July 18, 2018

Trying To Be Like Julia!

This week I was craving some Onion Soup-- French style. This is not unusual. I love the traditional meal, even if it is a remnant of poorer days in French history. But I love it. Often I will try the French Onion Soups that are offered in Utah and none of them are good. They either taste like they came out of a can or they take liberties with it and add in non-traditional items that, in my opinion, ruin it.

So I decided to make my own. If you did not know this already, Lady Hiva is a collector of cook books. We have cook books--shelves and shelves of them--from all over the world. I figured if I was going to make something French I was going to the most celebrated of all cook books-- Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. It was interesting to read some of the history behind Julia and her two companion authors' reasoning for writing the two volumes of the cook books. They wanted to bring French cuisine into the everyday household in America. I liked how they tried to use ingredients that would be easily found in the United States.

This experience did teach me that Julia and her partners assumed that all people reading the book would have some level of comfort and experience cooking. Unlike America's Test Kitchen recipes, there is not precise directions that a new cook could follow. There were instructions like, season to taste etc. That did not bother me as I like to take a recipe and then add my own flare to it. However, for someone that is not comfortable with different spices this could be daunting. Maybe as three trained chefs at Le Cordon Bleu in Paris, they did not realize that not everyone has the same basic cooking skills!

It was fun though. I cried through slicing all the onions--thankful that last time we were in France I bought a slicer to increase the pace and uniformity of the cuts. I even made garlic encrusted croutons from a baguette. I was able to do some research and found I could substitute pear juice for the cognac that the recipe called for. We even purchased some Gruyere cheese for the sharp flavor. That was one thing that Julia did not call for, she substituted for Parmesan. I am assuming at some point Parmesan was easier to find than Gruyere. Thanks to globalization it is easier to find European products now. (in fact it was harder to find the pear juice than the European ingredients!)

The result of this effort? Was DELICIOUSNESS!! I was so happy with it. Now I know when I am craving Onion Soup again, I can make the traditional version right at home---along with Julia's help of course.

July 16, 2018

Experiencing Europe--Our Take

After several trips and living in Europe over the years, we have had several friends and family ask for tips and ideas for their trips to Europe. This blog will give some hints of what we have learned. We have also linked to the blog posts we have created over the years.

Overall Tips: 
Transportation-- Europe is easy to maneuver. There are several ways to get from one place to another.

  • Rent a Car- This has been our transportation of choice. It allows us the freedom to explore at our leisure. We have found some of our favorite towns because we happened upon them as we drove. If you do not like to drive in new places this may not be your option. Best places to rent a car include USAA deals (if you are a member of USAA) or Europcar. Remember if you do rent a car to check on crossing borders, some countries require a road tax (vignette). You can buy these at the border or a petrol station near the border. The fine for not having one is hefty. 
  • Train- A Eurorail pass is always an option and easy to use. You can travel from place to place easily. Most cities also have a metro/subway/undergrounds that are easy to use. Your hotel usually will have maps and or be able to sell tickets which is easier than trying to read in a foreign language. 
  • Plane- there are several budget or commuter airlines that go from city to city so that is also an option. 
  • Cruise- We have not done a cruise in Europe, but there are several that are popular. The Danube cruise, the Rhine Valley Cruises, Mediterranean Cruises. Do your research, several times a year there are sales on cruises to fill the boat. NEVER PAY FULL PRICE. 
  • Walking- Take good shoes. Europeans walk much more than Americans typically do. We love that aspect of the culture. If you are not used to that, prepare yourself. If you have a stroller be sure that it has large wheels. The cobblestone streets are hard to navigate with small tired strollers--and it rattles the baby's head a bit. We have also found that some countries are more baby friendly with stroller use--UK and Germany. Others, France for example, is not as ADA or stroller friendly. 
Hotels-- We have always found good hotels in Europe. 
  • Some of our favorite places we have found on Hotwire.com. You can specify the area and the star rating and get a better deal than booking on a hotel website. We have also used Agoda.com and Trivago. 
  • We have used AirBnB or similar a few times and that is nice to have a washer for clothes and a kitchen, however make sure that you are close to transportation because sometimes cheaper is not necessarily better. Also if you are a non-smoker you make sure the apartment is non-smoking. 
  • If you are traveling as an adult group or a couple hostels are always the cheapest option. They are usually in the best areas for tourism and accessible. I would not recommend them for people with families
  • When traveling throughout Europe and getting outside the large cities, Bed and Breakfasts are an amazing option. We have booked these in advance and just driven up and found one where we wanted to stop. Either option works and have turned out positive. 

