Enjoy the Euro Travel Coach recipe for Casio e Pepe. It’s a great Roman pasta dish that is sure to whet your appetite for travel to Italy.Read More
Chelsea’s recipe for the Piedmont specialty, Bagna Cauda.Read More
Easy and delicious! Our take on a Tuscan classic soup, ribollita. The recipe is easy to follow and the results will transport you to Italy.Read More
We have spent most of the month of January in Bristol helping Chelsea and Sam get set up in their new flat. How awesome that we had the chance to do this! We have always wanted to live abroad. We are now doing our best to make it happen in our own way by bouncing around from country to country which is great, but I always thought it would be terrific if we could really settle in and feel like/ become a local. We have been living vicariously through Chelsea and Sam as we looked for apartments and then got to help them move in and make the place their own. We feel like we got to actually live here for the last month and it’s been fun to explore this interesting and ancient city as if it were indeed our home.
They have been living in Copenhagen for the last year and a half and they absolutely loved it; but they are really excited about living in a place that is a little less expensive and where English is the native tongue. They also love that they can still travel inexpensively throughout Europe with Bristol as their home base. They moved to Bristol without ever having been there. Sam’s job helped pay for their move but shipping all their belongings would have been expensive – beyond what the company would cover. It was cheaper for them to sell nearly everything they owned in Copenhagen and buy what they needed for the apartment once they got to Bristol. It was quite a job!
So, we spent a lot of time at IKEA! We had a rental car for a while which was very helpful for transporting purchases from the store to the flat. But Bristol is a very walkable city and the transit system is good so you don’t really need a car. After we returned the car it was a whole new experience to shop at IKEA. We walked 10 minutes to the bus stop, rode the double decker and then called an Uber for the ride back with all the new gear. It worked quite well! We would never have needed to go to IKEA if we were just traveling through instead of living like a local for a month.
The apartment is in the part of the city called Southville, in a building that used to be a church. It is so cool and we loved getting to know the neighborhood. This part of Bristol is such a great, up and coming area. It’s a little funky with lots of street art and roads that are filled with unique shops with great local food stores, coffee shops, pubs and restaurants. Getting groceries is so much fun. It’s not like going to the local supermarket in a minivan. One night we went to the butcher, the baker, the green grocer, a local deli and a Tesco Express (a tiny grocery store) to get everything we needed to make dinner. Taking bags is imperative. In order to limit the amount of plastic bags that get thrown away, most stores charge you if you need plastic bags when you check out (it's the law for chain stores). Walking back to the apartment can be a work out carrying all your groceries! It’s a great way to shop – just enough for a day or two and only as much as you can carry. The refrigerator is much smaller than the standard size in the States so you don’t have much room for more, anyway. We had some amazing meals in that apartment. The other great way to get groceries is to order them online and have them delivered to your door for free! This makes it so easy to function without a car. Waitrose delivery is awesome! I never would have known this was possible if I were only traveling as a tourist.
We loved taking advantage of the historical and cultural aspects of this great city too. One afternoon we visited the stunning St. Mary Redcliffe Church, which happens to be located right across the street from Sam's work. People have been worshipping on the site of the Church for over 900 years and the sanctuary is absolutely glorious. We also did a little self guided street art tour. There’s loads of street art all over Bristol – Banksy is from here and has left his mark all over town. We attended a concert at Colston Hall by The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and it was truly spectacular. We toured the SS Great Britain, a former passenger steamship that changed the course of shipbuilding when it was launched in 1843. On Saturday we went to the movies. It was in the fabulous Everyman Theater with couches and drinks delivered right to your seat. We saw The Darkest Hour, all about Churchill during World War II. My parents, who lived through World War II, loved Churchill and when I was growing up they told me about his inspiring radio broadcasts. It was a moving experience to see this poignant film in Bristol, England, where parts of town that were bombed during the blitz are memorialized and the legacy of the last world war still resonates in a powerful way, even today.
So this was our best “workaway” experience so far! It was great to be with Chelsea and Sam and get to know their new city in a way that we could not have done as tourists. We are so fortunate to have had the chance to travel like a local in a fascinating and important city that doesn’t even make it into many guidebooks.
