Food and wine in Switzerland, Italy, and Liechtenstein… part six

Now comes the scenic part of our trip… moving from Emilia-Romagna to Florence by way of the west coast…

As we were preparing to leave La Locanda del Borgo at Torrechiara Castle, Bill asked me if I wanted to go to Florence by way of Bologna, or by way of the Italian coast. Bill knew that I had visited Viareggio in 1997, back when I was just 25 years old and had a second class one month Eurail pass. At that time, I was broke, and traveling with friends who are now married to each other, live in Northern Ireland, and have six kids! We stopped there by chance, mainly because it had a beach, and we wanted to swim.

I had been wanting to visit Viareggio again, mainly because I have such fond memories of the pension where we stayed. It was a one star place– very cheap! But you could get half board there, and the food was excellent. Plus, I remembered that they asked us what kind of wine we preferred. My friends preferred white wine, so that’s what we got. They brought out a big jug of it every time we ate, over our couple of nights there.

We didn’t have time to stay in Viareggio for more than just lunch, but I was excited to see it again. Going by way of the coast also meant that we could finally visit the Leaning Tower of Pisa, which is only about a half an hour from Viareggio. I’ve been to Italy a bunch of times, but never managed to see that very well touristed monument before last week.

Another bonus to going by way of the coast was that it took us through some absolutely GORGEOUS terrain… much prettier than what we would have seen, and did see on the way back, going by way of Bologna. Below are some photos I managed to get on our way to the coast as we made our way to Florence. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to get a good shot of Torrechiara Castle from the drive out. The view of the castle was much better on that route, but there was never a convenient opportunity to catch a shot of it from the car, nor were there any good pull off points. Pity. But at least I got some very beautiful photos of the countryside.

As soon as we stopped in Viareggio, I noticed a small “healthy fish restaurant” called e.Dai near where we parked the car. I knew that was where we’d have lunch, after we went to the sea, so I could touch the water. It was confirmed when I saw the toilet near the door (not every place obviously had one, and we both needed one). It was still too chilly for swimming, but lots of people were walking on the beach, and there were guys there hawking their wares. One tried to sell us a beach blanket, but we were only there to look at the water for a minute. I would like to go an Italian beach and stay for a few days. But it was nice to smell the air and look at the water… I even enjoyed seeing the seagulls. I grew up near the ocean, and I have missed beaches in the time we’ve been in Germany. Below are some scenes from Viareggio. It has kind of a carnival vibe.

After our quick visit to the water, we headed to e.Dai, where we were promised “healthy fish” dishes. I don’t know about that, but it was a nice change of pace to have fish instead of Parma ham or meat from other hooved animals. I miss seafood, too. The fish place did offer something new, but it wasn’t a cheap place at all. We both had sandwiches and wine, and the bill was about the euro equivalent of $50.

After lunch, we made our way south to Pisa, where we found a very convenient pay parking lot with a sparkling clean public toilet. A kind looking lady was collecting one euro from those who needed to use the toilet. I heard one American guy grumble about the price and say he wouldn’t pay it. I was happy to pay, because I had a feeling it cost the same at Pisa; the facilities wouldn’t be nearly as clean; and there would be a line. Sure enough, I was right. So, if you ever find yourself at that parking lot in Pisa and you need the facilities, I’m telling you it’s a good deal. Go ahead and pay the euro for a glorious piss. At least it’s clean, and you don’t have to wait. The lady who collects the euros keeps it immaculately clean!

We chose not to buy a ticket to see the Tower of Pisa, the cathedral, and the baptistery up close, mainly because we were pressed for time. These photos are just of the exterior, which one can visit free of charge. We also knew that climbing the tower meant lots of heavy breathing in confined spaces while wearing masks. I would like to visit again and do a proper visit. I’d also like to see the city itself, which I know is very vibrant and interesting in its own right. Hopefully, we’ll have the opportunity. April is a nice time to visit. It’s not too hot!

After our brief visit, we got back on the road to Florence, where we would spend the next three nights, and meet our wine tour group. More on that in the next post.


My Belgian birthday! Part three

On our first morning, Bill headed into the very small town and picked up some croissants from one of the two local bakeries.  He also bought a loaf of very fresh farmhouse bread, which we didn’t end up finishing.  It was huge!

As we enjoyed eggs from Marianne’s chickens and milk from the farm next door, we discussed what our plans were for the day.  Although I hadn’t expressly planned it, our location put us very close to the beach.  Since I grew up near the beach and miss the water, I decided we should head there for lunch and a stroll along the shore.  It turns out Koksidje, located on the North Sea, is maybe about a half hour’s drive from Alveringem.  I was impressed by the beach.  The sand was really nice and the water was warm and inviting.  I wished I’d brought a bathing suit!

The tide was way out when we visited.

Bill checks out the long walk to the water.

