandic prime minister. “Even the little children dug into their piggy banks. We’re proud to say that we are all founders of the new Iceland.”

In a cordoned-off area nearby, an angry mob of Spaniards burned codfish, an ancient symbol of Iceland, in protest. The resulting smell caused several onlookers to pass out. At last count, a young couple and a teacup chihuahua had been hospitalized.

“What’s the difference?” Zapatero asked. “This coast is overrun with foreigners anyway. We managed to upsell the Icelanders on our ‘Full Sovereignty’ package, and that’s a good thing for our bottom line. Discussions are currently under way with the Canadian territory of Nunavut for a similar deal.”

Gudmund Gudmundsson, a bystander who flew down from Reykjavík for the occasion, commented with tears in his eyes: “I know I speak for my countrymen when I say, I cannot wait for swim in January! So long as Mediterranean freeze not, we will make a party.”

Some Icelanders, understandably, will miss their homeland, which has reportedly been sold to Donald Trump for development of a Santa Claus-themed casino and spa complex.

The April Fool’s Day celebration concluded with the consumption of a rotting shark’s head, a traditional Icelandic delicacy. By that point, Prime Minister Zapatero had conveniently departed for an urgent meeting in Nunavut’s capital of Iqaluit.

Visiting Prague? Get Outta Town — Bohemia and Moravia (Gently) Rock

March 17, 2010 at 10:38 am | Posted in Czech Republic, Europe, wine tourism | Leave a comment
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by Jacy Meyer

Sure, the capital of the Czech Republic is a many splendored thing, and 60 percent of visitors venture nowhere else in the country. But what they’re missing is massive, from ancient castles and abbeys to some of the world’s most gorgeous spas and best beer, along with lodging and dining that both of fine quality and highly affordable. You may have even heard of the likes of Karlovy Vary (aka Karlsbad) and UNESCO World Heritage Sites Český Krumlov and Telč. But here are five of my lesser known favorites, all within four hours’ drive of Prague.

Jindřichův Hradec In south Bohemia, beloved of Czechs but very beneath the tourist radar, JH has small-town charm, a great castle, nature right nearby — and a line proudly marking the 15th longitude meridian. The Renaissance castle complex is the third largest in the country, with some great frescos from the 1300’s; a round garden pavilion; and a Gothic palace. Other highlights include  the 14th-century Church of Our Lady with its frescoes, and an unusual eyepopper: in the city history museum, ensconced in a former Jesuit seminary, is the world’s largest mechanical nativity scene, built over six decades in the 19th century and containing nearly 1,400 figures.  Just out of town, hitch a ride on the narrow gauge (rails a mere 30 inches/760 mm apart) steam railway, the only one remaining in Bohemia; it rolls you through some lovely valleys, hills, and forests, practically up to the border with Austria.

Mikulov Moravia is known for its wines (which have been becoming ever more respectable by world standards), so a visit to a local vinárna (wine cellar) like Mikulovský Šenk (great outdoor terrace!) to sip the goods is a must. Right on the Austrian border, Mikulov (above right) was also historically famed for its religious tolerance and boasts many pilgrimage sites, including the Svatý Kopeček (“Holy Hill”), a slightly steep climb from the city center, here you’ll find a number of St. Sebastian’s Church, whose belfry offers great views. There are several Jewish sites here, too, such as the Upper Synagogue and a 15th- century cemetery. Off the city’s main square is St. Wenceslas Church with its small ossuary; right across the square in the Dietrichstein tomb you can check out skeletons of aristocrats. Finally, don’t miss the Baroque chateau looming over the city — probably its single most handsome feature.

Plzeň Don’t recognize the name? “Pilsen” ring a bell instead? Bohemia’s famous for its pivo (beer), and anyone who enjoys a nice cold one should appreciate the work of the brewers in the country’s fourth largest city, a couple of hours west of Prague. They came up with bottom-fermented lager in the mid-1800s lager, and now most beer around the world is made this way. The Pilsener Urquell brewery’s interesting tour ends with a tasting of unpasteurized and unfiltered beer straight from the oak barrels. But don’t neglect the rest of Plzeň, starting with the huge main square, dominated by the Cathedral of St. Bartholomew, which boasts the country’s highest tower and terrific countryside views; architecture fans will appreciate the sgraffitto and other Renaissance detail, some by Italians, others by well-known Czechs. The tourist information office on the square offers a map with a do-it-yourself walking tour covering the most historic buildings. Two other must-sees include the Patton Memorial, paying homage to American soldiers who liberated the city in World War II, and the Techmania Science Center, an interactive museum for all ages.