Below I have listed some of our thoughts on specific countries with links to the blogs about those countries. 

Austria was as rural and iconic as it appears in the movies.

  • Vienna was a large city and has many similarities to other cities on its size, however it was amazing to see the hundreds of years of history displayed. As the center for music, trade and dynasties over the centuries has left its mark. 
  • Salzburg is worth a stop. To walk the streets of Mozart and other musicians or see the Mirabell Gardens made famous by Maria Von Trapp makes it a romantic place to see. 
  • If we go back to Austria we would stay out in one of the Chalet filled villages and drive into the big cities for tourism. 

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Chocolate and Waffles. Do I need to say more? Even, I, a non-chocolate-lover can enjoy and endorse a good Belgian Chocolate. There are shops all over. It is fun to go and tour them and sample the differences in style and flavor. Waffles, too, are amazing. Baked hot and served plain or with toppings of your choice! However, Belgium is not only amazing for their sugary delights, we love the clean atmosphere, the kind locals and the historical architecture. If you want history, it is all here. Waterloo is one historical site worth a quick stop.

  • Brussels-- Brussels is an urban and modern city. Full of fantastic food and plenty to see and do. The City center provides entertainment of all kinds. We found ourselves wondering the winding narrow streets and sampling the food and other wares for sale. Brussels still has many of the Flemish architecture mixed with new styles of architecture bringing a refreshing mix of culture. 
  • Ghent-- As a mid-sized city, Ghent is a mix between the urban life of Brussels centered around a town square and the quaint large village feel of Brugge. It is a central stop in Belgium when traveling up from France to some of the Northern cities. If you do not have time to make it to all of the cities, Ghent could satisfy all your curiosities. 
  • Brugge--    Brugge is easily one of our favorite places in Europe. It has kept its charm through the ages and the city has done well restoring historical sites. Getting a small hotel in the city center and spending a day or two walking the streets is a diverse celebration to all the senses. The buildings are immaculate and striking. The display of food and availability of it all is astounding. We never had a bad meal in all the times we have been to Brugge--this includes street vendors and restaurants. Brugge is also our favorite place to stock up on lace, chocolate and waffles. Take the boat tour through the town, it provides history and views you do not get otherwise. 

Czech Republic
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The Czech Republic, like many of its neighbors is still climbing out of the Soviet rule and emerging as a capitalistic society. You can see remnants of it as you drive through the country. However, it seems to be doing well. Highways are being repaired and inside the large cities there are healthy signs of economic growth.

  • Prague-- I especially love the architecture in Prague. For a walking city it is one of my favorites. Stunning views wherever you go. There is plenty of fantastic food and things to do. We enjoy walking from the town square, which is always having some type of fun event when we go to the Charles Bridge through the Old Town District. No matter which way you walk there is plenty to explore. We love the small shops and hidden alleys. It is also worth walking up the hill (it is steep, so you can also catch a tram) to the castle and cathedral. The view alone is worth it, but the museum is also fantastic. It is easy to get around in Prague. There is an underground metro, taxis and a tram. Once you get into the Old Town you can walk everywhere--including to the iconic Clock Tower in the square. A word of caution, Prague is very open so if traveling with children be ready for some questions about some of the things they may see. 
  • Make sure to eat a trdelnik (A fluffy pastry baked around a pole over coals covered with cinnamon and sugar and filled with chocolate, cream or other toppings). We tried so many that we found we love the ones baked traditionally over coals the best. The outside is crisp but the inside is warm and fluffy. We also love the chocolate covered almonds. Our favorite is the chocolate covered almonds dusted with cinnamon. 

The amount of times that we have been to France should tell you how much we love the country. The food, the history, the people and lifestyle all contribute to our love of France.

