Posts tagged ‘europe’

Packing a Picnic


Our daily life in Orebic was all about relaxation. We would run along the ocean in the morning, then walk to the market for fresh bread and any odds and ends we needed for the day. After a breakfast of fresh fruit and bread with nutella, we would make sandwiches and pack our picnic lunch for the beach. We would spend hours relaxing in front of the beautiful Adriatic Sea, alternating between swimming, reading and napping. Put best by Melissa, “The extent of my planning right now is to finish this chapter, turn over, and then take a nap.” If that isn’t relaxing, I don’t know what is!


There is pretty much only one type of bread in Croatia, just baked into a bunch of different shapes and sizes! One of my bakery transactions was solo, since Azra was picking up something at the pharmacy next door. I stood in front of the wall of bread trying to figure out what to get, when the woman informed me that they were all basically the same and it was impossible to make a bad choice. How true that is when the bread is freshly baked each day! We got huge round rolls one morning, which were bigger than my face! Another morning, we decided to get the longer sandwich rolls.



The sandwiches were pretty simple – tomatoes and cucumbers, cheese, and ajvar. But they were oh so tasty! Ajvar is an Eastern European spread made of roasted red peppers and tons of spices. I miss it so much! It took what is a pretty plain sandwich to a whole new level! I either need to find somewhere in Boston to purchase this or figure out a way to make it on my own… any recommendations? ;)


We also got to enjoy picnic lunches while on the beach in Italy, and were quite adept at pulling together to-go meals for long travel rides. Simple meals of bread and cheese can be really satisfying when they are good quality, and eaten by starving travelers! Some fresh fruit on the side for balance and you have yourself a simple, portable and satisfying lunch.

Question: What is your idea of the perfect picnic?



September 2, 2011 at 9:00 am 4 comments

Life Lessons from Sergio

What could be better than spending a week relaxing in the Italian countryside? You wake up in the mid-morning, with fresh bread and homemade jam awaiting you in the kitchen, and all of the sweetest apricots and plums your heart could desire. You head out for a morning tour, come back for an afternoon nap, and enjoy a gourmet dinner in a beautiful garden in the evening. Pretty much idyllic, right? My friend and her parents were the most gracious hosts. They treated us to the most relaxing and indulgent Italian vacation I could have hoped for, and it was exactly what I needed to recover from a stressful year.


To make this all even better, Miriam’s parents are cyclists! They met while on a cycling trip through Italy, and continue to go on short and long rides through the countryside. Their household is well stocked with bikes, both for around-town use as well as for distance cycling. Miriam’s dad, Sergio, was particularly excited to learn that I, too, was a novice cyclist. He proposed a 60-km bike adventure, which Miriam feared would counteract all of the relaxing and indulging we had been partaking in. She warned me, “Don’t feel bad if you want to say no…” How could I say no? My own guided tour of the Italian countryside, on a bike? Is it possible that this trip keeps getting better?!

Sergio pulled out the map to briefly explain to me our destination: Nonantola, a small town half way between Bologna and Modena. It would be approximately a 30-km ride in each direction, and we could stop for a coffee break once in town. He did not need to plan out a route, as he has ridden to and from this town many, many times. It is his regular route for a nice, long ride through the countryside. He then brought me out to the garage to find the bike that would best suit me. After adjusting the seat and making sure everything was in working order, I got the rest of my borrowed gear in order: a helmet, bike shorts from Miriam’s mom, a water bottle and a handlebar bag for essentials.

We awoke early the next morning, wanting to set out early to avoid the notorious July heat. We had a quick breakfast of bread and jam, and were off. The beginning of the ride was through fields I was already familiar with, as Miriam had shown us the area directly surrounding her house on more relaxed evening rides. We used this time to get used to each other’s pace – I surprised him with how fast I could manage, and I recounted my survival stories of biking in Boston and my recent triathlon training. He told me stories from the trip when he met Linda, and various other cycling trips they have taken throughout Italy. On small back roads, we could ride side-by-side to enjoy conversation. Whenever cars would come or we would hit an intersection, he would graciously slow down to let me go in front. This is the first lesson that my bike ride with Sergio taught me: chivalry is not dead, so ladies go first. (Unless you sneak up behind them to take a picture, that is!)


