On our Christmas cruise, we stopped in Rüdesheim Germany which is famous for their wonderful "kaffee".
"Rüdesheimer Kaffee is an alcoholic coffee drink from Rüdesheim am Rhein in Germany invented in 1957 by the German television chef, Hans Karl Adam. It is a popular drink in coffee houses.
Asbach Uralt brandy and sugar cubes are added to a cup. In Rüdesheim, a cup that is specially designed for this beverage is used. The brandy is flambéed and stirred for a minute until the sugar dissolves. Strong coffee is added, followed by a topping of thickly whipped cream sweetened with vanilla sugar. Chocolate flakes are scattered onto the cream as a garnish."
Place three sugar cubes in the Original Rüdesheim coffee cup;
Add 4 cl of well-warmed Asbach Urait (famous German Brandy) and set alight with a long match.
Stir using the long Rüdesheim coffee spoon to dissolve the sugar and allow to burn for about 1 minute.
Fill the cup with hot coffee to about 2 cm under the rim. Top with vanilla sugar whipped cream and chocolate flakes.
Here's my video of our group from the Amacello and the making of the Original Rüdesheim Kaffee:
A grandmother (whose ethnic background Karen will not let me mention, but probably not Lutheran) is walking on the beach with her six year-old grandson when, all of sudden, a huge wave comes in, scoops up the boy and he disappears into the sea. The grandmother falls upon her knees, praying for the return of her boy, that she will give anything she has, her life, anything, to have the boy back. Another huge wave comes in and gently places the boy, upright, dry and unharmed, on the beach. The grandmother looks at the boy, looks at the sea, looks back at the boy and then up to the sky, saying "He had a hat."
We spent a wonderful day in Paris at Le Cordon Bleu!
We had been sitting around the apartment a couple of days before trying to think about "what are you supposed to do in Paris" looking at various websites labelled, the "the 10/20/15/143 top things to do in Paris," when I came across several favorable testimonials about spending the day taking a cooking class at Le Cordon Bleu. I contacted them and they had room at one of their classes, "Cuisiner Pour Ses Amis" or "Cooking for Friends".
The next day, we awoke ridiculously early (it was still dark outside) for two people on vacation, grabbed a taxi to the school and went in.
On this trip, since it has been December and January, we have both been regularly sporting hats.
My "chapeaux" was purchased a few weeks ago at a Christmas market in Riquewihr when we were sailing on the Rhine River (I had to throw that in - I mean how often can you put a sentence together like that?). Riquewihr is a lovely little village in the Alsace region of France which, due to numerous wine tastings, Karen swears we have never visited. I like to think the hat gives me a jaunty, European appearance, or at least the vague resemblance of an old Frenchman two-thirds of the way through a pub crawl.
Old French Man, Barnum
Karen in the meantime has a lovely knit cap which gives her the appearance of an innocent Swedish girl who can't quite remember the last town she was in.
Karen in her knit cap… with Claire & Jona in Venice.
Le Cordon Bleu is actually a busy school and the day of our arrival was also the first day for the students being back after Christmas. The reception/registration desk was a mass of confusion, but we made our way to the morning class, which was a demonstration by our chef, Chef Patrick Terrien, accompanied by his translator (for those of us who prefer English to just sitting around and nodding, "oui, oui") and his two assistants. The morning class was amazing, with Chef Terrien preparing an appetizer, main course and a dessert, while talking constantly about what he was doing, with the translator telling some of us what he was saying.
There are times when you're listening to a translation though, when the original speaker goes on for a couple of minutes and the translator laughs and then says a short sentence where you wonder what you're missing. However, before we knew it, the morning class was over and we were sampling the various items.
Mousse de chou'fleur, chair de tourteau aux herbes et crème de betterave.
Marget de canard, gateau de champignons et pommes landaises.
Verrine antillaise coco-ananas with coconut cookie crisps.
We enjoyed the morning session so much, we signed up for the afternoon session which was a "practical" hands-on session in one of their student kitchens. They gave us each our own bag of stuff, including our own apron and tea towel. We were herded into a separate changing room where we took off our coats and hats and put on our aprons and tea towels, ready for action.