  • Paris-- Blog 1, Blog 2Blog 3 Paris is fantastic. There is no way around it. So much culture, history and love have been here in this city. We always enjoy our time there. We have found that in the city we get the best deals on amazing hotels on Hotwire.com. Otherwise it can be a bit pricey in Paris. 
    • The Paris Pass is a good option for anyone staying 3 or more days. For one price you can get into almost all of the large sites (minus the Eiffel Tower) and you skip all the lines to do it. 
    • Louvre--this is a "must" stop. Even if you only have a short time. It is worth doing your research beforehand and finding a few good stops. The Palace--now museum--is breathtaking. Not only for its enormous size but in style and beauty. We found that you could spend your entire week holiday wandering the great halls and soak in culture and art. So when we go we make sure to have a list of what we want to see. Mona Lisa is a must because it is the Mona Lisa, but she is so small compared to all the other art around her. Buy ticket online in advance and skip at least one line in doing so. 
    • Eiffel Tower-- This is a structure that you do not want to miss. It is amazing at any time of the day. Buy your tickets online beforehand. This will express you into the security lines (there are 3 or 4 checks) and you do not have to stand in the line for tickets. It is worth paying a bit extra for the elevator (vice walking up the stairs). 
    • Arc de Triumphe and Champs Elysees-- We found that the best time to see these two attractions is at dusk or early evening. The entrance to the Arc de Triumphe are included in your Paris Pass. This is the best view of the lit up Eiffel Tower at night. 
    • Notre Dame-- The iconic cathedral is as beautiful as you imagined. You cannot buy tickets in advance, so unless you have the Paris Pass or pay for a private guide, you need to wait in line. It gets long fast so go early on plan to go not on a weekend. 
    • The food in Paris is a majority of the reason we go back. Savor the delicious (albeit expensive--count on no meal under 50EUR) food. My favorite is the French Onion Soup. Take time to enjoy the gelato, the Macrons and chocolate. You are in Paris, you can diet the next three months you are home! It is worth it! 
    • Bus tours and Boat Tours are both fun. They give different views and histories of the city. Paris has great public transportation, making a car not necessary. However, it is a difficult city to navigate with a stroller.
  • Paris Disneyland-- If you have kids, this was a fun way to break up the adult style tourism of Paris. Tickets were really reasonable (compared to US Disney prices). It was not as big and a bit warn, but still full of iconic magic. Accessible via the train, making it easy to get there from downtown Paris and back easy. 
  • Our favorite places in France are outside of Paris. Fountainbleau, Chartres, Milly La Foret and Versailles are all places to see. Find a small B&B and immerse yourself in the French culture. We have found 3 days in Paris is sufficient and then we spend more time in the countryside and love it. 

The more time we spend in Germany, the more we love it.  Often, due to the central location, it is a transit country. This last trip we were able to spend more time in several parts and we are glad we did. Germany is a friendly country and is convenient when traveling with a family. It is all about the small things--family friendly toilets, stroller accessibility, and smiles as you walk by with kids.
  • Berlin- A trip to Berlin will remind you that WWII was not that long ago. It is somber to walk down portions of the wall still standing or to walk along the path where it once stood. The city seems to still be trying to recover from the fraught past. It is a clean city though. Really clean. It has a more "hip" feel to it. 
  • Dauchau-- We have yet to go to Auschwitz, but we did visit the small village of Dachau just outside Munich. To walk through the Concentration camps and the furnaces is harrowing. No written explanation could be sufficient to describe the emotions and feelings that occur while visiting. Make sure to have something planned after...otherwise the day continues to be somber. 
  • Dresden-- Blog 1, Blog 2 We have grown to love Dresden. It is a perfect stopping point with its proximity to the Czech Republic and Poland. It is a vibrant small city. Stay down in the area around the Palaces and Cathedrals and enjoy all the food, music, shopping and walks that you would ever want. 
  • Frankfurt-- Frankfurt is home to many international companies and is central to the region. Therefore, it is easily accessible. We use it mainly for a transit stop. Extremely efficient airport--also kid friendly for its size. 
  • Heidelberg-- I have long said that Heidelberg is one of my favorite town in Europe. It does not disappoint. The views are spectacular from the old castle and the quaint town center offers a mix of traditional shopping and upscale stores. 
  • Koln (Cologne)-- Once an epicenter for music and the arts, Koln is a larger city that has retained its charm (We were not charmed AT ALL by nearby Bonn). Stop and see the beautiful and iconic cathedral. If you have the time and energy climb the stairs to the top of the towers. 
  • Munich-- Bavaria is special. Munich is part of why. The city is a fun place to be romantic or just enjoy German life. We especially loved it during the Christmas holiday with all the markets. Of course a trip to Munich is not complete without a tour of Neuschawnstein Castle. We also stayed in Muden as well. Another fun place to see the village life along the Moselle river. 
  • Rhineland-- A drive or cruise down the Rhine is something that anyone would love. The iconic villages dot the river banks. Large castles from feudal days loom over the valley and river. 
  • Rothenburg ob der Tauber-- A city with a strong history of war and defense. It is a perfect place for a "get-away." They have done well restoring the city to its beauty. Small restaurants and boutique hotels offer ambiance and romance. 
Blog 1, Blog 2
While we were surprised how the economic problems have impacted this historic home of Western thought, it was still amazing to walk the narrow streets with the white and bright colored buildings. The food was amazing. There is much more in Greece we would like to see some day-- Santorini Island and the Monestaries of Meteora are some of them.

