Day 2 in Lake District – Beatrix Potter and some details about those Cows…


We wake to birds singing outside of our windows – and hustle downstairs for a lovely British Breakfast. Surprisingly – there’s no toast cooler. I do fondly remember those from my previous (50 years ago) trip to the UK – and had thought for sure they would be using one.

These are metal holding racks for toast, carefully designed to make sure that the toast gets cold. But Rose and Andy are ok with hot toast, and honor us by offering, in addition to margarine, some of Rose’s home made Orange Marmelade. It’s yummy.

Breakfast isn’t fancy – but it is ample – lots of different cereals and what I’m being to see is a Rose Signature Item – a fruit plate! I adore fresh fruit, and she’s being incredibly generous with what I know is expensive fruit. We do try to leave some for them – really we do.

After breakfast, they announce that they have packed a picnic lunch, and we’re heading off in the car to the Lake District. Andy has mapped out a route he wants us to follow, winding thru tiny villages, and including a ride on the Bowness Ferry across the only ‘real’ lake in the Lake District – Lake Windermere.

But the plans of the best oft go astray – and so it is with Andy’s plan. Turns out there’s a marathon being run around the Lake District today – and roads are blocked here and there and everywhere. Interesting thing about UK detours – they rarely tell you where the detours are going – nor when they will end – at least for marathon runs! So we wind our way up to Gummer’s How (How is Hill apparently) and admire the view over the rolling countryside. Some absolutely tip-top shape bikers stop to admire the view with us – and quick enough we’re sharing laughs over the challenges involved in detouring around the marathon. Opinions shared, we are all off – us to the ferry – they are headed to parts unknown.

The ferry is on a pair of tow lines – so no steering is needed. Just turn on the engine and pick East or West. The challenge is paying the fare. They have installed a brand new ticketing machine – and no one is sure how to use it! It is made more challenging because the screen is angled into the sun – and virtually unreadable. But Andy works thru it – and when the ferry arrives – we’re ready to board. A short time later – we’re off the ferry on the other side of the lake and heading up winding narrow laneways towards Hill Top – the home of Beatrix Potter.

This charming cottage was the inspiration for most of her books after the success of Peter Rabbit provided the money to finance it. In every room are copies of illustrations she drew that clearly reflect the furniture and window views around her. Since she died without heirs, she left all her land and her cottage to the National Trust – and they were charged with always keeping the fire in the parlor going, and leaving the house as it was when she died. And so they do, and so it is. A cottage frozen in time – filled with the knick-knacks she collected over a long and interesting life.

Well worth the visit.

But its getting on to lunch – and our next stop will be for our picnic. Naturally the rain, which had been holding off admirably, decided at this time to play games – and we decide to enjoy our lunch in the car park at Hawkshead. Hot tea, Ham and Cheese sandwiches, and snack bags of chips or crackers satisfies the inner need.

One curious incident – a black Jackdaw lands near us and begs for crumbs. Rose throws a few his way which he gobbles up – and then suddenly flings himself into the air and over the car to grab a mouse! We watch in horror as the Jackdaw enjoys a much better lunch then our paltry crumbs. Biology lesson over – we pack away the picnic things and stroll around the extremely touristy but very cute town of Hawkshead.

Our route now took us thru Ambleside – a name that in Galic means Amble’s Pasture, past the stragglers in the Marathon (one of whom was being helped by an Ambulance crew), past 3 lovely smaller lakes – Rydal Water, Grasmere and Thirlmere.

We then leave the Lake District to head to Penrith. Jill’s family claims a great-great-great aunt who was a lady in waiting to a Queen and lived near Penrith. We check out the Penrith castle for clues – but after Richard III (who lived here prior to becoming King), there’s no evidence of an Queen in this area. We check out the church yard as well – but aside from the Giant’s Grave – there’s not much to see.

Our stroll thru Penrith is unexciting too – the shops are all closed and the church locked tight. Good thing too – I saw lots of stores that I would have visited – so having them closed definitely saved us some money. It’s a 128 mile round trip – long by UK standards, a normal days commute in North America.

Back in Morecambe, dinner is at The Lodge – Rose and Andy’s Local. It’s a long thin restaurant/pub with an interesting menu of many traditional British items – including Steak and Ale Pie, Fried Pork Belly (yummy!), and Fish and Chips. The Intrepid Traveler and I opt to share a traditional British appetizer platter which has 2 slices of thick cut ham, two delicious pieces of country bread, two hunks of local Lancaster cheese, a wonderful home-made relish, some pickles, a small meat pie and my favorite – pickled onions. That plus the fried Pork Belly is more than enough for us. I’m too full even for dessert – which is saying something because they have a bread pudding that sounds yummy.

Andy asks if we’d care of a bit of walk since even though it’s past 8:00 PM – it’s still light out. The Intrepid Traveler and I agree – and Andy takes us to Barrows Heights. This is exactly like the place where Harry Potter and the Weasleys find the Port Key – except instead of a Port Key – we find cows. And this is THEIR pasture – not ours. We hike up to the top of the heights, where the cows have gathered to catch the last rays of sun, and it’s only when we’ve pretty much arrived that I realize that the cows are free to roam as they will. Seconds after that – the cows decide to come over and see if we’re family. I’m hiding behind the Intrepid Traveler – who bravely stares down the lead cow. Andy simply solves the problem by going – ‘Shoo’. Works with cows apparently. They Shoo.

So do I. Enough of going nose to nose with an animal – no matter how friendly – who weighs several tons. They would squish me if they just sat on me. We hip hop back down, avoiding the remains of cow pies, cross the still – and head home.

Whew – TV and Bed have never looked so good.

Tomorrow we head out to York by train via Manchester. Should be an interesting day.

Signing off – The Intrepid Traveler and the Soup Lady.

Why do we go to the Theatre? or The National Theatre in London Rocks!


Why do we go to live theatre? It’s expensive, it’s awkward, it’s sometimes uncomfortable – and it can be risky. What if we don’t like the play? What if the main actor gets sick and we are stuck watching a 2nd rate understudy? What if the guy sitting directly in front of us is 6′ tall and has bushy hair? Honestly – Live theatre is such a challenging concept if you think about it.

And it’s not just a challenge to the audience member. Depending on the play – anywhere from 1 to a hundred performers have to get ready to entertain us – ushers have to be preped to find us our seats, concessionaires have to get their goods ready – ticket takers and ticket seller have to be on their toes. Musicians have to tune their instruments, conductors study the score, tech guys get their acts together. And then there are the behind the stage crews – lighting, costumes, stage managers, props – the list goes on and on.

So again – why bother. Why not do as a friend of mine suggested recently – stay home and watch You Tube – it’s just as good.

