North End Boston – Italian Eateries the Perfect Recipe for Romance

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Several times over the last year and a half I’ve had the opportunity to stroll around the north end of Boston, renowned for its Italian restaurants and waterfront.  The area is a delight to walk with brick sidewalks, flowers in window boxes, and twinkling white lights.  As you wander through the narrow, winding streets, every step takes you past a cafe or bar or restaurant that looks even more fun than the last.

I had the pleasure to eat at several places, but the one we went to for my birthday was particularly lovely.  Bricco was the perfect blend of exceptional food and good atmosphere.  We had Mionetto Prosecco (because I have a weakness for bubbly) and ordered the specials of the evening.  The service was perfect – they took good care of us without being intrusive, and everything we ordered was wonderful.  On top of that, the side bar was a great place to have an after dinner drink.

http://www.bricco.com/restaurant/index.html), 241 Hanover St.

If you’re planning an anniversary, birthday, or even just a first date, the North End is a great place to go in Boston.

The Little Yellow Beach House – Redington Shores, FL

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One of the reasons I was MIA this year is that I spent every spare minute for several months renovating a little Florida Cracker beach bungalow in Redington Shores.  Having grown up nearby, I have great passion for the sounds of the ocean, wide beaches with sugar white sand, and the feeling of waves beneath my board.

The Little Yellow Beach House is right next to the beach and offers the perfect opportunity to escape the stresses of the world.  With large front and back porches, beach bikes, and a double reclining swing, it takes you a world away from routine.

I plan to spend October through December there every year, with a few weeks here and there scattered in…and rent it out the rest of the year.  With two bedrooms (three queen beds), it is the perfect place for families and couples to vacation or for getaways with the girls.

If you’re interested in renting it, visit our booking site here:

http://www.vacationrentals.com/vacation-rentals/2852.html

or Facebook here:

http://www.facebook.com/TheLittleYellowHouse?ref=hl

Missing In Action!

I’ve been missing in action for a year…It has been a whirlwind of amazing professional growth, household changes, a beach vacation rental renovation, love and heartbreak, and many, many cities.  Things are settling down for me and I’m looking forward to getting caught up with my travel blog.

Some of the places I went during the last year that I plan to share are the British Virgin Isles, Costa Rica, Baltimore, NYC, Orlando, Vegas, Toronto, London (Olympics!), Newport, Park City, Boston, Charleston, San Antonio, Asheville, Palm Springs, and the ever less glamorous Harrisburg/Carlisle, PA.

This year I have lots of new exciting adventures planned including: Australia, Paris, Iceland, Aruba, and Curacao.

Stay tuned!

Your fellow travel addict,

Jennifer Beasley

Park Hyatt Beaver Creek – Winter Wonderland

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Every year I go somewhere for my birthday and this year I opted for a skiing vacation in Beaver Creek, CO.  It started out not as intended, but in the end I had such a fabulous time I can’t wait to go back.  As I often do, I stayed at Hyatt and it didn’t disappoint.

The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek was hands down the best hotel in terms of service I’ve been to in a long time (better than several Ritz properties for example).  I chose Beaver Creek because of its general proximity to Denver, mix of amenities, and I’ve already spent some time at Vail.

Skiing in Beaver Creek, CO

Right away I was struck by the simple beauty of the mountain covered in snow and the relative ease with which I settled in as if I were home.  The Park Hyatt Beaver Creek is simply cozy.  The fireplace in the living room-esque lobby is inviting and a comfort after a long day of skiing – as were the outdoor hot tubs with waterfalls surrounded by snow.

Park Hyatt hot tub

Relaxing after a long day of skiing

Overall, I’d recommend Beaver Creek, but I do think Vail is a notch above.  The green and blues at Beaver Creek I felt were inferior (for those of us who are not expert skiers) as was the shopping.  I did have the good fortune to be there the week the World Cup competition was moved at the last minute from France to Beaver Creek.  It surely did not hurt to be surrounded by such talent and having had the opportunity to met some of the athletes (lunch with some of the Italians, hot tub with the Americans, and the Austrians stayed in rooms on my hall), I have a newfound respect for their dedication to their craft.

