Cunard Queen Elizabeth
May 31st - June 10th, 2019
We'll be doing full posts about our trip in the coming weeks but we wanted to give you all a preview to the photos. Below are the shots from our fun in Ketchikan.
We'll be doing full posts about our trip in the coming weeks but we wanted to give you all a preview to the photos. Below are the shots from our fun in Ketchikan.
November 16, 2018
Oceania Cruise line is well-known for its culinary prowess in the dining room. What you might not know is that they started the at-sea culinary class revolution, which is now in full swing on the high seas with most cruises in the luxury category offering several options for learning about local cuisine geared toward your itinerary.
Our cruise from Barcelona to Miami offered several culinary classes held in their state-of-the-art culinary demonstration-teaching center. Given our embarkation location and the cruise being a transatlantic crossing, you’d not be surprised to see courses on Spanish cuisine and the bounties of the seas.
We booked ahead – well before our departure – the Viva España and If It Swims courses; highly recommended as these courses are becoming very, very popular.
At the Viva España course we prepared –
Patatas Bravas with Smoky Paprika Aioli (recipe below)
Pan Con Tomate
We were served Sangria Blanca as well.
At the If It Swims course we prepared –
Pesce All’Acqua Pazza (fish in crazy water)
Salmon Wraps A la Canyon Ranch
Fish Tacos with Asian Slaw and Sriracha Crema
Chef Kellie prepared Aquavit-cured Gravlax for us and served a good white wine.
These classes were offered in the shop's Culinary Center. This is a onboard cooking classroom offers two classes each day while at sea with a variety of topics throughout the cruise. At some ports, they offer shore side shopping trips to local market.
The classes are well run and fun. On Riviera, they're headed up by Chef Kellie Evans, formerly an associate food editor at Saveur Magazine. She commands a staff of 3 or 4 assistants. As a team they make the sessions fun, informative, and easy. Most of the tedious tasks of preparing your mise en place (all the cutting, chopping, and measuring) is taken care of by the staff. If there's a special technique that called for there will be a demonstration before you get to try it for yourself. You get to do all the cooking, assembling, and plating - and eating! - yourself. And the best part: they also do all the cleanup afterwards!
After the orientation to our workstations and introduction to what we'll be cooking, everyone comes to the front demonstration station where Chef explains a little about the dish, the ingredients, and the techniques involved as she shows how it's done. The we all go back to our own stations and try to replicate what she just did. The staff comes around to make sure we're on track and answer questions.
When one step or dish is done, we move back up to the front to learn about the next step. We're back and forth as we progress through all of the dishes in the course. Eating as we go.
Each session last for 2 hours, but the time goes by far too quickly.
Read more about The Culinary Center here: https://www.oceaniacruises.com/ships/riviera/life-on-board/culinary-center/
This recipe below is from the Viva España class. We made this Patatas Brava dish as well as the obligatory tapas Pan Con Tomate, and Paella. All while enjoying Sangria Blanca. Look for some more of these recipes in coming weeks.
It's been 8 days since we left our last port of call in Spain, at Málaga. We were to have had two more stops in The Canaries. But, due to weather, and trying to out-run an enormous storm in the North Atlantic, we were not able to visit. We may have been able to get to the islands before the storm but would have been in the worst of it as we left. Rather than risking threatening seas, we headed further south before making our turn to the west. There was much disappointment among guest and staff. Many of the guests, like ourselves, were eager to visit Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Santa Cruz de la Palma. The crew relishes port days when everyone has gone ashore. What was planned to be one day at sea followed by two at port before the five-day crossing, now would be eight days at sea to do little but eat, drinking, and sunbathe - more about that in other posts.
On the 24th, we found ourselves within sight of Puerto Rico just as the sun rose through the clouds. This treated us to nice sunrise view of San Juan as we pulled into the harbor. We were looking forward to this port for a number of reasons. One being that we had booked a walking food tour of Old San Juan. The packages available through the ship were beyond our comfort zone in terms of price. But we did have internet so found something on our own. There were several to choose from, others already booked. The one we chose, and glad we did, was Spoon Food Tours.
