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Places

Schlosshotel Kronberg, Germany

There are some moments in life, when one just wishes to turn a back to the day-to-day reality and drive away to an enchanting castle. Opening a new chapter in our life and embracing a new carrier challenge which may soon require extensive travelling abroad, we decide to spend some time together in a beautiful hotel near Frankfurt am Main. Schlosshotel Kronberg is an unusual place. Build in 1893, it was originally intended as a private royal castle. Owned by the House of Hesse to this very day, stepping into the hotel one feels more like a guest to the royal family rather then a visitor to an average hotel. With a unguarded access to the specious library, the fire-lit, art-decorated medieval living room, the royal banquet hall breakfast and dinning room one can settle easily into the castle and set about to explore the place.

To our delight, there are not many other guests at the hotel. Our imagination is quickly carried away: could we dare to envisage this castle as our own royal get away, or perhaps imagine that we are authors seeking source of inspiration for a historic novel? The clues to any story we may wish to imagine are readily available at our doorstep, making our stay here even more auspicious once we notice Francois’s family initials boldly engraved on the building’s garden facing facade. Could this be possible… Being half German, does he really know his family ancestry? Did I unknowingly marry Prince Charming? For the Prince Charming part, I am pretty certain with or without the castle. Still, the sight of the magically beautiful scenery is giving our hearts a pause.

Schloss Friedrichshof is today one of the most impressive German castles and offers its guests living history to touch and feel. Exclusive furnishings and an impressive collection of antiques and paintings from the private estate of the mother of the last Kaiser convey the authentic ambience of a castle from imperial times.

A morning walk past the Italian rose garden into the golf therein greens. A trip to the charming near-by medieval town. An afternoon English tea savouring the rich red fruit aromas. In the evening, red wine by the cracking fire place debating art, politics and world history, laughing and teasing about everything and nothing. And at night, oasis of quiet and peace in a divine luxurious sleeping room with a bed designed for kings. The next morning, waking up in paradise.

Sharing the pleasures of a beautiful place, is even more rewarding when we could share the experience with friends. Having a chance to see childhood friends, that do not live near by is a chance we could not miss and what a more spectacular way to be together than inviting them to join us for dinner at the castle. There are certain people who seem meant to stay no matter how life may try to break apart. And it is a privilege, a joy and an honour to embrace them as my friends. Lost in smiles and conversation the night slips quickly away and before we have a chance to share all, it is time to kiss good buy and let them go, happy and delighted, until we meet again.

The food is delicious, too. Traditionally German, presented with sophistication and fitness. The taste of roasted dumplings in mushroom cream sauce has become for me an iconic image of the German cuisine. Delighted to discover more and eager to cook some of the classic recipes at home, we stop on our way back home to a local store and fill our car with food delights. Lost among the shelfs like two enchanted kids, we can’t seem to stop admiring the affordability of the prices and the variety of quality goods on display. Feeling like in Aladdin’s cave we carefully chose our treasures and happily take the road back home again.

Video Source: Schlosshotel Kronberg website

Places

Weekend in Amsterdam

It is summer and our spirits are longing for an adventure. Longing to be touched by beauty, to be surprised, to be revived and invigorated. Longing to disconnect from the daily routine and simply to take the car and drive away. Should we drive north, south, east or west is always the question. East from home is located our favouring city in Germany, Aachen. South is the ever inviting Paris in France. West is our colourful London. North, The Hague and Amsterdam. Our minds made up, we quickly pack the car ready for a weekend drive away and start our trip to the Netherlands.

Our first stop is The Hague and a charming stay at the boutique Bed & Breakfast Maison Indochine. Our residence is shyly tugged away in a small antique shop street right in the centre of the city.

It doesn’t take us long to be amazed at the humble beauty of The Hague.