We continued our ride, making small talk about the surrounding agriculture and swapping stories of anything that crossed our minds. He told me bits of history about Bologna, and filled me in on the Berlusconi scandal and the current state of Italian politics. My favorite tidbits: the meanings of road names and town names, which often have funny back stories. Often times, I would just sit and listen to his narration of the scenery. Sometimes, we would enjoy the peaceful silence. When I would share a story, Sergio would gently prod me, “Can you say that again, more slowly?” Life lesson number two: speak slowly! I know that I speak way too quickly, and am always reminded of this when English is not someone’s first language. Sergio has an incredible mastery of English and is brilliant, and yet still could not always grasp what I was saying. Imagine how I might make someone feel, especially a future patient, if they cannot understand what I am saying when I am in a rush? So from now on, I will be more conscious to speak more slowly.


We finally arrived in Nonantola, our midway point. This is home of a beautiful medieval church, the entrance of which is surrounded by carvings that depict the life and death of Christ. The inside of the church remains simple and elegant, spared from the Baroque remodeling that is typical of many older Italian churches. I really enjoy the simplicity of such old churches, and appreciate that all of the decorations and altars are in place as a reminder of Christ’s life. As we walked around the church and its grounds, Sergio pulled out his camera. I knew that he was an amazing photographer based on all of the beautiful portraits of his family from around the house, but wasn’t so excited to have what I felt a unphotogenic moment documented! I mean, I had just rode 28 km, was sweaty and definitely had a case of helmet hair, and was in bike shorts… not so hot. But I did not protest, my desire for pictures from this adventure outweighing my vanity. This is where I learned another lesson: the value of a photograph. I snap away with my endless digital memory, capturing a few good shots out of many. With film, the value is in being slow and deliberate with your camera settings, and really taking time and effort to set up each picture. Now I know why their house is filled with so many excellent portraits – the man behind the camera has the patience to set up the shot and the skill to capture emotion.



We took a quick coffee break at the cafe overlooking the church, where I learned the brief history of what put Nonantola on the map. During World War II, the priest and the congregation began to give assistance to Jewish children fleeing the Nazis. They provided them with temporary food and shelter for a year, and then helped them escape the town as if they were school children going on a trip. The children eventually made it all the way to Yugoslavia, and were able to stay there safely until the end of the war. To this day, there is a charitable organization in honor of this priest and the Jewish children he saved. I listened attentively to this story while sipping espresso and watching the local residents mill about the town on a lazy Sunday. I learned yet another lesson: there is always time to stop and enjoy a coffee, even in the middle of a long ride!


We returned to our bikes and set out for home, taking a different set of countryside roads. We continued to chat, and passed through even more fields of sunflowers. Even though they had begun to whither the day before, they were standing tall on this day, as if affirming what an excellent morning it was to enjoy the Italian countryside. The 30-km return journey passed with no time at all, and soon we were at home, exhausted but exhilarated from our morning. I can only hope to be in such good shape when I am Sergio’s age! Another life lesson: long standing healthy habits of real food and regular exercise do make a difference in the long run. I mean, the man just biked his age in km… pretty impressive!



Not only was I lucky enough to go on this long bike ride, as well as a farming and cheese making tour (story recounted here), but I also got to see Sergio again in Boston. During their month in the states visiting family and friends, we met up for ice cream at J. P. Licks on Newbury. (We both agreed – good, but not as good as the gelato in Bazzano!) We talked about my trip to Prague, my triathlon, and our family vacations. We planned for a bike ride along the Boston Harbor next year, and said good-bye for now. He gave me prints of the pictures he took from the bike ride. This is where I learned the last lesson: there is nothing better than the gift of a photograph. Especially one that was taken with a film camera, with thought behind why the photo was taken, and in which the print is a precious commodity. These memories and pictures will be some of my most treasured, icons from a thoughtful and insightful bike ride through the Italian countryside.