The Fort - Castillo San Felipe del Morro
As soon as we were allowed off the ship, which took some time as this was our first arrival back to the US. The ship had to be cleared by customs before anyone could disembark. Those who had tours were allowed to disembark first. Then everyone else, all passengers and crew, had to get off the ship and go through immigration. We headed off as soon as we could and got an Uber to take us to the meeting place for our tour. It was a quick ride away up the hill, we probably could have walked but we weren't sure how long it would take - and it was uphill! We arrived in plenty of time to wander up to the fort for a few minutes and enjoy the morning sun. It was getting hot very quickly. A few tourists had already shown up at the fort but were thus far largely outnumbered by the young people using the perimeter of the fort grounds to get in their morning run.
The fort itself is a US National Park. We didn't have time to go in, but I'm sure it would have been interesting. Check out the website for more information: https://www.nps.gov/saju/index.htm.
But now it was time to meet our guide at the nearby Plaza del Quinto Centenario, a plaza built in 1992 to commemorate the 500 years since Christopher Columbus arrived in Puerto Rico.
Soon our guide, Gabriela, arrived as well as one other couple. We waited a while for one other person but attempts to reach her were unsuccessful so we headed on our way. These tours are limited to 12 participants, we were fortunate to only be the four of us.
Our first stop was just adjacent to Plaza del Quinto Centenario in the Cuartel de Ballajá. This building was the former barracks for the fort. It's now home to the Museum of the Americas, and various other arts and culture organizations. On the ground floor you'll find Don Ruiz Coffee where you can enjoy some of Puerto Rico's finest home-grown coffee. Puerto Rico's coffee plantations are located on the south west side of the island and were 60-80% devastated by Hurricane Maria in 2017. Production has been slow, as you can imagine, to recover. Due to this, Don Ruiz is only serving their coffee in the coffee shop as of our visit. None is available for retail sale. They're just trying to survive at this point. Gabriela further mentioned that most coffee you find in stores around the world that say "Puerto Rican" needs further inspections. In many cases it's a blend of Puerto Rican and others. Look for 100% Puerto Rican Coffee. This is much the same as you find with "Kona Coffee."
At Don Ruiz we enjoyed a cup of cappuccino accompanied by a ham and cheese sandwich on Puerto Rican mallorca bread, sprinkled with powdered sugar. It would be easy to get addicted to starting your days with this sandwich on the soft, sweet bread. If you're familiar with King's Hawaiian bread, it's close, but this was so much more fresh.
After our coffee and sandwich, we took a look at the coffee museum they have in the back of the cafe. Here you'll find miniatures models of coffee roasters and other equipment. Also on display are patron-decorated coffee cups. Read the chalk board walls to learn about the coffee roasting process including the chemical structure of caffeine for the chemists in the crowd.
Before leaving Ballajá we had a chance to walk about briefly. A couple local bands were having practice while a few tourists milled about.
Second Stop - Farmers' Market
After our coffee we headed toward our next stop, passing by the fort grounds and the cemetery below. This next stop was at a simple farmer's market. There wasn't a lot here but it was nice to see a few things we don't typically have in mainland US. Some of the vendors took time to explain to us what a few things were with the help of our guide. Aside from these and the usual fresh herbs and fruits was a couple making vegetarian empenadas. Further down, a man was using a machete to cut open coconuts for refreshing drinks. We ended up getting a couple of virgin mojitos made in front of us. Refreshing in the increasing heat of the day
Third Stop - Taberna Lúpulo
The beer joints of beer joints in San Juan. Taberna Lúpulo is quite the hot spot in the center of Old San Juan's nightlife. Live music and an astounding selection of (mostly) local brews. Also a popular spot for weekend brunch. Fortunate for us, even though this was a Saturday we had no problem getting in for our "brunch." On offer for our tour was what we’re calling a beer mimosa, and a french toast with papayas.