But actually – it isn’t. Not to me anyway.

There’s a special thrill you get when you hand in your ticket and take your seat. There’s the sharing with the other members of the audience – what have you heard about this play – will it be good? Will it thrill me? Will it challange me? Will I understand the dialogue? (Not a trivial question here in London – I’ve now been to 2 plays I didn’t totally understand – and I’m sure they were in English.) Will there be something amazing happening, or will this presentation be ho-hum? Will the tall person in front of me slump down in their seat when the curtain goes up?

I love that moment of anticipation just before the curtain goes up. And I admit to loving live theatre in general.

I’ll put up with a lot of discomfort to get in as much live theatre as I can – and that’s a lot of discomfort. I have issues getting to the theatre – here in London that has meant using the “Underground” and then walking. And in more cases than I care to think – getting lost. I spent 2 hours wandering the dark streets of downtown London after a recent performance (which wasn’t that great to start with) because I couldn’t find the sign for the Underground. I ask you – why do they love to hide those things! You can walk right by them – and never know it.

But I digress from my topic – which is really about the play I saw two nights ago. It has a terrible title really – “The Pacifists Guide to the War on Cancer”. Doesn’t sound like it’s going to be upbeat, eh? But I found cheap tickets (in London – that’s under $20 a seat) – and it was being performed on one of the stages the National Theatre – which I know how to find! Cheap seats, easy to find stage – I’m so on top of this!

So ticket scored – I take my weary body to the theatre, hoping that the performance will keep me awake – unlike my last outing to a disaster called “The Dresser”. Ugg.

First – food. One of the things I love about the National Theatre complex is the bookstore and restaurant selection. There’s a coffee shop, and at least 2 restaurants – a ‘lower’ cost option called “The Kitchen”, and a slightly higher cost option called “House”. Ok – I scored a cheap seat – I’ll splurge on dinner. And “House” has a 22 pound Table D’hote. That’s about $30 US – so the cost of the evening is under $50. If the play is good – I’ve done well!

Dinner is amazingly good – guided by the bar waitress – I go with her selection of Hake. That’s a rarely served fish in North America – but I’m not sure why. It was divine. And it came with some vegetables – and not just potatoes either. And they were warm and properly cooked. For dessert (2 course meal – I opted for Main and Dessert – spank me now) I had what was described as Coffee Brule – a take on a Creme Brule but made with coffee – and served as a stand-up custard with two thin slices of Pastasho Biscotti. Oh Man – Score! Great food – awesome bread – delicious butter – and all within a price range I could afford. Best of all – I could hang in my comfy seat until the last minute – I was already at the theatre!

On to the Show. The Dorfman Stage is reserved for new productions at the National Theatre – an off the ‘end’ beginners stage if you will. It’s a flexible stage – offering the designers options like thrust, modified-thrust, standard Procenium, etc. This play was in a modified-thrust format – so my ‘restricted’ view cheap seat wasn’t horrid. Most of the action was far forward – and I could see very well.

The designer starts the show off by explaining that talking about death and Cancer is never easy – even if all of us will die – and 1 of every 3 of us will die from Cancer. So they opted to make it a musical – in hopes of getting some kind of an audience to attend.

Apparently it has worked – the reviews were quite good, and the main ‘stalls’ on the ground floor were full. The upper ‘restricted’ view seats were quite empty – which worked in my favor – I paid for a 15 pound seat – but ended up in a 20 pound seat. I’m ok with that upgrade.

The story line is interesting. A woman and her young baby – carried in a chest pack like the one my daughter wears – starts the show by explaining that she’s not sure why, but the hospital has called her baby back in for tests. She sure that she’ll wake up tomorrow and this will be a bad dream – but meanwhile – she’s doing as she’s been told – bringing her baby in to the hospital.

The baby is taken away – for those undisclosed, undescribed tests – and she is left waiting for something, anything to happen. What happens is that she runs into a variety of other folks in the oncology section – a pregnant woman having her in-vitro baby tested for cancer, a chain smoking older man with lung cancer, a son and his mother facing the likelihood that he will never father a child, a woman in the final stages of cervical cancer, and the like.

Thru music, thru props, thru great acting, and thru a believable – if horrid – story line, the cast explores the war on Cancer – from the perspective of the unwilling victims. Memorable songs include a Western Stomp done with the ‘hospital staff’ wearing cardboard bedpans on their heads like cowboy hats, and a couple of stunningly beautiful ‘blues’ songs sung by the glorious lovely gal with ‘cervical’ cancer.

I was particularly taken aback by a piece about friendship – which poignantly points out that for many of the patients – their best friends are now their fellow patients – because they understand what is happening emotionally and physically to each other.

The piece dramatically and emotionally ends with the cast coming on stage – no longer in ‘costume’. They sit on stage and talk about what it is like to die (in most cases – quite peaceful apparently) and then they invite folks in the audience to say the name of a loved one who is ill or has died of Cancer.

It took me 20 minute to get back enough strength to start walking back to the tube. The security guard found me in the ladies room during his closing routine – good thing too – otherwise I’d have spent the night locked in the theatre.

This is why I go to the theatre – to remember why we go to the theatre.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

‘Old School Rodeo’ – Go Steers Go!


or – 95th Inter-Tribal Ceremonial – Day 2

Oops – turns out that Saturday night is the end of the Ceremonial – everyone except the Cowboys have packed up and gone home. So there’s nothing to watch but an ‘Old School’ Rodeo. Which – given that we came to Gallop to see Cowboys and Indians (sorry – so not PC) – isn’t really such a bad thing. So we find our shade sharing friends (whew) and settle in to watch day 2 of the Rodeo.

Actually – this is really day 5 – but we didn’t know that. So most of the top performers have gone home with the Indians. We are left with kids, clowns, and some teams that just won’t quit. But given our knowledge of Rodeo, and given that we were cheering for the Bulls yesterday – this will still work for us!

First up – kids riding wild sheep. Ok – I know you are thinking – really? But it’s true. The little kids (we’re talking top age of maybe 8) get to ‘wild ride’ a sheep. And trust me, the sheep are really not much more interested in having a rider than the broncos – but the broncos buck – sheep just stop and stare at the crowd. Never mind – the kids are a delight to watch – they hold up their free hand in an adorable replica of the way their Dads did yesterday – and one very brave kid tries to ‘spur’ the sheep on. To which insult the sheep reacts by immediately throwing him.

Then there’s the ‘Rescue’. One member of the team stands on a barrel while the other member of the team rides across the ring, hoists them onto the horse, and then gallops madly back to the ‘finish’ line. The top team was a father/daughter combo – the kid was maybe 8 – and small – and the dad just hoisted her up, swung her over the back of his saddle and then rode madly across the finish line with one arm wrapped around her for safety. Sophie was wild about this event, and wanted to know if Grandpa would try it with her.