In all, Beaver Creek is well worth a visit and early December is a great time to go, especially before the holiday crowds strike.

Tampa Taco Bus

It’s the week of Christmas and I’m visiting my family in the Tampa area.  After a morning full of errands with my mom, we stopped at the Tampa Taco Bus (#2) for a quick bite and a bit of respite from holiday madness.  The Taco Bus group has two locations, with another about to open.  The St. Pete locale has outdoor table service and since it was 82 degrees, we basked in the sun while we ate.

There’s no Tex-Mex here, what you get its much closer to authentic Mexican than most places offer.  According to them, “We serve the Mexican street kind of food that the owner Rene Valenzuela has been cooking since he was kid in Mexico making some pesos at taco stands.  We have a northern Mexican approach to food but you will find tacos with recipes that are typical for places such as Yucatan, Mexico City, Sinaloa, and Puebla.”

http://tampatacobus.com/menus

We had beef tongue and cochintita pibil tacos and butternut squash tostada.  Overall the ingredients were very fresh and well made, but they definitely lacked appropriate seasoning.  The red and green hot sauces on the tables kicked it up a notch, though.

Cochinita Pibil – Shredded Pork marinated in Achiote and bitter orange, then wrapped in banana leaves and slow roasted in a smoker (BASED ON A 5,000 YEAR OLD MAYAN RECIPE!)

Lengua – Beef tongue.  Cubed and tender, lengua always reminds me of Granny’s pot roast.  YUM

Butternut Squash Tostada – Prepared Yucatan style with pico de gallo and topped with a sprinkling of queso cotija mexican cheese (optional).  *A bit bland, but great with the green hot sauce.

Tampa Taco Bus is well worth the trek and if you had weather like we did, it’s even better!

Eat at the Central Cafe (Centrál Kávéház és Étterem) in Budapest!

Central Cafe Budapest

Lunch at the Central Cafe was something special. The cafe opened originially in 1887 and was one of the grand old cafe houses Budapest was so well known for.  It was a famous haven for artists and writers, so much so that a 1920s Hungarian newspaper sarcastically wrote, “There are so many real and fake writers in Cafe Centrál that Mészáros has started to build a new gallery – closer to Olympus – for them.”

Despite being an institution rich with history, it was shut down in 1949 when lands and properties were nationalized.  Fortunately, it was reopened and remodeled in 2000 and is a splendor to behold again.

I was invited to go wtih Gabor Banfalvi, owner and tour host of Taste Hungary.  Gabor and his wife Carolyn know the Budapest food scene inside and out and have even written two critically acclaimed books on it. 

In Gabor’s capable hands, I followed his recommendation and ordered the foie gras entree:

Kacsamáj serpenyőben sütve barackmártással és füstölt burgonyapürével 3600.-
Pan-fried duck liver with apricot sauce and smoked mashed potato

The plate came out with two huge pieces, an enormous amount of foie gras by any scale. Delicate, soft, and creamy, it was expertly prepared. Paired with a sweet and savory sauce and lightly cooked apricots/peaches, I couldn’t have imagined how well it would all harmonize. Pure perfection. (If you find yourself having foie gras in Hungary, do have it with Tokaji wine, which is also an exceptional pairing).

Inside Central Cafe Budapest

To top it off, the dish was served with a side of mashed potatoes…ho hum one might think, but these were the best damned mashed potatoes I’ve ever had. We asked what was in them as they had a smokey, bacony, oniony, cheesy flavor. It turns out they smoke their own salt and the amazing flavor was fully derived from this one ingredient. It was so good, I’m going to go back to the States and experiment replicating.

Carolyn and Gabor Banfalvi - Taste Hungary Owners

Espresso finished off the meal, which was one I won’t soon forget. Beautiful setting, exceptional food, and the company of someone as passionate about food as I am! It was a good day!

Coffee at Central Cafe

Centrál Kávéház és Étterem

Address: 1053 Budapest, Károlyi Mihály utca 9.
Area: 5. district
Opening Hours: everyday from 8-24h

Palinka – Special Hungarian Juice!

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Mexico has tequila, Italy has grappa…Hungary’s nectar of the Gods is Palinka.

