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Month: October 2016

Where to Find Stockholm’s Best Bites (and Sips)

Where to Find Stockholm’s Best Bites (and Sips)

During my several days in Stockholm, I scoured the city not only for the best restaurants, but also for the best bites – the one item done well at a particular place. Where I landed was based on my own research and recommendations from friends, and also keeping my eyes open as I toured the city and trusting my instincts. It felt like I encountered culinary bliss everywhere I went!

Here’s what I found:

Best Bites

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Barrels Burgers & Beer

That name says it all, huh? I normally wouldn’t get a burger as I try to eat my way through a new city, however when my primary plan fell through, I remembered a fellow blogger at TBEX raving about how this had been his favorite meal so far. There are many toppings available beyond your typical burger and cheeseburger, so I tried the ‘Eiffel’ since I adore Bearnaise sauce. Juicy and perfectly balanced, this burger was definitely a highlight for me as well.

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Broms

Thanks to IKEA, many people associate cinnamon buns with Sweden, however I found the similar cardamom bun to be even more popular with locals. Plus, as I’ve never seen it outside of Sweden, a treat that you can only enjoy locally. I probably tried at least 5 different cardamom buns over my few days, and the one from Broms was hands-down my favorite. It had the right balance of doughiness and the sticky sweetness to contrast the more savory flavor of the cardamom spice – just heaven. I had planned to just take a bite to try it at first as I was still pretty full from lunch, and ended up devouring the whole thing in under a minute!

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Ekstedt

It is hard to score a reservation to eat at Ekstedt, and with good reason. If you can be flexible (I went late on a weeknight), you’ll have a better chance of eating here. Why is it so sought after? Ekstedt is probably most well-known for only having one heat source: its wood-burning oven. What makes the creations that come from oven so delectable though, is the creativity they use in composing dishes. I had dishes that were baked, smoked, and cooked in a cast iron. The most creative preparation – and most memorable for me – was the amuse bouche, which was deer meat and aromatics prepared table-side in a stone bowl that had been heated in the oven.

TIP! Even if you’re not dining solo like me, I highly recommend sitting at the bar so you can observe the cooking and plating process first-hand.

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Östermalms Korvspecialist

I’ve already written about how korv is a food to seek out in Stockholm, and I greatly enjoyed the version I sampled here. Not your ordinary hot dog, as there are dozens of meat and spicing combinations available, I recommend consuming whatever korv you choose on a baguette with all the toppings.

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Östermalms Saluhall

This is an indoor food market with many tempting stalls, although I’d head straight for the Melanders counter, where you can find giant salmon fillets in a variety of cured and smoked preparations. You can order by weight or by the slice, and the fish will be expertly sliced with the care typically reserved for Spanish or Italian hams. Every sentence I’ve written (and deleted) so far to describe the taste has sounded contrived, so let’s just suffice it to say that if you like salmon, each bite is a little bit of heaven and will give you pause.

TIP! Sample culinary delights at the other stands while you’re at the Saluhall, especially any Swedish foods you’d like to try during your trip. I also enjoyed one of the local specialties I found at another stall, a potato pancake served with lingonberry jam.

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Restaurant Rakan

I went here looking for a relatively quick bite close to the train station, and was surprised at how well-balanced and flavorful the fish stew turned out to be. The layering of flavors and textures, with each piece of seafood perfectly cooked, made this a surprising find on my first full day in town. Even though it was a decent portion size I could not completely finish, I did soak up and savor every last bit of the broth between the bread and rice.

Best Sips

Other than the wine pairing at Ekstedt (see above), which was phenomenally well done, the wine, beer, or cocktails I sampled elsewhere in Stockholm honestly don’t stand out for me. I did however have some delicious coffee during my visit:

Barista

I was not impressed with the first few cups of coffee I consumed in Stockholm, so asked a local who was my tour guide on an excursion where she would recommend, and she steered me toward Barista. Don’t let its location inside of the train station be a deterrent, it is a spot where you’ll find espresso-based drinks done right.

Espresso Sosta Bar

And the other place to seek out for good espresso? A place run by Italians, of course! I would say that while I was there, about half the people were conversing with the baristas in Italian, with the rest of the customers requesting their coffee in an an even split between Swedish and English. Like in Italy, you can consume your coffee standing at the bar, or at one of their tables inside or outside.

 

Certainly this is not meant to be an exhaustive list, especially since many restaurants in Stockholm close or relocate for the summer, so not everywhere on my original list was even open when I was there. But if you follow the list above, you’ll certainly make the most of the limited time you have in Stockholm on your visit!

What singular bites stick out in your memory or have made you want to go back to a particular city? Anything else you’d like to know about Stockholm’s food scene?

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What It’s Like to Attend an NFL Game in London

What It’s Like to Attend an NFL Game in London

The American National Football League (NFL) has been playing games in London for nearly a decade. As a huge football fan, I have been tracking which teams and dates have been selected since moving to Italy in the fall of 2013, and was very excited a year ago when the New York Giants – my home team – was selected to play one of the games this season.

The NFL games in London are not like international competitions or exhibitions, when one country’s national team plays another. Both of the teams involved are American, playing on British soil an ocean away. When I purchased my ticket for Sunday’s game, I really did not know what to expect.

Who would attend? Would there be a lot of American expats living in Europe, like me? Americans who flew over for the weekend to go to the game? A lot of British people? Would there be other Giants fans there?

