Sunday, December 30, 2012

Going it Alone

There are times when you just need to get out of town. I've been in that position before. My solution? Off to Ireland I went, alone, for 9 days. I did not regret it and I had a great time regardless. I'm quite capable of entertaining myself without needing someone to talk to to keep me company. I'm awesome all on my own. =)

  I'm not ready to completely ditch my life and take off to a foreign country as of this minute, but as I have a huge imagination I got to thinking what if I could. What would I do? Where would I go? I like wine. I like beer. I like hard liquor, even though sometimes it doesn't necessarily like me.. ha ha. So I guess I would go on a solo gal vacation, but since the world has so much cool stuff to offer how can this be a bad thing?

First stop, Tuscany. Home of the Chianti region, that lovely deep and mellow red wine synonymous with Italian dinners everywhere. I would take a few days to stay at the Valdonica Winery, which has accommodations. In the mornings I can wake up to sweeping views of the vineyards and Tuscan countryside. Valdonica offers a simple Tuscan breakfast of fruit, some cheeses and juice. After this I would grab some goodies and drive into the countryside looking for the perfect place to picnic and lay among the acres of sunflowers that grow all over this area. I can already smell the rich soil, and taste the wine in my glass, as I sit in the warm sun eating enormous green olives, some simple peasant bread, peccorino and maybe a little proscuitto. Afterward I would drive to one of the many medieval towns that still dot the hills all over Tuscany and Umbria, and do a little shopping while indulging in some cioccolato fondante e fragola gelato. Only  need the cuppa piccola, this stuff is rich and you only need a little bit.

Photos of Valdonica Winery & Vineyard Residence, Sassofortino
This photo of Valdonica Winery & Vineyard Residence is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Next stop, the Greek Island of Santorini and to the town of Kamari, which is one of the black sand beaches this island has. I'll be staying at the Alesahne Beach Hotel, right on the beach, where I can watch the sunrise. The Greeks aren't big on breakfast, but I can find a little shop where I can get decadent strong Greek coffee, and a croissant filled with nutella. Breakfast of champions! On Santorini I will rent a Vespa and tour the island, which thankfully, you can get around in about an hour. Off to the town of Oia I go, where I can lunch on tomato and zucchini croquettes, marinated and spiced eggplant spread, and bread, while I drink the white wine only made in Santorini. The Assyrtiko grapes are bushes, not vines, and they only grow in the volcanic soil of the island. From these grapes, they can make a variety if dry whites to vinsanto style dessert wines. After my excellent lunch, I'm off the see the remains of civilization thought to be the seed of the legend of Atlantis. Santorini has two important sites, Ancient Thira and Akrotiri. Ancient Thira can be accessed from only from the Kamari side of the large bluff that sits between Kamari and Perissa. You can take a bus up the many switchbacks or attempt to hike it yourself. I'll be driving it. Bring your camera as there are spectacular views from each one. I'm pleasantly tired from my running around ancient ruins. After cleaning up, I hop back on my Vespa and head to Imerovigli to La Maison Restaurant for dinner. This restaurant not only has great food but an excellent view of the sunset, as it sits on the sunset side of the island along the rim of the caldera. Tonight I'll have saganaki over tomato, souvlaki, and a lot more wine. No Greek dinner would be complete without bahklava and some shots of ouzo. Why not live it up a little? Bring on the raki! To those of you not familiar with Greek liquor, it would be like starting with a good port and asking for the vodka chaser. Both are strong, clear, and brutal. Giammas!
tasty Greek lunch

