From Travel Tips on Airfarewatchdog by Ricky Radka.
Now, I have my own list, which has served me well over the years. I am not a big fan of carrying extra items on a long flight, and for two to three weeks on the ground at my destination.
Of the items listed above, I have only packed Bose headphones. I rely on the airline to provide a pillow, and blanket. Compression socks are a great idea, I have some, and need to start bringing and wearing them. For sleep, I always obtain a prescription from my doctor for zolpidem (brand name Ambien). I use it on any flight over 5 or 6 hours.
But my secret for sleeping on a long flight: upgrade with your miles or points to First Class. It works every time!!
I also prefer the row with just a single seat, whether on the window or center.
I always take my shoes off, and use the socks provided by the amenity kit.
I always bring a bottle of water and a light snack.
Post pandemic, I also bring hand sanitizer and sanitary wipes.
See you in Asia or Europe very soon, I hope!
PS: Singapore Airlines in First Class is heavenly.
Just the other day, someone asked about my best sandwich ever. I have given it some thought, and here are my answers. I had to categorize my answers, as the sandwich spectrum is just too broad.
Best Banh Mi Without a doubt, it was in Hanoi, about a block from my Old Town hotel. I have been there on two different trips, and the taste and quality are outstanding. Cars drive by, run in and pick up a “to go” bag, so it must be well accepted by the locals. The pork banh mi has moist meat, flavorful condiments, and the best pickled radish. One sandwich is not enough, but two is way too much.
Best Burger Hands down, the best burger we ever had was at the El Tovar Dining Room at the Grand Canyon. What made it so good? Maybe it was the snow on the ground, and having arrived by railway to the Grand Canyon. Maybe it was the medium rare beef, or the melted brie. It was memorable! I highly suggest it when you go to the Grand Canyon.
Best Cheesesteak When in Philly, you must try the cheesesteak at several joints. I was in the employee cafeteria of an insurance company where I was doing a consulting gig. The guy who hired me insisted on buying my lunch in the employee cafeteria, hardly a great venue for an esteemed guest. But for the week I was there, having tried numerous cheesesteaks, theirs was the best! Name of the place? Fidelity Union, I think.
Best Pastrami Sandwich Where else but Vegas, baby? The Carnegie Deli at the Mirage has a pastrami that is both huge and over the top! Make sure you share or plan on taking it home after! It stands about 6 inches tall, and might be the biggest sandwich I have ever seen. And I ordered the small one!
Best Grilled Cheese You would never guess where we had the best. It was at a small airport cafe’ in Lima, Peru. We needed a snack, so we had a bowl of tomato soup (also excellent), and a simple grilled cheese. It was heavenly, both simple, and substantial.
Best Beef You guessed it, a Chicago beef at Portillo’s, Chicago. They have a new location in Scottsdale, also quite good. The beef is sliced ultra-thin, quite moist, flavorful, and heavenly. Add some fries, and a beer = perfection!
Best Hot Dog I still harken back to my days, when I volunteered every Monday night at the Berkeley Free Clinic. I got off work at 6pm, and had just enough time to grab a hot dog at the Top Dog in Berkeley. Order any dog on the menu, they are all great!!!
Best Lobster Roll Having been to Maine, my favorite is still right here in California at Old Port Lobster Shop in Redwood City. They fly the lobster in daily. And they know how to make their sides. The slaw has a definite flavor of maple syrup!!! If you have time to kill before catching a plane, stop by.
Best Shish Kebab Sandwich Now defunct, I am sure, but old Omar Khayyam’s in downtown San Francisco had the best. I was probably just 14 or 15, when I first went. My Mom made great shish at home, but this sandwich was beyond words. Closer to home, I like the kababs at Kabab City in Fowler, and the old 500 Club in downtown Clovis.
Best Po’ Boy There is only one Johnny’s, and it is located in Nawlins, not far-off Bourdon Street. Order the works, which includes fried oysters. The line is always out the door, but it goes fast. Breakfast is also very good there.
Best fried fish sandwich I might be partial, but the fish and chips at Wimbledon (England) were positively delightful, with a beer, on a warm afternoon. It might be the only dish the English know how to prepare well!!