Note: Most of these pictures are photographs of prints, since I do not have access to a scanner. If/when I have time to make digital copies, I will update them, but for now they are merely an image that doesn’t do full justice to the print or the beauty I experienced.

August 30, 2011 at 7:00 am 10 comments

Wash it all Down with a Beer


I loved my time in Prague, but let’s just say the food there was not the highlight of my experience. Don’t get me wrong: I loved the architecture, had fun exploring the city, and really enjoyed experiencing all that Prague had to offer. Oh, and I loved the Czech pilsners. Why let food take the main stage, then, when the beer is so good?


A lot of our meals in Prague were not the healthiest. But they were good, and went really well with the beer. Some highlights: fried cheese, schnitzel, and Barvarian sausage. Fried cheese, or smažený sýr, is esentially a glorified mozzarella stick, but with a different cheese in the shape of a patty. You can enjoy it as an appetizer, a snack, or make it into a meal with the choice of American potatoes or French fries (can anyone guess the difference here?) Azra and I got this with an order of chicken schnitzel, a thin chicken breast dipped in egg and then coated in flour and lightly pan fried. Our schnitzel came with a mushroom sauce, and our choice of potato side. We got an order of American potatoes with one, essentially seasoned potato wedges, and fries with the other, and shared everything that was on the table. The American potatoes were so much better, or maybe I was just really missing home and extra-patriotic at this point! ;) Of course, we each had a big beer to help everything go down.


Another highlight delicacy street meal was a Barvarian sausage. It was our final night in Prague, and we were short on cash and full from our earlier heavier meal of svíčková. We stopped by a street vendor in Wenceslas Square, where Azra got a chicken burger and I, going all out for one of my last days as an omnivore, got a sausage. It was my first time in three years (the last time was an Italian sausage at Fenway Park). It was tasty greasy, and filling, like any good street dog should be. Not a decision I would repeat, but a fun way to spend our last beautiful night – sitting outside, enjoying the food, tourist watching, and soaking up the scenery.



August 25, 2011 at 9:00 am 8 comments

Quality Ingredients

As I share about my trip with all of my friends back in Boston, I keep hearing the same question: “How was the food in Italy?” Obvious answer, here! Amazing! Everything I ate was incredible, and so 90% of the time I forgot to take a picture. I am sorry, but I was too immersed in the moment. The overarching theme of every meal, however, was the quality of the ingredients. We were lucky enough to be staying in the countryside that surrounds Bologna, the food capital of Italy the world. Not only are they known for their excellent Bolognese sauce, rich lasagna, and amazing wine and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, but they also have so many great local fruits and veggies! Every field is planted with a different crop: soy beans, corn, sugar beets, wheat, plums, pears, apples, apricots… so many different kinds of cool produce. My favorite were the fields of sunflowers, grown as crop for seed to make oil. We hit at the perfect time to see them in full glory! In just one day, they had begun to wilt and dry up, on their way to a seed crop’s dry fate.

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The small-scale production and freshness really made a difference. We snacked on plain tomatoes, enjoyed fresh salads and green beans with dinner, were satisfied by sweet fruit for breakfast and dessert. I fell in love with tiny apricots and amazing figs, and have never enjoyed tomatoes more.


Although we got to see beautiful churches, fancy monuments, and tons of cool historical sites, it is possible that my favorite place in Bologna was the market that Miriam took us to. It is only open in the mornings, so we braved the morning heat to see what they had to offer.
We paused at the fish market outside to look at all of the cool (and, to me, exotic) seafood you could find for reasonable prices! We window shopped for a bit, and then Miriam took us to her favorite market. This wasn’t any old salumeria, even though legs of cured prosciutto hung from every rafter. Every shelf and corner was piled high with gigantic wheels of gourmet cheese, fresh and dried pastas, unique jellies, specialty oils and vinegars, and amazing Italian wines. I was in food gawking heaven. I literally circled the shop twice trying to take it all in. We sampled a few cheeses and brought a few more home, pulling ourselves away before compulsively buying everything that caught our eye.