A traditional fruit brandy, it dates back as far as the fourteenth century and is made from plums, apricots, apples, pears, peaches, or cherries (or as a Hungarian saying goes, anything that jelly can be made from).  Created via a double distillation process, the alcohol content can be as high as 86%. 

Hell, this stuff is so powerful, it even has its own patron saint, Saint Nicholas.  A traditional Hungarian greeting is “Pálinkás jó reggelt!” which means “Good morning with pálinka!”

While I didn’t hear that greeting, I felt it!  On a couple of occasions I had the pleasure of partaking – all in the name of research, right?!  Pear, plum, and cherry, but at some point along the way, after two or three or four, can you really taste the difference?

Budapest is known for its nightlife and whether your weakness is wine, beer, or palinka, there’s plenty to offer!

Egészségedre! (CHEERS!)

Where to Stay in Budapest – Hotel Gellert and the Gellert Baths

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The Hotel Gellert is located on the Danube, Buda side. I chose to stay here because it is an old, historic building, conveniently located, and is connected to the famed Gellert Baths.

The staff here are superb and were more than happy to help me with a number of difficult requests. If you decide to stay here, make sure you get an air-conditioned room (if not, request a fan), book on the internet for discounted rates, and sign up for the Danubius Hotel Groups frequent stay program as you’ll be more likely to be given a room upgrade upon checkin.

While my room was on the lower end available (about 80 euros), I was on the top floor and had a stunning view from a balcony of Gellert Hill, the Lady of Freedom, and the Danube. As it was cooler in the evenings, I took to getting a bottle of wine from the market and writing here very night.

As a guest you get free entrance to the Gellert Baths, an architectural marvel and a soft bathrobe to wear at the spa. I used the thermal baths, sauna, and cold pools twice. They’re newer and perhaps a bit cleaner than the Rudas Baths I posted about a few days ago. As with Rudas and other baths, the employees are not very friendly or helpful but there are signs in English which makes it so much easier.

All in all it was a good choice I would make again.

 

Gallert Bath Info:

  • Adult ticket on weekdays, with cabin 4100 HUF
  • Adult ticket on weekends, with cabin 4300 HUF
  • Prepaid massage ticket 3700 HUF
  • Aroma massage (20 min) 3100 HUF
  • Aroma massage (30 min) 4100 HUF
  • Aroma massage (40 min) 5100 HUF
  • Spa water massage (20 min) 3300 HUF
  • Spa water massage (30 min) 4300 HUF
  • Spa water massage (40 min) 5200 HUF
  • Manager massage (20 min) 3100 HUF
  • Manager massage (30 min) 4100 HUF
  • Manager massage (40 min) 5100 HUF
  • Hot stone massage (60 min) 9100 HUF
  • Chocolate spa treatment 9100 HUF
  • Undervater jet massage 2300 HUF
  • Footcare 2200 HUF
  • Spa pedicure 6000 HUF
  • Cleopatra bath (20 min) 3100 HUF
  • Herbal bath (20 min) 2600 HUF
  • Relaxing aroma bath 2800 HUF
  • Hydrus package 5500 HUF
  • Medical massage (20 min) 3100 HUF
  • Medical massage (30 min) 4100 HUF
  • Medical massage (40 min) 5100 HUF
Located on the southern part of the city centre, on the Buda side – the right bank of the Danube, very close to the Liberty Bridge (Szabadság híd).
Address: H-1118 Budapest, Kelenhegyi út 4.
Telephone: (36-1) 466-6166
 
You can reach it by public transportation on tramways 18, 19, 47 and 49, or on buses 7, 7A and 86.

Badascony Balaton Wine Tasting, Henna Tattoos, Zsirokenyer, and Drunk Hungarians!

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While visiting the Hungarian region of Lake Balaton, my friends Viktor and Aniko took me to the west side of the lake for a day of wine tasting.  We took the double hulled ferry from Fenyod to Badascony (I think!).  The ferry was packed with Hungarians having one of their last holiday weekends, as the weather will soon change and children are now back in school.