Art Nouveau architecture elegantly stretches along side the city centre, speaking volumes of the grandness of old days gone by. Yet, underneath its beautiful surface a much older and wealthy fairy tail begins to sing its song. We stop in front of the shop of an old violin maker, looking through the windows into two hundred years old story of passion and love. Around the corner an old antiques shop catches our eye displaying the most stunning jewellery I have ever seen. Ruby hair pins, yellow diamond ring, sapphire tiara, matching emerald bracelets, pearl earrings, exquisite floral golden broach… And then, we are not thinking of the Art Nouveau period any more, but we remember the time of the Dutch East Indies and the splendour of the riches in front of us start to make sense. Unfortunately, no rubies and diamonds for me today. But luckily, I don’t leave the antique headquaters empty handed. I buy a beautiful old print of Sir. T. Lawrence’s The Countess of Darnley’ just for five Euro, as a vivid reminder of this beautiful city.

Still dreaming of the past, we leave The Hague and zig zag our way up to Amsterdam. Only a few kilometres apart, yet the two cities couldn’t be more different. Amsterdam is so restless and claustrophobic yet ancient and charming in its own way. 

Old and new, its history is written on each building, on each corner, in its food. For lunch we decide to try the best Indonesian restaurant in town the Kantjil & de Tijger. The food is a complete delight. We choose the Mangkok, served in different ways, Rendang chicken stir fry with peanut sauce, or beef in a mildly spicy coconut sauce Ajam Ritja, accompanied by Indonesian garnish: cucumber, egg, coconut sauce, prawn crackers, veggie crackers and belindjo nuts. So refreshingly tasty and good. But our journey is not done, yet.

We head for the Rijksmuseum where for hours we get lost in the age old history of The Netherlands, admiring their courage and greatness, their beauty and charm.

No one can absorb such rich history in a day, but our spirits revived we drive home with the promise to come back again.

Places

The Birthplace of Aphrodite, Cyprus

They say that Aphrodite was born from the purest white foam of the sea, swept ashore by Zephyr’s gentle breeze. It is easy to forgive the naivety of the ancient Greeks, attributing the origin of this myth to a mere poetic inclination, but not until one sees the vast expanse of endless azure of the Mediterranean sea, teasingly changing colour from the lightest of blue to the darkest of green, feels the tender warmth of the soft wind caressing lightly the skin and wonders at the playful purity of the white foamy waves, curvaceously stretching along the Cypriot coast, that something steers deep inside the soul making the Aphrodite myth sound true.

We were lucky to have our summer holiday hotel, right on top of the hill overlooking the birth place of the goddess of love – the Aphrodite Hills.

The view was splendid… By day, an endless sea blue, barely distinguishing the line of the horizon. By evening, long and leisurely stretching shades of a dying sunset, bathing the scenery in passionate orange, deepest of pink, uncompromising red and conquering purple. By night, an open invitation to dive deep into a starry sky, gazing in mystified glee the endless folds of the universe.

The food was surprisingly delicious… The Cypriot cuisine is a mixture of tastes combining Greek, Turkish, Middle East and Mediterranean flavors. One can hardly imagine spicing roasted potatoes with dusted cinnamon, but next to a hive-domed oven baked lamb, they taste simply delicious. My favourite dish however is a tender beef stew, every mouthful a seasoned perfection, served with a side dish of Village salad made of feta, tomatoes and cucumber, mint, coriander and celery leaves drizzled with freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil. Simply divine.

The holiday was an unforgettable adventure… We played in the pool, we collected colourful stones on the seashore, we admired the sophisticated intricacy of the ancient archeological marble floors, we sung earthshaking spirituals echoing the radio music in the car, we zigzagged the mountains up to the gold-glittering Kikkos monastery, had a coffee in the hidden shades of local village bars on our way to Paphos.

A holiday to remember. A land to visit. Delicious food to discover. Cyprus awaits.

Places

Maison Ladurée, Paris

It is early in the morning and we are excited to step on the train heading south to Paris.  Only one hour away, we have never been so thankful and glad for high the speed train and modern technology. There are so many places that may draw one’s attention while visiting Paris. Should we climb the Eiffel Tower and soak in the breath taking view from the soaring hight? Should we explore the numerous museums, getting dreamy and letting our souls be touched by all the art history spread like sparkling jewels throughout the city? Or shall we simply take the road up-hill on Montmartre and walk in the food steps of Modigliani, Picasso, Degas and their modern day contemporaries? Paris has so much to offer, and while we are eager to take it all in, we are cautious of not missing the little things waiting for us around each corner.