Tábor About 90 minutes’ drive south of Prague, fetchingly perched on a hill over Central Europe’s largest manmade lake, this town’s old quarter is a compact 15th-century charmer, with narrow lanes zigging and zagging all over the place. Named after the biblical Mount Tabor, the town earned notoriety in the 1400s thanks to its Reformation-era religious freedom and experimentation — and the subsequent attempts to extinguish them in the Hussite wars. Its defenders would gather in the large main Žižka Square, and the streets were deliberately made difficult to confuse invaders. But its best-known attraction is under your feet; after exploring “up top” and perusing the Old Town Hall’s Hussite museum, climb down the steep steps to a warren of damp tunnels once used for storing food, making beer , stashing prisoners, and hiding from attacks; a half mile is open to visitors.

Valtice/Lednice These next-door towns are less than an hour’s drive from Mikulov, and what makes them special is the Baroque complex built by the aristocratic Lichtenstein family. It spans 618 acres (250 hectares) between the two towns, including chapels, statuary, ponds, woods, and an easy seven-mile (11-km) path connecting the towns. Each town has a slightly different feel; I think that overall Valtice is more attractive, with better restaurants and hotels, even though the castle is a bit more rundown than Lednice’s (do check out, though, the castle’s new Tiree Chmelar herb garden, opening May 29, 2010). Around here, too, wine is big, and at Valtice’s National Wine Bank you can taste the Czech Republic’s top 100 wines (pace yourself). Lednice is a bit bland but does sport one of the country’s most appealing castles, complete with a minaretlike tower and boat rides on its canals. And for an odd final touch, don’t miss the Agricultural Museum, which for some surely good reason displays a massive mammoth head.

Coming soon: the spectacular spa towns of Bohemia.

Devon, England’s Agatha Christie Trail

March 10, 2010 at 12:54 pm | Posted in Europe, United Kingdom | 1 Comment
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by Max Pesling

Britain’s National Trust runs a beguiling array of estates, castles, churches, and abbeys, plenty of which can boast an air of mystery and even a few murders committed within their precincts.  But how many can claim they sheltered the world’s greatest maestro of the murder mystery? Just under three hours’ drive or train ride west of London in Devon (you might want to get the 4:50 from Paddington), Greenway, the manse and gardens shared by Agatha Christie (1890-1976) and her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan on the River Dart near Brixham, was opened to the public for the first time just this past year, and it makes for a fascinating peek into Dame Agatha’s life, times, and œuvre. Yanks and Canucks might also appreciate the nifty New World connections dating back to the 16th century: Sir Walter Raleigh was born here, and the house was built by a family that included the discoverer of Newfoundland.

Fans will also want to hang a while (as it were) in the somewhat funky seaside resort city of Torquay, a drive of 20 minutes or so away, part of the so-called English Riviera (and BTW where the famous Britcom Fawlty Towers was set), where the lady grew up and spent most of her life. Here amid the various hotels, restaurants, and fish-and-chips shops they can stroll the Agatha Christie Mile, whose 11 stops include Torquay, Devon, England, United Kingdomthe town museum with its inevitable Christie exhibit; the town hall where she worked as a nurse during World War I, when it served as a Red Cross hospital; Meadfoot Beach; the formerly grand Pavillion, now home to a somewhat sad-sackish little mall; and All Saints Church (where they’ll even give you an Agatha tour). Even the darn 12th-century Torre Abbey has an Agatha Christie room. And that’s not all, folks: the local tourist board sites and others like list a few additional sights in the Torbay area (which includes Brixham and Paignton as well as Torquay) either associated with Dame Agatha or used as inspiration or settings for her stories.

You’ll want to stay at the Grand Hotel where she honeymooned, and I’d definitely make time for a ride on the Paignton-Dartmouth Railway, a charming seven-mile steam-train run which pops up in several Hercule Poirot novels.

Agatha Christie bust, Torquay, Devon, England, United KingdomIf any of this tempts you, consider booking well ahead in order to come during September’s weeklong English Riviera Agatha Christie Festival (running Sept. 12-19, this, the sixth annual, should be even more elaborate than usual, given that it’s the author’s 120th birthday); for pics from the ‘ 09 festival, click here. It’s sure to be a delightful orgy of murder most fair.

