Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Transitioning Back Home

We've been back to the Towers for a grand total of 27 hours and it already feels as if we are back in the groove. Wife and I have been working hard on to make these transitions as seamless as possible. It is much more difficult for Wife as she has accounting/financial work that takes more time to do.  We are helped tremendously by having some high quality help in the form of a neighbor who is our handyman and watches the house while we're gone and a gardener who comes by and takes care of the yard. So when we got back the house and yard were in pristine condition.

Most important is our transition back to our current time zone. We implemented the changes to the East-West trans-Atlantic system of stopping at the US hub we've been working on the last few trips. So this time when we got to the hotel in Chicago, we took an hour long nap, then we ate dinner, and we stayed up until around 9:30 local time. We didn't wake up too much before the time to get up for our flight to Albuquerque.  That second 3 hour flight is so much easier on the body with the break. I took a pretty long nap after we got to the house. There's not tons of stuff to do when we arrive to unpack as we travel pretty darn light.  We both went to bed around 10:30.

Today feels pretty good. I took another 40 minute nap and I am starting with appointments tomorrow. My business picked up right where I left off with a new client commitment yesterday when I got back and another one hopefully on Thursday. Wife and I made our standard lunch salad (a concoction of around 9 to 10 fresh vegetables, 3 pickled vegetables, a meat, fresh grated cheese and a home-made vinaigrette) which is a process we have down to a science and remarked on how lovely it is to be working again in a kitchen that is clearly designed for cooking. We've been working in the Tower at our desks most of the day.

I like very much the fact that we can run around the world immersing ourselves in other cultures and come back and be at home in a matter of days.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Hapsburg - Renaissance Trip - Heading Home And The Usual Sticker Shock

Our lovely time in Europe is over. It was sad goodbyes with the family this morning as we Ubered out to the airport. Absolutely no problems. Thank you all my hard won airline privileges which allowed us to:
  • Skip the long line checking into the airport
  • Skip the long line going through security in the airport
  • Stay at the airport lounge and save around $30 on food a drink
  • Skip the long lines at US Immigration (this time due to Global Entry not airline privileges).
Once again we opted to skip an upgrade back home and had a 3 seat row in Economy Plus to ourselves - more than enough room if one is not sleeping. Plus United has changed their policy and now has free wine and beer in Economy - even less economic incentive to pay the up charge for Business Class.

We're again staying overnight in Chicago to acclimate body clock wise before heading on to Albuquerque in the morning. And once again the sticker shock of eating in a US restaurant hit us straight between the eyes. Our European readers have complained about how much I was writing over the many weeks about what eating out cost on our trip. Let me give this example to show why it that was so fixed in my mind.

When looking at this example keep in mind this is an airport hotel so it has a somewhat captive audience and the prices are somewhat inflated by say 15 to 20%.  We had two hamburgers, a drink each before dinner and and drink each after dinner.  The total bill before tip was $75 - $28 before taxes for the food and the balance for the drinks. With a full 20% tip the bill was close to $90. This was more than any meal we had on our entire trip with the exception of one splurge meal with our kids - more than any meal we had and we ate some great meals with plenty to drink - for a couple of burgers and a couple of drinks.

That's why I write about the incredible value (quality compared to price) that exists now when you travel in Europe (if you are willing to get away from the major tourist central areas).

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Hapsburg - Renaissance Trip - International Grandchild-Grandparent Celebration

It was Friday afternoon when the horrifying recognition came upon Wife and I that our daughter #3 and her husband 3A had their bags packed, were leaving their flat and had none of their children with them!

There is only one thing when life deals you lemons...make a meringue crusted lemon tart...or maybe a nice lemon curd...salted preserved North African lemons are also a savory option.  Never mind. Went on a culinary tangent.

No when we realized that we were giving the kids a child free weekend away we invoked the traditional International Grandchild-Grandparent Holiday. We were going to call it a party but granddaughter 3.1 told us that parties are only for birthdays however calling it a celebration was acceptable.

So we:
  • Bought crowns to prepare and wear
  • Blew up and played with many balloons
  • Bought and played with Noise makers
  • Bought and played with many stickers
  • Made and ate lots of popcorn
  • Bought and ate cupcakes
  • Bought and ate pizza
  • Watched lots of television (ungodly amounts of Peppa Pig!)
Generally speaking we all had a good time together.