Sadly – no.

Another super fun to watch event challenged teams of 3 cowboys to saddle and ride a wild horse around a barrel at the far end of the ring. This is a LOT harder than you can imagine. The horses want nothing to do with someone putting a saddle on their backs, so the cowboys have to start by getting the horses to lie down. There’s not a lot of time for being nice either – this is a drag out contest between 3 cowboys and a very mad horse! Only two teams manage to get the saddle on their assigned horse – and of those, one horse managed to throw the rider. So 1 winner, 4 losers – and life goes on!

Highlight you ask? The one-armed bandit. This is a cowboy with – tada – one arm – who has trained his long horn steers to – on command – run up onto the top of a trailer truck! Seriously – how do you think he managed to do that? His horse was also fabulously trained – he not only jumped to the top of the trailer – he allowed the ‘bandit’ to stand up on the saddle and fire his gun! With the steers mildly looking on as if to say – happens every day! He was so good that Victor had to tell him how much he enjoyed his performance when we ran into later that evening.

Other events included trying to ride a Bison, Cowgirl barrel racing, and team steer roping. More often than not – the winners were the Bison, the barrels and the steers! But a good time was had by almost everyone – I’m not sure that the cowboy that got thrown off the Bison – hard – had the best day ever.

We ended the day trying – once again – to eat dinner in Gallop. Turns out that all the Mexican restaurants close on Sunday night – leaving us with limited choices. So we checked out the El Rancho Hotel and Restaurant. It’s rated #5 in Gallop – which gives you a really good idea of how inspiring the food in this town has turned out to be. The El Rancho is old – seriously old – it’s been sitting on Route 66, living on it’s oh so famous history from 50 years ago for – well 50 years. I think some of the trip advisor reviews might date from back then. But it was open – and willing to feed us – and there weren’t that many options.

I spent some time looking around the hotel – which would profit greatly from a visit from the crew of Hotel Impossible, and then ate dinner in the restaurant. Too much food, served fairly quickly by an impatient wait staff pretty much sums it up. I can’t really recommend the food – except to say it solved the dinner problem, and I didn’t get sick.

We headed out towards Route 264 – which is pretty much a straight shot thru Navajo and Hopi Territory – ending at Tuba City. Our goal was the oh so beautiful Moenkopi Legacy Hotel. Why? It had a pool – and Sophie had been promised a pool morning. We knew we’d be arriving late – but our plan was just to hang the next morning – and then head on out to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon.

We’d be changing time zones madly. New Mexico does Day Light Savings – so we left Gallop at 7:00 PM. A few minutes later, we crossed into Arizona, which does not do Day Light Savings – it became 6:15 PM. Then we hit Navajo territory – it’s 7:30 PM. About an hour later, we hit Hopi Territory – and it was also 7:30 PM. Finally we arrived at our hotel – and we were back in Navajo territory – and back in Day Light savings time.

Other than time zone changes – there’s nothing exciting to report on this part of our trip. The road was beautifully maintained, the sky was filled with an almost full moon – and we simply drove in tandam thru miles and miles and miles of barely inhabited country. One of my friends had given me several books and tape – and they made the drive pass by quickly. Soon enough we were at the Moenkopi – bedded down for the night.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Exploring the Gastro Underbelly of London


I’m here on a very strict budget – no high end, fancy restaurants this trip. Instead I’ve been looking for the discount options with portions large enough for my daughter and I to share. And bottom line – we’ve eaten very very well!

The least expensive options have been food stalls – and since we’re ‘market folks’ sometimes the meals are free! Finding time to enjoy the food of course is the big challenge – but as for taste – there are some amazing options out there. At Fenchurch stations – we had 3 different meal options – all only available for lunch unfortunately – but surprisingly good. My favorite of the 3 – hands down – was the ‘Asian Fusion’. Starting at around 9:30 – they would set-up and start cooking. They were making stir-fried meals of several different options – including my personal favorite – a fried chicken nugget wonder made with chilis and green peppers. The peppers were crisp – the nuggets yummy – and sauce delicious. I never did find out the price – they always gave me free tastes at the end of their day. It was yummy.

The other food options at Fenchurch included an Indian option that had Onion Baji, Samosas, Tikka Masalla and the like. Amazing that they could make such delicious food in basically a 9×9 tent with portable burners.There was also – for just 2 days – a soup kitchen. They brought the soup in pre-made in large plastic bags, and just reheated to serve. It was ok – but not something I’d walk out of my office to get.

The offerings at Allie-Palie were more varied since there were more booths in general. In addition to the Indian, Asian Fusion, Kettle Corn, German Sausages, and Meat Pies – there were these absolutely amazing fish cakes. I loved, loved, loved them – and the price was right – Free! I’m not sure they meant to give it to me free – they were intending to give them to the lady who sells bread at the stall next to ours – but when she only wanted one of the two they brought her – they handed one to me. Oh Yum. Probably my favorite of the Market Stall food I tried.

But it’s not just about food stall food – we also did a lot of Take-out food. Londener’s love take out – partly it’s away to avoid taxes – food eaten off premises is cheaper. But that’s not the only reason for it’s popularity – it’s easy to get food delivered. There’s an app called “Just Eat” that keeps your past orders on file – so you can go ‘same old’ – or opt for something new and fun. My kids and I have ordered in Indian that was delicious – done take-out of Thai that was also yummy – and once even opted for Fish and Chips. The price points are reasonable – under 10 pounds per person – and the portions sufficient to allow for an extra meal or 2!

For in restaurant eating – my favorite was easily Simplicity. This is a cozy local place that has Pork Belly as the speciality – and with a very talented chef in the kitchen. We ordered one dinner to share – which kept the price down – and without even saying anything – they double plated the dinner! It was delicous. Here’s their website (yes – it’s that good) – http://www.simplicityrestaurants.com (obviously – they are thinking of becoming a chain… wonder if that will happen.)

My second favorite was the Mayflower – again because it was just plain fun to sit and enjoy the view.

During our Christmas in Sutton Courtenay – we went to “The Nag’s Head” – so I did a pub meal. Unfortunately we were seated in the restaurant area – which featured an amazing view of the Thames – but none of the completely quaint Pub atmosphere. We did get to see how great it was – lots of big leather sofas and great seating areas. Next time I’m pubbing – I’m definitely sitting in the pub area. Food was delicious – I had a fish and chips dinner – and the fish was big enough for 2. And delightfully flaky. I’m clearly a fan.