This time our visit does not target the touristing sites. Well, maybe it does in a way, yet heading towards Galeries Lafayette, we are not thinking of tourism, we are only thinking of discovering something new, something beautiful that we have only heard about but haven’t seen before.

The gallery is famous. There are so many art-neuveau building in Paris, but this somehow is different. Designed as a shopping moll in the turn of the century, it has glamour and opulence like no other place in Paris. Walking inside, I am wondering if I have stepped into a fairy tale, movie set, enchanted castle or an opera hall. Yet, all within me is ready to be touched by its magic and we excitedly pass from one shopping display into another.

Until a moment when everything stops, and within the rushing crowd of people we remember why we are here at first place – the French macaroon and its masterful re-creation following a secret recipe handed from generation to generation since 1862. We are here to taste the sweet fragrant creations of Maison Ladurée.  One bite, and we could taste the difference – hard and crunchy shells carefully hiding soft and creamy almond paste inside. One bite, a taste and a flavour and the sweetness melts immediately away. Sounds simple, yet it takes a real mastery to recreate this fragile and delicate desert. Maison Ladurée, pays tribute to all sorts of remarkable people by adding each year a new fragrance inspired by them. This season’s favourite is a violet macaroon. And while wishing to taste them all, we have limited our choice only to a few: salted caramel, orange blossom, lemon, chocolate, rose petals and vanilla. We take a bite and we smile, savouring the moment, wishing to become as artful and experienced to be able to recreate these small delights at home one day.

{ For a home made French Macaroon recipe, click here.}

Places

Summer Holiday Paradise

The Christmas and New Year season has not finished yet and we find ourselves at home already dreaming of a summer holiday. Is it the darkness of the days or the coldness of the nights that makes us dream away, I really don’t know, but around this time of the year we seem to come with the same question of where and when to spend our summer holiday and once our mind is set, the destination fixed and the travel tickets booked a sense of calm, joy and anticipation sets into the house feeling our hearts with purpose. The New Year might have not come yet, but our summer holiday is booked. All working stress and worry might come through the first half of the year, yet the summer holiday days are getting near. Its a simple act, yet through the years we have learned how much this one week summer holiday really means to all of us. It is our intimate time of unity, away from the daily stress, a moment to relax, be together and have fun and we deeply cherish it.

Three years ago a customer had invited us on a two day workshop in Gloria Resort in Turkey. We were ready for the business talk, we were ready to travel to Turkey, but we where definitely not ready to experience Gloria and all its breath-taking beauty. The complex is composed of three separate hotels, all integrated within one domain, a golf court, numerous swimming pools, sea-side relaxation area, children’s aqua park, air-conditioned fitness room worthy for olympic players, tennis court, open air theatre arena, inside bowling and pool area, insomnia disco club, SPA centre and hamam, thai-chi area on the sea shore, numerous restaurants and bars, live music and dancing parties. And we loved it all…

We fell in love with the peaceful serenity of the hamam. After a day in the heat, surrounded by the the noise of people, sealed by the sea and burt by the sun there is something absolutely indescribable about the pleasure to be all alone in an acoustic cathedral like, cool water, warm marble hamam.

Then we fell in love with the Turkish lemonade. Lime, mint and ice. Simple ingredients resulting in an extraordinary delight.

We fell in love with the food as well. How could we not, after our senses have been tempted in abundance from sun-rise until sun-set with sumptuous delights? Roasted lamb, grilled fresh fish or summer vegetables, fruit, nuts and pastry soaked in honey…

Too much of a good thing? Probably yes, but after tasting it once we are surly ready to repeat this unforgettable summer holiday adventure over and over again.

Places

Turkish Delights, Istanbul

They say that Istanbul is magnificent and before even setting a foot on its streets, I knew the saying would be true. In my heart and in my dreams I have already visited Constantinopol, I have walked in the inner court yards of the sultan palaces, I have smelled the scents of the street bazars and I have tasted the spicy cuisine, yet no books describing this fairy tale land, no imagination could compare to the live experience of savouring the splendour of the city with my own eyes.

