30 November 2008


It is early morning and the sun is shining. Did I mention the views are spectacular from our terrace? A bit of a late start as we get our bearings, blow a fuse, and then head to Antibes and the Sunday market. The sky has clouded over… Winter in Provence.

We soon find the market and select fresh briney olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and tapenades—black olive, sun-dried tomato, and artichoke. Glazed fruits are ubiquitous. In addition to the popular Clementines, pears, cherries, etc., we see glazed Angelica, which is probably fennel. We buy fruit and chocolate covered orange rind, and share our first socca. It is a type of fry bread similar to pita, tortillas, or naan made from ground garbanzo beans mixed with olive oil, salt, and water; then formed into a tortilla-like flattened cake, and cooked on a hot olive oil-smeared grill. We agree that the socca is tasty with an internal texture like a thick crepe.

It is raining by the time we find an open café and order café cream and quiche or hot tea and croque mademoiselle. The rain seems to be letting up as we head to our car, but soon hail falls and we run for shelter. This is a good day to be in the car if you can’t hunker down in front of your own hearth.

The mountain and valley views on the road to Biot, and then to Cagnes sur Mer and St. Paul de Vence are spectacular. Simply gorgeous. Sun-faded stucco and weathered shutters in varying combinations of amber, coral, pink, yellow, and multiple shades of blue. I want to live in and own a house with such grace, age, and character. We agree it is unlikely that our camera will capture enough of the essence of this Provençal beauty.

Before heading to Gourdon, SN discovers a vineyard/winery in Maggie’s repertoire and we agree to head there first. We drive to Nice and wind up into the hills, following switchbacks and narrow lanes, only to discover the winery is closed today. A change of plans and we head to Monaco and Monte Carlo instead of the countryside.

The opulence, beauty, and density of Monaco overwhelms. Everywhere we are amazed by the beauty of the seaside and the towering architecture. Every square inch of rock or soil has been maximized. Each winding, cobbled street boasts designer boutiques and amazing shops. And, each avenue is uniquely decorated for Christmas with overhanging garlands and lights. After dinner we leave our Italian café and the darkened sky is the perfect backdrop for the city lights, Christmas garlands, and bling that dazzles.

We are in the south of France, not too far from the Italian border and we keep ending up in Italian bistros and cafes at mealtime. Today we enjoy local moules [mussels] and frites, lasagna, and herb-roasted chicken. We talk about finding gelato, but few shops are open in Monaco on Sunday.

We return to Mougins and then Maggie [the GPS British ex-pat] loses her mind and sends us wandering where no man should go—at least in an automobile—along passages nearly too narrow and then really too narrow… It is raining and everything we see is beautiful. A stop for directions yields chocolate and almond croissants and we nest comfortably in our borrowed villa. We try t.v. and find a late 1970s-era German movie. There’re no English subtitles, but we somehow follow the plot and are mesmerized.

A wonderful day. It rained a lot, but we saw a bit of southeastern Provence and were touched by the beauty of this timeless place.

29 November 2008


Club Mougins - Mougins, Provence, France

I wake early and stiff. and so head out for a walk along the still dark streets of Nice in search of an early opening café or boulangerie. After a brisk 30 minutes I locate a take-out espresso bar and then just around a corner and a boulangerie where I find a mixed nut sable for Chris and quiche Lorraine for me. Just around the next corner is our hotel.
SN1 and SN2 are to meet us at the Nice Garden Hotel. As arranged, we have high-range walkie talkies to communicate, and just after noon we connect and are on our way to Mougins. We have maps, but our ace in the hole is Maggie, the British expat GPS.

A bright and sunny morning turns overcast as we begin our short journey to Mougins. We travel through a series of roundabouts following Maggie’s instructions-- right turns and left, and one jaunt winding uphill then down through almost too narrow lanes. Maggie seems to be having fun with us. And then, the final climb and we are at Club Mougins.

At check-in we find we have two hours until we can take possession of our villa, so we walk down the winding hill, through a lovely garden to a small Italian café and enjoy a leisurely meal. After, we cross to a grocery store and somehow leave with mostly chocolate and wine…

Villa #805 is high on a hillside, up a series of outdoor staircases. Guess what we find just inside the door? One more staircase! Worth it all when we see the size and ambiance of our home for this week. Nestled into a hillside, it is large by European standards with 2 bedrooms, 2 baths, and a roomy open-plan kitchen and lounge. We have a corner terrace that overlooks undulating hills sprinkled with Provençal villas and blooming gardens—spectacular even in the rain.