  • Athens- The city is small. 3 days there was sufficient to see everything that we wanted to. Of course visits to the Acropolis and Mars Hill are a must. It is amazing to walk in the places of so much history or to stand where ancient prophets stood. You cannot go wrong with food in Athens. Our favorites were the small "mom and pop" restaurants throughout the city. 
  • Sounion- A quick shoreline drive from Athens is the small town of Sounion. While not exciting itself, it is the home to the Temple of Poseidon. 
  • Delphi- another beautiful drive out of Athens is Delphi. Worth the trip. To see the area that was revered for ages and talked about for centuries is amazing. If we went again we would book a room in one of the small resort towns along the steep mountain drive and enjoy the local culture instead of just passing through. 

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Hungary is a hidden gem. The food was delicious, the people were open and friendly and it is cheaper than many of the other tourist destinations in Europe.

  • Budapest- A beautiful city. There is no other way to describe it. The food, the people, the architecture...all beautiful. If you are only there for 24 hours it will not be enough time. Make sure to be there at night to see the buildings lit up on both sides of the Danube. A night river tour is worth the price. A variety of public transportation options make Budapest a very accessible city. 
  • Esztergom- Sitting along the Danube River across from Slovakia, Esztergom is best known for the Basilica that sits on a large hill overlooking the valley. A day trip there is sufficient. 
  • Gyor- A smaller city near the borders of Austria, Slovakia and Czech Republic. It has the traces of years of history, including Soviet rule. If you are passing through, a good place to stop for a bite to eat and a walk through the delightful downtown. 
  • Sumeg- A small Medieval village under shadows of an old plateau topped with a castle. Go for a get-away retreat or the presentation of the European past times of jousting and horse riding. 

You cannot say enough about Italy. There are so many different facets of the country that you could spend a week or month in each one. The food is delicious (don't go while on a diet), the history is remarkable and the atmosphere is fun. Biggest tip: Eat all the gelato you can!