We have travelled to Istanbul on a business trip and to our delight when the dutiful office engagement has been completed we were surprised to discover that we have been arranged to lodge in Pera Palace, one of the museum, one hundred year old hotels in the city. The hotel has been built to welcome the wealthy residents arriving from Western Europe with the Orient Express. The sight of the hotel was breath taking. Enjoying the luxury, we have spent the night having a dinner in a roof top restaurant, with a splendid view of the city enjoying a glass of wine, talking until late about the business consequences of our visit and feeling fortunate to be on such a place.

The second day, was a day of pleasure. Visiting Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace, the Covered Market, walking through the sleepless festive streets until the early hours of the morning, surrounded by smiling people and bursting life. I remember the sun, I remember the light, I remember the bright colors. I have entered Hagia Sofia in a trance, knowing that this is one of the few recorded places where the Bulgarian kings have been noted to have actually been. I was stepping into their presence, I was stepping into history.

Topkapi Palace, had a different charm. One cannot enter its gates without thinking of the thousands of women throughout history who have been separated from their families and forced into the harem. Still, the palace is a place of wonder, a place of color and wealth a place of power and dominion.

The Blue Mosque, an architectural copy of Hagia Sofia, surprised me as well. I didn’t feel like an infidel, offending the pure worship with my gaze. On the contrary, I felt that we were welcomed like distant brothers and sisters, to witness the sacred spirituality of the local people and all that we saw were beautiful people with open hearts to God, who could stand beside us without hatred.

The covered market was a different story, the spirituality of the place had only one name and that was called money. Dealing with the traders was saga on its own. We drunk tea, we gave compliments, we spoke about the weather, we spoke about quality, we negotiated prices and at the end discovered that a copy of a designer leather handbag selling at 400 Euro could be sold for 40 Euro as well. We parted with smiles, happy with the purchase and happy with the sale.

On the street, life welcomed us with a sunny embrace, the window shops were inviting us with irresistible turkish delights, every street corner beckoning us to follow promising a new adventure. But time has been short. We felt light-hearted leaving for home, wanting to stay and not ready to leave, wishing that life would be gracious and let us be fortunate to come back again.

Places

Pullman Aachen Quellenhof

There are many special places, significant both for Swa and myself, where we frequently like to travel to and find beauty and rest. Whether this will be a short romantic weekend trip, or a longer holiday, the roads to France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, Turkey, Greece… seem to know our trails. Every holiday holds a pleasant experience and a new discovery, an exhilarating happiness beaconing us to come back. And we frequently do. Once in love, we remain faithfully always in love… with a place, with a hotel, with a city and with all our treasured memories associated with a stay.

All places are special, but none like Aachen. We have discovered the city almost by coincidence a decade ago. In a moment of inspiration, we have decided to take the car and travel to Germany for a weekend with no reservation, no particular city in mind, just following the road and letting fate guide our way. And it did. One of the first cities we have crossed on our way was Aachen. Driving in, we saw an amazing looking building with white marble columns, looking like the most luxurious hotel we have ever seen – Pullman Aachen Quellenhof. We  have decided to stop, enter in and ask for some direction and a map of the city.

While still admiring the lobby bar and the entrance of the hotel Swa, in fluent German was already conversing with the hotel staff at the reception desk. Not after  long, he came to me with a smile announcing that he has booked a room for us for the night. My first reaction was of a complete shock. How could we afford this? It appeared that we could. The hotel did not only come with the most spacious and elegant accommodation one could imagine, but with a SPA Center, fitness and a swimming pool, large ground floor sitting area with a fire place, a library and a piano, but most of all with an abundant breakfast in the morning including all sorts of delights.

Little did we know how special and dear this place will be for us in the coming years. The hotel has seen us in the past decade, passing through all stages of life, it has heard us cry, it has heard us laugh, it has heard Swa improvising on the piano, seen us dancing at midnight, admiring the fireworks at new year, celebrating my birthday… And this is only the start.

The hotel has become one of the reasons we would frequently travel to Germany through the years, but the city on its own has made as fall in love as well. Ancient history, baroque architecture, cosy restaurants, classic music entertainment next to the cathedral, flower markets, antique markets, delicious coffee and cakes… and beauty and peacefulness and magic.

Every trip, brings us home happy and with a smile. Every trip, offering a new experience and an unexpected adventure.