Unfortunately – there was a down side – we tried two Japanese restaurants – neither of which I thought was excellent, and one of which I thought was actually horrid. Oh well – one loser amoung so many winners – it was bound to happen.

Things I didn’t get to try:
Peri-Peri Chicken – this has become the in thing in Montreal – and I saw several of them – but we never stopped in one for dinner. The one we did walk into – I walked back out. It just didn’t say – eat here – to me.

Pasteries – I visited a coffee shop every morning for my daily fix of Latte (at 2 pounds – it was pricy – but delicous) – and was such a steady customer that the gal started to make my latte as I walked thru the door – but I never ate breakfast there – so no toad in the hole – or even a muffin. Oh well.

Indian – in a restaurant. We ate Indian take out (well – actually delivery) that was outstanding – the Tandori Chicken was fresh, tender, and delicious, but we never actually went into an Indian restaurant. In fact – there are lots more ‘take-out’ places then actual restaurants – at least around Surry Quays.

Pizza – in a restaurant. Again – did delivery – but never in a restaurant. Again – delicous. We ordered the ‘meat lover’ which didn’t have that much meat on it to be honest – but it was yummy.

So – bottom line – lots of good food – and by British terms – not too much money!

Signing off to continue the search for the ultimate low-cost food option,
The Soup Lady

Exploring the byways of Sutton Courtenay


The village of barely 3500 souls that my daughter’s in-laws call home is a place with a very ancient history. Today we ate lunch at a pub that traces it’s history back to the 18th century – and it was built on a bridge over the river Thames that dates from the 1600’s!

According to Craig – this bridge was a source of much conflict – and at one point the Abbey in Sutton Courtenay errected a Toll Bridge. The villagers retailiated by diverting the river, and building another bridge. I’m thinking “Pillars of the Earth” meets “Harry Potter”.

Speaking of meeting Harry Potter – it turns out that Bellatrix Lestrange has a house in Sutton Courtenay. At least the actress that plays her in the movies does. Her (great?) grandfather was the First Earl of Oxford – and at one point he owned a good part of the village. She still owns – and occasionally stays in – one of the larger homes bordering right on the Thames.

There are other exciting sites to see in Sutton Courtenay – it’s not just about the Thames. There’s the Medieval Abbey, the WWII pill box – built as a defense position against the Germans, the Norman period church where we sang Christmas Carols, the homes built with lumber from ships that fought in the Spanish Armada and were defeated, the old prision in process of gentrification (they are building condos – surprise, surprise) – and there are 3 pubs. Those are seriously the hightlight of the village – I loved the look of the gastro-pub called “The Fish”, but when it came to lunch we left the village and headed to the next town for lunch at “The Nag’s Head”. I opted for fish and chips – when in England – do as the English do I say! I wanted to get a beer – but picking one from the over a dozen on tap proved daunting. The first one they drew – “Goldie” was too bitter for me – as were the next 5, including a cider. I finally tried the “Tiger” – which my hosts refered to as “not a beer” – but I was happy.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. After a quick – everyone grab what they want – breakfast, Craig, Charlotte, Adrienne and I opted to take the village walk. This was a wonderful public path that leads over bridges and past bits and pieces of the Thames in a loop. There were Swans and ducks in the ponds we strolled past – and a solid collection of different dogs.

We eventually wandered our way past the remains of an old mill, past a series of adorable shop fronts that are now private homes (Gentrification at work), and both the Norman Church and the Medieval Abbey. Neighbors greeted neighbors, some young girls rode by on horseback, and we saw several MG Sprites. All together it was a very British walk, in a very British village. Totally Charming.

On call for tonight is a cold dinner of left-overs (finally), a board game – and fireworks. Turns out that fireworks are only legal in Great Britian on Guy Fawes Day – and Christmas. Guess the 4th of July isn’t much of a holiday here – win some, lose some.
Signing off for now

The Soup Lady – reporting from Sutton Courtenay (If you can spell it – you can find it on a map!)

Winners and Losers in the Czech Republic


Two Hotels, Two nights each – a world apart.

Hotel #1 – the Belcardi. Located in Brno, Czech Republic – this should have been a contender. It’s located in a Chateau that dates from 1631 – Napoleon’s sister stayed here for 2 years with her daughter, and it features – according to the guide book – fabulous gardens.

Officially – it’s completely renovated and restored – unfortunately in a graceless style that speecks to the Communist side of the Czech mentality. It more resembles an updated monestary than a fancy hotel. Its not that the place in unkempt – in fact it’s quite clean, and obviously cared for. The issue goes deeper than physical plant – it’s staff, it’s a lack of understanding the difference between clean and neat, and bare and boring. At the Belcardi – they are erring on the side of boring.

Our deluxe double room with balcony did indeed have an ensuite bathroom, a comfortable king bed, and a balcony. Albeit that the balcony was only the width of the door that open out onto it – and about 2 feet deep – still, I’ll agree, there was a balcony. And they carefully provided a desk. No electrical outlits, no lamp, no phone – but there was a desk. To plug in our cell phones we had to crawl under said desk and use a plug there.

The bathroom was remarkable for the lack of place to put anything – including towels! There was a European style heated towel rack – on the far side of the room from the shower, so if you wanted a towel for your shower – you had no choice but to hang the towel off the shower door. The shower itself was one of those stick in a corner, already built items – Basic shower facility in other words. On the good news side – it did offer seriously hot water – scaulding in fact.

The sink was one of the porcelin stand ones – no place to put your toothbrush unless you removed their soap tray – and where to put that then? Annoyingly, the toilet required 2 pushes to operate – one to get the water started, and one to stop the water.

Breakfast was easily the highlight of the place. It was free, it was ample, and there was a machine for making Latte and Expresso. If you wanted plain coffee – there was a nice thermos full on a different table. There was an assortment of pastry, cereals, yougurts, fruit, seriously delicous scrambled eggs (that’s actually hard to do in a serve-yourself orientation), a variety of different types of bread, sausages, and some cut up veggies – tomatoes, onions and red, yellow and green peppers. It was a great breakfast.

I just wish the staff I ran into were as welcoming. I saw a maid just once, she ducked her head as if embarassed and hustled on her way. The only staff I saw consistently were hidden behind the large, tall, and extremely forbidding front desk. In the 2 days we stayed – going in and out at least a dozen times all told – here’s what they never did:

Offer to help us with our luggage.
Smile
Say more than ‘hi’
Respond to questions with more than a single word.
Offer any information – in any language – or even on a piece of paper. They did hand me a wonderful history of the Castle, in English – but only after I asked mutliple questions – the place is famous after all.