I didn’t have a clue about the answers to any of my questions ahead of time, other than some intel from an American friend living in London that people would wear any NFL jersey they owned, regardless of whether that particular team was playing. Having brunch the morning of the game in central London I passed two people, each wearing the jersey of a different NFL team. I wondered, might they also be attending the game?

So, what was it like? On my way to Twickenham Stadium on London’s outskirts for the game, I took in the full experience, both for the things that were so familiar to me from other American sporting events (NFL games included) and those that were just a bit different.

Catching the Reading train line from Waterloo Station to Twickenham was the first time I saw fellow NFL fans en masse. There were a lot of other fans in NY Giants jerseys, so I was able to find the correct train platform easily just by following the crowd. I even ended up sitting in a section of the train that had other New Yorkers, although they had flown in just for the weekend. I was lucky to have found a seat, as all of the standing areas became packed with people as the train got closer and closer to Twickenham.

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Upon leaving the train, the rainbow of different NFL team jerseys became apparent as most of the train’s occupants streamed onto the platform and formed a giant mass of people carried forward toward the station’s exits. There was basically one main road that led to the stadium, and as I walked with the pace of the crowd, the sight was a familiar one.

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First, the NFL team jerseys. I haven’t bought new NY Giants attire in a while, so I was actually wearing the jersey of the previous player at #27, Brandon Jacobs – and I wasn’t the only one. While the New York jerseys I saw were mostly those of current popular Giants players (Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. & Victor Cruz), there were actually quite a few older team jerseys being worn: those of Michael Strahan, Jeremy Shockey, Tiki Barber, & Lawrence Taylor to name a few.

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Also, many of the houses and restaurants that lined the way to the stadium had food stands set up next to the sidewalk, with the smell of grilled meat and onions wafting up and tempting many of the people to pause for a snack and a beer. Options even extended into various ethnic options, from African to Asian to Latin American. Basically any street food you could imagine.

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The official area surrounding the stadium was quite familiar as well, with more food stands, even some with Krispy Kreme donuts. And one of the beers on tap at the stadium was Budweiser, which I’m guessing is not standard fare at Twickenham for rugby games (although I’m honestly not sure).

When I arrived at my seat, I noticed quite a few Giants jerseys, and thought there might be a sizeable representation of Americans. I was wrong. While I did encounter plenty of Americans, the crowd was overwhelmingly British, which became apparent right before the game. For the national anthem, first Nicole Scherzinger sang the American one, with everyone standing at polite attention. Then, as the first few notes of the British national anthem started, an overwhelming number of people in the crowd starting belting out “God Save the Queen.” Yup, very British crowd.

And most of that British crowd was cheering for the Los Angeles Rams. As soon as the Rams players started taking the field, all of the free LA Rams flags that had been distributed came out and blanketed the stadium with the flapping noise of fierce flag-waving echoing throughout. Not only were the Rams the “home team” for this game, but they were actually slated for a while to play in London over three consecutive years. This was starting in 2012 when they were still the St. Louis Rams. Although the team backed out after their first year, some locals definitely adopted the Rams as their own.

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There were plenty of New York Giants fans, too. Nowhere near as loud as the British booing at points, but as the Giants tied up the game and took the lead, decently loud chants of “LET’S GO GI- ANTS” clap, clap, clap-clap-clap would start and make it through a few cycles before dying out. Basically, you could hear the Giants fans when the Rams fans were relatively quiet, but it was still nice to know the others were there =)

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The British fans are still learning the NFL rules. American football is different enough from the familiar similar local sports in the UK, like rugby and soccer, that there still is some confusion about the rules. The local commentators went out of their way to accentuate their booming voices for each Rams first down and play celebratory stadium music, even more so than you would expect at an NFL game in the States. And the video monitors had a lot of text explaining some of the game basics, like time outs.

And the game was great! (and not *just* because my team won) There were a lot of possession changes and dramatic plays, so this matchup actually turned out to be a great one for spurring interest in a mostly foreign crowd. While the Rams had some quick scoring and led 10-0 for a while, the Giants managed to tie it up before halftime. The 3rd quarter was scoreless, and then after a second NY Giants touchdown and some key interceptions, they held a 17-10 lead until the end.

The undisputed ‘play of the game’ was the first-half interception by Landon Collins of the NY Giants, that resulted in a huge run for a touchdown. He seemed to magically dodge Rams players attempting to tackle him as he jumped and spun, traversing the field, and doing what seemed like a magical leap at the very end to cross the threshold into the endzone. The elaborate footwork by defender Collins rivaled any offensive player that day, and was incredibly memorable. Check out the video here.

Is London getting an NFL team? For now, I don’t think so. The NFL has been progressively negotiating both for stadium access. NFL games in London have been played previously at Wembley Stadium, and the Giants game I attended was the first of several that will be played at Twickenham. From the British people in attendance who I chatted with, games have high attendance because of the novelty, so far not more than 3 games a season. It is unclear both with the time difference to the US and the British interest level whether a full season for a single team could be sustained.