  • Rome- Blog 1Blog 2Blog 3Blog 4Rome is smaller than what I had expected from an ancient city, especially if you consider the other cities of similar age--Istanbul or Jerusalem for example. However, the history of Rome is only found by viewing the layers and layers of life. From Roman ruins to Catholic cathedrals throughout the city, there is not a lack of things to see and do. Make sure to see the obvious things, Trevi Fountain, Victory Square, the Colosseum, the catacombs, Palatine Hill etc. But don't miss out on all the beautiful art in museums throughout the city. One of our favorites was a sculpture museum we accidentally found because our toddler wanted to play in the fountain out front.  Visit Geppetto's shop, near Trevi Fountain, for another fun thing to see. We also bout the Rome Pass. For expedited entrance to the Vatican and St. Peter's Basilica alone the price was worth it. The Vatican is beyond amazing. You could spend a week in there! Don't miss it. 
  • Florence-- A city of art, history and romance. As a whole we did not love Florence as we did Rome or Verona, but it is still spectacular. To go and see the art and history in Florence would make even the non-art lover take a second glance. From the Medici rule to famous artisans, there is something around every corner to enjoy in Florence. One of our favorite places to stay of all Europe was in castle in Tuscany overlooking the vineyards, lavender and sunflowers below.  We would just drive into Florence when we wanted to tour. We also went to Modena to buy some balsamic vinegar. It really is as good as they say--but I am still not sure I like it on my ice cream. 
  • Tuscany- If you have the time, take a day or two to drive through Tuscany. The cities are beautiful--we loved Montepulciano and Siena. Although really any city is amazing. You see some of the revered landscapes of Italy as you drive. 
  • Pisa- While one of the most famous landmarks of Italy--the "Leaning" Tower is in Pisa, it was not our favorite place in Italy. For us a half day stop was sufficient. The tower is worth seeing, but outside of the Tower itself, there is not much to see. Nearby Luca was far more enchanting. 
  • Verona-  Blog for Verona and Venice. Verona gained fame from the classic drama Romeo and Juliette. In fact you can even join thousands of other tourists and visit "Juliette's home." If you go in the right season they do plays and concerts still in the ancient central Colosseum during the evenings. 
  • Venice- Venice is a world of its own! Truly a place of adventure. Put on your good shoes, because you will walk A LOT, and go explore the winding alleys that connect small squares. Take a boat taxi down grand canal. Bargain (because it is expensive) to ride a gondola. Or do as we did and take a quick local style "gondola" taxi across the grand canal that connected to neighborhoods and that was sufficient. Staying in Venice is romantic, but if you want to save some money, we stayed on the mainland near the train station and just rode back and forth. It was cheaper and was easy to do. 
  • Umbria- We grew to love Umbercelli--a local noodle in the Umbria region. Orvieto was our favorite stop in Umbria. It is a fortress style community on top of a plateau. The views of the country from the city wall are fantastic. It is not as touristy as other cities so you get a feel for local life, culture and food.  

The Netherlands, much like the nearby countries, is beautiful. Amsterdam is an amazing city to visit. Just be careful of streets offering wares that you may not want your kids or grandma to see. Of course a stop to Anne Frank's house is worth it. Favorite time to see the Netherlands is during tulip season. It is also wonderful to see the windmills at Kinderdijk. We also enjoyed touring around the border town of Venlo.

Much like its neighbors, Slovakia is trying to find footing in new economic circumstances. It may be a few years behind though. We loved touring the small villages that dot the landscape and visiting Bratislava.

Turkey is one of our favorite countries for many reasons. During our time living there we grew to love the lifestyle and culture of the Turks (minus the smoking, not sure we loved that). Istanbul is such an amazing city. If you have a chance to go, take it! The Turks are so good and loving. We have never been afforded so much kindness from strangers.

  • Istanbul- Blog 1Blog 2Blog 3Blog 4Blog 5,  Blog 6,  Blog 7,  Blog 8,  Istanbul is a city of intrigue and history. Whether you take a visit to the Grand Market, Aya Sofya, The Blue Mosque, the Spice Market, Topkapi Palace, or the Basilica Cisterns, there is something for everyone. A boat tour on the Bosphorus is fun to see the city sprawl across two continents. We loved the clean and fresh food, especially breakfasts
  • Izmir- A city on the seaside is close to Ephesus--an ancient Greek city ruins referenced in the New Testament. We enjoyed walking around the city and doing some shopping. We also liked the small town of Cesme
  • Cappadocia- Blog 1Blog 2, Blog 3.   With the underground cities, cave churches, carpets and outdoor activities, Cappadocia is for those with adventurous sides. 

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We have really focused our experience with Poland to the South West corner where Boleslawiec resides. This is because of Lady Hiva's infatuation with Polish Pottery. However, we have grown to love the country and its people from those experiences. If you are close and want pottery it is worth the trip.

United Kingdom
The United Kingdom is a beautiful country and even with all we have seen there is so much more that we could see.