In summary – a Loser. Cold, forbidding, unwelcoming, unpleasant, basic needs meet – but nothing beyond. For a place this famous – some art on the walls, some signs of humanity, even an occasional throw rug would have gone a long way towards making the Hotel Belcardi a place I’d suggest to a friend.

But there was a Winner too! Dvur Hoffmeister is located about 10 minutes from the Prague Airport – and we only stayed there because we wanted to be able to sleep after travelling for 10 hours from Montreal, and didn’t want to be disturbed by the noise of the airport.

What a wonderful surprise. The Dvur Offmeister is a tiny – 7 room – Pensionne with a bar and restaurant, attached to a huge Horse training center. Huge not only in size – but in size of the horses. This Center is the one of the homes of the Czech National Jumping School – and it had 4 huge arenas, stable space for 42 horses and ponies, a Horse Washing Station – and a Horse Gym. There were outdoor fenced off paddock areas for summer use, but in winter there are 4 Stable areas for Horses and Ponies. Like all stables I’ve ever seen – there is a center hall with stalls on either side. The stalls have gates into the center for moving the horses in and out – but in the case of the Hoffmeister Stables – they have been one huge improvement. Each stall also has a window to the outside! When the weather was sunny – or there was action on the courtyard – the horses would all poke their heads out to get a peak.

What really makes the Dvur Hoffmeister a Winner though is the warmth and good feeling that radiates from the front desk, thru the halls into the rooms. There is art everywhere – apparently the Grand-father of the current owners was a Surrealistic painter – and he collected work from all his friends. There is a completely amazing amount of top drawer art work on display. The ‘surreastic’ motif extends into the lovely dinning area – a brick walled, arch coved space with wide spread tables – and almost comfortable chairs!

Our first night there we did run into a problem – and how the staff handled the problem would make a great episode on “Hotel Impossible”. First off – I arrived feeling really terrible. I hate those long flights – and for some reason the flight from Frankfurt to Prague just wiped me out. I could barely stand up.

We found the place – and the staff member on duty took one look at me and said – I’ll get you a room right now – we’ll discuss where you’ll stay later. They brought me into a gloriously huge suite – 4 poster king bed, glorious art, huge bathroom – and let me sleep. Victor – despite his protests to the contrary – also fell asleep. Several hours later – much recovered – we arose to discuss options with the host.

The problem – a fairly large – 30 person – company party was scheduled in the restuarant and the bar that night – including a DJ scheduled to play until 2:00 AM. Our glorious suite was right over the bar, and they were pretty sure we didn’t want to try to sleep there. We agreed – and chaned rooms.

They moved us into a room over one of the 3 stable areas. It too had lovely art, a huge bathroom (with a whirlpool tub), but no 4 poster bed. That said – it was quiet, and there was plenty of room for our stuff – and when re-enacting – you have stuff. So we dragged out suitcases out of the lovely suite, and up a metal staircase to our room in the stable. We were so happy.

The tiny village hosts another restuarant – but we were so impressed with how we’d been treated – we wanted to give the Dvur Hoffmeister our business – so we asked – what do we do for dinner. They offered us two choices. We could get dinner served in our room – or we could eat in the bar area – while the DJ was doing his set-up. We opted for the bar – and we had a fab meal – pleasant company – and got to see a bit of the party as it warmed up in the main dining room.

Then to bed – the next day we were travelling on to the site of the re-enactment. But breakfast first of course.

Like the Belcardi – breakfast was included – and what a difference. No machine for making coffee – nope – our lovely hostess – who had gotten to bed at 3:00 after the party ended – was there to make us expresso or Lattes with a proper expresso machine – and cook us eggs or an omlet to order. There was a small – but yummy – selection of pastries, bread, jam, sliced peppers, cucumbers – and a bit of meat to enjoy as as well. Yummy. How did it differ from the much larger spread at the Belcardi? The hostess smiled at us – welcomed us to breakfast – made us feel at home. I’m certain she’d put in a lot more hours than our sullen friend at the Belcardi – but she didn’t let on how tired she was – just greeted us and made us feel so very very welcome!

2nd night – We loved the Dvur so much – we checked out of the horrid Hotel Belcardi and drove back to the Dvur after the Sunday formal celebrations at Austerlitz. Now that’s a winner of a hotel. We even opted to stay in our room over the stables. The thought of that lovely warm bathtub was simply too thrilling.

Another glorious dinner – this time in the dinning room – another great breakfast in the bar area – and then back to the airport.

So one winner – one loser – nice trip in total.

Signing off to go run a market stall in London (you’ll have to check the next blog to see how that goes) – The soup lady.

We sleep in the Stables –


I’m not joking – we are really staying in a Horse Barn very close to Prague in the Czech Republic.

We left Montreal for Prague what feels like months ago – but was only the day before Yesterday. Travel is tough on aging bodies – and long air flights in sub-economy is not the stuff of luxury and relaxation. But given my lowly status – I faired pretty well.

I went on line to check in – and decided to ‘change seats’ – just to see if magically a free upgrade to business or first class with better food, nicer service, and a bed would happen.

Nope. Lowly cheap economy is where I was doomed to be.

But – I did notice that the back 4 rows of the air craft – middle section – were empty. Humm. If I take one of those seats – maybe I’ll have the row to myself.

SCORE!

So I did, and I did. I watched a great movie – Mr. Holmes – you should see it – ate a lousy dinner – jokingly described as an elegant chicken dish with heritage rice and a rich hand picked tomato sauce, served with a fresh salad, hot roll with virgin butter, and a rich chocolate cake, layed with love and 4 different types of chocolate. Would you like water with that?

In reality – it was mystery chicken in a plastic dish with plastic cutlery, a square of semi-fresh chocolate cake (highlight of the meal), a salad that might have been fresh in January, and I’ll agree – a hot roll. And yes – I’ll have water with that.

But it’s not about the food – it’s about the 4 seats in a row that were mine, Mine, MINE!

I ate, watched my movie – and then laid down to sleep. I know I slept because my dinner dishes disappeared – and a ‘breakfast bread’ in plastic wrap appeared when I woke up. Easiest long flight ever.

Unfortunately – I didn’t fare as well on the next leg – from Franfurt to Prague. Either the time change got to me or that mystery meat was a deadly error – but my stomack was in serious knots by the time the plane had landed and we’d found the rental car place. We drove about 15 minutes to our hotel – and I was so seriously sick – the hotel owner took pity on me and put me in the only room that had been cleaned. What did I care – I sunk into bed – and tried hard to make myself feel better.

Several hours later – much restored – I arose – and swore off mystery chicken on airlines forever. And finaly – got to explore my location.