TIPS! for Attending an NFL Game in London

  • From Twickenham Stadium, walk to the Whitton train station to head back toward central London. It is equally close to the stadium, but before the Twickenham stop on the Reading line so I was able to get a seat easily.
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  • Beer cups are reusable and involve a £1 deposit, but if you’re like me, you just want the cups as souvenirs. I discovered that at least at Twickenham, different levels of the stadium use cups with different designs. If you’d like to collect some different ones, either spread out your beer purchasing, or spot someone with a cup you’d like at the line at the beer vendor at the end of the game for people who want their deposit back – you’ll either be able to trade cups or buy them out.
  • Want to avoid long lines for refreshments or at the bathroom? The British still don’t know American football rules super-well – see above – so the pause for the “2-minute warning” (toward the end of the 2nd or 4th quarter) is a good time to go. I would start making my way to the entryway to the inside area with bathrooms when it seemed like it would be one more play before the pause, around 2:10 or so, and you’ll be back before the game starts up again.

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And moving forward for the NFL International Series? Well, there is still 1 more NFL game to be played in London this season, this upcoming Sunday also at Twickenham Stadium between the Cincinnati Bengals & Washington Redskins. And another first for the International Series comes this November, with the 1st game played outside of London – a Monday Night Football match-up between the Oakland Raiders & Houston Texans, which will take place in Mexico City!

Since the NFL is trying to build interest and fans outside of the US for American football, although there are travelling costs involved, tickets to the game itself can be more affordable, plus you get a weekend away.

 

Would you fly to another country to see an American football game? Anything else about attending an NFL game in London that you’re still curious about? Leave a message in the Comments, I’ll reply personally to each one.

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Visiting Liechtenstein: A Perfect Weekend Getaway

Visiting Liechtenstein: A Perfect Weekend Getaway

Impressions

It’s been a long time since I’ve visited a country where tourist areas and restaurants boast almost no English at all. This is of course the impact of most tourists to Liechtenstein being German speakers from bordering nations Austria and Switzerland. It was a good reminder for me of what being a tourist is like for most nationalities – you arrive somewhere where you don’t speak the local language, and may only know a few words or phrases of English, the lingua franca of travel.

Fortunately I have a very rudimentary German vocabulary of maybe a dozen words, plus some mediocre “menu German.” And the Liechtensteiners were incredibly kind and helpful. Even when a menu was only available in German, all of the servers spoke passable English and were friendly and eager to help translate the different available dishes when asked. Phew.

The main focus for many visitors is Vaduz, the capital, and also the site where you’ll find most museums and also access to the Prince’s Castle. While I spent a fair bit of my time in Vaduz, I actually stayed in the nearby (and largest) municipality called Schaan. There are many restaurants easily accessible by foot in the Schaan center and it has a very different vibe, so I was glad to see another section of the country. Altogether Liechtenstein has 11 different municipalities, including ones at higher elevation you may encounter while hiking – take your time here to get out and explore a few!

Places Liechtenstein reminded me of:

  • Andorra. My first impression of Liechtenstein was how similar it is to fellow micro-nation Andorra. The driving approach isn’t nearly as dramatic as when you are getting close to crossing the Andorran border, but like Andorra, Liechtenstein is a small country with a main road and mountains on either side. They are a bit difficult to get to on account of there not being an airport, with both attracting outdoor adventurists for hiking in summer and skiing in winter.

  • Geneva. Geneva, although in Switzerland, will have many accommodation options in nearby France pop up as you plan your visit, where there are a lot of culinary options and cheaper places to stay. I found this happening in my searches for Liechtenstein as well, with many Liechtenstein or Vaduz restaurants actually boasting an address in nearby Switzerland.

  • Australia. There are a lot of bike paths in Europe, but I haven’t seen trails this well-marked since I lived in Australia. Bike trails are clearly marked indicating destinations and distances, making it an incredibly easy way to navigate Liechtenstein.

  • Stockholm. I came to Liechtenstein a few weeks after my July trip to Stockholm, and noticed a lot of the same trends. Although it is peak tourist season for many, there were a lot of local restaurants (especially in Schaan) that were simply closed for several weeks. Also, one of the breweries I tried to visit was closed the weekend I was there. Keep this in mind when you plan which time of year to come for a visit.

Things to Do

There’s more to do in Liechtenstein than you might think. See below for my top picks during your visit:

Around Town

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Kunstmuseum

Located on the main pedestrian area in Vaduz, this modern art museum has a collection that has been carefully curated by locals over the years, and involved quite a bit of sculpture and interactive pieces as well as paintings. I enjoyed all of the three exhibits I saw on my visit, and there were pamphlets in English for each room.

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Postage Stamp Museum

I wasn’t sure if I would pop in for a visit or not, and then I found out that this museum is FREE! It doesn’t take a lot of time to see it all, so it’s definitely worth checking out. And it’s nice because if you geek out like I did about visiting another micro-nation, you can buy a postcard and stamp, write and address it at a little writing table they have set up, and then the museum staff will mail it for you (yes, of course I did this!).

Off the Beaten Path

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Vaduz Castle

Some people drove here, however it’s far more scenic to take the 20-minute (steep) walking path to get to the top where this iconic structure is perched. Each section of the path has a new view of Vaduz and beyond, and it’s nice to have the satisfaction of reaching the top, as the Castle is still in use and cannot be visited. Also along the path are informative signs about Liechtenstein in German, English, and French, the only multi-lingual signs I saw during my visit.

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Harry Zech Weinbau Cantina

Although there are wineries closer to Vaduz and more tourist-oriented, this was by far the best wine I tasted in Liechtenstein (affirmed by its prevalence on the wine list at Michelin-starred Restaurant Maree – see the Best Bites section below). I’d recommend reserving your visit in advance, especially to come off the beaten path. Don’t be deterred by the Shell gas/petrol station that marks where you enter the parking lot, the white and red wines at this cantina are well-executed and with very particular flavors from the local growing area. Most visits here take place in German, so just plan to be patient for a visit in English, although all the key points will come across just fine – and let’s be real, there is no communication barrier with excellent wine to enjoy.