Walk About to Next Stop
One reason we chose this tour was because it was a walking tour. There were others to chose from that were by van. The van would certainly have been more comfortable in the heat. But we were certain that walking through the town would allow us much more flexibility to stop here and there at our leisure (to some extent) to take picture.
Please enjoy these few snaps of our journey through the town.
Mofungo at Hecho en Casa
Next up was Hecho en Casa for our first go at Mofungo. If you're not familiar, it is the "national dish" of Puerto Rico. Simply put, it's a mix of primarily plantains and meat. Everyone's mother or grandmother will have their own variation. But in all cases the plantains are fried then mashed in a mortar and pestle, or pilón. It's then mixed with meats and a sauce of broth, olive oil, garlic, and pork cracklings. What could be wrong with that?
Our guide couldn't have been more ecstatic about this stop! Mofungo is the ultimate comfort food here in Puerto Rico. As I said, everyone's mother, grandmother, or aunt had their own special recipe. But what always went into it was a passion and love for the family. This is not an easy dish to make. It's hard, physical, work to smash the plantains in the pilón, and can only be turned out in one or two servings at a time. A true labor of love to make this dish for the whole family.
I'm not a big fan of plantains, but this was delicious!
Last Stop - Princesa Gastrobar
I wish we could have stayed for dinner - the menu looks amazing!
We were lucky enough to get a mojito (a real one!) and a cup of chickpea soup. The broth was very flavorful with just-picked herbs. Not a lot else to say about it other than if you're in Old San Juan stop by here, it's on the harbor side of Old San Juan. Ask for this soup or enjoy one of the other interesting options from the menu. If you do, please let us know what you tried.
Saturday, November 10, 2018
La Boqueria (Mercat de la Boqueria)
This is one of the big things we were looking to do in Barcelona - aside from the Sagrada Família and the Modernist architecture, of course - was La Boqueria. Located off famous La Rambla, this massive food market had something for everyone. We had been to a similar market in 2014 in Lyon, France, the famed Les Halles de Lyon. In fact, the air and feel of these two places are very much the same: tightly packed stalls and stalls of everything imaginable in the food world - soup to nuts, as they say.
If you weren't looking for the place, it would be easy to pass right by. As you walk down La Rambla toward the water there are two entrances about 1/2 way down, off to the right. These entrances are set back from the street as if down alleyways or service roads. It may be calm out on the street, but once inside during the middle of the day, the market is buzzing. The most prominent purveyors are, of course, the charcuterie stands with all manner of cured meats, especially the jamón ibérico. Though there are produce stands throughout, this is no place for vegetarians and vegans!
Aside from the cured meats, you'll see butchers, fish mongers, veggie stands, confectioners, dairy, florists, cheese shops, poultry, pastries and breads, pepper and spice shops, and just about anything you can imagine from the sea. Emu eggs, anyone? I'm sure I've missed something. If you aren't here to shop for your week's groceries, there are plenty of places to eat serving up the bounty of the market - but be prepared to wait for a seat when it's busy!
We actually made two visits here. The first time, we didn't realize we were so close and had already stopped for lunch at a nearby restaurant for paella. It was a nice lunch but was by no means adventurous. By the time we got here, things were already winding down for the day being late on a Saturday afternoon. We wandered about and took a few pictures, oohing and aahing at all the goodies. We have Pike Place Market here in Seattle, which really is quite amazing in its own way, but pales in comparison in terms of the variety on offer at La Boqueria. We vowed to come back for lunch one day before leaving Barcelona.
---Continued reading below these photos---
Lunch at La Boqueria
Monday, November 12, 2018
The last day in Barcelona and our last chance to come back to La Boqueria for lunch. We finished at Casa Vicens just after noon and headed back across town to La Rambla. It only took a short while to get there on the Metro subway. Once there, we wandered about to see where we may want to eat. We ended up at Kiosk Universal which we had seen two days before and had caught our eye.