SN1 and SN2 hang on until 6:30pm and then succumb to the gods of jetlag. CA and I settle in with our books and also find two English language cable channels. Our “In the Know” packet claims we have an Internet connection, but… Not too late, we shower and climb into our king-sized bed—luxurious w/ soft, white bed linens and 6! fabulous pillows. We will sleep well tonight in Provence. Bonne nuit.

28 November 2008


The kiddies are sleeping as the alarm buzzes softly this a.m. We creep around with final packing and showers. DM will take us to the bus in the Centrum [center of Bratislava] for the launch of Adventure, part 2. He has a bad cold and is feeling sickly, so I prepare a pot of French Press made with Intelligentsia coffee. Soon MP joins us with a smiling and sleepy-eyed KF. She is still shy, but always happy to see us--our beautiful baby girl.

A short bus ride to Vienna Flughofen [airport]. We order a kaffe mélange and settle in to the time-honored café rites of silence, smoking, and world-class people watching [without the smoking!]. Our first ever Sky Europe flight beats out Southwest. Safety instructions in three languages—German, French, and English—with the bonus empty seat between us to spread our elbows. Sky Europe has not yet stolen every millimeter of legroom…

The landing in Nice is close to spectacular. If the skies had been sunny instead of overcast and drizzly, “spectacular” would not have covered it. You virtually make a water landing—wheels down almost before you can believe there is earth beneath. Mediterranean Sea waves are crashing into the shoreline and snow-capped mountains are on the horizon. Nice appears ochre and cream, pink and white, with sun-burnt orange tile roofs interspersed throughout.

We know to buy the 4€ all day bus ticket and quickly move to Quai 2 to board. The entire bus ride follows the Baie des Anges [Bay of Angels] and in 15 minutes we are at Promenade des Congrès and a short 2-block walk to the Nice Garden Hotel. We buzz into a simple and charming B&B and are shown about by an effusive Marian—co-owner. Our room has been recently updated and, though basic, has just enough space and a trendy, urban feel. There are wooden floors, soft taupe herringbone wall coverings, and sleek-tiled bathroom walls. A charming shuttered window overlooks the back garden. We are here just for tonight, but will remember and recommend this hotel.

We spend the afternoon wandering the cobblestoned streets, admiring the ambiance and architecture—happy and excited to be on the Cote d’Azur. We head for Place Masséna and then Marché aux Fleurs—Nice’s famous flower market. Marian has recommended Safari for a late lunch and it is seriously drizzling by the time we find it near the end of the flower market. We see many cafes outfitted for wintertime outdoor dining, but have determined to follow Marian’s recommendation. We are not disappointed as this seems a local place—despite its tourist location.

I don’t care if it is trite, I cannot resist ordering salade Niçoise to compare with all the recipes I have read and made in the U.S. Very fine, with just a drizzle of olive oil—mixed greens, radishes, mushrooms, tomatoes, tuna, hard-cooked egg, and scallions. No boiled potatoes in this version. I don’t share, although CA is generous with his pizza with anchovies and olives. CA thinks he has ordered a glass of the local rosé, but ends up with a bottle and we are forced to finish it! It is the lightest pink and the best wine ever...

We hope to fit two meals in, but that full bottle of rosé and then the extra long walk results in a nap. By the time we are again conscious, it is late and we are not hungry… We’ll begin early tomorrow and then our friends join us midday for a week in Mougins and the delights of Provence.

27 November 2008

GIVING THANKS - Our Goose is Cooked

It is Thanksgiving and we are thankful. For giggling little girls and a squishy little guy, for healthy and loving children, and a very good life.

I sleep in while CA and DM go to help RK and EK move furniture! They have ordered red couches, a chair and ottoman. It is delivered, but not transported beyond the street. Of course, the large couch is a sleeper. Everyone has at least one and they are almost impossible to carry. We are happy to help and they are so appreciative.

CA and LG have made Martha Stewart’s pâte brisée for our pumpkin pie. At only 3-1/2 years, LG is very interested in baking and has to be a part of every endeavor. She and I mix the filling and we bake a beautiful tart. MK has adopted this American tradition, although she cannot convince her Slovak family to love it. In Slovakia pumpkins are pig food. We get even because we think the Slovak Christmas delicacy—Carp, the bottom feeding fish—is garbage fish.