Best Italian Sandwich You will never find it (nor will I), but Fratelli’s in Denver might be the best sandwich I have ever had. Piled high with meat, just enough spices and sauce to make it delightful, this is the king of sandwiches!!!
Best Sausage Sandwich Many of you saw this one coming. Of course, I make Italian sausage each year with my brother. This sausage makes the BEST sandwich. We cook it with onions, peppers, and homemade tomato sauce. We smother an Italian roll with this combo, and attack it with a beer and a fork!
Best Deli Sandwich The Sweet Affair in Walnut Creek makes the best turkey sandwich, complete with cranberry sauce and cream cheese, sprouts and lettuce. By far, numero uno delicioso.
Best Veggie Sandwich Who among you remembers the Whole Earth chain of “healthy” food joints? The one in Berkeley got my attention in the 70s. Their tomato and avocado sandwich, with sprouts on whole grain remains the best I have EVER had.
Best Tri Tip Sandwich You would never guess the location, but it was Lodi, while on a cycling ride through the wine country. The Michael David Winery on Highway 12 has a great little cafe. The trip tip sandwich with grilled asparagus was outstanding, especially with a glass of their Inkblot Cab franc!
So, I am sure each of you has a sandwich that stands out above all others. The sandwich is a great lunch, sometime a good breakfast, but rarely a good dinner.
So, Winespeed has taken up my campaign to give Chenin blanc a fair chance on your dinner table. I enjoy it with seafood, pasta, cheese, and fruit.
South Africa accounts for 53% of the world’s total planted acreage of chenin blanc. France grows 28%, primarily in the Loire Valley, and together the U.S. and Argentina split another 15%. For centuries chenin blanc was (and it still remains) South Africa’s most planted grape. Sometimes known there as steen, it was one of the first grapes to arrive on the Cape in the1650s. Historically, far more white grapes than red were grown in South Africa—a reflection of the past importance of cheap South African “sherry” and brandy which were based on white grapes that could be grown at astronomical yields (and consequently little flavor or complexity).
Chenin blanc is also able to retain acidity relatively well in hot climates. Lots of South African chenin blanc is pleasant and simple at best. But treasure troves of old chenin blanc vineyards can still be found, and many young winemakers are dedicated to saving these old vineyards and making amazingly delicious wines—both dry and sweet—from them.
So, what is Chenin blanc? Chenin Blanc Wine Profile (from Wine Folly)
Chenin Blanc Characteristics
FRUIT: yellow apple, quince, pear, baked apple, bruised apple, passion fruit, lime, honeydew melon, peach, persimmon, mandarin orange OTHER: lemon verbena, ginger, honey, honeysuckle, jasmine, chamomile, saffron, apple blossom, coleslaw (oxidative styles), sake, cheese rind(oxidative styles), hay OAK: buttered popcorn, butterscotch, lemon curd, nutmeg, baked apple, graham cracker, meringue, marzipan, brioche ACIDITY: medium-plus to high acidity ABV: 12-14.5%South Africa golds over 50% of the world’s Chenin blanc. Yet, when we were there, the Chenin blanc was rather disappointing. We tried several, from wine shops in both Cape Town, and out in Stellenbosch. I have found better ones here on the west coast, particularly in Napa Valley, and Washington. Chenin Blanc Has a Variety of Flavor Profiles
As a white wine, Chenin Blanc has a wide range of flavors. Part of the reason for this has a lot to do with the winemaking style.
Dry: When the grapes are fermented dry and kept fresh, they produce a very lean, minerally style Chenin Blanc that offers up flavors of tart pear, quince, ginger, and chamomile.
Off-Dry: When some of the grapes’ natural sugars are left in the wine, you’ll taste richer flavors of ripe pear, ginger, jasmine, passion fruit, and honeycomb.
Sweet: Sweeter styles of Chenin Blanc have flavors of dried persimmon, toasted almond, mango, ginger, and mandarin orange.
Sparkling: Sparkling styles can range from dry (Brut) to sweet (Demi-Sec), with Chenin Blanc’s classic characteristics of quince, yellow apple, plum, ginger, and floral notes.
Chenin Blanc Food Pairings
Think Sweet and Sour. Because of Chenin Blanc’s awesome acidity and inherently sweet flavor, you’ll find it pairs well with foods that have a sweet and sour element. Southeast Asian cuisine or pork chops with apples paired with a richer and sweeter style Chenin Blanc will blow your mind.