We’re at the Dvur Hoffmeister in Cicovice, Czech Republic – it’s a small Pensionne 10 minutes from the Prague airport  – just 7 rooms and a restaurant and a bar attached to the biggest horse training center I’ve ever seen. The training stable is amazing. It’s spotless clean – and filled with glorious horses. I feel in total love with a giant sweet heart of a horse – He’s what’s known here as a KWPN – Dutch Warmblooded Show Horse – and he’s huge! Seriously huge. My husband, Victor, stook next to him – and his head is probably 4 times larger than Victor’s head. And at 6′ – Victor could not see over his back. Huge.

According to Ria Hoffmeisterova – she’s the gal that runs the stable – and the sister of Ava Hoffmesiterova – the gal who runs the restaurant and Pennsione – and the daughters of the owner of the Dorf Hoffmeister – this horse is owned by an 18 year old gal who is on the Czech National Jumping team. No kidding.

Beautiful Horse.

Anyway – the stable has over 40 horses – ponies to huge jumpers like my friend, two indoor areans – one huge for jumping, one smaller Yurt shapped one for doing laps, at least 2 huge outdoor arenas, multiple outdoor pasture areas, at least 5 different stable areas for horss – we’re sleeping over one of these – a horse washing room that has a sunlamp section for ‘drying’ the hose – and a horse Gym!

I spotted the Ria leading a horse into what seemed to be a small – open at both ends – trailer. But it wasn’t a trailer – it was a treadmill for horses! No TV to watch – I guess it must get pretty boring, but the horse is lead inside, tied to the front bar, and the treadmill started. And the horse gets his exercise. Seriously. You ever heard of such a thing before?

Another odd thing – and maybe this is related to the fact that this is a super fancy horse stable – all the horses – every single one – had a blanket on. Big thick things, that fastened around the horse’s body – covering the butt as well as the entire body. And even when they were riding the horses in the arena area – they kept the blankets on the horses. just rolled a bit back to allow room for the tiny English saddles. Victor thinks it might be to keep them from growing winter coats.

Not that it is that cold here – maybe 45 degrees – warm by Montral Standards – but then the stables aren’t heated. In fact – they are interesting in themselves. I’ve seen lots of stables before – but these are the first I’ve seen with windows. And the horses seem to love standing with their heads out the windows – watching the action in the courtyards. To enter and leave their stalls – there are the traditional stall grates and fences – but every single stall had a window on the opposite wall – room with a view – for the horses!

We wandered freely around the space – watched the young ladies taking care of their ponies – exercising them, washing their feet, general stable stuff. There was no one working on jumping that we got to see – but it’s clear this is a serious place for training – and our host told us that this is the home to one of the National Level Training Schools for Jumpers in Czech.

Not surprised – it’s glorious.

Enough about the stable – on to the food and the rooms.

First – the food.

Victor booked us here because it was very close to the airport – and had good reviews. Well – the food totally justified the reviews. We ate dinner in the bar – the restaurant was reserved for a large party (more on that later) – but they offered us the full menu. I had octopus salad – made with spicy sausage – it was outstanding, and a su-vide preperation of pork belly that was also delicious. The pork meat was yummy- and the fat had been hard fried to a delightful crispness. Victor had a goat cheese appetizer that he thought excellent, and a deer filet dish that he also approved of. I thought my choices were better though. The only disappointment was dessert. I ordered a pear tart tatine – and I expected a tart – but it was deconstructed – so there was too much pear to pastry in my opinion. But I ate it all – so it couldn’t have been that bad.

Now the Lodging

There are just 7 rooms – and we were lucky enough to stay in 2 of them. The first was glorious. The walls leading up the winding stone staircase was filled with paintings and prints by surrealistic artisis – including Chagal, Dali, and others. Mostly sketches of course – but still. The room was ‘over the bar’ – and it was huge. Giant oversized bathroom with double sinks, and a deep European style tub, The room had a king sized 4 postered bed wtih draps tied back on all 4 sides, a giant sofa and arm chairs, and room to wander. The floor boards were at least 18″ wide – clearly old lumber, loving re-furbished to a high gloss.

The bed had those traditional European feather covers – two of them – once for each sleeper. Why they get folded sideways I don’t know – but opened up and turned 90 degress they are very comfortable. But who noticed – I was feeling so ill I just sank into the bed and pretended I wasn’t dead.

The bad news – this was supposed to be our room – but there was going to be a party that night in the bar – with a DJ going till 2:00 AM. And our host suggested that maybe – despite the beauty of the room – we’d be happier in a room that was smaller – but would be quiet.

Which is why we’re sleeping over the horse stable. There are 3 rooms loving rebuilt with lovely grohe faucets and comfy beds, huge sofas and TVs over the Stables. We walk past the horses – who lean out their windows to give us warm sniffs – up a metal staircase and into our hallway. Once in the hall – the space is modern and lovely and clean – and there’s no obvious evidence that you are in fact – above a stable. Our room – while not nearly as over the top as the first is quite comfortable – and our tub is a jetted double seating deep bather. It’s bath time tonight!

As for being over the stables – Except for the occasional horse moving around his paddock and the noise of the staff closing the big doors to the stables at around 6:00 PM – and I’m guessing we’ll hear them being opened tomorrow morning – but for now – all is dark, quiet, and peaceful.

Signing off to go snuggle back in bed.

The Soup Lady

Quick – What’s the most important Key to Planning a Budget Trip?


Doing the Research, Baby!

One can argue that Research is the answer to almost anything – but somehow people seem to forget research when they travel. Instead – too many people I know tend to choose one of two travel options – The unplanned, loosy goosy option – or the turn over everything over to someone else choice.

The later is the most expensive of course. If you love travel on the cheap and if someone else is doing the planning – unless it’s your BFF – they are going to be making some money somehow. Even cruises – which are seriously an economical choice – have to break-even at the end of the day. So somewhere, somehow – someone is making money off your desire not to plan!

How does the loosy goosy option work. Well – if you are flexible, willing to pay extra when the nicest inexpenive options are long gone – well – clearly – that’s the best. You have the most opportunities for making new friends who will put you up, and you can fall into fab happenings – things you wouldn’t know about if you had to be here or there on this or that date. But Loosy goosy can work against you when you are talking Opera Tickets – or getting into crowded museums or events. Sometimes they just plain sell out – and by making plans ahead – you can assure that you get to go.

In my wanderings – I’ve met lots of people that fit into these two groups – more of the former than the later given my penchant for cheap travel, but you get the idea. Most interesting I think was the doctor we bumped into in Buran, South Korea. His idea of travel – stay cheap, walk the city – and only work when you run out of funds.

Problem – I happen to love doing the planning – and I hate not knowing where I’m sleeping at night. Drives me nuts. Plus – I hate dragging my suitcase – tiny as it is – around all the time – so spending several nights in the same city is not just a preference – it’s almost a necessity.