I thought this was a crack pipe at first.  Gotta stop watching cop shows.

I took a picture of this house because it was cool looking.

We found a parking spot in a shopping area right next to the beach, took a short stroll around the neighborhood, and stopped for lunch at a restaurant called Rimini.  There was plenty of outdoor seating, but I preferred an inside table.  I like to spare my skin from too much sun if I can .

Bill looking severe.  I’m not sure why.


The menu was in French and Dutch, but our waiter spoke perfect English.

I took a picture of this so I wouldn’t forget the name of the restaurant.

I decided to have shrimp croquettes.  It turns out croquettes are very popular in this part of Belgium.  I saw them offered everywhere.  These reminded me of crabcakes.  I have never been a fan of crabcakes, but I did enjoy the shrimp croquettes.  They were very flavorful and kind of moist.  I’m not sure if they were going for moist, but it wasn’t a bad thing.

Naturally, we also had frites.  Frites are everywhere in Belgium!

Bill had a skewer of grilled shrimp seasoned with curry and served with tartar sauce.  He really enjoyed the shrimp, but I think I liked my moist croquettes more.

I saved room for dessert.  This was called the Grand Dame.  It was bourbon vanilla ice cream with warm chocolate sauce, whipped cream, and a waffle cookie.  How Belgian can you get?  I usually don’t have ice cream for dessert, but I had a craving.  This hit the spot nicely.

Bill had chocolate mousse, which was also very satisfactory.

After we finished eating, we encountered the first of many unisex public restrooms in Belgium.  I actually found that kind of refreshing.  I mean, the stalls were totally private, so it was no big deal.  Of course, I made a mistake and accidentally used the men’s stall.  I guess the urinal should have given me a clue.

Outside of the restaurant.


Bill was concerned about our two hour parking limit, but I was dying to walk on the sand and test the water.  I convinced him no parking authorities would come running out to ticket him if I took a few minutes to enjoy the beach.  He relented and I went down to the water, which had very gentle surf and was pleasantly warm.  I could have stayed there all day.  It was just lovely.  The sand was lovely, too… no pebbles or rocks.

On the way back to the car, we got mooned by a statue.

The Hokey Pokey perhaps?

One last shot of the sand.  I think we may have to come back and do this beach properly.

On the way back to the house, we stopped by the Carrefour.  It’s a very nice place to shop with high quality groceries and home goods.  I liked it because it had a public restroom and nice lighting.  And if I had wanted to, I could have bought a bike.  Like their northern Dutch neighbors, Belgians in Flanders are very partial to biking.  Bikes are everywhere!  And I saw everything from tandem bikes to tricycles!

They even had an electric bike for sale.

You’d never guess this picture was taken next to the Carrefour.  It’s a very pretty area.


Although it was only mid afternoon, it was hot out and Bill and I felt like hanging out with the dogs and drinking beer.  So that’s what we did.  We went back to the house and watched American TV on Belgian cable, drank some excellent Belgian brews, and hung out with Zane and Arran.  Bill cooked dinner and we turned in early with big plans to visit Bruges on Sunday.


Celebrating 14 years in Ireland! Part eleven

We’re heading back to Dublin today, where we’ll spend one more night by the airport.  I’m a little sad to be leaving beautiful County Sligo and our lovely little cottage by the sea.  It’s time to go, though.  I miss Zane and Arran and there are things that need to be done in Germany.  If I’m honest, I also miss my king sized bed.

Yesterday, we did decide to stay in and watch the surf as we listened to music and finished off some of the food and beverages we bought for our stay here.  I took many pictures, as you can see.

Around 3:00, we went to the pub next door, had a couple of rounds of beer and a whiskey, and a little bit of food.  Although they had a set menu available, we decided to stick with appetizers.  Bill had spicy chicken wings and vegetable soup.  I had seafood chowder and fried prawns with spicy chili sauce.  It’s not lost on me the significance of the spice…  The spicier the food is, the more you’ll be drinking!

Last night’s menu.  On weekends, the Beach Bar serves food from 1-8, but they stay open until the wee hours of the morning.  We ended up on the restaurant side last night.

Bill checks out the selections.


The dining area is very quaint, like the bar is.  We were told they will be renovating for six months after next weekend.


Rich seafood chowder and fresh, hearty, brown bread.  I will miss this.


Bill’s vegetable soup, which was the soup of the day.


Spicy prawns!


Spicy chicken wings with garlic mayonnaise.


I think our bill came to about 40 euros or so.  On Saturday nights after 10:00, the beach bar has live music.  I wish we were going to be around for that.  I have been itching for some live music since we got here.  At least now we have a reason to come back.

Below are some photos I took.  The weather has cleared up and it’s warmer… just in time for us to leave.  🙁


Flight time!