Portugal’s Mariza: Fado’s First 21st-Century Diva

March 5, 2010 at 8:28 am | Posted in Europe, music, Portugal | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff The most famous contribution of Portugal to world music — compared to Spain’s flamenco, Argentine tango, and the blues of the United States, and usually sung in a minor key — soulful, melancholic fado originated in the slums of Lisbon nearly two centuries ago and has been seeing revival and evolution in the decade since the passing of its most famous icon, Amália Rodrigues. Fado’s top diva of the 21st century so far is blonde, 39-year-old Marisa dos Reis Nunes — stage name Mariza — whose background does proud by the genre’s African and Brazilian colonial influences; she’s part black, born in what was then still in its final years as the overseas province of Mozambique, and besides mostly growing up in Lisbon also spent part of her childhood in Brazil. This lovely clip, Rosa Branca, is the featured single from Mariza’s Latin-Grammy-winning sixth and latest album Terra (Earth), released last year. It includes a beautiful old Sintra palace backdrop and traditional folk dancers, yet very much conveys that contemporary, jazzed-up sensibility, by among other things adding afro-Brazilian percussion. Here she sings, “I know you so love roses — why don’t you love me?” But wethinks the lady doth protest too much — this classy, dynamic songstress has already conquered the likes of Carnegie Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and the Royal Albert Hall, and chances are we’ll be getting plenty more bouquets from her in the decade to come.

Istanbul Dining Gems: Tuck In & Tip Back Like a Turk at Traditional Meyhanes

February 22, 2010 at 11:10 am | Posted in culinary/food & drink, Europe | 4 Comments
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by Asli Pelit

Imroz meyhane, Istanbul, TurkeyAlong with the dramatic blue waters of Turkey‘s Bosphorus, the opulent dome and minarets of Topkapi Palace and the Hagia Sophia, travelers to Istanbul always come away wowed by its incredible cuisine. And I confess, as a seventh-generation local, I dream about the sight of a well prepared Turkish table when I’m away from home.

Atop seven hills where two continents meet, encircled by the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, the perfect setup of the ancient city once known as Constantinople  influences our way of living and of course eating — we take dining and drinking seriously here! And no matter what their income level or ethnic/social background, people get together with friends at least once a week to drink and eat for hours in the most typical and traditional of our restaurants, the meyhanes (pronounced mei-HA-nee, meaning “wine house”).

Similar in feel and concept to Spain’s tapas bars, our unpretentious meyhanes are a world unto themselves, frequented by young and old, rich and poor, fancy and dowdy — they’re probably the only spots in Istanbul where you can witness such disparate groups hanging out together.  They’re loud, dodgy, bustling, and popular for celebrations (and if you’re wondering what Muslim Turks are doing drinking, we’re obviously pretty liberal on the question of alcohol).

Most locals agree that meyhanes serve the best mezes in town, washed down by most with raki, the licorice-flavored distilled spirit that’s our national drink. Mezes are essentially elaborate yet inexpensive pub snacks, designed to encourage you to drink more, arriving on trays full of tantalizing different textures and tastes. Consuming them’s a very leisurely procedure: take a sip of raki, perhaps a slice of feta and melon or a mouthful of eggplant salad, then a bit of crusty bread, followed by another mouthful of raki, then some garlicky yogurt dip, then deep-friend calamari and mussels, more raki, followed by a crispy fried herring, yet another sip…and so on throughout the evening.

We all have our favorites, where the waiter knows our names, where we never wait for table, and are never served stale bread or mezes. Here are some of mine, most located in Taksim, Beyoğlu and surrounding old parts of town. Afiyet olsun (bon appétit)!

Cumhuriyet, in the heart of Beyoğlu, is a good place to start. The most famous meyhane on the Balıkpazarı restaurant row, its reputation was established when Turkey’s revered founder Kemal Atatürk used to drink here (cumhuriyet means “democracy”). It’s known for uskumru dolması (stuffed mackerel), topik (spicy, potato-and-chickpea-based), and çerkez tavuğu (a marvelous mixture of garlic and boneless chicken pieces). Balıkpazarı Sokak 47; 0212/252-0886.