So – how does research fit into this.People are always asking me how do I plan for 4 to 5 week trips on a serious budget. First off – it actually helps to have a budget. Yes – I have to make some hard choices – but at least I know where the choices are going to have to happen.

5 star hotels and restaurants – definitely out! As are 3 star and probably 1 star. Nope – I’m going to be looking out for hostels/BnB’s that have been for well reviewed by at least 50 reviewers. Only a few reviewers? I’m sorry – I”m suspecious that these represent friends and family. Not highly rated – I’m going to be checking out those negative comments. Great place but noisy – not going to work for me. A real party place – nope, not my kinda locations. Great place but a poor location – far from the city maybe – again – that’s a no. I’m fussy – I want it all – and I want it cheap.

So – Housing – my go to options are Hostelworld.com and Booking.com. I’ve checked out VRBO.com and Homeaway.com – but generally they seem to offer options for larger groups, and we are just 2. They also tend to be more expensive per night for the places with better reviews. Way the cookie crumbles, I’m guessing. Air BnB is sometimes of interest – but when you read my criteria – you’ll understand why it often doesn’t work out for me.

But it’s easier to explain my hot list of budget housing ‘must-haves’ then to just mention websites.

So – What are my must haves when budget travelling?

1. Location. I care a lot about how far you are from public transport. And while buses are great – if there’s a metro – I want to be able to use it without needing hiking boots! Another perfect location – down town of course. I adore being right in the heart of the action, but in a hostel that reviewers describe as quiet. My cup of hot cream tea!

2. Bathrooms. My preference is to have my own bathroom en-suite. And yes – you can get those in hostels. But you are going to have to look – and sometimes look very very hard. But I’ve spent my last night in a dorm – and while I’ll bend on the bathroom – the reviewers had better be talking about multiple bathrooms. There are pigs out there who think nothing of trashing a shared toilet – and compelely fog out on why I don’t want to share their mess!

3. Kitchen. I’ll trade off an en-suite bathroom for a kitchen if I absolutely must. It’s that important. You can’t budget travel pleasantly without a kitchen. I’ve had people tell me that I’m overly fussy here – that you can easily smuggle food into your room if you don’t feel like eating out that night. But the key here is ‘smuggle’. I don’t want to have to sneak around. I want to be able to sit at a table, open my bottle of wine, and relax with a view, a nice assortment of cheese – and maybe some sausage. You need a kitchen – and a shared place to eat to achieve that! Trust me there.

4. People. The Intrepid Traveller and I love meeting people – local people. other travelers – it doesn’t matter. So having a common area where you can easily rub shoulders with other people feeds our desire to chat. And sometimes – it turns out splendidly. We’ve picked up fellow travelers from all over the world – sometimes just for a night or two, sometimes for longer. So on our must have list – common space!

And how to I find these kinds of places? At reasonable prices? I start early! As soon as I know my travel dates – I start looking for where I’m going to be sleeping. My preference – have all these reservations in hand at least 2 months prior to the trip.

Yes – I hear you – cuts down on flexibility. But I’ve rarely picked wrong! For example – turns out that the 2 weeks we’re in St. Petersburg is their White Night’s festival. And nope, I didn’t know!

But – hey – take advanage to what comes your way I say.

Next blog – More advantages of planning ahead – including the joys of finding amazing Theatre options – but meanwhile I need to sign off.

Do the research takes time – lots of time! The Soup Lady

Edible Bali


Food is a constant theme in my life – my husband is a chef, my daughter is a chef, my other kids love to cook, my grand-daughter is a complete fan – and my life has been spent around food and restaurants.

But nothing really prepares you for the food experiences of Bali.

As I observed before – There is a ripeness, a lushness, a over-whelming abundance of growing things in Bali that both bemuses, amuses, and fascinates one. It’s easy to understand why visitors to this island became residents. I suppose that growing up here would almost ruin it – how can you be surprised when it has always been like this?

So – Outstanding food experiences…

We took a Jungle Trek – really more like a farm explore if the farm was up and down crazy ravines, mad paths, and had little apparent organization. The Lady in Pink observed that in Bali one doesn’t have to encourage growth – the rain takes care of that – one has to prune and control. Which explains Avocado trees that tower above you, coffee trees that are 6 foot high – and thats with constant pruning, and the wealth of fruits that quite literally grow wild everywhere.

Bananas, jack fruit, Durian, Pineapples, Coffee, Cocoa, Vanalia, Tumeric, Clove, Mangos, Mangosteens (in season now and a wonderful discovery), Papya, ferns, long beans, edible vines, Coconut trees (providing leaves, coconuts, coconut milk, and even coconut oil), Palm trees (for Palm oil and Palm Sugar), the list is endless. And we saw and tasted everything we could.

It’s truly overwhelming, surprising, astonishing, wonderful, and joyously edible.

Our Jungle Trek starts and ends in Stoned Goat Village – a village so small – it doesn’t even have a repair shop for motor scooters. And trust me – that’s small. Our host tells us that the village official population is 300 – but lots of people are actually living in Ubud or Denpassar in order to go to school, get a good paying job, or just get away from village life.

Our pair of fearless leaders – for our group of 4 senior ladies ranging from 60 to 80 years of age – guided us and helped us up and down and around – pointing out all the edible things, and giving us tastes of those that were ripe. Land in Bali is deeded to individuals, and recently the government has been sending survey teams out to provide land owners with proper paper work, so it is clear when you move from one family’s land to the land belonging to a local Temple, to the land of another family. But the food that grows on the land – except the cash crops like Coffee – appear to be ‘open season’. If it’s ripe – and you see it first – it’s yours!

So we munch our way around the forest, eventually getting back to the family compound of one of our guides. It’s not much – the toilet is a stand-upon, the shower is a hand wand serving multiple duty as toilet paper and body wash, but it’s warm, it’s friendly – and they have spent hours cooking us a huge lunch.

There are at least 8 serving bowls – each containing a uniquely flavored dish – one has tempe – a soy bean option – that has been fried. Yum. Another contains fried eels from the river that runs behind the compound. There are 2 omlet like dishes – maybe a bit more like highly seasoned crepes than our fluffy omlets. There’s pieces of tofu that have been cooked, 2 long bean dishes – one so heavily garliced that I tell everyone to eat it – we’ve got to sit in a car for hours – and we might as all have bad breathe.

And of course there is rice.

Yummy – spicy – not spicy – crispy – soft – sweet and sour – The meal manages to hit all the taste buds and all the texture points.

For desert they are making Palm Sugar – it’s been boiling over a wood fire stove since last night – and they’ve carefully timed things so that the sugar firms up just as we finish our lunch. It’s a sugar high – super hot – and tasting vaguely of caremel.