Today we eat the traditional Slovak roast goose meal at Grobsky Dvor in Slovensky Grob. We gather around the table—DM and MP with their little girls, LG and KF; great grandma, and CA and I [the parents and grandparents]. We start the meal with foie gras, rye bread, and a beautiful bowl of pickled vegetables. We choose a local late harvest Riesling [Ryzlink Rynsky] with a fine result. It matches well with the appetizers and also the entrée. Along with the goose, there are crepes, browned in goose fat, and shredded red cabbage.

As with every Thanksgiving, the meal is over too soon and we are stuffed. How fun to celebrate in a new way and there is no clean up! Now, home to the pumpkin pie and coffee we have been anticipating for days. LG proudly serves the beautiful tart, but has no interest whatever in eating any of that pig food!

26 November 2008


Renault Kangoo - DM & MP's is red

It takes a village, or more accurately 6 people--4 big and 2 little--to deliver Kangoo to the Renault dealer. Unsure on the translation, but 1 of the 4 [cylinders?] doesn't work and will be replaced. They order the part and promise Kangoo will be ready to hop tomorrow morning.

DM and CA take the tram to the close-by Polus Center and the girls head out in our bright blue Fabia Skoda to meet RK and EK for a food-court lunch. Polus Center is one of three large malls in Bratislava, but our least favorite. This is how we rank them:

#3--Polus Center

DM drives home and back to get CA and I, as the little Skoda's backseat is just big enough for the two carseats. We kill time people watching, which is always interesting. The young Slovaks are casual, but well dressed in expensive jeans and boots. The older Slovaks are noticeably better dressed than when we first started coming here in 2000. Freedom from communism and the turn to capitalism took 10 years longer than it should've in Slovakia because Czechoslovakia's money was in Prague and the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic negotiated and battled it out through the court system for almost 10 years. Slovakia joined the EU in 2005 and while nationalism is very important here, no one minds the influx of EU funding.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving for Americans and we are very thankful for our loving family--in the U.S. and here with us. Blessings and love.

p.s. The Slovak English language students devoured the brownies. DM said that at the end of class he offered "seconds" and the girls accepted!

25 November 2008


Modry Dom - Vajnori, SK

Just a simple day at home with a short journey through the local villages and one small city. This is one of five wine regions for Slovakia. Today there is a light fog and, although it is early winter and the vines are bare, they provide an artistically, stark image with soft sunlight filtering through the Carpathian foothills on the horizon.

We start here in Chorvatsky Grob [Croatian Cemetery] and see LG's pre-school, then on to Slovensky Grob [Slovak Cemetery]. There are 22 restaurants in Slovensky Grob who specialize in roasted goose dinners. We will visit one Thursday to celebrate Thanksgiving. The "cemetery" designation dates from the days when these villages were considered on the way-outskirts of Bratislava and the site[s] of local cemeteries. The Croatians came when the Turks chased them from Croatia and found safe-haven here.

The small city we walk around is Pezinok. It is a cold, sunny, slushy day as there was a bit of snowfall overnight. Great Grandma doesn't prefer long walks, so we soon head to the car to drive through Svety Jur and to Vajnori for lunch at Modry Dom [Blue House]. The food presentation is outstanding, a veritible still life--snitzels, pork or chicken, surrounded with mounds of fresh, shredded vegetables--white cabbage, red cabbage, and carrots. The rice pilaf is molded into a dome and garnished with drunken cherries and pineapple tidbits. Grandma chooses sour potato soup and then is surprised that the potatoes are sour! Always interested in trying new recipes, she had envisioned something more heartland American--possibly creamy potato soup garnished with "sour cream."

Our big plan to have mobility every day because of renting the Skoda has been hindered by the Kangoo's flashing orange light. He will be repaired tomorrow. So... we settle in with books and pastries from the Cukraren [sweet-shop] in Vajnori. Not a bad afternoon and evening--with lots of entertainment from LG and KF.

Great Grandma is a Fox-TV and CNN junkie, so she is detoxing by reading a book! She usually claims the comfortable rocking chair, as she should at 80+. I envy her since my low back has become a bit dicey.

Since DM is working late tonight, we are home-bound, but happy. MP prepares an American meatloaf and I mix up a batch of the Baker's Chocolate One-Bowl Brownies with fudge icing. Treacherously rich. Most will go to DM's English class at the university tomorrow night, but not all.

24 November 2008


This was the best shot... A reality shot of our little wiggle worms.