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Liechtensteiner Brauhaus

This brewery’s Alpagold is available on most Liechtenstein beer menus that I saw, but if you’re interested in sampling some of their more unique brews, you can visit them not far outside of the Schaan center. It’s possible to taste the different brews, and get some quite inexpensive varieties like a coffee stout or a pale ale from their ‘Club Bier’ assortment.

Amazing views

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Hiking

There is a huge variety of hiking trails, from relatively leisurely strolls to intense, steep paths that will take all day. Most hotels will offer a hiking map and advice if you ask, and you can also peruse the options through the official tourist website. Best of all, you can get to the trails on foot from many of the town centers, I accessed trails from both Schaan and Vaduz during my trip.

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Vaduz Castle (see above)

A bit off the beaten path, but accessible by foot from the Vaduz Center and the views are wonderful as you stroll up to the Castle.

Going up to top of ski slopes (summer or winter)

Although I did not go myself, locals recommended to me that taking the ski lift to Malbun is a great way to get an incredible view without having to do all that hiking. There is more to do in winter of course, but some restaurants stay open for the summer visitors (do keep in mind though that snow tends to linger at the high elevations, and sometimes there is still snow as late as July).

Best Bites

Like in nearby Switzerland, food in Liechtenstein is a bit pricey overall. This similarity is of course not entirely surprising since both countries use the Swiss Franc as their currency.

I definitely saw backpackers who were picking up fruit and pastries from the supermarket to comprise a budget meal. Even if you’re on a budget though, some places are worth the splurge and there are quite a few set menus available for lunch for relatively reasonable amounts. Here are my top picks for places to check out:

Set Lunch

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Adler Vaduz 1908

Close to the pedestrian area in downtown Vaduz, Adler/Vanini has a nice (covered) outdoor seating area and a reasonably priced set menu Monday through Saturday with 2 different options of main dishes, and the option of adding on an appetizer for under 20 CHF. The food was basic, but with great flavors and was a very enjoyable start to my weekend.

Local Specialties

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Berggasthaus Masecha

I ate at this spot off-the-beaten-path at the end of many long hours of hiking, although you don’t need to hike to get here – the Liechtenstein bus systems comes here and many people drove as well. They even had an English menu, while many spots closer to downtown Vaduz do not. While Liechtenstein cuisine is similar to German, Austrian, and Swiss specialties with a focus on meat and potatoes, this Berggasthaus stood out for its several vegetarian and salad options. It is at a fairly high level of elevation outside of the main town, and priced similarly, but worth it for the incredibly delicious dishes they prepare. Oh, and the view.

High-end Cuisine

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Restaurant Maree

Liechtenstein has a Michelin-starred restaurant! Once I made this discovery, I knew I wanted to eat there. While I did not find anything memorable about the amuse bouche sampler that arrived at the start, the dishes on the tasting menu were absolutely fantastic, especially the fish and seafood courses. There are also quite a few wines available by the glass to accompany the different flavors of the various courses. The cheese plate is wonderful but enormous, so plan accordingly, and come early enough for your meal to enjoy the sunset overlooking the Prince’s Castle.

(More) Practical Tips for Visiting

I’ve included a few practical tips above next to the relevant attraction. Here are a few more general tips for visiting Liechtenstein:

Country Abbreviation

Countries across Europe use 1- or 2-letter abbreviations, and the one you’ll see for Liechtenstein is FL. If you see it on a highways sign, don’t worry, you are going the correct direction. FL is an abbreviation for the German words for “Principality of Liechtenstein.”

Currency

Liechtenstein, in addition to bordering Switzerland, also uses the Swiss Franc as its currency, which you’ll see abbreviated CHF. Like in Switzerland, while the exchange rate between CHF and the Euro are close to 1:1, prices are much higher in Francs.

How to Arrive

Liechtenstein is one of the more accessible of the airport-less micro-nations, since it is close driving distance to several cities. I enjoyed my road trip there (get European road trip tips here), taking about 3 hours from Milan.

You can also get to Liechtenstein from:

  • Zurich, Switzerland in 1 hour

  • Innsbruck, Austria in 2.5 hours

  • Munich, Germany in 3 hours

If you are planning to taste and purchase wine here, or want to explore around Liechtenstein without hiking, biking, or public transit, definitely drive. Otherwise, there are many other options to get to Liechtenstein, best explained on Liechtenstein’s official tourism website.

Buses for Travel within Liechtenstein

Whether you drive to get to Liechtenstein or not, you may find yourself taking advantage of Liechtenstein’s thorough public bus system. There are a lot of routes connecting the end of hikes back to the city and the towns along the main road with one another. Your map app on your phone also likely can navigate you on the buses here.

Fares are on the honor system, and can be single rides, round-trips or day passes. You can buy directly from the driver, and I wouldn’t take my chances – one of the days I rode the bus there was a plainclothes woman who looked like a tourist checking tickets and issuing fines to those who hadn’t paid when they boarded.

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Parking around Vaduz Center

There are parking lots immediately adjacent to the central pedestrian walking area along the Städtle in the center, but they tend to have a time limit of 2-3 hours. Especially on weekends if you are willing to walk a little extra, there is a lot by the Schloss-Apotheke with no time limit that is free on the weekend. I had already checked out of my hotel on Sunday morning, so this was an ideal spot to leave the car to explore more of Vaduz before heading home without the stress of a time limit.