After the meal – the wife and 14 year old daughter of the host puts on a Balinese traditional dance performance for us – and I even get rolling eye lessons. Such fun. Such Food. Like being on Food Network without the camera issues!

But that’s not the top food experience I had. The absolute best experience was at the home of Diana – our driver extraordinaire. He invited us to lunch at his compound on my last day in Bali – and he and his wife started preparing the day before.

I arrived at their place about 30 minutes early (I’d walked back from downtown Ubud – it’s hard to judge how long the walk will take) – and I’m relaxing in the shade when I realize that men are delivering a huge wooden table and 6 simple but elegant wooden chairs to Diana’s house. He bought a table and chairs so that they could serve us lunch.

Think about it – he went out and bought a table – he didn’t have one when he invited us over for lunch – and then figured he’d need something to feed us on. Later I asked about it – and he said he’d decided that it would be easier on us – and besides he didn’t have one. He and his wife rarely get the luxury of eating together – they work crazy hours – so you eat when you are personally hungry.

The meal they served us – while less variety then the Jungle Feast – was positively delicous. A whole roasted chicken – Diana said it was boiled – but the skin was a bit crispy – so maybe boiled then roasted? Yummy in any case. There was Rice – of course. There were the traditional long bean vegetable dish – which was delightful. They served Chicken Satay – which put me into the mind set of Kebbe – it was seasoned ground chicken wrapped around a bamboo stick and then grilled. I ate 5. There was roasted pork – full fat of course – and wonderful.

After the meal they served us leaf wrapped sticky rice – one set had bananas in the rice, the other had coconut. Diana refered to these as snack food – you can put a bunch into a backpack – and pull one out when you feel a bit needy.

The meal ended with ice cream – in celebration of me – the Lady who stops for Ice Cream.

My description simply can’t do justice to the depth of flavors there were in these dishes – again – salty, sweet, bitter, sour – all the taste buds rejoyed with every bite.

After lunch, and a tour of the compound, Diana took us to meet one of his uncles – who has 5 fighting cocks. The old man gladly showed me how to hold the bird and massage him – something that all the cock fighter owners do on a daily basis to keep the birds in perfect shape. Easy once you learned the trick – hold both wings down – or the bird will start flapping and things get seriously out of control from there!

During another trip around the island, we stop at a coffee roaster to see how they make Litwak coffee – that’s the one where the Civet cat eats the coffee beans, and then the cat shit is roasted. They also had ginger tea, lemon grass tea, coffee with ginger, and even plain coffee. It was all delicious, but horribly expensive – so while I tasted – I didn’t buy.

So – while in Bali – I’ve had Crispy Duck, Chicken Curry, Fried Pork, Beef Rendang, more rice that I ever thought I’d eat, at least a dozen different flavors of ice pops, long beans, tempe and soy beans prepared in many different ways, fried chicken, fried eels, Banana Pancakes, fried rice with vegges, fried noodles with veggies, and enough Mangosteens to sink a battle ship.

I didn’t try Dragon Fly – apparently a staple of Diana’s diet when he was growing up, the only fish I had was Tuna – although I saw tons of fish at the daily morning fish market – ranging from all kids of groupers, to cuttle fish, shrimp, small sliver fish (herring?), octopus, shark fins, and a host of fish that I didn’t quite for sure recognize out of the ocean. We ate at a wide range of restaurant types – some more touristy then other – prices ranging from $2.50 per person to $25 per person. We generally avoided alcohol – although the local beer – Bintang – is supposed to be quite good. And we never ever ate at a buffet.

And yes – I did 3 different grocery stores – just to see what purchased foods look like here.

Overall Food in Bali – a super easy 5 stars!

Signing off to consider her next meal in Bali – The Soup Lady

Food aboard the Manguanna – Komodo Cruising – Komodo National Park


Scuba Diving is hungry work. I looked it up – and scuba diving for an hour burns 333 calories. 3 to 4 dives a day – you are talking twice my normal diet! So food is going to be important – divers want food now – and they want it plentiful – and of course they want it good.

How does the chef on the Manguanna deliver? Well – variable is the best answer.

The quantity is perfect – there are always left overs at every meal – even with 6 divers and 2 dive masters chomping in. And there’s more than just 3 meals – there’s a cooked snack after the mid day dive, plus food available in the common area fridge. So quantity – got that covered.

And there is certainly no question about the variety. We’ve eaten about 10 meals now – and there have been no repeats of the final dish. There are repeating ingredients however – banana shows up in about 1 of 4 meals, rice shows up in 3 out of 4 meals, and mystery meat appears in dishes almost all the time. There’s mystery beef, mystery chicken, and mystery fish, served grilled in the case of the fish – and in sauces in the case of the beef and chicken.

There is always something that looks like a vegetable – once it was an Inodesian dish of noodles and vegetables with peanut sauce (Yum), mostly it’s sliced tomatoes with seasoning – or sliced cucumbers with seasoning – or a mixure of both. My husband would be moaning about the overall quality – but I’m happy. It’s hot, well cooked, not overly salty (everyone but me adds salt), and the chef always makes a smoothie to go with lunch and dinner.

My favorite – last nights Pineapple smoothie. Delicous.

For desert – fruit. We’ve had watermelon, Passion fruit, Pineapple, etc. There’s a big box of Khong Guan Biscuits – the club price size – sitting out at all times if you need a munch. Plus loaves of bread, peanut butter – and a variety of Indonesian spreads (Brand is Morin) – Orange Marmalade, Strawberry Jam, Pineapple Jam, Chocolate Peanut, Morin Kaya Spread (with a picture of a coconut on the label), and of course Nutello. The Sisters – being Swiss – are doing a number on the Nutello!

Breakfast is hit or miss. The first morning the chef blew me away with his banana pancakes – oh man were they good. Since then its been more American Dinner with a kick – Pancakes with Hot Dogs, Sunny side up eggs on top of Ramen Noodles, like that. I keep hoping that those banana pancakes will come back – but even if they don’t I’m ok. I had 2 of those!

What’s notably lacking is brewed coffee. So I’ve been coffee free for 2 days and have the caffeine withdrawal headaches to show for it. But it’s probably better for my diving in the long run – so I’m avoiding all caffinated beverages – its water, water and soda water. Plus those smoothies lets not forget.

So – bottom line on the food. A for punctual. A for quanitity. And a C+ for quality. But I’m a tough judge, and those pancakes were wonderful – Ok – give him a B for quality. You don’t have to be 5 star to impress me.

Signing off to go on dive #10! – The Soup Lady blowing bubbles your way….