Hello Turkey Dinner. There are several white wines out there with enough gusto to moisten even the driest turkey. Try a high quality South African Chenin Blanc with your Thanksgiving dinner. It will even handle cranberry sauce like it was born to do so.I have always touted a Chenin blanc or dry Riesling for our Thanksgiving dinner. I am okay with chardonnays, but have become somewhat tired of their “oakey and buttery” characteristics. Meat Pairings
Veal, Trout, Chicken, Turkey, Pork Chop, Guinea Foul, Halibut, Smoked Salmon, Terrine, Pâte. I think liver pate’ might be a great choice!
Spices and Herbs
Cinnamon, Dill, Tarragon, Turmeric, Ginger, Fenugreek, Fennel, Clove, Marjoram, Allspice, Red Pepper Flakes, Cilantro, Cumin, Coriander, Fennel, Macadamia Nut, Peanut, Cashew, Sesame Seed. I think hot mustard might be a good pairing.
Soft to semi-firm cow’s milk cheeses, such as triple-cream brie, gruyere, cream cheese, yoghurt and cheddar work very well with Chenin Blanc. Also try herb-crusted goat cheeses. Add one of my favorites, camembert.
Vegetables & Vegetarian Fare
Squash, Jicama, Guava, Shallot, Chives, Savoy Cabbage, Yam, Carrot, Cauliflower, Oyster Mushroom, Corn, Red Bell Pepper, Apple, Quince, Pear. I would add carrots, celery, and radishes.
Chenin Blanc Wine Regions
The largest producer of Chenin Blanc is South Africa.
In South Africa, Chenin Blanc is sometimes blended with Semillon, Viognier, and Marsanne to make a richer-styled wine similar to an oaked Chardonnay but with a sweeter taste. Also in South Africa, Chenin Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc are blended to create a fresh and zesty dry wine.
Loire Valley, France
In the cooler Loire Valley of France, the ripeness of Chenin Blanc can be so uneven that grapes are usually selected by hand in successive passes through the vineyard.
Highly acidic, less ripe grapes make a great base for sparkling wines.
Riper grapes are used in the richly aromatic, off-dry styles.
BTW, I love the Loire region, mostly for their cremants.
Finally, at the end of the harvest season, the last grapes picked are affected with noble rot, which concentrates the grapes’ sugars and lends to rich flavors of orange marmalade, ginger, and saffron. These late harvest grapes go into the blending of the famous sweet wines of the region, including Quarts de Chaume and Bonnezeaux.
This is more than you ever wanted to know about Chenin blanc. But I suggest you give it a try. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Interesting information: Annual consumption has been growing steadily for decades, and last year reached about 39 pounds per person; that’s about three-fourths of a pound per week. But as we nibble away, concerns about calories, sodium, and fat persist. So where does cheese fit in a healthy diet?
Fat and calories What is the typical nutrition profile for cheese? A typical slice (22 grams) of Swiss Cheese is 86 calories, with 6.8 grams of fat, 5.9 grams of protein, and zero fiber and sugar. Mozzarella is one of the lowest calorie (78 calories per ounce) cheeses. An ounce of brie is about 100 calories. Colby, jack, edam and gouda are much higher.
Pairings For a festive cheese board, with great variety:
Meat Replacement While I enjoy all of the meat family, cheese works well in certain dishes, as a meat substitute. Pasta comes to mind first, in casseroles and salads. Try my great Five Cheese Penne Pasta that I sent for the Twelfth Day of Christmas. Some real cheese heads just use a block of their favorite cheese as their main dish! I am not sure what the right answer might be. A few of my favorites are fontina, Havarti, gouda, and Jarlsberg. On the softer side, camembert, and brie are at the top of my list.
Dessert When this first came up, I was a college student, in a French restaurant for the first time. Imagine my surprise! After the initial shock, I started to enjoy it. I prefer a lighter, creamery cheese, rather than the stronger, drier cheeses for dessert. My rule of thumb? The nicer the restaurant, the better the cheese selection. Add a nice port or dessert wine! An older, single malt Scotch also pairs well.
