Value Added Tax

palmI had a moment yesterday which showed me how I am still thinking European-style. We popped into a Tea Shop to buy a Boba Milk Tea, and I told H that I had the right change for the drink, handing him 25 cents to go with his bills. The price for the small was $3.25. Of course, the price ended up being $3.51 because, as we all know, there is sales tax to add on. (Well, except for those of you in Oregon, Delaware, New Hampshire, Montana and Alaska where there is no sales tax.)

In Europe the VAT (Value Added Tax) is already figured into the price, so the posted price is what you pay. I appreciate that and it has apparently become a habit with me the past year.

Must adjust thinking.

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Secret Place for Coffee, No Longer Secret!

IMG_6350It’s a good thing that packing to leave here doesn’t take as long as it took when we came. We have fewer decisions about what goes in the luggage. If we didn’t use it here, out it goes. If we are tired of it, out it goes. The rest goes in.

That gives us some time for final good-byes with friends – drinks, coffee, dinners, one a day. It’s all we ask.

I met with two orchestra friends on Monday for coffee. Neither said they had any particular place in mind, so I suggested we meet in a sort-of central location, in Paradeplatz. This is a square with many banks along the Bahnhofstrasse – probably the most expensive real estate in Switzerland.

As we stood there contemplating whether we should go into Sprüngli (such a typical place), Robin pointed to the store Grieder and said that she’d heard there was a lovely café within (a secret tip!), so we decided to try it out. After a few false doors, we found our way to an upper floor and discovered a delightful garden setting with many tables. It was a perfect place to have a chat and a cappuccino. I’m sure there were no tourists there. So, there are probably many such hidden delights throughout the city.

Colmar, France

Screen Shot 2015-07-18 at 5.10.26 PMSwitzerland snuggles right into the middle France’s east side, making a trip from Zürich to Colmar (near Strasbourg) an easy 2-hour train ride. When our brother-in-law told us that he was going to be in Frankfurt for a conference and had a few days to meet us somewhere after the conference, a quick look at the map suggested Colmar and the Alsace region of France as a terrific mid-point. He booked a rental car, we booked an AirBnB and bought train tickets for a 2-day rendezvous.

The Alsace region, known for its wine (dry Rieslings and Gewürtztraminers), is a mélange of German and French culture, having been claimed by both empires at various times throughout European history. What a pleasant experience to wander the Old Town as well as Petit Venice (a canal runs through this section) and just enjoy the half-timber houses with unique tile roofs.

We were happy to hear German spoken by many (and with such a clear accent) and to read signs in German as well as French.

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You can hardly get through town without seeing stork nests on top of tall buildings, stork souvenirs, paintings on walls featuring storks, etc. Nearly 30 years ago the iconic storks of this region had dwindled to about 9 nesting pairs, but have since made a comeback.

Colmar is also known as the hometown of Bartholdi, the man who created the Statue of Liberty.

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For our first meal, I ordered the traditional sauerkraut (which tastes much less pungent than what we think of with fermented cabbage) which comes with five meats. Throw in a few boiled potatoes, and I had plenty to share with H and M.

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Zürich’s International Beer Bar

In the middle of a wine-drinking IMG_6180country, beer drinkers in Zürich can now choose from 8 beers on tap or 100 bottles from around the world at the International Beer Bar, open since December 2014.

Now’s the time to go. In the warm season the seating space doubles when you can sit outside. With the hottest summer in Europe since 2003, get there early for a prime seat.

The place is not much for food. You can buy chips or a cheese plate, but that’s about it. There is no tv, so when we went, we had to check on the phone to see how Roger Federer was doing at Wimbledon in the semi-finals.

Return to Prague

Always leave something undone when you visit someplace
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so that you have a reason to return. The kids had requested to spend our second week of their European adventure in Prague, and we were happy to return for various reasons. Not only were we excited to have dumplings and beer again, to walk the cobbled streets while marveling at the architecture, but also because I had not had a Turtleneck or a potato on a stick, nor had we eaten at Maitrea, the sister restaurant of Clear Head that we had enjoyed in December.