This is just what we do on our first full day in Bratislava. We give into the gods of jetlag and spend as much time as possible just getting the feel of the new environment and playing with our two little girls. This time the gods are smiling upon me--after 30+ hours of travel time, I just don't have jetlag. I slept through the night on Sunday without noticing the 7-hour time difference, waking up at a normal hour and feeling no sluggishness. Didn't even nap until 4:30pm, which might even be considered normal on a non-work, active day. Then, another uninterrupted night of sleep.

We rent a car this time. With Great Grandma here and two carseats, the Renault Kangoo doesn't contain us. Then, the Kangoo develops a blinking engine light, so we are down to one vehicle until Wednesday. MP, LG, KF, and I take the rental Fabia Skoda to IKEA and Avion--the nearest mall. We are on a mission to IKEA to get pillow forms for the sage green, soft corduroy pillow covers I sewed before coming. Mission accomplished with a fine result. At 3-1/2 LG is a world-class shopper, diving right in and quickly just one of the girls. Her reward is 30 minutes at the play area in Avion. 10-month KF climbs over the bunny and fish and has aspirations for the larger bear and mountain.

I broke a nail in a precarious spot--not that I'm so vain, but if this one proceeds as indicated I will be in pain. No surprises--nail polish was hard to find at Avion. Actually, impossible. Here each store is specific--pharmacies are for medications; perfumeries are as advertised. Even the Hypernova which offers clothing and kitchenware, books and baby-ware has no makeup-type goods. MP says we will have to find a make-up store. She misses Walgreens and Target--purveyors of all--even though she grew up here she has a strong appreciation for the convenience and economies of U.S. mega-marts.

Tomorrow we will go out early and visit the towns and villages bordering the northeastern edge of Bratislava. There are vineyards and wineries, mountains and plains, B&Bs and penzions. This area is a vacation destination for some. Just down the road is an infamous hot springs where the locals bathe sans clothing. Not a pretty sight. No matter the time of day there is always someone or two bathing. Nothing fancy here--a swimming hole in a field just off the road where you park in the weeds and venture forth. At night it is common to leave your headlights on for illumination. We boast about trying it out...

23 November 2008


U-Bahn in Vienna

7 hours to London and then 2+ to Vienna. Our first time in Terminal 5 at Heathrow--very sleek and sparkly new. Huge. Way different ambiance than T2 or T3. Feels more like an upscale shopping mall, but then maybe that is the point?

Lots of smiling faces greet us at the "Nothing to Declare" entry... RK and his bride EK, DM and MP, LG, and KF. They swoop grandma, CA, and I into two cars and we head to the heart of Vienna and the Naschmarkt--hoping to eat gyros and buy freshly made hummus, sun-dried tomatoes, bread, cheese, and spices for our culinary adventures this week. But, the market has closed...

It is cold and windy. LG is excited to take a train, so we take the U-Bahn just one stop from Karlsplatz to St. Stephen's--Stephensplatz. The cathedral is continuing renovation...

Shielding from the cold at the side of the wiener cart, we eat tasty sausages with brown mustard and rye bread. And then, cross the plaza to the Segafredo cafe and warm up with hot chocolate thick with creamy foam and whipped cream. From there a short walk to our rendezvous in the lobby of the Marriott across from the Stadtpark. We have stayed here several times, and the lobby is comforting and familiar. We sit and visit and then head to the cars for the final 1-hour drive to Bratislava and Chorvatsky Grob--DM and MP's lovely home, which is warm and welcoming. 30 hours since our Saturday wake-up. 30 hours since we last slept, although CA and I napped briefly on the flight from London.

After sorting through the gifts and surprises from our suitcases, we enjoy a restful and restorative sleep--Great Grandma doesn't surface and we are torn between interrupting her sleep and wondering if we have killed her. Finished her off by walking her all about Vienna. After an hour, CA peeks in and wakes her. She claims she wasn't asleep... A point of pride that she not be the last one up?

Several cups of Vienna coffee and we settle into our week in Slovakia.

21 November 2008

PACKING, part 2

What do we take to central Europe? One entire 50 lb. suitcase is full and the overflow fits into our two large bags. Our 4th allowed piece of baggage is the new all-terrain stroller for KF. The 50 lbs is taken up with--the weight of the suitcase, first. Each recently-acquired lightweight suitcase weighs in somewhere between 11 & 13lbs. And then, they are packed with clothes for the kiddies, Skippy [smooth, this time], Craisins, books, DVDs, kitchen implements [my personal weakness, thus I think everyone needs LOTS], Ziplock bags, Swiffer refills, taco seasoning, recipes, photo albums, hospitality gifts [wine bottle opener, photo calendar, Christmas ornaments, towels]. birthday party paper goods, cowgirl boots...