With wine This is my favorite combination. The combination improves both the wine and the cheese. My top choice is champagne with brie. I have a preference for softer cheeses, though the harder ones are typically healthier in fat and calorie content.
People tend to focus on the calories, rather than the taste. I understand. But cheese is an indulgence well worth the calories!!! I would love to hear your favorites.
About the only promise I can make for 2021 is more wine information. I have really enjoyed learning more about wine, the vines, and the various countries that produce wine.
Who is the parent? (per Winespeed): DNA fingerprinting at the University of California, Davis in the late 1990s identified gouais blanc (goo-AY blahnk) as one of the ancient “founder varieties.” As such, it is a parent or grandparent to at least 81 distinct western European grape varieties including such disparate varieties as chardonnay, riesling, muscadelle, blaufränkisch, and colombard. Derived from the old French adjective “gou”—a term of derision befitting its traditional status as the grape of the peasants—gouais blanc is considered neutral to the point of mediocrity. Extremely little wine is produced from gouais blanc today, in fact it’s no longer even cultivated in France, where it originated. However, an impressive sweet wine is made from it in the Rutherglen region of Victoria, Australia by Chambers Rosewood Winery from 100+ year-old vines.
Reminds me of my visit to Sauterne: The furry gray mold-covered grapes that make Sauternes may look like miniature mice, but that Botrytis cinerea mold (also known as pourriturenoble or noble rot) is not washed off or in any other way removed before fermentation. In fact, it contributes to a Sauternes’ flavor—and not in a way that seems like something left too long in the back of the refrigerator. Botrytis adds an extra dimension, sometimes described as being faintly like sweet corn or mushrooms, to the overall complexity of the wines. The influence of Botrytis actually begins in the vineyard, as the beneficial mold punctures the grapes’ skins in search of water to germinate its spores, the water begins to evaporate and the grapes dehydrate. Inside the shriveled berries, the sugar in the juice becomes progressively more concentrated. The botrytis also alters the structure of the grapes’ acids, but the amount of acidity in the wine is not diminished—of crucial importance to balance the heightened sweetness in the finished wine. (from Winespeed). While Sauterne is not one of my favorites, the region has great food, namely bread, cheese, and other Bordeauxs.
What about moscato? Sixty seven% of moscato d’Asti is exported from Italy to the U.S., the leading market for the wine globally by a wide margin. Tradition in Italy calls for drinking at least a well-chilled glass of it on Christmas morning. The wine—delicate, lightly sweet, and gorgeously fruity—is particularly low in alcohol: 4.5% to 5.5%. Considered superior to Asti spumante, moscato d’Asti is not fully sparkling, just a tiny bit frizzante (fizzy). It is made from muscat blanc à petits grains grapes and is a specialty of Piedmont. What is the most visited winery in the United States? A winery in Napa or Sonoma, Central Cost, or Oregon? The Biltmore Winery is located in the Blue Ridge Mountains on the estate of George Vanderbilt, grandson of famed industrialist and philanthropist Cornelius Vanderbilt. Officially opened to Vanderbilt’s friends and family on Christmas Day, 1895, the Biltmore Estate was donated to the public by his daughter in 1930. Today, approximately 1.5 million visitors come to the estate annually to walk the more than four acres of floor space, including 35 bedrooms, 43 bathrooms, and 65 fireplaces. The estate reports that slightly fewer than half of those visitors make it over to the winery and tasting room, located in the original 1900 dairy barn.
Winemaker Sharon Fenchak notes, ”Since we’re in the Southeast, sometimes we are the first winery people ever visit.” Vanderbilt’s grandson, William A.V. Cecil, planted vineyards with French-American hybrid grapes on the estate in the early 1970s, and opened the winery in 1985. Today, wines are produced from 150 acres of chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and petit manseng from the property as well as grapes sourced from the West Coast. I was there last year, but the Estate was closed while I was in Asheville.
Can you believe only 14 states, plus Washington D.C. allow wine shipments from out-of-state wine retailers, compared to 45 that accept shipments from out-of-state wine producers. U.S. consumers must purchase imported wines through retailers (versus direct from the winery). States that ban shipments from out-of-state retailers limit consumer access to all the other wondrous wines of the world. For more information or to write your legislator, visit Free the Grapes.