Picture-taking.

With mountains all around, the sun can disappear quite quickly. When the light is good, get your pictures fast, the moment won’t last long!

Have you visited Liechtenstein before? What was the highlight for you? Or which attraction is enticing enough for you to go out of your way to come? Any other questions? Let me know in the Comments below.

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6 Reasons to Visit Andorra

6 Reasons to Visit Andorra

Admittedly, stopping into Andorra was to check another micro-nation off the bucket list, but also to explore a country I really knew very little about. It was clear on the driving approach how prominent the mountains were in the view from all of the towns along the main, winding road, making it a perfect destination for outdoor adventures in any season.

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Like other European micro-nations, Andorra also holds a bit of a unique status. While it is not part of the Schengen open border area, you have to enter Schengen to get there since without an airport, Andorra is only accessible via Spain or France – most commonly Barcelona or Toulouse. And it even uses the Euro as its currency.

Prices are also incredibly cheap, so the final stop leaving Andorra was to fill up the car at a gas station. When presenting the European gas card afterward, the attendant took one look at the card and said, “We can’t take this. It’s only good in Europe.”

This is the kind of seeming contradiction that makes travelling to a micro-nation so interesting. So why visit Andorra, this beautiful country that is both in Europe and not?

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Hiking

In summertime when I visited, you are greeted by lush green cover along the Pyrenees mountains, and since the towns tend to be in the valley between, the heights are tempting you for a visit. There are quite a lot of hiking trails accessible from the main towns, with a range of lengths and difficulty levels, so whatever your inclination, you can find a path into nature to spend a morning or entire day.

Skiing

Although I did not visit in winter, Andorra was known as a skiing destination long before it became a summer draw. There are a lot of accommodations easily accessible to the various ski slopes, and you can also enjoy other winter sports like snowshoeing, with ample trails throughout. Many of Andorra’s small towns are essentially set up to be winter sports destinations.

Eating

Not surprisingly, food options in Andorra borrow from both neighboring countries, France and Spain (and if you speak French or Spanish, that will come in handy for ordering). I had a French-style dinner and then Spanish tapas for lunch, including some of the best papas bravas – roasted potato cubes in a spicy sauce – that I’ve ever had. I especially enjoyed eating along the river that passes through Andorra La Vella, with ample outdoor seating to do some people watching and take in the views.

Relaxing

Speaking of which, if activities in the great outdoors don’t interest you, there are plenty of pedestrian walkways in town and along the river to really relax and still enjoy beautiful views as you look up. And plenty of spa and “wellness” retreat options for really taking it slow, or relaxing after exertion hiking or skiing.

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Exploring

The best part for me about visiting a country I don’t know much about beforehand are the surprises along the way. Of course, you don’t know what things you may happen upon until you take the time to wander. The two things that stand out most from my visit are a Dali sculpture in the middle of Andorra La Vella and happening upon a Cirque du Soleil rehearsal.

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Shopping

Right after driving across the border from France, you begin seeing prominent signs advertising duty-free shopping. A quick stop out of curiosity revealed an adult wonderland of culinary delights and liquors produced at a local distillery as well as from around the world. I mostly stuck to things I can’t find elsewhere, like Andorran tea, but an entire trip budget could easily be spent in the span of thirty minutes.

In addition to the ample duty free wares, there are also quite a lot of brand-name stores with branches in Andorra, especially in the capital of Andorra La Vella. While it makes sense that purchasing opportunities would be plentiful in the tax haven of Andorra, this was the biggest surprise for me. Come with your shopping wish list ready!

 

Have you been to Andorra? What was the highlight for *you*?

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Wineries to Seek Out in Italy’s Piedmont Region

Wineries to Seek Out in Italy’s Piedmont Region

When most Italians talk about the best wine regions (of the 20 Italian regions), Piedmont is inevitably named along with Tuscany. The most esteemed Piemontese wine is the pricey Barolo, but there are many other well-known wines to sample throughout Piedmont: Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto d’Alba, and Moscato d’Asti. And if you’re a red wine connoisseur or aficionado, the lesser-known Grignolino may entice your palate like it did mine.

Whether you’re in the vicinity during fall’s truffle season, or exploring at another time of year, Piedmont is a great area to go for a day (or several) of wine tasting, because there are so many different types of grapes and wineries in fairly close proximity. And there are many excellent restaurants both at wineries and nearby.

Here are some wineries worth seeking out during your time in the Piedmont region, organized alphabetically by town:

Asti

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Contratto

Reservations: Recommended

Tasting: Typically organized as a group tour and tasting, for a fee

Varietals: Millesimato, Moscato, and other (mostly) sparkling wines

Even if you’ve toured many wineries before, this winery tour is different because of Contratto’s focus on sparkling wines and the different treatment they receive during the maturation process. While they sell many varieties of the typically sweet Moscato d’Asti, don’t be deterred. Many of the sparkling wines, including some Moscato, are quite fresh and well-balanced, and quite pleasurable to drink (even for those of us who usually shy away from sweet wines).

Barbaresco

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Enoteca Regionale del Barbaresco

Reservations: Not needed

Tasting: 3 selections available daily for a small fee

Varietals: Barbaresco!