A note briefly on the attachment of grandchild 3.2 to her grandma. She has been coming back from daycare and immediately running into the house crying 'GAMA, GRAMA!  We've joking called 3.2 Wife's groupie. Now she knows what it's like to be a rock star.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Hapsburg - Renaissance Trip - Out Of Amsterdam

We decided to do something outside of Amsterdam on Thursday. Originally we were headed for an island on the North Sea coast but a combination of the length of time it would take us to get there combined with the not nice weather made us change our plans and go to one of the many smaller cities in Amsterdam

Hence by foot, metro, and rail

We reached

The home town of Hyeronimus Bosch where he lived his entire life.
The Artist

We crossed over the bridge into the old town

In search for the gastronomic treat of the town the:

A fabulous cream puff

That has the thinnest of pate a choux balls with a dark chocolate outside and a lightly sweetened whipped cream center.

It as a great old center square

There's cool modern architecture

Examples of the Medieval Heritage

A top of lingerie shops

A really nifty canal ride in open boats
(much better than the highly tourist ride in Amsterdam)

A fine old town center

And a really great Gothic Cathedral with fine stained glass windows

Friday, October 23, 2015

Hapsburg - Renaissance Trip - Misc Canal Pictures & Introducing The Italian Custom

What would a trip to Amsterdam be without a mandatory selection of canal pictures

Wife and I felt it was necessary to introduce the lovely custom of Austria and Italy - the Aperol Spritz to our Daughter and Son-in-law. After all in the Aperol commercials they call it 'sunshine in a glass'. What better for grey Amsterdam.

And an Aperol Spritz certainly makes the grand parenting role go smoother!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Hapsburg - Renaissance Trip - Playing Tourist In Amsterdam

3A has to work this week. The grandkids are at their daycare. But #3 has taken off time from work as she has lots of days she needs to use up. So we decided that we might as well get out and do some stuff.

So today we got out and went to the Rijksmuseum.  Hard as it is to believe we've never been there in the 10 years we've been visiting the daughter her. One of the main reasons was that has been closed for a good part of that time for some major ass renovation.  This was the first time that we've had the chance to see the originals of the great 16th/17th century Dutch masters. It revived my faith in the power of painted art. To be honest we have seen scadzillions of paintings on this trip - canvas, wall, frescoes, murals - and for the most part they have been pretty dreadful. I don't know if the Hapsburgs had the worst taste in art ever, but so much of the stuff we saw was just emotionally impacting not to mention some of the real problems we saw with perspective. It was then interesting to look at later centuries when the money to support art and the talent was elsewhere in Europe at how the quality declined.

We met up with 3A for lunch in the Centrum (downtown) and then decided to take a boat tour of the canals that was just okay but at least got us off our feet.  I had done two long walks with #3 yesterday so I was ready to call it a day after that. There was a lot of rain and combined with the perspective of the boat on the canal (low looking up) decided that it wasn't worth taking a bunch of pictures. Similarly I decided that you can look up pictures of the Dutch masters on line that are a lot better than anything I could take.

It is so nice to be able to be with our family.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Hapsburg - Renaissance Trip - How We Role As A Family

We are in the last part of our trip - our traditional pilgrimage to the family in Amsterdam - 8 days of our being with the #3 family. It is a wonderful time when we take off our 'touring' and 'international experience' hats and put on our 'family immersion' hat. Typically that means I'm pretty much done with blog posts...Then I read daughter's blog where she says and I quote, "so I suspect I may copy-paste whatever my father writes as he is in full writer's mode and will do a much better job of it than I will right now."

Gee no pressure to post now.

Well what IS THERE to blog about....Hmmm how about


We have set an all time record for restraint on this trip and didn't get our first frites until nearly 48 hours after arriving!

Agh! Gek Fotograaf!

We could walk and take pictures of the Rijksmuseum, which for most of the 10 years we've been visiting our daughter as been under renovation but was finally finished a year or so ago.

Taking in the canals

We stop for lot's of coffee

We buy stuff from the Peppernoten Store, a store that sells only one type of cookie

And of course we roll with the family

Monday, October 19, 2015

Hapsburg - Renaissance Trip - The Amazing Gastronomic Post

Over the last week of our trip while in Ljubljana, back to Vienna and on to Amsterdam, the gastronomic hits have come one after another...totally deserving of a post unto itself.