The last trip, among all the rest, was also a culinary delight. We have admired our hotel for such a long time, but only vary rarely have enjoyed its restaurant. This time we took the time to refresh and enjoy the night, starting with a class of champaign in the elephant bar, then followed by a splendid dinner at the restaurant. What a culinary delight! Delicious starter of a cream soup and fish tart, followed by an asparagus soup, with vanilla, shrimps and ravioli, gratinated aubergines for me and grilled stake with mustard-seeds sauce for Swa. A memorably tasty adventure…

Places

A Childhood Memory, Crete

A few days of sea-swimming and sunshine is all that we need to wash away the weariness of the business day-to-day life and to unite, once again with nature. Our hearts are at peace, our minds at rest, our souls radiant with happiness, our adventure spirits eager to venture on the road and discover Crete’s ancient mysteries and secluded country side. Away from the tourism, deep in the country, there where for centuries little has changed. Our mini cabrio is struggling to protect us from the melting heat, but it is offering refreshing breeze and happy music in abundance. Kiss FM Radio makes us lift up hands in the air singing loud. Yes, it is true, we are on holidays!

We are travelling for a while, stopping only briefly to admire the majestic mountains. Tracking a monastery on a faded paper map, proofs to be a real challenge. Are the Creek alphabet road-signs giving us a trouble or is the happy music in the car? We don’t really know and we don’t really care. In reaching our destination, we are completely overtaken by the hill-top monastery view – a wide blue-deep-sea horizon. We envy the monks. How can someone possibly wake up every morning with a view like this? We savour the moment, dreaming of the past, imagining all turbulent soul-seeking solitary confinement within the walls of this sanctuary, their stories untold, yet the marks of their steps still visible, carved unevenly on the surface the church stone floor.

Back in the car we are quiet for awhile. The scenery is changing as we drive down-hill, from bare yellow sun-dried grass to greyish trees, farming fields, luscious green forests, picturesque villages and at last, a sparking smaragd-green yacht haven. A French couple is giving us the thumbs up as we choose our table. “C’est bon”, letting us know that by chance we have entered the most delicious restaurant on the Riviera. The menu is appealing, yet my eyes glide in amazement towards the description “A day old slice of bread, soaked in tomato sauce, topped with feta and fresh parsley”.

Could this be true? The images of bright sunshine, my grand-father sitting on the veranda with a slice of bread in his hand, squeezing a sun-warm garden-picked red-ripe tomato, sprinkling sea-salt, fresh parsley and some feta crumbles on top, fill my heart with fond memories. Has it really been so long? The last time I have tasted this simple, yet full of flavour, peasant dish I must have been no more then 5-6 years old. We order the dish and I try to explain what it means to me. How do you describe a memory? How do you invoke in somebody else, the purest feelings of childhood happiness? The taste does not disappoint. And for a moment, I am a little girl again, running in my grandmother’s garden, picking up flowers, chasing butterflies, sampling raspberries, making a water droplets rainbow and laughing in the sunlight.

Time is a mysterious stranger. Putting on a new coat for every season, yet wearing a familiar smile and a gaze, drawing all your memories back to live, making you remember.

I look into the sparking smaragd-green sea, slowly awakening to reality, while we discuss our next destination – one of the major Minoan excavation sites. We smile, and Indiana Geri is ready for the road again.

Places

Moroccan Breakfast

M Breakfast Riad Luna

Roof terrace. Sunny embrace. Quiet morning. And the world is hidden beneath a roof top horizon. Our Moroccan hostess is stepping lightly, caring a tray of food and greeting us generously with a smile. The day begins, not yet inclined to reveal its mysteries, delighted at our eager anticipation, but like a welcoming host as well, it is inviting us to follow with a vivid gesture. And we are ready to follow, wherever the day may lead. Through the colourful souks, through the dusty roads, through the crowds of warm hearted people, through the age old history of the old medina. But before we start, our senses are bathed with sumptuous delights: fresh orange juice, mint tea, Moroccan pancakes, flat bread, eucalyptus honey, orange marmalade, dates, home made yogurt. A heart-warming breakfast for a heart-warmth seeking traveller.

Marroco