Near Taksim Square on the buzzing Nevizade restaurant row, İmroz (above right) was opened in 1941 by Yorgo Okumuş, who believe it or not is still on the job! Armenian specialties are the stars — don’t miss, among its 35 mezes, lakerda (bonito in brine), pilaki (white beans and onions in vinagrette), and tarama (fish roe and breadcrumbs). The summer terrace is a real treat. Nevizade Sokak 24; 0212/249-9073.

Refík Aslan opened his small Refík in  Beyoğlu fifty years ago and still runs it, along with his son. Traditional Turkish main dishes are served at lunch, while the night belongs to mezes such as house specialties karalahana dolması (kale stuffed with meat), stewed anchovies, and kuzu sarma (lamb chitlins). Closed Sundays; reserve Friday/Saturday. Sofyalı Sok 10-12; 0212/243-2834.

meze dish of the meyhanes of Istanbul, Turkey: arnavut ciğeriYakup 2 has been in business near Tünel (part of Beyoğlu, so called because it’s home to Istanbul’s first subway line) for 27 years, known for its distinctive hot mezes, like arnavut ciğeri (fried liver; right), mushrooms sautéed in butter, and kağıtta pastırma (dried meat flavored with cumin and garlic, cooked in parchment). Considering Asmali Mescit Street has become Beyoğlu’s coolest hangout on weekends, reservations are a must. Asmalı Mescýt Mahallesý 35-37; 0212/249-2925.

One of many little meyhanes on the buzzing Beyoğlu street of the same name, Nevizade is also dubbed “Eski Lefter” (Lefter was a legendary soccer player of the 1950’s, known for his right foot and his raki drinking). This little joint has become a haunt of artists and writers, and is usually packed on weekends, so show up early or  reserve ahead.  Nevizade Sokak 12; 0212/251-1634.

If you take a ride across Galata Bridge to Istanbul’s oldest quarter, Kumkapı, try Kör Agop. This 65-year-old classic in the historic customs building, in an area with lots of fish restaurants, is popular with foreigners, with special house mezes including fish soup. A fasıl heyeti (classical Turkish music ensemble) plays nightly from 8 pm. Kumkapı Meydanı Ördekçi Bakkal Sokak 7; 0212/517-2334.

meyhane Kuleli in Istanbul, TurkeyA quarter-century-old eatery in Samatya, a neighborhood that predates Istanbul itself, Kuleli (right) is also known for its fishy fare. Here you can’t go wrong ordering the kalamar (calamari), ançuez (salted anchovy), sardalya (sardines), ahtapot (octopus), lakerda (salted bonito) and çiroz (dried mackerel). Reservations recommended. Büyük Kuleli Sokak 38; 0212/587-9438.

Last but not least, Safa is Istanbul’s oldest still-operating meyhane, dating from 1879 and occupying a high-ceilinged single-story building in Yedikule, the waterfront neighborhood near the eponymous famous fortress/prison (now a museum). Its walls are decorated with raki bottles and shots of Atatürk, and the Arnavut ciğeri (savory nuggets of fried liver with onion) and lakerda are must-try classics, as are most any of the fish dishes. İlyasbey Caddesi 169; 0212/585-5594.

Move Over Gouda, Tulips and Windmills — Here Comes “Nederhop”

February 19, 2010 at 11:17 am | Posted in Europe, music, Netherlands | Leave a comment
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by Tripatini staff

Though in the Netherlands we’ve noticed many music artists — rappers especially — these days seem to work in English, Osdorp Posse has been a notable exception. Five guys from the rough, outlying Osdorp section of west Amsterdam, they started out as a bit of a goof, actually, but ended up becoming serious stars on the Netherlands’ underground music scene in the 1990’s with their “Gangsterdam” sound, rapping not just in Dutch but more specifically in the Amsterdam dialect. Headed by now 31-year-old lead singer Pascal Griffoen (aka “Def-P” — think a Dutch version of Eminem), the Posse cranked out a dozen albums of material loaded with trenchant commentary on social issues, but because it’s often been a bit on the profane side, they got precious little play on commercial radio. In fact, beyond “A ten-Euro note is a joetje,” there’s little about this song, “Origineel Amsterdams,” that we can even translate for a family-friendly Web site, due to either profanity (don’t worry, though, the visuals are perfectly clean) or just plain trickiness in translating inside references. But let’s just say it’s a primer on Amsterdam slang relating to money, sex, prostitution, booze, and drugs, against a backdrop with some colorful glimpses of Holland’s best-known city. Osdorp Posse disbanded this past fall, but two key members have reportedly started another hip-hop group called Digibombers, with an album expected in 2010. Mijn gott, we can only imagine…