This place is situated in the front corner of the market, nearest La Rambla. It's set up with counters and display all the way around with all the cooking going on the in center. Each server works a few feet of the counter providing a combination of serving and preparing. A few of the staff were handling more specialized tasks such as manning the grill or prepping dishes. There were also a few surrounding table being served by staff. We put our name in and waited about 15 minutes for spots at the counter where we could see all the action.
With a couple glasses of Cava in our hands, we started to order the food. Of course we started with Pulpo - grilled octopus. Then on to the steamed razor clams with langostine. Next up the seafood pasta with calamari, clams, mussels and shrimp. The winner was the sea scallops. Check out the video at the end of the this post to sea how our server "cooked" them in-shell with just a chef's torch - does a scallop really need to be cooked any more than that.
We couldn't eat everything on the menu, but we sure were tempted.
Find out more about La Boqueria at the official home page: http://www.boqueria.barcelona
For this recipe, check with your local wild mushroom seller to find out what varieties would go best with the tarragon. We’ve made this a number of times using whatever varieties were availabe at the time: lobster, cauliflower, white and red chantrelles which, in the Pacific Northwest, are available in late summer into fall. We also added criminis from the grocery store to fill out the volume (criminis are available all year in at most grocery stores). For true decadence add some morels! Farmers’ markets are a great source. We did try dried mushrooms to see how they would do. The flavor was ok, not great, but the texture was tough and rubbery. We strongly recommend sticking with fresh if you can get them. Also, from a strictly aesthetic point of view, you may want to steer clear of black mushrooms. As you can see in our picture, lighter mushrooms would look better. Before we soaked our mushroom mix, there were more white and orange ones than black. Once they soaked together, the light colored mushrooms absorbed all the black.
As for the puff pastry: don't even attempt to make this yourself! That is, unless you're really looking for a challenge. It's a nuisance to make whereas it's easy to find in most grocery stores. Pepperidge Farm is the most commonly found here but the last time we made this we used Dafour that we found at Whole Foods, which we quite liked. Check out the comparison at Serious Eats.
If you don’t have sweet vermouth, dry sherry would work just as well (not “cooking” or crème sherry, both having salt and other additives).
Our favorite pan to use for baking this is 6 x 13 x 1 removable-bottom tarte pan. Any other low-sided pan should work just fine; just adjust your volumes and quantities accordingly for your size pan. As long as you don’t go with a deeper pan, the cooking time should stay the same. You can even do individual serving sized, these will require less cooking time so keep an eye on them.
We haven't tried to add any grated cheese to the custard mix but fresh grated Parmesan made be a really good addition. If you try it, let us know in the comments.
I don't often get to travel for my day job. But when I do, my company sends me to some far-reaching places. The past March was one such opportunity. In December 2017, I found out I would be going to Africa, Tanzania, specifically. I assumed that someday I'd get the chance to go to Africa but had never really thought too much about it. Now was my chance.
Still, with finding out in December I had very little time to plan. I didn't know the exact dates until less than 30 days out. Fortunately I had some vacation time in the bank that wasn't already spoken for. This made for the possibility of adding on a few extra days after the official business to take an adventure. I'm so glad I did!
Most of my time in Tanzania was spent in Dar es Salaam. What to say about Dar? Well, not much really. From what little I saw of it, there's not much reason to go there. It's a large, sprawling, urban traffic jam. There may have been some sites to see in the main downtown area but I didn't have the time or means to explore that area much as the office where I was working was out in the 'burbs' well over an hour out of downtown.
If you do plan a trip to Tanzania, especially arriving at the Dar es Salaam airport, here's my main pointer for you: BUY YOUR VISA IN ADVANCE! You can get a tourist visa upon arrival, but it's a messy process at least at this time (perhaps will be better when the new terminal is completed - was to be completed in October 2018, a year behind schedule. I don't think it's done as of this writing.). I was lucky. My seat on the plane was very near the front - still economy, mind you. So just 1st class and a few from business class were already in the visa queue when I got there. You wait in line to have your immigration form checked. Then you wait in line for a clerk, have your picture taken, fingerprints scanned, hand over your passport with $100 cash (for Americans, that is - less for almost everyone else). Then you wait. As I say, I was lucky! I only had to wait about 30 minutes (nowhere to sit in this crowed, cramped, and hot space) before another officer brought out a stack of passports and started calling names. I was the last called in this batch of about 20 passports. A lady that was on my flight - a Tanzanian national living abroad - she goes through this every time she visits and says it can take 4 - 5 HOURS! So - get your visa in advance and save yourself this trouble.