Everyone seems optimistic about 2021, perhaps due to the vaccine, perhaps due to a new Administration in DC. Whatever the reason, let’s also keep trying new and different wines, and share the information.
One of my avid readers has forwarded a great wine story. During this pandemic, with restaurants and bars closing, a local Seattle business packages three different cases of wine. You can choose mixed cases of whites, reds, or sparklings, and a three different price points. I am told the wines are both inventive, and a great bargain. What a great idea.
New Year’s Day in a Japanese family is the most special day of the year, at least in my opinion. I miss these celebrations more than any other holiday. The three-day New Year holiday is a very special time in Japan, a time of solemn prayers and joyous greetings. While New Year’s Day is a holiday in many parts of the world, the occasion has a unique significance to the Japanese, who take the opportunity to begin anew many aspects of their lives. New Years is regarded in Japan as an auspicious occasion. As such, it is filled with traditional activities which, it is hoped, will result in a more successful year. The people particularly observe the age-old Japanese custom of not carrying-over any debts or tasks from the old year to the new. As the end of the year approaches, therefore, businessmen busily wind up their affairs of the old year. They try to pay all their obligations by New Year’s Eve. Even non-businessmen try to clear the slate by the end of the year. I wish I could do the same.
Homemakers all over the nation work extra hard preparing for the holiday. They must prepare many special foods, clean the house even more rigorously than usual, and make decorations for the holiday season. The cleaning is called Susuharai, or soot-sweeping. Both inside and outside the house, the stains, physical and spiritual, of the past year are rubbed out in order to purify the home and make it fresh for the New Year.
Then, on New Year’s Eve, a pine decoration known as Kadomatsu is set up on both sides of the front entrance. Some homes have elaborate Kadomatsu with bamboo added to the pine, as well as plum branches. The Kadomatsu is thought to welcome good luck into the house. Another, equally-important decoration is the Shimenawa, a sacred rope made of straw on which zig-zag strips of paper have been hung. This is placed above the front entrance in order to prevent “evil spirits” from entering the house.
My favorite part is the food. My Aunt in Fresno has graciously invited us to attend Shogatsu at her home. Many special dishes are prepared for the New Year celebration. An important food at New Year is Omochi, steamed rice that has been pounded and formed into cakes. There is actually a machine that has replaced making this by hand and wooden hammer. This is eaten either grilled on a frying pan or in a soup, known as Ozoni. Vegetable dishes are also popular during the New Year holiday, partly because they are easy to prepare and easy to store. Food shops generally remain closed throughout the holiday period, so it is necessary to stock up on all items.
Offerings are made to the household gods on a small table. The offerings usually consist of Omochi, dried persimmons, dried chestnuts, pine seeds, black peas, sardines, herring roe, a cray fish, a sea-bream, some dried cuttlefish, Mochibana, or flowers made of rice and straw, mandarin oranges, and many other items varying from district to district.
Preparations for the holiday are all completed by New Year’s Eve. By then, all businesses and nearly all stores are closed, and a calm settles over both city and countryside. During the three-day holiday period in Japan, known as Shogatsu Sanganichi , everyone except those who run amusement enterprises or are responsible for essential services, such as transportation, have a period of vacation. For many people in Japan, the year-end holiday actually begins around December 29, when all public offices begin their vacations. Others end their work either on the 30th or early on the 31 st. In recent years, therefore, more people have been taking advantage of the long holiday to travel to the countryside for skiing and skating, or for relaxing at hot spring resorts. We generally are not able to do this here in the United Sates.
On New Year’s Eve, most people spend their time with their families. Sons and daughters who have moved to the city return to their parents’ homes in the country if this is at all possible. That way the entire family greets the New Year together. Many families pass the evening watching special television programs. Others visit shrines and temples where they pray by the light of bonfires.
Customary Shogatsu foods include toshikoshi soba, a long buckwheat noodle eaten on New Years Eve that symbolizes long life. It is also customary to eat Osechi-ryori, a collection of traditional foods served together in the small sections of jubako box. Jubako box
Each food served in the jubako box carries its own symbolic meaning. For example, black soybeans symbolize health, while herring roe symbolizes the prospect of many children. Mochi, or sticky rice cakes, are made in the last days of the closing year, and eaten during Shogatsu. Mochi may be topped with persimmon or orange, and are used as a decoration as well as a food.