The content changes trip-to-trip, but the variety is constant. Because the little ones are bilingual, this is a chance to take American children's books and DVDs to reinforce their dual-citizenship.

I splurged today on three heavy-weight cotton sweaters and a new pair of black loafers. The sweaters will be warm enough for Bratislava and Vienna, and the cotton should transition well to the 50s we expect in southern France and southern Spain. O.K, I confess, earlier I bought two new pairs of black jeans and a black Italian-wool coat. We are going to be in Paris for a week and everyone knows the Parisienne women are all about style. I don't want to stand out as an American tourist so no athletic shoes or blue denim. Unfortunately they usually peg me anyway--one evening I said one word to the policeman, "Metro?" and he answered me in English! Still, I try with my urban black, simple yet stylish clothing choices.

Bon voyage! The next post will be from Europe...

20 November 2008


Coast of Spain - a typical Chiringuito

Two more wake-ups and we are off on our latest European adventure. We fly out of Chicago O'Hare Saturday evening and land at Heathrow just 6 hours later, change planes, and arrive in Vienna early afternoon Sunday. The plan is to head straight to the Naschmarkt in Vienna to inhale the wonderful selection and make strategic choices to carry on to Bratislava for Sunday night dinner with our family--including Grandma who, at 80 years, is making her third trip to Europe in 6 years. Grandma never imagined going once to Europe--it was not in the plan. But, when your grandson gets married to a Slovak and they produce two beautiful little girls, we all find ways to get to Europe! We will be together one week in BA and then grandma will have a week alone with her grandkids and great-grandkids while CA and I begin our adventures.

I tend to procrastinate on the packing, but I am a world-class hunter/gatherer. There are books, Christmas gifts, clothing, favorite foods, DVDs, etc. One large suitcase is designated for the bounty. We are also carrying along a new all-terrain stroller for KF's journeys.

Friends are meeting CA and I in Nice for a week in Mougins and the villages of Provence, then CA and I fly to Marbella via Madrid to meet more friends for a week along the coast of Spain. We have done lots of research, but will let each day take care of itself. There will be sites to explore, trails to hike, and markets to peruse. And cafes, and bistros, and tapas bars, and chiringuitos*, and, and, and...

After Spain, CA and I fly to Paris for a week at the Renaissance near the Tulleries in the heart of Paris. We will walk the city with forays into the Metro. We will revisit favorites and explore new avenues. Dinner one night at Spring to eat whatever the chef decides... Mostly we eat simple food in simple cafes and bistros. Food is everywhere and beautifully presented.

Then on December 20th we will fly from Paris to Bratislava to meet up with JE, MA, and JA [the squishy little guy] for a week of Christmas celebrations. If the weather is mild, we will explore the villages on the outskirts of the city and spend hours walking through the Staré Mesto [old city]--drinking punch at the Christmas market and indulging in the Viennese pastries and Vienna coffees [coffee topped with a mountain of whipped cream that melts slowly into the rich and flavorful beverage].

Enough procrastinating. Energy begets energy and there is packing to do! Let the games begin!

*Churinguito - beach bar that serves food and drink. On Sundays paella is the specialty.

09 November 2008


This weekend I realized how much I need to regroup and refocus... Working this past 5 weeks has stolen my soul! Well, at least it has stolen my energy, creativity, and a lot of my individualism. Temping requires one to be who they have hired, not who one truly is. Not a bad gig; not mind-numbingly boring [at least most days]. It is just time to be me again!

I have cooking and baking to do; sewing to complete; shopping to be pursued. I want my life back! And, in less than two weeks we leave for our next European adventure. We have friends joining us in Cannes and other friends joining us in Marbella. We have family to visit in Bratislava, and family joining us for Thanksgiving there and our American children joining us for Christmas. Could life get much better?

Continuing to read Ian Rankin's John Rebus and Elizabeth George's Inspector Lynley series. Along with blogs about Adalucia in Spain and Provence and Paris. We are contemplating side trips to Barcelona, Italy, and Prague... If the weather holds out and also our feet!

Had some wonderful leftovers tonight--sweet potato & black bean enchiladas. Included a side of grilled chicken breast--yummy. This dish doesn't require meat, but it was a good addition. That Gluten-Free Goddess sure knows her stuff. I love her recipes!