Now, back to the pleasantries.
I picked a hotel at the north end of the city, near the office where I'll be working. There are a number of beach resorts out this way. Many looked fine from the pictures but really so hard to know what you're really going to step into. I played it safe and chose the Ramada Beach Resort. Good location, nice beach, decent price. It actually turned out to be a good choice. I may do a separate post about this later.
What to do with my bonus days? I could either go up north to go on safari or head out to Zanzibar. I can sit on a beach in many places in the world but it would be fun to see the spice markets and go scuba diving. The chance to go on an Africa safari was much more alluring.
A little research made it clear that a safari could get really expensive, really fast. To make matters more difficult, I'm not going as part of an organized week-long or more tour. The logistics of doing this on my own, having never been to Africa, was going to be tricky. All of the airlines that actually fly into the Serengeti are ridiculously expensive for these destinations. Then you add on the hundreds of dollars for the park entrance fee. The nearest major airports are in Arusha and Kilimanjaro - too far of a drive to get to the Serengeti with the time I have available. At this late date, many of the lodges were fully booked. I did speak with a well-known photo safari guide, Andy Biggs, who was good enough to offer some advise and warnings - specifically, that I should expect to pay about $1,000 per day for a quality experience - ouch! (Would have liked to have joined the safari he was leading a week later - maybe another day.) He also warned me of some guide companies to avoid. I finally zeroed in on a hotel that looked nice at a reasonable price and had offerings for various day-trips. Now booked, the hotel arranged for airport pickup/dropoff. I also had them arrange a tour in the nearby Arusha National Park. Great - all is sorted. I may actually be able to pull this off!
The day of departure arrived sooner than I was mentally ready. I hadn't packed a thing. Fortunately, I didn't need to be at the airport until 2:00 or even a little later. That gave me plenty of time to get packed with a last minute scurry to off-load a few pounds to make the weight limit.
Kevin got me to the airport in plenty of time. We said our goodbyes as I headed for check in.
As I got to the counter, I overheard one of the other ticket agents mention a special: deeply discounted upgrade to Business Class. I asked my agent and she confirmed that they were indeed oversold in Economy and offering the reduced upgrade price. I was tempted, oh, so tempted. But this being the beginning of my trip and wanting to conserve funds (just in case) I foolishly passed up the offer. I was not so foolish on the return! - more about that later. The bag passed the weight check, just barely. Alaska Mileage Plan number applied to my itinerary (which took some considerable amount of keystrokes, several agents, and a supervisor) and I was off to the Centurion Lounge to await boarding.
The rest of the journey was basic, mundane, air travel on a 14 1/2 hour flight. Watched a few movies, tried to sleep, chatted with the couple next to me a bit (they were hay farmers from Central Washington on their way to Dubai to sell horse hay to the Emirates where it's no longer permissible to grow hay - who knew?), eat three times, etc. I know I watched a couple movies, but can't tell you now what they were. Fortunately, I had an exit row seat at the wall - no window, just wall - so was able to come and go at my leisure. Before I knew it, we were in Dubai. Left Seattle at 5:00pm and arrive in Dubai at 7:30pm, great only 2 1/2 hours have passed! So what if it's the next day. Overnight here in a hotel near the airport and back in the morning for the next leg.
The next flight from Dubai to Dar es Salaam was equally uneventful. Exit row seat again, but on the aisle. This flight was only 5 1/2 hours with breakfast and lunch and more movies. Before I knew it we were south of the equator and coming in to land.
I'll spare you the details about the horrors of trying to get a sim card for my phone and data card for the laptop. But that finally done with the help of the driver that had been arranged, we were off for the hour + drive to the hotel. Traffic was hell!