Badascony is a well known wine area with a picturesque volcanic mountain.  As you leave the ferry, food and drink purveyors abound, as well as the trinkets you would expect in a tourist area.  As you meander up the mountain, you leave the trinkets behind and local wineries and vineyards pop up on every turn.

The wineries are lovely, rustic, and authentic – no Napa snobbery here.  The views up and down the mountain, as well as across the lake are breathtaking and the wines are exceptional.  I lost count of how many places we stopped at, each with its own charm.  Since I was with Viktor and Aniko, I didn’t have to figure things out for myself but each stop did have a list of wines and prices (not much English!) and they asked if I wanted red or white, dry or sweet.  This seemed to do the trick, so perhaps this is a good starting point if you don’t speak Hungarian.

Bread with Fat - Zsirokenyer

Now to the food part….If you’re drinking this much wine, you must have something in your belly to cushion it (and boy does this make a cushiony belly).  Many people, including us, love a Hungarian traditional snack called Zsirokenyer (bread and fat).  Yes, I said FAT.  The bread is thick, soft, and chewy.  On top, a room temperature pork or goose fat is spread (think along the lines of a more flavorful butter), sprinkled with chopped purple onions, and dusted with Hungarian paprika and salt.  Words cannot describe how utterly divine my first experience with this was.  Perhaps if I could remember my first time eating bread with butter it would be similar.  Throw in the towel, forget your diet, and go for this without thinking twice.  You won’t regret it!

Henna Tattoos!!! Promise it's henna, Mom!

Toasted and full of zsirokenyer, we headed back down the mountain to catch the last ferry home.  With a few minutes to kill, Aniko and I decided to get matching henna tattoos.  With the sun setting over the water as we crossed the lake, we were not the only ones filled with merriment and cheer.  A big group of Hungarians began singing traditional songs, dancing in a circle, and started what I’ll call a congo line! 

All in all this was a thoroughly enjoyable way to spend a day.  Badascony – I hope I get to see you again!

For information on the ferry, click here:
http://www.balatonship.eu/nw/main.php?id=15&lang=en

Lake Balaton, A Beautiful Hungarian Retreat

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I’m fortunate to have extended family in Hungary. They were kind enough to welcome me to stay with them at their vacation home at Lake Balaton, about 2 hours outside of Budapest. Balaton is the largest lake in Central Europe and peaceful retreat from the hustle and bustle of Budapest.

En route to Balaton (note – they don’t say ‘Lake Balaton’ just ‘Balaton’), we stopped at Rege Cukrazda.  In a picturesque small town, this cafe was the perfect place to stop.  Perched atop a mountain (or tall hill?) the cafe has a view nearly as good as its desserts.  I think it had been a long day for everyone so the espresso and cakes were precisely what was needed.  If you find yourself on the west side of Balaton, meader to Rege and you won’t be disappointed!

http://www.regecukraszda.hu/fooldal/index-angol.php

The west side of the lake is mountainous with deeper water while the east side is flat with more shallow waters. I stayed in idyllic Fenvyes, on the southeast side. As it was September, the tourist season was over but fortunately the weather was perfect, about 80 degrees, sunny, with a gentle breeze. The sunsets from this side of the lake are stunning, with a view of the mountains in the background and the water glistening in the foreground.

Along the waterfront are restaurants (etterems), food and drink stands, souvenirs, water bikes and boats, as well as a sidewalk stretching the length of the waterfront. As motorboats are not permitted (sailboats only), the water is much more peaceful and serene than I am accustomed to…Swans glide by, windsurfers dot the horizon, families wade out far from the shore in the shallow waters, fisherman abound, and sun bathers basque.

While I was only there for a weekend, it was a much needed respite in the middle of my trip. Along the waterfront we ordered the best lemonade I’ve ever had. Each individual glass is made fresh with mineral water, something sweet, limes, and lemons. It was a refreshing, sublime thirst quencher.

If you do go to Balaton, you can reach either side by train. The trains are a bit old but they run along the water and provide a beautifully scenic view the whole way. I took the train back to Budapest and the first class ticket cost 3850 HUF or about $18.75.

While I by no means am an expert, I feel confident in asserting that to only go to Budapest is to miss out on so much of what Hungary has to offer. Don’t miss Balaton!