Added to this are many typical American foods, and foods that children are more likely to enjoy. These would include: shrimp and vegetable tempura, sushi, sashimi, teriyaki chicken, sato imo (a cousin of the taro), barbecued pork (char-siu), rice, renkon (lotus root), and edamame (soy beans). Many special desserts are also made for the holidays, including: chi chi dango, manju, yokan, and various traditional pastries.
Singapore is famous for its street food and Unesco has decreed that its hawkers centers have special cultural significance and are now on the Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. According to Unesco, community dining and culinary practices in a multicultural urban context is present throughout Singapore. Hawkers prepare a variety of food for people who dine and mingle at the centers, which serve as ‘community dining rooms’ where people from diverse backgrounds gather and share the experience of dining over breakfast, lunch and dinner. Activities such as chess-playing, busking and art-jamming also take place.
While Singapore is not one of my favorite places in SE Asia, the hawker stalls are a great experience. It can be a little overwhelming on the first visit. Too many choices, too many people, and too many good smells. We ate way too much, our eyes were bigger than our tummies. And notably, the locals linger, while the tourists eat too fast!
Moving on the KL and Malaysia: If Vienna has its coffee houses and Paris its chic cafes, then Kuala Lumpur has its kopitiams. From kopi, “coffee” in the Malay language, and tiam for “shop” in Hokkien Chinese, kopitiams are local coffee shops found all over Malaysia and in neighboring Singapore. But they are more than just coffee shops—they are social hangouts and an integral part of the local food culture.
Though I was staying in a fairly modern hotel, I ventured out to a kopitiam. Zero atmosphere, but setting up for a busy day. I was one of the first customers, and had some coffee and a small pastry. Slowly, ever so slowly, this place, and the surrounding neighborhood came alive. Though it was still dark, people were heading to work. I guess it was Starbucks in the style of Malaysia. The photo on the right is similar to the place I visited, perhaps a bit nicer.
Kopitiams are where busy executives go for a quick fix of their morning Kopi O, old men gather over games of chess, and groups of teenagers meet up to chat over a cup of thick and sweet kopi. Ariffin points out that Kuala Lumpur’s kopitiams are a symbol of the Muhibbah culture of this country – a word that refers to the spirit of camaraderie, tolerance, and friendship that embraces multiple communities within its fold. Indeed, Muhibbah is at the very core of this ethnically diverse country.
So, when you visit SE Asia, make sure you experience both of these, “only in SE Asia” events. The hawker stalls and the kopitiams. Then, you can tell me your story!
Since travel is restricted, with stay at home orders and lock downs, past trips to our fifty states become more fragrantly nostalgic and memorable. And the unique food from each state stands out even more. Here are some from my visits to all fifty.
Alaska I just had to try reindeer sausage on my first trip there. Of course, the seafood is also quite plentiful and fresh. Arizona I love the chile relleno, as well as the corn chowder, and pork cheeks at Elote. Colorado If you have never tried rattlesnake, this is the place. Delaware I am not a big fan, but everyone insisted I try the scrapple. Florida When in Florida, stone crabs are a must have dinner, with Key lime pie. Cuban sandwiches are good too! Georgia My friends there always tout the bbq, but I prefer the chicken, biscuits and gravy at Merry Mac’s Tea Room. Hawaii My favorite waffle dogs are gone, but Leonard’s malasatas are really tasty. Spam musubi is also ichiban. Illinois You must have the Italian beef at Portillo’s (also available now in AZ). Forget deep dish! Indiana The barbecued turkey leg at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is the best. Kansas Barbecue is king here, so the brisket and rib plate at Arthur Bryant’s is the one. Kentucky Everyone agrees, the hot brown is the real deal. Anything made with bourbon also. Louisiana I love the beignets from Cafe’ du Monde, with Po Boys, gumbo, and etouffee’ a close second. And bananas Foster. Maine I had a lobster roll every day while there. Maryland Dirty Pat says crab cakes are the best, I agree. Massachusetts It was JFK’s favorite, the clam chowder from Union Oyster House. Michigan The rather unique beef pastie is the preferred pastime. It was my 50th state! Missouri You must go to The Hill, and have the toasted ravioli at Cunetto’s. Montana Once you try the bison burger, you will prefer it over a regular hamburger. Nevada The iconic shrimp cocktail from the Golden Gate in downtown Vegas is a meal in itself. North Carolina The chopped pork sandwich is uniquely Carolina. Just ask my professors at UNC. Ohio Never will I forget the fried mush! Oregon I still love the Crab Louie at Jake’s in Portland. Pennsylvania My introduction to the Philly cheesesteak was love at first bite. South Carolina Until you try it, shrimp and grits do not sound good, but wow! Tennessee Their hot chicken might be too hot for you wimps! Texas The only place to have barbecue is the Salt Lick, outside of Austin, for their brisket. Utah Not one of my favorites, but the pastrami burger is quite filling. I prefer Nielsen’s frozen custard. Washington Many choices, but my fav are the Fanny Bay oysters, small and sweet. Washington DC The flash fried flounder at Ten Penh is my favorite fish of all time!