Housed in a former church, this enoteca in the middle of town has a vast selection of local wines. You are only able to taste the ones selected by the Enoteca on a given day, but can get advice and purchase from many local wineries all in one spot.

Produttori di Barbaresco

Reservations: Not needed

Tasting: Free

Varietals: Barbaresco mainly, and excellent grappa

A short walk from the regional enoteca listed above, this winery has an inviting tasting room also central in the town of Barbaresco with no reservations needed. It’s a great spot to taste the differences in the flavor of this varietal from different years and treatments. And even if you don’t typically like digestifs or don’t think you like grappa, be sure to try the grappa here – after three years living in Italy, it’s the smoothest I’ve sampled.

Barolo

Da Milano

Reservations: Not needed

Tasting: Free

Varietals: Barbera, Barolo, Dolcetto, and also a nice Langhe white

This winery is the perfect combination of excellent production, and a conveniently located tasting room in the town of Barolo. As it was for me, it’s an easy stop if you have some extra time late in the afternoon or happening to be staying nearby and want to pop in for a tasting.

Dogliani

Poderi Luigi Einaudi

Reservations: Required

Tasting: Typically organized as a group tour and tasting, for a fee

Varietals: Barbera, Barolo, Dogliani, Langhe Rosso, Moscato and Nebbiolo

There are quite a few very delicious single-grape wines from the various vineyards this winery has acquired throughout the Piedmont region, including Barbera, Barolo, Dogliani, and Nebbiolo. Poderi Luigi Einaudi also does an excellent red blend, their Langhe Rosso.

Langhe

dsc_0313Paitin

Reservations: Recommended

Tasting: Typically along with a tour, there is a dedicated tasting area

Varietals: Barbaresco, Barbera, Dolcetto, Langhe white and red, Nebbiolo

This is an incredibly scenic winery, with both vineyards and hazelnut trees on the property (the Piedmont region is know for its hazelnuts, and I was told that this winery grows hazelnuts that are used in Nutella on my visit!). Their wines are also excellent examples of the different Piemontese varietals, and I left with quite a few bottles in my trunk.

 

As you can tell, my wine preferences are quite eclectic, and there are a large number of wine varietals (white, red, and sparkling) represented by the wineries listed above. Certainly if there is one particular wine that you are seeking out on your trip, use this list as a starting point to explore more wineries growing a particular grape. Take the time to visit each winery’s website – many wineries are in one region but have vineyards in several places, so produce many different regional varietals.

 

Still have questions? Hit me up about the region and its wines in the Comments below.

Wineries to Visit in Piedmont Italy - Piemonte

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How to Make the Most of Visiting an Italian Truffle Festival

How to Make the Most of Visiting an Italian Truffle Festival

After my first year living in Italy, I realized that I had already been to 3 different truffle festivals in 3 different regions: Alba, Acqualagna, and Norcia. Okay, so I really enjoy truffles and was very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit so many festivals dedicated to them. But I was also surprised to realize how many weeks (or at least weekends) these festivals last, and how many seasons boast truffle festivals, giving you several opportunities to plan a visit.

Part of that has to do with the fact that there are many varietals of truffle, even beyond the designations of white and black. The “precious” white truffle is principally found in Alba and Acqualagna, while the black truffle comes in many varieties, most commonly the black summer truffle (Tuber aestivum) and black winter truffle (Tuber melanosporum). I only mention the scientific names here because this is how you will sometimes see truffles listed on a menu to distinguish between the different varieties. In any case, the many different varieties of truffle mean that they are harvested at different times of year in different regions of Italy, so even if you’re planning a winter visit, getting fresh truffles is a possibility if you plan your itinerary with truffle areas in mind.

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Alba (Piedmont region)

early October – late November, held over 8 weekends

The “Fiera del Tartufo” in Alba (west of Milan) is probably the most famous, and is the truffle festival where you will encounter the most foreigners and hear the most English being spoken. It is also many visitors’ first Italian destination for a truffle festival due to its location in the region of Piedmont, known for many of its excellent wine varietals – Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera, and Moscato d’Asti, to name a few – as well as for the outstanding restaurants in the region. The main vendors are located inside a building with paid entry that can get quite crowded and hard to walk through as the day progresses.

TIP! Although they sell a wine-tasting option with your admission, there are many wine vendors throughout where you can taste for free, so unless you want to taste a lot of top-shelf options from wineries not present, stick to the basic admission price.

acqualagna

Acqualagna (Le Marche region)

late October – early November, held over 3 weekends

Much less well-known, although the white truffle found in this coastal region east of Tuscany is (scientifically) identical to the more famous white truffle of Alba. The region of Le Marche is also one of the regions less visited by foreign tourists, so you will encounter far more locals and hear a lot more Italian being spoken here. There is an indoor component to Acqualagna, but many stands located outside in the piazzas and streets of the town, so I found it to be more spread out and less crowded in any one area.

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Norcia (Umbria region)

late February – early March, held over 2 weekends

Called Nero Norcia, or “black Norcia,” the truffle festival in Norcia is different from the other two I’ve mentioned because it is dedicated to a black truffle instead of the white one. While the white one is more expensive and delicate (and rare), the black truffle can be a more versatile culinary ingredient for its ability to maintain its aroma with exposure to heat, like being tossed with butter and fresh pasta. And since this is a relatively short festival in the midst of winter, it’s a very different (bundled-up) experience wandering the outside stalls and tasting as you go.