Let's fast forward through the time in Dar es Salaam to getting setup for the safari.
The trip from Dar to Arusha was fairly uneventful. Other than the fact that I got to the airport quite early for the flight as originally scheduled. I didn't get notice until at the airport that the flight time had been pushed back an hour. Trust me, this is not an airport you want to find yourself having to sit for an extended period!
Upon arrival in Arusha, I was greeted outside the small airport by the driver from the hotel I'll be staying at. Of course, I arrived during rush hour so it took a fair while to get to the hotel. Nice tour of the city and my first glimpse at Kilimanjaro. The hotel, Arusha Serena Hotel, was some ways from downtown Arusha situated on a former coffee plantation. The grounds were lovely and the staff friendly. I was greeted by the hotel manager, Jane, on arrival who saw me to reception and then to my room, insisting she drag my huge suitcase herself.
This hotel is setup with a large main building, the former plantation house. All of the guests rooms were in semi-circle sets of bungalows fashioned in the style of Massi villages.
Since we were out of the central core of the city, there really wasn't much available to walk about to explore. In fact, the hotel staff warned not to leave the hotel grounds without escort. But while on the grounds, I felt quite safe.
The rooms aren't air conditioned. But that hardly seemed to matter. Arusha sits at a pretty high altitude at about 4,600ft (1,400 meters) above sea level so is much cooler than Dar es Salaam. It was warm and humid my first night here for which the ceiling fan was handy. There was a hole in one of the window screens, a bandage easily fixed that so mosquitoes didn't in. The bed was surrounded by mosquito netting which the staff carefully deployed at evening turn-down. Night time average low temperatures can get downwards of the mid 50sF to upper 60sF (13-12C). I didn't notice if the room had heating, surely it must have.
One of my colleagues is from Arusha. I told him about the arrangements I had already made. He wasn't impressed, saying that, sure, I'll see some wildlife but that there are much better places to go. Though the Serengeti would be impractical, he offered to arrange a trip to Tarangire National Park through a friend of his, Charles, who runs a wilderness safari company. It's a little further from Arusha than what I had booked but was offering for the same $300 I was planning on paying anyway. This was all-in: car and driver, park entrance fees, and lunch. And the best part, it turns out, was that I would be the only one going. This proved to be of great advantage as I wouldn't be competing for vantage points while in the park. No one to get in my way of shooting. (I kept getting looks of jealousy from other vehicles in the park that were packed with upwards of 12 people each, all vying for the best spots to get their photos).
The drive out to Tarangire took somewhere in the vicinity of 1 1/2 hours, maybe more. The scenery was stunning! The Great Rift Valley off in the distance and the mountains of the Ngorongoro Crater not far away. We passed many of the traditional Maasai villages with the round thatched mud huts in a circles surrounded by stick fencing (my driver offered to take me to own of these, but it just didn't feel right, so no.)
I don't recall exactly, but it think it took a few hours to get from my hotel in Arusha to Tarangire. Upon arrival Charles took care of park entry requirements. I wandered around the visitor center which had a few information displays about some of the plant and wildlife of the park, a treehouse-style lookout tower built into a baobab tree and, most interestingly, several elephant skulls. I wouldn't have thought a skull would be very fascinated, but then again, I never imagined what an elephant's look like. I had to get a few shots to show you. Plus, I have a friend who collects various small skulls and animal skeletons so I knew he'd be interested in seeing one.
We were barely into the park before we begin to spot the wildlife. First up were the impalas and warthogs. Then the giraffes and more impalas, various birds. More impalas. And on and on. One sighting after another. It wasn't long before we came across a pack of elephants. Amazing animals! And who can get too much of watching baby elephants play?
There's not much more to say other than to just let you (hopefully) enjoy the photos.
These next ones are not from Taragire Park. The left is Mt Meru which hangs above the city of Arusha, within Arusha National Park. On the right is Kilimanjaro. Both photos taken on the drive into Kilimanjaro airport (3°23'20.8"S 37°03'51.5"E).