Until we can travel again, we have tried to either recreate or mail order some of these items. I have ordered Maine lobster so far. But many of these items cannot be made at home, at least by me!
If I left off your state, please send a suggestion.
Finally, the safaris are over, and we have a long layover in Nairobi, Kenya. After stumbling around the airport, and the surrounding area, we decided to return to the friendly confines of the airport. Let me tell you, the Nairobi Airport is a cesspool, in every sense of the word. But we found a small respite in a little cafe, just off the main gates.
All of a sudden, a vision of high fashion Paris appears before our eyes. She must have been 6 feet tall in heels, and designer clothes. And close behind was her 4 year old son. To tell you that this scene did not compute, would be an understatement. After an hour or so of staring at this young woman, she asked us to watch her son while she went to the “powder” room. You would think that Mr. Mike and I were two pimply teenagers, unable to muster the words that normally come so easily!
And yes, she was on her way to Paris, to shop, see her friends. Her Kenyan husband was a high government official, quite obviously. But she was quite friendly, also played golf, and wanted to hear more about the U.S. I think we were the envy of every male walking down that corridor.
Anyway, I digress. We were finally on our way back to Johannesburg, then to visit our old buddy, Barry the V in Cape Town the next day. We were tired of safaris, safari food, dust, bumpy roads, and tourists. On the other hand, we had no idea what to expect in Cape Town. After all, we spent a long six hour dinner with Barry, over three years ago in Santiago, Chile. We decided to drop by, say hello, meet his wife, and maybe spend a night or two, at most.
Well, a two day stay ended up as a two WEEK stay. How could we turn down the hospitality of Barry and Mrs. V? First, they lived a half block from the beach in Camps Bay, one of the nicest areas of Cape Town. Second, they gave me the downstairs suite, while Mike had a huge bedroom with nearby bathroom. Third, their domestic was doing our laundry every day, even ironing my underwear!! But mostly, we just had a great time.
Let me just fast forward, and tell you that we saw the best of Cape Town and the greater Cape area, nearby wine country, and surrounding countryside. We had memorable meals, ridiculous shopping excursions, and some fabulous wines. But the highlight was each evening. We gathered in the upstairs living room to watch the London Olympics on TV. Barry and Mrs. V on one sofa, Mike and I on recliners, each of us with a nice comforter, and a glass of our favorite beverage.
Days were filled with sightseeing, train rides, wine tasting, climbing Table Mountain, and exploring the greater Cape. Nights were home cooked meals or well known area restaurants, followed by four hours of the Olympics on TV.
We did all the bosches, Stellenbosch, Kirstenbosch, and most importantly, Varkelbosch.
We did observe some “strange” behavior at the Varkel palace. Mrs. V, aka Chrissie, was drinking her Pinotage with a straw! Upon inquiry, she said her dentist told her to use a straw to avoid staining her veneers. Interesting!
One more event would stand above all others. After a few drinks one evening, Barry said he was taking us to meet his parents, at their condo on the beach. So, Barry drives our rental over to a small parking lot a few miles away. We pull up to a big metal double door. It slowly opens, and we pull into the space while sitting in the car. The door closes behind us, and I realize we were in a car elevator! It moved us down about three or four floors. The door opened in front of us, into a four car parking space. Holy, Batman! I have never been in a car elevator before or since.