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Too bad I have an exam coming up on Friday or I would hop on my bike now to get to the North End, the Italian section of Boston with great specialty grocers. Too bad the prices are so high there because of the import tariffs and I probably couldn’t afford much anyway! Oh to dream of times past and times to come.

 Question: What is your favorite food item to splurge on?

August 23, 2011 at 7:30 am 3 comments

Where Coffee Takes More Time Than Lunch

How does one have enough hours in a day to enjoy both leisurely meals and coffee? In America, we decide not to choose and rush through both. In Bosnia, however, day time meals tend to be slightly more rushed to ensure a lengthy coffee break in the afternoon. I have shared a little bit about my experience with Bosnian coffee and the way Bosnians celebrate with special meals, so now here is a glimpse into the daily food life in Sarajevo.


Fast food is definitely not an American concept. Just watch Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and you’ll see that fast, street food is ubiquitous. What is unique is that fast food actually tastes good in other countries, and is something people are proud of! A common sight on the streets of Sarajevo is a vendor selling roasted corn, leading to funny glimpses of people walking down the street just nibbling off the cob. Ice cream stands are everywhere, and they sure are marketed well! The pans are filled to the brim with volumes of fluffy flavors, and night they are back-lit so that they really stand out.


Not hard to sell ice cream on a hot day in the first place, but these were truly irresistible. The rest of the stands are filled with national favorites like cevapi, pita, and hamburger (not just any hamburger, but a pressed sandwich closer to the size of your face than your hand. My friend’s theory as to why the first McDonald’s being built in Sarajevo will be unpopular – the burgers are too small!). These are eaten quickly or taken to go, and for really cheap! Each meal on the street cost $5 – to feed three of us!


Ćevapi is actually the name of the meat served in the dish, but also refers to the platter that you order. They are like sausage links, but are made of ground beef and lamb, since most Bosnians are Muslim and there are no pork products to be found anywhere in Sarajevo (as far as I could tell). They come stuffed inside a giant piece of bread called somun, almost like pita since it forms a pocket but much fluffier and softer. This is served with raw chopped onion on the side, which sounds intense but actually really complements the sweet flavors of the meat and softness of the bread well. Alongside, it is customary to have a plain yogurt drink, which tastes like yogurt but is much thinner in consistency. That is nice to dampen any spice and onion flavor left on your tongue!


Pita is the general term for the pies that are found in most cafes and bakeries. They are made of layers of phyllo dough, stuffed with different fillings, and then rolled. Homemade versions lead to personal sized rolls, but the bakery makes gigantic pita that they then cut and serve. Pita filled with ground beef is called burek; with spinach and cheese, zeljanica; and with potato, krompiruša. They are greasy, but delicious and packed with flavor. We got a piece of each to try on our picnic to the Vrelo Bosne, the beautiful springs at the start of the River Bosna. I think the spinach and cheese was my favorite, but they were all so good it was hard to choose! The water at Vrelo Bosne is ice cold and crystal clear, and the park is naturally divided into perfect picnic spots by all of these little springs. A nice change of scenery from the usual people watching along busy streets in Sarajevo!


Question: How do you like the new look for my blog? 

August 18, 2011 at 8:00 am 124 comments

A Day Trip to Dresden

“Wanna go to Germany for the day?” Sure, why not! The blessing and curse of traveling in continental Europe is how close and easily accessible everything is. We traveled from Prague to Dresden in 3 hrs for less than 600 Kc (divide that by 17 to get to USD – such fun mental math, right?) and were able to see the city and a bit of German countryside in a nicely packaged day trip. However, I also feel like this might be a trap for a lot of overly enthusiastic backpackers. We saw many people camped out at various train stations throughout Europe, and overheard excited college students talking about spending one day here and another day there and an afternoon somewhere else. With a pace that fast, how do you really get to experience the place that your visiting? Maybe it works for some people, but I really enjoyed getting to spend a little longer in each of the countries I visited, even if we only spent a day in certain cities.