Gary in apron!
We then were guided to the kitchen. The kitchen was huge, with a dozen separate stations, each with its own cutting board/preparation area, sink/clean-up area, four-burner stove and refrigerator.
Canard wine reduction and sautéd mushrooms.
There were about ten of us day students, two of whom apparently did not speak French. What followed was an amazing amount of chopping, dicing, tasting, sautéing, stirring and just a general wonderful bedlam of cookery! We each prepared a mushroom mousse cake, duck breast with a wine reduction sauce and fried sliced potatoes. It was a great experience!!!
We went back to the changing room, grabbed our coats and I grabbed my hat and we left Le Cordon Bleu, pumped and talking about going to cooking school on a full-time basis.
Karen receiving her course certificate from Chef.
We were able to take our meals back to the apartment. That evening, we opened up a lovely bottle of French wine and enjoyed the meals we cooked. It was outstanding!
The next day, getting ready to head out for another walking tour of Paris, Karen noticed that she could not find her cap. We looked all around the apartment, went through all of our luggage, checked the camels in our caravan and asked our Sherpas, but we could not find it anywhere. Eventually, it occurred to us that the last time Karen had it was at Le Cordon Bleu.
We have sent them several emails, telling Le Cordon Bleu what a wonderful time we had at their school and reminding them as well that, "She had a hat."
We love Paris and our apartment is perfect!!!! Well, really close to perfect, but we are in Europe, after all.
There are things which you would not put up with back at home which just seem so quaint and funny over here that your initial reaction is "c'est la vie" and you move on and live with it. For me, that works for about the first half day. I am blinded by the Paris sights and lights, the boulevards and the croissants.
At some point, though, when I bump my head against a door or wall because the bathroom was designed for an acrobatic dwarf with at least one missing limb, I start to think "What the f$#@ were they thinking?"
Our apartment in Paris has two bathrooms, one with a sink, shower and a toilet and the other with a sink and a shower. The latter is kind of a "half bath", but the wrong half so far as we're concerned. Over the years, when Karen and I have gone out for delightful evenings, sharing sparkling waters, wine, coffee and other liquids, and then return to our home, I cannot recall a single instance of us both going: "I get to shower first!" "No, I have to shower, RIGHT NOW!!"
Our bathroom, the complete one, is fairly large by Paris standards, but that doesn't mean that normal humans can comfortably survive there. The toilet, like all European toilets, has the two-flush option, the first setting being "just enough to get it wet, but not actually send it anywhere" and the second setting being, "enough to swirl it around a bit". I have found that, through erosion, stuff will eventually disappear from the bowl.
The bathroom also has one of those incredibly small trash cans with a foot pedal which are designed to tip over if you actually step on the pedal. They are almost large enough to take a couple of Kleenex (TM) tissues, but not many.
The safe works, which is a plus, but they put it on the floor of the hall closet, apparently as a further deterrent to potential burglars "Mon Dieu!! I cannot reach dis!!!!"
We have a clothes washing machine in our Paris apartment!! It is a specially-designed French machine, which services both as a washer and a dryer, to save space and maximize utility. It is in the kitchen. It can take 2 to three pairs of socks (depending on foot size) and at least a couple of pairs of light underwear (no boxers) and swish them around in water with soap for a bit. Then, once the washing is complete, you set the machine to dry, allow it to run for an hour or two and, when you weary of that, you just lay your wet clothes around the apartment and they eventually dry. Voila!
Our favorite part of the apartment is the elevator. We suspected it might be a problem when the apartment instructions said that "no more than one person with one suitcase at a time should go on the elevator". Karen and I were thinking this was one of those conundrums like "there are three missionaries and three cannibals who must cross the river and the canoe only holds two people". It turns out that we were mistaken, the elevator was just about big enough to hold one suitcase, without a chaperone. The suitcases being well-traveled, we thought they might be mature enough to find their own way home.
We eventually were able to get ourselves and our suitcases, without losing anything to cannibals, up to the apartment.