TIP! For all of the truffle festivals above, there are many products that you can buy from charcuterie to cheese to bottles of wine to all of the truffle-centric products. Bring along a backpack or cart of some sort to help carry all of your purchases.

truffle-map

And certainly the three truffle festivals I’ve personally attended don’t even scratch the surface of what you can find around Italy. Above is a map indicating all of the locales in Italy that are known for truffles. Seemingly everywhere! I really had no idea until living here, and scratching the surface of this wonderful fungus.

Wherever you decide to go, here are my top tips to make the most of your Italian Truffle Festival experience:

Plan, plan, plan.

If you are visiting a town or the surrounding region when the local truffle festival is taking place, you will be there along with the locals and other tourists who are all trying to make the most of the weekend. Accommodations, winery tours, and restaurant reservations can fill up fast, so if there are specific places you want to experience, it’s worth the effort to plan in advance.

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Drive.

Many truffle festivals are accessible by Italy’s excellent train system, however there are so many perks to arriving by car. Not only does it give you the flexibility of any time you take a road trip, but there are a lot of nearby towns, wineries, and restaurants most easily reached in a vehicle. Prepare to drive around Italy with my Tips for Road Tripping in Europe.

Stay overnight in a town nearby, but not the one actually hosting the truffle festival. Or on the outskirts of town.

With all of the vendors and visitors for the truffle festival itself, the host town can become quite chaotic, especially in the center of town. Plus, many streets will be blocked off so travel by car can be difficult and confusing. I find that it’s best to stay on the outskirts of town where it’s not to far to arrive at the festival by foot, or to stay in a nearby town, giving you another area to explore in the region.

Attend during carnival time or special cultural performances.

Although the festival is already a special weekend experience, there is typically a schedule of special events that take place throughout from Alba’s famous donkey race to evening carnivals to cultural performances in period costume. Even if you don’t plan ahead you may stumble upon one of the special events, but these performances are also worth seeking out as you plan your trip.

Take advantage of weekdays before and after festival if you can.

Like with Oktoberfest and other festivals around Europe, weekends are the most crowded time as the locals come to enjoy the festivities outside of the work week. To have a less-crowded experience at wineries and restaurants nearby, plan some of your time in the region to be during weekdays.

Taste first, then buy truffle products.

Yes, truffles are an amazing product, however not all truffle products are created equal. Although truffle spreads make all look the same at the different vendors, you really need to taste them all to see which one best suits your particular taste (and only buy from vendors that give you the opportunity to sample their products). My favorite truffle products to seek out: a black truffle and mushroom spread usually called tartufotto and semi-soft cheeses with shaved pieces of truffle inside.

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Buy a truffle!

There are many great ways to eat a fresh truffle, so be sure to have access to a kitchen either at the festival, or in the day or two after. And it is worth investing in a truffle shaver, as even the most intricate knife-work is not quite the same as the thin, even slices of truffle you can get with the proper tool. Truffle shavings are great with scrambled eggs, fresh pasta, and over mountain cheese roasted in the oven.

Taste and buy wine.

Okay, you’re attending a truffle festival, but there will be no shortage of wine for tasting and buying. And since you’re already planning a home-cooked meal to accompany the fresh truffle you purchased, buy some regional wine to accompany it. Wine also makes a great souvenir and if it’s just a few bottles, can be easily transported home in your luggage.

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Eat at the food stands on site.

All truffle festivals have food stands on site with many truffle-enhanced dishes to sample. They often come in relatively small portions, so it’s fun and delicious to try plates from many different vendors as you explore the festival.

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Go on a truffle hunt.

Going on a truffle hunt had been on my bucket list ever since I lived in Perth, since Western Australia is also known for its truffles. While I didn’t make it during my time there, I did get to experience a truffle hunt one year attending the Alba truffle festival with friends. Not only did I learn a lot about truffles, it was fun trekking through the woods with the truffle-hunting dog, and lovely to sit down and have truffle enhanced dishes at the end of the hunt.

Have you been to an Italian truffle festival? Or one in another country? What was the highlight of your experience?

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5 Reasons to Visit Stockholm *after* Summer

5 Reasons to Visit Stockholm *after* Summer

Unless it’s to see the Northern Lights, I’ve always thought of Scandinavia as a summer destination. Scandinavia and Sweden are pretty far north, so the best time to go intuitively should be at the hottest point of the year. So when presented with the opportunity to attend a travel blogger conference (TBEX!) in Stockholm back in July, I was excited since I imagined that summer would be the perfect time to check out the Swedish capital.

I had a wonderful time in my few days in Stockholm, both at the conference and out and about in the city on my own, however I couldn’t help thinking throughout my time there that summer just didn’t seem to be the absolute best time for a trip. Here are a few things about summer in Stockholm that made me dream of Stockholm in autumn (or spring):

Stockholm gets hot in summer.

No, really, it does. Actually hot, even by non-Scandinavian standards. Some of the days walking around I was sweating profusely, and even got some color despite slathering up with high-SPF sunscreen. What I did not completely realize until my visit is that Stockholm is actually an archipelago composed of 14 main islands, so as you go around the city you are crossing bridges with no shade and getting a lot of the reflected sunlight from the water everywhere. The hot time of year may be your preferred travel climate, but for me to visit a city, I’d prefer a cooler day where is comfortable to walk around without overheating or needing to carry large quantities of water to stay hydrated.

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Many restaurants close down for several weeks or the whole summer.