With that being said, I am really happy that I got to go to Germany even if just for a day. I connected through Munich twice before going to Dresden, and through Dusseldorf once more on my way home. I can’t make a pitstop in a country without ever seeing one of its cities! Dresden was also my only option for a study abroad program in college as a science major, and I chose not to go because it was too early in my curriculum for me to feel comfortable venturing to Europe on my own. I also wanted to see what real Germans were like, since I was most often confused for a German and not American tourist while abroad (the Lufthansa flight attendants seemed to have the hardest time figuring out where I was from, but I was also stopped on the street a few times in Prague for directions by German speaking tourists). Even though I only spent a day in Germany, I accomplished two of my three goals! I got to see all of the Old Town, which has been completely rebuilt since the bombings in WWII. I am unsure if I actually got to see too many Germans since we were mainly in tourist areas, though!


With only one day, it is hard to tell what I think of German food. I can say that I struggled to find something to order from the menu. I was on beef overload from the previous few days in Prague, but was rescued when my friend spotted a salted herring dish. Seafood is not a mainstay in German cuisine, except for this salted fish. It was a young herring, so the fish was split and served whole overtop a sour cream based slaw (I think it had gherkin and apples?) with a side of parsley potatoes. Each ingredient on its own was not enjoyable. The fish was really salty, the potatoes a bit bland, and the cream sauce missing something. However, when all three components came together in one bite, it was heavenly. I am glad I got to try this instead of trying to find something more “traditional.” It was unique and definitely stuck out as something completely different from what I eat at home as well as what I ate on my trip. Plus, the salty fish paired perfectly with a big, German unfiltered beer! Can’t go to Germany without getting one of those, now, can you?


August 17, 2011 at 8:00 am 1 comment

Whine and Cheese

Year 2 of med school started Monday, and all I really want to do is whine about how much reading there already is. Well, honestly, it would be manageable if I could motivate myself to do a little bit each day! But instead three days have already piled up, leaving me a whining, complaining mess. (I’ll break out the world’s smallest violin for myself, thanks!) End of my venting… I’ll cheer up thinking about all of the goodies up for grabs in CCK’s amazing give away, and remembering some awesome stories from my vacation!

My new favorite indulgence is wine and cheese. That’s not completely true. I loved wine and I loved cheese before I left, but my love was renewed as I sampled some of the best cheese I have ever tried. I have already taken you on my tour through the Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese making process, but that is not the only cheese I got to indulge in in Italy. Especially during the summer, it is too hot to eat dinner much earlier than dusk, which doesn’t happen until 8:30 or 9pm. With lunch at 1pm, that is a long time between meals! It is common instead to enjoy an apertivo, usually a glass of white wine with a platter of meats and cheeses. We biked to the neighboring town one evening, where there is a great cafe on the town square that Miriam’s family favors for a pre-dinner drink. For just a few euro, we got a refreshing glass of local white wine, and a platter of some of the best cheese I have ever tasted. My favorite was the drunken cheese, a cow’s milk cheese aged in red wine. Not hearing the description of what everything was, I just happily munched away. I reached for a piece of the purple-y pink cheese, thinking it was actually a bit of cured ham. I exclaimed, “This is so good… it almost tastes like cheese!” A little bit of a blonde moment…


My cheese indulgences didn’t end in Italy! Before we left for Dresden, our host told us of a dairy that we simply had to visit. It was a little bit off the beaten path, but well worth the trip.
The entire inside of the shop was decorated with blue-and-white tile and porcelain statues. I found out after sneaking a few pictures that cameras weren’t allowed… oops! After exploring the beautiful store for a few minutes, we made our way to the cheese counter to pick out a few cheeses for dinner.
The woman spoke little English, and we spoke little German, but we relied on key distinctions like sharp or mild, Saxon, small or big, try or buy. We sampled several, but only purchases three small pieces. One was half a round of French Camembert, the second a piece of smoked Saxon Gouda, and the last an aged, herbed Saxon cheese whose real name I didn’t recognize. Each was unique and excellent, and made a perfect train picnic with a few rolls picked up from the bakery down the street! I particularly enjoyed the smoked cheese with the seedy rye bread as the beautiful German countryside rolled past the train window. A great splurge!

August 11, 2011 at 7:00 am 4 comments

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