This might have been the best two weeks of my life on the road, EVER!!! Words cannot describe our two week stay.
Sadly, as our stay came to an end, Mike left a day earlier, then me. It was sad to leave our wonderful and generous hosts. But we were tired, and happy to start heading home.
PS: I hope you enjoyed the annotated versions of my trips through South America and Africa. Maybe I will continue after we do the Twelve Days of Christmas!!
Perhaps the pinnacle of African safaris is the Serengeti, 1.5 million hectares of savannah. And much to our delight, we were housed in tent cabins in the middle of the annual migration of two million wildebeests, and thousands of gazelles and zebras.
After landing at the airstrip at the Serengeti, we met our new, and skillful driver, Samonji. It turns out he was previously a big game hunting guide, until hunting was banned here. Naturally, he and Mr. Mike hit it off, since they had hunting in common. He even offered to come out of retirement to guide Mike on a real big game hunt!
The Serengeti was remarkable for several sightings. First, we got to see a leopard (pictured above) with its kill. She carried it up at tree, to eat unimpeded by other animals, such as hyenas. We got pretty close to a cheetah (also above) on a hunt. But the highlight was seeing the lions on a hunt for water buffalo. I can only compare it to a soccer match, where everything is laid out systematically. The speed, skill, and teamwork were incredibly impressive!
But it was a long day, so by mid afternoon, we headed to our safari tent camp. It really was not much more than several individual tents (mine pictured) placed on a small hill, with a couple larger tents for meals, food prep, storage, and lounging.
In all modesty, I must tell you that I became very popular with the camp helpers (see above photo) at this camp. Why? It turned out that the bothersome tsetse flies love darker skinned people. Our poor driver was under constant siege, while trying to drive. So, I pulled out my bug zapper, and got rid of the flies in our SUV. As I am waving it around, we arrived at our camp. The camp guys came running towards us, as we parked. They were yelling, “Roger Federer, Roger Federer” as I waved the bug zapper! It was the funniest part of the trip!
The zapper was intended as a gift for Barry the V in Cape Town. I was tempted to give it to them, but finally saved it for Barry. They had never seen anything like it. But I was afforded VIP treatment after that. I was offered the most drinks, given priority wherever I went, and everyone knew my name!
Leisure time in the camp was quite pleasant. Imagine our surprise when we were offered a “bucket” shower before dinner! Yes, they stoked a big fire, and each tent was given one large bucket of hot water for an intermittent soap and shower (and some laundry). Since my tent was closest to the staff, I was always first! The evening ritual starts with “sundowners”, their term for cocktail hour. We sit around a camp fire, the camp staff brings snacks and unlimited drinks. We soon became friends with a big, burly guy and his newlywed wife. Turned out he was the color commentator for NFL Mexico. And they were willing to share their champagne with me!!
Mealtime was a big deal. Our driver/guide reappears, seemingly out of nowhere, to dine with us. We review the day’s activities, and plan for tomorrow. We wanted to see the big hippo pool, as well as the annual migration. And we packed the traditional picnic lunch that all safaris include.
An interesting conversation came up at dinner that night. My camp buddies asked where I was from. When I said I am an American, they refused to believe me. So, I asked them what an American looks like. They pointed to Mike, of course. I proceeded to point out that anyone in the camp, guests, guides, and camp personnel looks like an American! They got a big kick out of that conversation.
Then, when I told them my Grandfather came from Japan to the US in 1896, they became even more curious. After several minutes, our guide asked me a question, a bit reluctantly. He wanted to know why Japanese tourists do not tip. I had to explain that tipping is almost forbidden in Japan, that the tip or service fee is included in the price, and that good service is expected. I suggested they have a business card made, in both languages, explaining that tipping is essential to their livelihood.
So, after the cultural and anthropological discussions were over, they all wanted to use the bug zapper. Guess who was offered the most desserts and after dinner drinks? Everywhere I went, they would call out, “Roger Federer, Roger Federer.”
The next morning, we had a long, sad farewell with the camp guys, after breakfast. The camp manager even appeared in a shirt and tie (see above photo). I gave all the guys the little gifts (Sun Maid raisins) I brought. They were really sad to see Roger Federer leave the camp with his tennis racket bug zapper.