We called the trdelník Turtlenecks as we have a hard time knowing just how to pronounce Czech words. In December we kept passing these little carts and little stores which sell the sugar/walnut mix in a dough spiral, and I somehow never got one. I made sure to not only remedy that this time, but to also share and have the kids get one, too.

In the same spiral food vein, we found a spiral fried potato on a stick (on our way down from the castle – there don’t seem to be these just anywhere), and used this opportunity to have an appetizer.

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The travel guides are full of recommendations for restaurants and cafes, but descriptions of two coffee places stood out for us. The Café Louvre (which does not have even a copy of the Mona Lisa on the wall) hosted the likes of Einstein and Kafka among other notable Czech citizens. A perfect way to start the day in this elegant space, I tried the hot cocoa (I can’t quite give that up yet!) which, at first, was a little disappointment since all I tasted was foam. Knowing there had to be more, I gave a little stir and the chocolate not only appeared, but it was so thick that it was like sipping a melted chocolate bar. The cappuccino and espresso drinkers in the group enjoyed theirs, as well, but I think I made the best choice.

If you are looking for fair trade coffees from around the world in a hip place (we were thinking of you, C!), then a visit to Café Ebel is a must. Daughter and son-in-law were so taken with their spice-infused espressos (making me think of Christmas with the cloves) that they knew that it was their favorite part of that day.

Maybe my very favorite food experience (although, really, it would be too hard to choose – we love the food in Prague) might have been our return to Lokal and finally get the dumplings there. Back in December, I had tried to order a side dish of dumplings with my chicken, but was told that I could only have mashed or roasted potatoes. This time I ordered what was called “juicy bits” (parts of pork) which, apparently, paired well with dumplings. The secret, we now think, it that one must order a main dish with gravy in order to be allowed the little medallions.

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Favorite Meals in the Cinque Terre

Unless one is hiking in the Cinque Terre, one must find aIMG_0532 way to fill the time (not that this is an onerous chore) since the towns are so small and can be seen in a few hours (or less). Fortunately a meal can be a delightful way to eat up several hours. (Cappuccino is another way.)

Our trusty guide book recommended only a few places to eat in Manarola, with only one being a hearty selection. We hiked up to the higher part of town and found Trattoria dal Billy. Being built into the side of the hill, the dining rooms sit at about four levels, the top one being like a cave with stone walls. Here is what it looks like from across the ravine.

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We arrived just after the last table was occupied, so we were told we needed to wait a “little bit”. An hour later, we had our table, and it was worth the view. During our hour wait we watched many people wander by, watched the wait staff go up and down, up and down, up and down, and we watched whole, raw fish go by. After about 45 minutes one waiter asked if we wanted sparkling wine, and we said, “why not?”

This was my view from the window.

IMG_5597Now, being the non-seafood fans that we are (salmon and tuna are okay, and I like crab cakes), we had heard that we needed to try the anchovies in the Cinque Terre since they bear absolutely no resemblance to what you may know as an anchovy. Since, yet again, we are not in Europe to try to live like Americans, we said, “Let’s have the anchovy appetizer.” It was delicious, although anything with lemon juice and olive oil can’t be all bad.

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Our waiter was fabulous. He switched easily back and forth between English, Italian and French, with a great deal of humor and kindness. He took care of the five tables in our little room with gusto and charm. Our main courses were pretty good – I had the traditional Trofie Fresh Pesto (a local kind of pasta with pesto, potatoes and green beans).

After this dessert,

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He came around to everyone’s table and made them try this licorice and chili pepper drink which looked like sludge and packed quite an aftertaste. See the size of the bottle! Two and three-quarters of an hour after we arrived, we were on our merry way

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Our other favorite meal was in the busy, overrun town of Vernazza. Again, a guidebook recommendation put us at Vulnetia in the main square under the colorful umbrellas.