I Got All My Sisters With Me — Plus Mom — in Sicily

February 8, 2010 at 5:11 pm | Posted in Europe, Italy | 2 Comments
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by Rosie DeQuattro
I admit the mission was a bit daunting:  our  family of six sisters would take our 82-year-old mother to the Sicilian town where her mother was born before it was — you know, too late. A week with Mom; living all together like it was when we were kids — madonn’, were we pazze?

Sure enough, it didn’t take long. On the Alitalia flight to Rome,  my sister Susan, an anxious flyer, sat clutching her aisle seat and forbade anyone to open the window shade.  When the captain asked us to return to our seats during a bout of turbulence, she burst out of the bathroom with her pants still partly down.  Mom complained she had trouble sleeping, but Debra said she’d heard her snoring.  And so it went.

Touching down in the sprawling city of Catania on Sicily’s east coast, we were greeted by delightful weather, sunny and in the 70s (low 20s Celsius) — this in November. Immediately the hot-flashers among us began peeling off layers of clothes.  At Fontanarossa Airport, we picked-up two roomy rental cars with standard transmissions. The roomy part was for Mom and the standard part was to save a little money.  Boy, did we get that wrong.

In tandem, we bucked and lurched out of the rental-car lot and snuck into the blur of whizzing traffic on the infamous autostrada.  We were the slowest two cars on the road (I could swear I saw even a couple of three-wheeled carts pass us on a parallel local road); but we doggedly maintained our steady, slow pace and ignored the Italians as they flew by, honking and gesticulating with both hands.  Mom in the backseat, pretty tired at this point and already missing her ordered life back home, closed her eyes and recited the rosary. Amazingly, our two cars managed to stay within sight of each other the whole way, including on Taormina’s steep, switchbacks.  And together we crawled up, up, up the mountain to our villa aerie, arriving in two hours flat what should’ve taken 45 minutes.  At least it was still light out.

Most of Taormina’s major attractions — the awe-inspiring Teatro Greco, the delightful Piazza Aprile, and pretty much all the restaurants — are along the main street, Corso Umberto I, far below our villa. We could reach the Corso by A. walking straight down hundreds of ancient, intermittently-crumbling stone steps; B. walking on the road where pedestrians were regarded as expendable; or C. driving — and risking life, car parts, and family harmony. But Mom’s knees were complaining, and she refused to walk.  But after transforming one of the rental cars into a cash-for-clunkers candidate (my sister Joyce got wedged in a narrow, picturesque alley she wandered into, where no auto had ever ventured, and emerged scraped and dented and riding a cloud of burning clutch fluid), we chose the steps.  For Mom, we called a cab.

Our daily routine during that week in Taormina started with a 7AM wakeup, and, in an effort to adequately caffeinate seven American java addicts, appropriating every vessel in the kitchen to make our caffè. And I do mean every darn pot, pan, pitcher, vase, kettle, and bowl, plus the coffeemaker itself, a four-cup espresso pot. Then, during the days we’d visit vineyards, stroll along glitzy Corso Umberto I, and bask in the views of smoldering Mount Etna from our villa’s lushly landscaped patio.

But our central mission was to Mom’s ancestral home — the town of Trecastagni, about 19 miles (30 km) away.  We didn’t have much more to go on than that the name we were looking for was Petralia.  We took both cars, got lost, then separated (who knew there was more than one gray church!), and finally got to the town hall’s family records-keeping office, just as it was about to close for lunch — the Italian three-hour lunch.  We did discover, though, how fruitless our search would have been, for not only is the mayor of Trecastagni named Petralia, but so, it seemed, was everyone else.   So without more specfic name information and birth and death dates, it would’ve been next to impossible to track down a Petralia directly related to our mother.  We consoled ourselves with a grand lunch at a trattoria overlooking the town’s modest piazza, followed by marzipan and candied fruits, specialties of the region — all the while eyeing our waiters and fellow diners to see if we could spot any family resemblance.  Before leaving, we took a stroll through Trecastagni’s shuttered, winding side streets, but there was frankly not much to see.