Our apartment is on the fifth or six floor, depending on whether it's American- or Euro-speak. In Europe, they call the first floor "0" and don't actually start counting until you've worked your way up a flight of stairs. When you are on an elevator, it's just a matter of pushing the right button, but when you are doing your own walking and the person with you says, "it's just on the second floor", once we've hiked up one flight, Karen and I are done but the other person is still trekking on!!!
We haven't actually walked the six flights of stairs to or from our apartment. I'm sure they are lovely, but we have been stuffing ourselves together into the elevator (wondering, just how much is 225 kilograms?), holding any bags we might have above our heads and listening to the elevator groan and complain it's way up or down (Karen swears she can hear the elevator complaining about heavy Americans).
But, really, this place is perfect and I'm not complaining. Just wondering occasionally, "What the f$#@ were they thinking?"
When I first traveled through Europe, Boy Scout backpack and my thumb for transport, I fell in love with several cities, Edinburgh and Florence being at the top of my list.
Edinburgh has continued consistently as one of my favorite places on Earth, but the last time I was in Florence it seemed filthy, crowded, the traffic incredibly dangerous and just not a good place to be.
As with so many places with Karen, the Etch-A-Sketch has worked its magic and Florence is as delightful and special as I first remembered it.
First, the streets and sidewalks are incredibly clean. I mean, very, very clean. At one point, waiting in the Piazza della Signoria, next to the Palazzo Vecchio, for the Epiphany parade to begin, we were actually irritated that the street cleaner was running around near our table. However, remembering what the streets looked like more than a decade before, I was quiet, appreciating the Florentine's attention to cleanliness.
We have stayed in a gorgeous hotel right on the River Arno and less than a block from the Ponte Vecchio, the Hotel Lungarno. It is owned by the Salvatore Ferragamo family (yep, the shoe people).
It is one of those hotels that you go "aaaahhhhh" as soon as you walk in the lobby, leaving your luggage on the street for someone else to attend to.
Our room has a terrace overlooking the Arno and is itself quite large and comfortable. We have enjoyed several simple meals (club sandwiches with an incredible wine) just sitting on our private patio.
The Ponte Vecchio, a bridge stuffed with stores (jewelry, leather and curios topping the list) is still there and on at least a couple of the afternoons has been exactly as packed and crowded as I remembered it. However, since we are staying RIGHT NEXT TO THE BRIDGE, when we return in the evening or head out in the early morning, we almost have the bridge to ourselves.
Since we have been in Venice in San Marco square, through Pisa and now in Florence, the walking freelance vendor trinkets of the year have been these hand-shot whirly-gig toys that light up and are shot into the air about 40 to 50 feet and some sort of multiple stringy-LED lit flashlighty thing. That and, of course, the rose guys who walk around pretending to give ladies a rose and then turning to the guy with their hands' out for money. I have been mostly polite, staying to "No, grazie." Karen is much better now-a-days avoiding eye contact. Being a very polite, smiling person from the Northwest, she was basically a walking target the first time we traveled in Europe.
We came to Florence specifically to watch the Epiphany parade. The Epiphany is Twelfth Night, or January 6 and is celebrated as the day the three Wise Men (as I recall, Melchior, Caspar and Bob) arrived to see Jesus. The parade was first done around 1416 at the direction of the Medici family. It has continued (with some interruptions and lapses) for 600 years. The participants dress up in Renaissance costumes and march or ride on horseback through historical Florence, starting at the Pitti Palace, going over the Ponte Vecchio and through the Piazza della Signoria and ending up at the Duomo (though they also marched back later and we caught them from our terrace at the hotel). For the parade itself, we got a front-row seat on a raised platform in a restaurant right in the Palazzo Vecchio. We had great wine, pasta and enjoyed the spectacle. In addition to the Italian participants, there were participants from other countries, like the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Albania, Cameroon and the Congo. I know, I don't see a connection between these countries either. We were kind of hoping that Seaside or Portland would field a team to come over.
There were lots of drums, trumpets and throwing flags into the air and catching them (which was pretty impressive).