Alesahne Beach Hotel

After many days in the warm sun, I head to cooler weather. Specifically, to Ireland. It's whiskey and Guinness time! The Irish were the first to distill a grain alcohol, way back in the mid-12th century and in the native Gaelic language was called "uisge beatha", or water of life. And boy is it ever! I'm not talking about that Jack Daniels or Wild Turkey crap that Americans think its real whiskey. Get with the program, people. Dublin has two of the best alcohol distilleries in the world: Guinness and Jameson's. I'm not generally a whiskey drinker, but that stuff goes down smooth in your coffee or your soda of choice. Since this is a travel fantasy piece and I can "go" wherever I want, I would stay at the Shelbourne. Classic Georgian architecture overlooking St. Stephen's Green, and walking distance to Temple Bar (re: lots and lots of pubs), and the Guinness Distillery. This hotel holds its own in the history of the Irish Republic, as it's here that Michael Collins drafted the Constitution in 1922. Surprisingly Ireland has some great beef, since it has many cattle farms in the north. After a tasty burger and topped fries, I settle in with my pint of Guinness. Smooth, sweet, dark as a bottomless lake, its the perfect drink for this meal which I'm most likely having in a pub. I head out into the city, which is very easy for walking. The blocks are short, if winding, and easily navigated. I hit Trinity College to see the Book of Kells, then on to the National Archeology Museum to view their collection of bog people and Viking Artifacts. I cruise down cobble stoned Grafton Street, peering into the designer shop windows, before running into Molly Malone and her cart ("cockles and muscles, alive-ho, alive-ho"). Here I swing a left, walking back along Dame Street, to the Old City Hall so I can see the awesome brightly tiled and painted cupola ceiling. I note the bullet holes in the marble statues inside and marvel how recent the Irish struggle for independence was. All this walking in the cool air, where its most likely to be sprinkling outside (this is Ireland after all), has put me in the mood for some Irish fare for dinner. I tuck myself into another pub for some Irish stew, potatoes and another Guinness. I finish my meal with some coffee with whiskey in it. Perfect for a cool evening! I head off into Temple Bar to hear some live music into the early morning hours, before finally crashing into my very overstuffed bed back at the Shelbourne. Dublin holds me in its grasp for a few more days, exploring O'Connell Street, Kilmainham Gaol, and venturing onto the tram to see the rest of Dublin Bay.

Photos of The Shelbourne Dublin, A Renaissance Hotel, Dublin

This photo of The Shelbourne Dublin, A Renaissance Hotel is courtesy of TripAdvisor

That Guinness gives me a craving for more beer, so off I go to Belgium, home of the very potent Chimay which is brewed by Trappist monks. In fact, the Belgian abbey brews are so particular, that there is an actual certification for them to make sure commercial brews are not classifying themselves as religiously associated for marketing purposes. Beer made in Belgium goes back all the way to the first crusades so this would make them experts in their field. I sign up with for their Lonely Monks Trappist Beer Tour of Belgium and the Netherlands. I includes visits to the original 7 Trappist monasteries for tastings along with a few others, and a visit to the WWI museum at Flanders Field. I like this bit of history of how the monks not only perfected the recipes as a means to trade and raise money to support themselves, but also how much detail goes into making beer. It sort of puts our mass made American beers into perspective. After nine days of tasting so many kinds of Belgian beer, traipsing about the Flemish countryside, and hearing Dutch, French and Flemish being spoken, I'm ready for the next leg of the Cry in My Cheerios tour.

Flanders Field
Chimay Monastery Brewery, Belgium

"Ein Prosit, ein Prosit. Der Gem├╝tlichkeit. Ein Prosit, ein Prosit. Der Gem├╝tlichkeit. EINS ZWEI DREI! G'SUFFA!"
That's right folks, we are off to Bavaria. Home of the largest and longest running annual beer drinking party in the world, where legions of people go to try their hand at drinking an entire liter of Bavarian beer. I'm not that nuts. I'll do a half liter at a time, thank you very much. Having just had my half-mass of German wheat beer while sitting in Marienplatz in Munich in September, I think I'm ready for a repeat. While I sit with my weisswurst (that's veal for you non-German sausage eating people), and pretzel with sweet mustard, listening to the drinkers sing along in the Hofbrau, I'm reminded of how much fun just having a beer is. Not getting completely ripped, just enjoying the ambiance of a happy crowd. I happen to already be a big fan of unfiltered German wheat beer (hefeweissen, served with orange NOT lemon wedge), so this is right up my alley. I'm tried from all the singing and drinking so I decide to walk around Munich and check out the scenery, and the layout of the streets which you know has to go back hundreds of years. There is an archaeological dig going on in the middle of town, where they are unearthing the remains of part of the town that dates back to the 10th century. I head over to my hotel, the Bayerischer Hof, and indulge in a little spa pampering to relax my traveling away.  Since there are plenty of places to eat in this part of the city, I head over to Spatenhaus which is right across the road from the Opera House. Here I can have uniquely German specialties such as sauerbraten and scheinschnitzel. YUM! And more beer. Hello, its the Spatenhaus. What do you think they make there? Spaten beer! 

Photos of Spatenhaus, Munich

This photo of Spatenhaus is courtesy of TripAdvisor

After a couple of weeks running around Europe, I'm ready to come home. The adventure of being in so many different places and around so many different people has given me a new perspective and relaxed me. Of course, having some drinks every day has certainly lightened my mood! This little virtual trip has made me feel better already, and get psyched for my Spain trip this summer. I'll have to read up on my Spanish wines before I get there.