( Note - I will not be making any more references to price in my culinary posts. Wife and I have been blown away about the quality to price value of what we've gotten during our trip. However, we have received notice through diplomatic channels [actually not that diplomatic of a channel] that lording the buying power of the dollar over those poor folks living in Europe was poor form. So we will try to be more discrete from this point on...but things still have been a great value!)

Ljubljana, Slovenia

During our long, rainy cold touring day last Thursday, our guide pointed out a place that specialized in cuisine from the Northeastern part of Slovenia (near Hungary). We didn't want to eat too much as we had the big dinner planned for the evening so we opted for soup to warm us up.

Wife had a Goulash Soup

And I had a something I'd never tried and Sour Turnip and Sauerkraut Soup.
This was much less sour than you would think and was made with a number of smoked meats as well. I washed it down with a local micro-brewed porter.

#2 and 2B's foreign service colleagues and friends A and S selected this and it was wonderful. 2B did a great job of working with our server, who was very professional and congenial, in selecting a variety of Slovenian wines to go with dinner.

We started by sharing a couple of appetizers and salads

A Caprese Salad

 A lovely cheese made with truffles in it and a truffle bread (mmm)

Then on to our main courses

A confit of duck with sour cherry sauce

Branzino Filet

Pasta Carbonara

Iberico Pork with truffled potatoes

Braised Smoked Pork Hocks

And a goulash

For dessert we had a version of apple strudel (probably my least favorite) and a special special Slovenian cake that had layers of walnuts, sesame seeds, and cheese between cake layers.

I mentioned that we had an unusually good meal at one of the road stops on the autobahn.

I had a very good rendition of the regional, seasonal pumpkin soup and they had a bottle of the roasted pumpkin seed oil on the side to season it. I also made a salad of around 10 different vegetables from their salad bar and used the same oil and some vinegar to season it.

Wife wanted some fried fish and they made it fresh in front of us.

Outside of the Vienna Airport in a small town we stayed at a Hotel/Gasthof (Landgasthof Hotel Muhr) that clearly was known for its restaurant. I hadn't made the reservation with that in mind but it was a very pleasant surprise.  The cuisine was this interesting combination of traditional Austrian and fusion cooking). We didn't want to drink too much with a flight to catch the next morning so we had the waiter match glasses of wine with our dishes.

With a local sparkling wine aperitif we had a red pepper and Parmesan cheese spread for bread

They gave us an amuse before the courses we ordered

A celery root soup with a small dumpling that tasted like the filling of a pork dim sum

Wife had the traditional Austrian mixed salad that I described in an earlier post

I had an appetizer that I clearly didn't understand the translation. I understood it to be a version of blood pudding which it had as sort of a pate but it also had a fried shrimp with a marmalade and salad served in a tiny cup that was impossible to eat. This was my least favorite of the meal.

They had Roast Goose on the menu as it was in season and is served with potato dumplings and red cabbage. This was really yummy. Wife had a roasted beef dish that had ton of fried onions on it along with pickles and mustard and fries. Our waiter chose a red for Wife's dish and a special 'new' wine that was traditional for the goose. As she was eating it she said it tasted familiar. Turned out on going back over our posts that it was the same dish she had our first day in Vienna.


Daughter #3 and 3A wanted us to try a new restaurant they went to that they were very impressed with. This was more of a new style cooking and was very small and chef oriented.  In fact the chef met us at the door and then talked with us during the meal and after it was done. The sommelier who also acted as waiter (it's a small place) was very good too.  They have a fixed menu 3 course menu but you can add some things to make it a 4, 5 or 6 course menu.

It started with a  corn cake and creme fraiche and a potato soup amuse

I had an extra course of poached oysters with a foam of Southeast Asian flavors. This might have been one of the best bites of food I've ever had. The oysters were perfectly cooked and the foam had great flavor complimenting but not hiding the oyster. 3A had an extra course as well of veal cheek but I didn't get a picture.

The main course was a pork dish but we were tired and (surprise) had been drinking a bit so the details are lost as were the dessert and cheese course ending :(

But trust me the meal was great!