  • London- Blog 1, Blog 2,  To say that we love London is an understatement. We like the vibe of London, the history of London and the diversity of London. It is a bit more expensive. So take what you planned on spending and double it for planning purposes. We have had good luck with hotels on Hotwire.com. The "Tube", taxis and buses are easy to use and get you just about anywhere in the city. A London Pass was really beneficial while there. You beat the lines and can see more faster. A bus tour in a double-decker bus is a London must. Make sure you take time to walk around Buckingham Palace, Kensington, Hampton Court, Tower of London, Piccadilly and make use of the many museums. The food in London is so varied, you can find anything you would want to eat, so indulge! 
  • Yorkshire- Blog 1,  The drive through York is amazing. Stop and see a few castles or walk down the "Shambles" to get a feel for like in Yorkshire centuries ago. Or walk the seaside cliffs of Scarborough. We found that staying in Bed and Breakfasts along the way was the best way to get a feel for the area. 
  • Midlands- Blog 1Make sure to stop in the Sherwood Forest, Nottingham, and any other myriad of towns along the way. I think if we go again we will spend a week at some country cottage Bed and Breakfast and just enjoy the atmosphere. If  you are a Downton Abbey fan, or even if you are not, a stop at Highclere Castle is fun. 
  • South Hampton- The landscape is beautiful. A good quick get away from London. Of course the most Iconic stop for us was Stonehenge. 

July 06, 2018

Happy Birthday United States of America!

As we watched this week and our friends all over the world celebrated US Independence Day it was fun to see the different versions. Our version was full of family time.

We started the morning at Provo City's Freedom Festival parade. It was hot, but still fun. Some of the floats were done exceptionally. The parade was 1.5 hours, which is a bit shorter than I expected. Even the 24th of July parade in Beaver is longer than that. It was fun to see some firsts in the parade--the first female mayor elected in Provo was opening the experience and then the parade committee allowed LGBTQ groups to join for the first time. For being a "conservative small town" in Utah this was a BIG deal.

We were hot by the time the parade ended so we bought some shave ice and went home to gather our swimming stuff. We ended up at Tibble Fork Reservoir in American Fork Canyon. It was beautiful up there. We had to share the beach with a few hundred of our closest friends, but it was still fun. We dug holes in the sand, floated on tubes and enjoyed the people watching opportunities! Koala Bear of course loved all the dogs. She was giggle and laugh as they jumped into the water to chase balls or floats.

One girl had her dog on a small kayak with her, I had just taken Koala Bear out of the cold water to warm up (she would stay in there all day if she could...even if her legs were numb!) and heard some parents yelling in panic. I turned to look and saw that the teenage girl was trying to hold onto the capsized kayak while a horrified dog was clawing to climb on top of her. I ran over and swam out to them and held them both up to the shore. They made it safe. After I was back on shore I realized a few things-1 I had left Koala Bear to save someone else's daughter...luckily I had just given her a Birthday Cake Oreo and she was still sitting there watching the action with mild interest while she ate. 2-I am not sure why the two parents stood on the bank and just yelled. If my child was looking close to being drowned by a dog I can tell you I would NOT be standing on the shore yelling instructions....some people...

Lucky Dragon and I swam across the reservoir and he saw the older kids jumping off the cliffs and wanted to join. So we jumped off a part that was about 10 feet. We climbed back up and he jumped off a 20 foot section! I was so proud of him. We sat up on the top and watched others jump and he became more and more proud of himself as he realized that even other adults would not dare do what he did.


In the evening we set off fireworks with our neighbors. It was unplanned. But out house backs up to a green space park and all the neighbors gathered there with their fireworks. We had an amazing display and then we could watch fireworks from our back lawn across Utah Lake. We could see them from Lehi in the North all the way down to Spanish Fork in the South. It was a spectacular evening!

We had purchased fireworks for a place in Lehi called "Some Dude's Fireworks" and I was unsure of how they would turn out because they were so cheap compared to the other people selling fireworks. (Less than half the price) However, they were amazing! They told us the guy did not want to spend so much on fireworks from the large companies so he started buying them to sell himself. We will be going back for our 24th of July fireworks.

So thankful for all those who have given so much to allow us these freedoms. And most of all for a chance to be a family.