In a way it made my travel planning a bit easier, but I was surprised at how many of the restaurants that were on my “to eat” list ended up being closed while I was in town. Fortunately, most places had their closure dates listed prominently on their websites, but there was still one stand for korv that I went out of my way to check out, only to discover that it was closed for several weeks. There was even one restaurant that relocated outside of the city at one of the popular island destinations for the entire summer. If you’re a foodie like me, or want to taste the best of what Stockholm has to offer, you’ll have greater options available by waiting until after summer to make your trip.

construction

There is construction everywhere during summer.

It makes sense that a city with a cold climate would take advantage of the summer months to catch up on construction and renovations around town, and this is exactly what happens in the Swedish capital. A lot of streets and sidewalks were blocked by active construction and there was a lot of scaffolding around town. Summer also seems to be the time of year that restaurants choose to undergo renovations, so it being prime time for construction further contributes to restaurants being closed at this time of year.

crowds

Avoiding peak season for tourists.

Summer is definitely peak tourist season in Stockholm. Flights and hotels are more expensive, restaurant reservations are harder to come by for the places still open, and all of the sights are more crowded. Obviously between summer vacation for school-age children and it being the warmest weather of the year in Scandinavia, it will remain a popular time for a visit. But if you are a traveler with a bit of scheduling flexibility, coming during the fall or spring shoulder season will mean a more relaxed (and cheaper!) overall experience.

fika

Better weather to enjoy fika

Fika is the Swedish tradition of a coffee break with pastry, part of the rhythm of a typical day. If you’re like me, if it is hot outside and you’ve been out and about sightseeing, the idea of a hot coffee and snacking on a pastry is not particularly appealing. While I did have the occasional coffee beverage to keep my energy up, I just couldn’t manage to sit down and eat between meals in the heat. I love the idea of having a set break like fika in the morning and afternoon though, which reminds me of living in Australia where it was part of my work contract that I got allotted break time for both morning and afternoon tea. But for me, autumn with its crisp air and turning leaves is the perfect time to savor a hot beverage and have a sweet pastry to break up the day.

 

Have you been to Stockholm? What time of year do you think is best for a visit?

5-reasons-to-visit-stockholm-1

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Unexpected Foods to Seek Out in European Cities

Unexpected Foods to Seek Out in European Cities

I wholly subscribe to my grandfather’s assertion that “travel is an adventure in eating” and enjoying the local food specialties of a destination is an essential part of my travel, especially lately. Living in Italy has given me a even deeper appreciation of the concept, as food here is not just regional (Italy has 20 different regions), but is often particular to a specific town with a traditional dish and a local grape that produces wine that pairs perfectly with that culinary specialty.

While eating local food has its perks, sometimes there is an unexpected food – often from another culture – that has become a typical food of the area worth seeking out during your visit. In Washington, DC where I lived for many years, you may not know that there are both large Ethiopian and Salvadorean populations, making it a prime city for swiping a chunk of injera through a mound of kitfo or sampling pupusas for the first time.

In Europe, several cities I’ve visited also have non-native food specialties you’ll see available everywhere you turn, but with long enough traditions that you can find particularly delectable versions with just a little bit of sleuthing.

Here are some of the foods that have been unexpected for me, and where to find them:

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Amsterdam: Falafel

My first trip to Amsterdam was visiting a friend who was studying there at the time, and I was quite surprised when she told me how excellent the falafel was there. The word may be out already beyond Europe, at least among my DC friends, as there is actually a shop in DC called “Amsterdam Falafel.” So why is falafel so popular in Amsterdam? I honestly have no idea (if you do, please share in the Comments section below!) but whether you’re a vegetarian or not, it is an excellent snack during your time in the city.

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Berlin: Kebab

Kebab is an ethnic food found in many cities across Europe, from Paris to Vienna, so why do I associate it in particular with Berlin? As you can see in my recent Berlin rundown, kebab options are plentiful in Berlin. There is a kebab stand – or several – on pretty much every corner, and you’ll frequently see people walking around with a kebab in hand. And the options and opinions about kebab abound. On my recent trip, I waited in line for over an hour at possibly the most popular spot for a 3 kebab, which was well worth it as the kebab was by far the best I have ever tasted.

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London: Curry

When you think of British food, you’re likely to conjure images of fish and chips, and possibly bangers and mash or shepherd’s pie. If you’ve visited London though, you know that its colonial history on the Indian sub-continent has resulted into curry being an art form, available in excellent renditions all over town. While there are some renowned chains (like Dishoom) in many parts of the city, there is no need to take the tube for ages. In any neighborhood you stay in, there is likely to be an excellent restaurant serving up traditional curry. Do a bit of research or asking around, and then like me, curry will be on your “must eat” list every time you’re in London for a visit or just passing through.

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Stockholm: Korv (hot dog)

You probably don’t know the word korv if you’re never visited Sweden, but calling it a hot dog or even a sausage is a misnomer. Again, like Berlin, korv is available all over town and is a frequently consumed street food. However korv is unique in that the places that really specialize in it don’t just offer one or two versions, but 20 or more combinations of meat and spices to entice the palate. I also appreciated that the “korvspecialists” are really catering to locals, with posted menus only in Swedish (although asking will produce an English recommendation or possibly even a menu behind the stand). In any case, I enjoyed my spicy lamb sausage on a baguette with all of the toppings.

 

What are some non-native food specialties in your city? And what is the most under-the-radar food you’ve sampled somewhere you were visiting? Share in the Comments below.

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