Thursday, it became clear that we had some options for getting out of Spain.  Rota was offering two flights that would work for us.  One had a “showtime” of 00:10 very early Friday morning.  The other had a showtime of 5:55am.  Of course, I was inclined to choose the later flight.  Both were supposed to stop in Bangor, Maine and Warrensburg, Missouri.  The earlier flight had a final destination of Travis Air Force Base in California.  The other had a final destination of Charleston, South Carolina.  Bill and I ended up in Charleston the last time we did a Space A flight.  Of course, at that time, we were living in North Carolina.  Landing in South Carolina wasn’t such a great thing, though, since we left our car at BWI in Baltimore.  We ended up having to fly from Charleston to DC, where we took a series of subways and buses to get to the airport.  Yes, we could have flown directly to Baltimore from Charleston, but that would have required going on Southwest Airlines and I preferred not to do that.

Now that we live in Texas, we figured it was better for us to go to Missouri.  Stupidly, we figured we could get a direct flight from Kansas City, Missouri, since we had done it before.  Of course, that was in 2007 on a now defunct/merged airline.  But we didn’t know Thursday what we know now, which was that in order to get to Texas, we’d end up going through Atlanta again.

Anyway, Bill walked to the terminal to speak to the Space A folks.  He was told that the earlier flight was going to originate in Spain.  That meant that they might skip the Bangor stop.  The later flight was originating in Turkey, so that meant the crew would need to rest.  We’d end up overnighting in Bangor and probably trying to get commercial flights from there.  We decided to go for the earlier flight.

It almost looks like you could swim…

In the meantime, we had Thursday to kill in Rota.  We walked more around the town and went back down to the beach area.  The weather was pretty good and it was almost warm enough to take off our coats.

We stopped at a cafe and had a nice lunch.  I had ham croquettes and Bill had beef with Pedro Ximenez sauce.  I later learned that Pedro Ximenez refers to a sweet type of grape used to make wine.  Again, the area we were in is noted for its sherry.  Sure enough, the beef had a sweet sauce with raisins in it.  We both enjoyed a couple of beers before we walked back to the base to rest up for the evening.  I had to pee like a racehorse by the time we got to the gate, so we stopped at Baskin Robbins to see if they had a restroom.  They didn’t, but we got some ice cream anyway.

We walked to our room and I took a nap while Bill washed clothes.  While I don’t really enjoy military lodging, I can’t deny that having washing machines available is a huge plus.  It really cut down on the wash I’d have to do when we got home.

At about 11:00 or so, we checked out of the hotel.  We thought we were going to have to walk to the terminal, but it turned out taxis can get on base.  One picked us up and delivered us to the almost deserted terminal.  Bill noticed an older couple sitting near the sign up area.  He noted that those same folks were there earlier in the day and perhaps either declined to fly out or weren’t able to.

There were fifteen seats available on our flight and only seven people claimed them.  One was a dad with his three kids, all heading to California.  There was Bill and me and a guy who was a Seabee.  His wife was in the Navy and stationed at Rota, while he was the equivalent of a Naval Reservist.  He had to go to Virginia to drill.  The elderly couple seemed interested in our flight until they were told we wouldn’t be stopping in Bangor after all.  I’m guessing they must have stayed in the terminal for the next flight.  If so, that’s a long ass time to sit around an airport.  The Rota terminal offers free WiFi, though, so that’s one way to pass the time.

In any case, the flight was free, save for the $12 Bill paid for two boxes of food.  We didn’t even have to do that, really, since we were provided with snacks that were pretty generous.  They also gave us blankets and pillows, which was a good thing.  It got a bit cold on the plane.  I also had my own blanket and pillow and was actually able to sleep for a few hours on the floor.  I almost never sleep on planes.

The box of food.

We were on a C17, which is a huge Air Force plane that usually carries cargo.  We flew on one on our last hop back to the USA.  That time, the cargo was “hazardous”… probably ammunition or the like.  This time, we flew back to America with two big Apache helicopters!  There were two female senior airmen who were the “loadmasters” and they were very professional.  I enjoyed the safety briefing one of them gave us about what to do if the aircraft depressurized.  We put in ear plugs because those planes are not as insulated as passenger planes are and they are very loud.  I also had Bose noise canceling headphones, which were a Godsend.

This is the plane we were on last time we went Space A… very similar to the one we got in Rota.


As far as I’m concerned, flying on Air Force planes is the best way to travel.  A lot of times, you sit along the side of the plane, so no one reclines in your lap.  The crew is very laid back.  No one cares if you listen to your iPod or play with your iPad as you take off.  When the plane is in the air, you can lie down on the floor and sleep if you want to.  Some people even bring sleeping bags or air mattresses.  Baggage limits are liberal and you don’t have to pay for them.  The food is usually pretty good or at least edible and doesn’t stink.  And you get to fly home with helicopters!  I love it!

Inside the aircraft!

I got a kick out of these ads, obviously targeting Americans…

Adios Espana!