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The poor wait staff was short staffed and extremely busy, so our meal took a long time, but the waitress was so apologetic that we kept assuring her that we really did have all the time in the world. Besides, there was a cute baby next to us that we could smile at. We think he was Swedish.

Here we opted for this tuna on tomatoes appetizer, but the main dish, the Tegame alle Vernazzana with anchovies (again!), potatoes and tomatoes baked in the oven was probably the tastiest meal we had. Maybe for the whole trip.

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We sat under the umbrellas during a brief bout of rain, but it cleared up by the time we finished.

Daily Life in Istanbul

Cats

First you notice the cats. All colors and stripes, all sizes, every kinds of cuteness. They roam throughout the city. There’s even a cross-eyed cat that lives in the Hagia Sophia which met President Obama.

Several of the women in our group took to feeding the cats wherever we went, carrying around leftovers from our meals, and even buying cat food to dole out.

 The Evil Eye

Actually it’s not really the evil eye. It’s a symbol you can wear as jewelry or carry on your key ring. It’s to fend off jealousy. If you are beautiful, or your life is going well, or you just won the lottery, it’s a good idea to carry this eye so that when someone looks at you in that way, their evil indentions are deflected.

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You never tell a new mother that her baby is beautiful. That invites bad luck. But if you do say something good, you make a little spitting sound or scratch your tush to ensure no evil.

Turkish Coffee

We had the chance to sample Turkish coffee. Because there is no filter, you request the amount of sugar up front because you don’t want to add sugar later to stir up the grounds. We all ordered “medium sugar” whatever that means. First the grounds are put into the little coffee pots and the water and sugar are added. They are then placed on the hot coals until they bubble. Gently poured into a small cup, you enjoy the coffee little sip by little sip until you are 2/3 of the way through the cup and you reach the top of the grounds. Done!

Language

The Turkish language shares origins with Hungarian and Finnish. We learned to say Let’s Go (Haydi Gidelim) Good morning (Günaydın) and Thank you (Teşekkür). After we finally got our minds around Thank You and used it whenever we had the chance, we got one of two responses from the locals. Either they gave us a big smile (which warmed my little heart), or they repeated it back to us. I have not figured out if they were correcting my pronunciation or if they were thanking me (for what, I’m sure I don’t know).

Hookah and Turkish Baths

While we turned down the opportunity to partake of a Turkish bath, we did decide to try smoking a hookah. A group of us went to a local tea house with our guide and shared two flavors of the hookah. One was apple, one was cappuccino, and we all decided that the cappuccino was better. I also decided that one try would probably be good for the rest of my life.

 More Traditional Food and Drink

The two carts we saw everywhere sold either simit (a Turkish bagel topped with sesame seeds) to which you can add Nutella or cheese. By themselves they cost one Turkish lira, or about 39 cents. I had a few. (This guy was obviously without a cart, but With Simit,)

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You could also buy corn for 2 Turkish lira (or 3 lira if you wanted it roasted), but I would recommend that you not wait until the end of the day to try it. Maybe it tastes better when it’s fresher. At least we hope so. We’d already had our yearly fill of chestnuts in Zürich, so we refrained from sampling those.

IMG_4990 A traditional spirit is the anise-flavored Raki. You add it to water and it gets all cloudy.

IMG_5053Neighborhood walk

Yaren took us for a walk through an older neighborhood where we saw some of these views.

This truck drove through the neighborhood and yelled out what he was selling. If someone in the upper floors wanted something, she (usually a she) would lower a basket to the ground with money inside and the potatoes or tomatoes or onions would end up in the basket and the deal was struck. This takes lots of yelling since the distances are a little far. We watched one such exchange, but in the end, the woman at the top of basket declined the goods being sold and pulled up her money.

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