The last day of the trip remained blessedly uneventful.  Mom’s cabbie, Roberto, drove us up to the tippity-top of Monte Tauro to Castelmola, the tiny village we could see from our villa and which we had been curious about all week. We set up court at the Bar Turrisi, known throughout Sicily for its display of penis figures of wood, ceramic, terracotta, and even marzipan (they’re considered fertility symbols here — and none was battery-driven, as far as I could tell). And we toasted to Mom’s continued good health, to each other for pulling together to make the trip happen, and to our strong enduring family ties. Oh, and to getting back to the airport the next day in one piece — because with this crew, you never know.

Regione Sicilia information in English:

Not All Europe’s Balmy Isles Are Mediterranean — Check Out Graciosa, Et Al

January 13, 2010 at 4:33 pm | Posted in Europe, Portugal | 1 Comment
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by José Balido

When it comes to sunny, water-surrounded getaways in Europe, for lots of us the Med pops right to mind — Spain’s Balearics, Sardinia, Cyprus, the Greek and Croatian isles, and so forth. But hundreds of miles out in the Atlantic from the Straits of Gilbraltar lie Madeira and the Azores, part of Portugal, which some Europeans (particularly the Brits) have taken a shine to over the generations, for various reasons starting with mild year-round temperatures — thanks to the Gulf Stream, they generally don’t drop below the low 50’s Fahrenheit (11°C) even in the dead of winter. Jolly good, indeed.

Yet still, they’ve got nothing quite like the go-go tourism over in the Mediterranean. Of the 20 islands, Madeira’s the best known, but several of the smaller, more laid-back of the Azores have been making a bid to take their under-the-radar tourism scene to the next level this coming summer season. A good example is Ilha da Graciosa, which in 2009 opened its first hotel above the level of a pensão (guesthouse). The 120-room, contemporary-flavored Graciosa Resort & Business Hotel (rates this spring from 81€*) makes a comfy and affordable base for roaming two dozen square miles (61 sq. km) of fetching hills and coastlines, windmills, geysers, volcano craters, thermal spas, underground grottoes and lake, one small city (Santa Cruz) and three villages where you can soak up plenty of whitewashed charm and shop for handmade embroidery and linens as well as the island’s well-known wines, brandy, and cheese. There’s also diving; beaches; a nice, mild climate; and of course a vibe that’s laid-back and plenty graciosa (graceful). Finally, it’s no longer so remote; these days you can fly to the Azores not just via Lisbon but also directly from Boston, London, Amsterdam, Munich, and Frankfurt, on Azores Express SATA (though some of these are seasonal only).

*at press time, US$117/CA$121/£72/A$127

In Lyon, “Le Fast Food” By — Paul Bocuse??

January 6, 2010 at 3:26 pm | Posted in culinary/food & drink, Europe, France | Leave a comment
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by David Paul Appell

On a swing through France’s gourmet capital not long ago, I’m sure I packed on a few extra pounds after some mega-memorable and mythical meals at the bouchons and the Michelin-starred likes of Le Bec, Terrasses de Lyon, and of course Bocuse’s hallowed Auberge du Pont de Collonges (below left). But just as memorable, in a way, was my sandwich and custard tart at a fast-food joint out in Lyon’s gentrifying Vaise neighborhood, right next door to a multiplex. That’s because Ouest Express (below right), opened in 2008, is Monsieur Paul’s latest culinary venture, around the corner from his buzzy, seven-year-old contemporary bistro, L’ Ouest .

Can it be? The world’s most revered chef turning to burgers and fries? Well, pas exactement, so don’t get your toques in a twist. Located in the up-and-coming Vaise neighborhood, this futuristic bit of business does a great job with pastas, salads, baguette sandwiches, and pastries — I can attest that the stuff is fresh-tasting and primo quality. Fancy it ain’t, but tasty — and affordable, and reasonably healthy — it certainly is; combo platters start at 5.90€ (US$8.50/CA$8.75/£5.30) and a combo including a hot main dish du jour like “Basque-style chicken” will set you back 12.90€ (US$18.60/CA$19.20/£11.60).

I must say, I’m glad to see it’s catching on, too; this past fall, a branch opened in downtown’s fancy-sleek La Part Dieu mall, and before too long we may be seeing others spreading elsewhere in Europe and beyond.  Because in a world awash in horrifically junky fast food, would that all fast food were like this.

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