I absolutely relish the challenge and adrenaline rush of trying to communicate in languages other than my own. We had so much fun in Italy doing our best to learn a little Italian and laughing at ourselves in the process. But we have been in the United Kingdom since the middle of November – you know…. England…where they speak ENGLISH, right?? This, of course, is my mother tongue. I expect to understand people, signs, communication and correspondence. My expectations continue to be dashed, however; and I am surprised, confused, and wonderfully amused by the differences between American and British English. We are having so much fun still laughing at words and terms that we don’t immediately understand even in our native language.
Going to the grocery store is an adventure. We did quite a bit of our own cooking at our last housesit in Blandford Forum so we spent many hours wandering the aisles of Tesco, Morrison’s and Mark’s & Spencer’s looking for things that would have been easy to find at HEB or Walmart. We had some great meals but it was often a bit of a treasure hunt finding substitutions for things that are easy to find in the States. We asked in what we thought was very plain and proper English where to find specific items – and people were often dumbfounded by our questions while they complimented our accent. Powdered sugar is icing sugar here, Saran wrap is cling film, a shopping cart is a trolley, wax paper is greaseproof paper and sprinkles for cookies are hundreds and thousands. When I asked for Q-tips or cotton swabs we figured out that these are called cotton buds in England. A Band Aid is an Elastoplast. I would not have known to ask where the Elastoplasts are located. It’s odd seeing signs to identify the contents of each aisle and note that one is filled with nappies (diapers) and another is stocked with crisps (potato chips) of every flavor including cheese & onion, prawn cocktail and smokey bacon & Sunday roast potato.
We had an awesome conversation with our Workaway hosts in Ambleside talking about kitchen faucets. Greg was helping to renovate their kitchen and they put the countertop and sink in temporarily to see what it all would look like. I asked if they already had a faucet picked out or if they still needed to get one and they returned my gaze with completely blank stares. For a while they really didn’t quite know what I meant. I think in the U.K., a faucet is something used outside – perhaps for a hose. But a tap is what you use to access water for the kitchen sink. Who knew? I didn’t – but I do now, and am reminded of our comical conversation when I see a tap in a pub or a faucet in a kitchen or bathroom.
Driving is nuts – especially with Greg at the wheel. He’s actually done an amazing job mastering the roads here but has nearly developed a new language of his own in the process. Much to my chagrin (especially when the kids were little) Greg swears with gusto and artistry when driving. Since we have been here he has added new flourish to his cursing, especially when he’s behind the wheel. We sometimes hit hiccups with terminology along the way when we encounter new terms on the road and literally wonder what we are reading. Of course, we are familiar with boot as trunk and petrol as gas but calling a trailer a caravan, a truck a lorry, a turn signal an indicator and the shoulder on a road the verge were all new terms for us.
We have encountered lots of other amusing differences in the way we interpret the English language. Some more differences include white spirit for paint thinner, sellotape for scotch tape, jumper for sweater and engaged for busy/occupied (as on a restroom door). But one of the funniest conversations we had over language differences involved the word “fanny.” My family makes fun of me because I don’t care for the word “butt.” I find it a bit crude and think there are lots of other better words one can use to refer to one’s derriere – words like bottom, rear end or indeed, fanny. I had absolutely no idea that the word fanny here in England is a woman’s most intimate part of her body. Yes, it refers to her vagina. This gives the term “fanny pack” an entirely new meaning, doesn’t it? Imagine the twittering British adolescent school boys in their public-school uniforms (a public school in the UK would be a private school in the US) laughing with glee at the term "fanny pack" and you have an idea of the discussion we had with our Workaway host who is an employee at a public school outside of London.
We have so enjoyed hearing a person on the radio talk about a fancy dinner as “posh nosh” and a sign outside a sewing shop advertising knicker making parties. No kidding! Menus can be funny too. Maybe you would like a bap for lunch -- you can have a bacon bap or a sausage bap, with our without brown sauce. A bap is a bun -- so really, we're talking about a bacon or sausage sandwich on a bun.....but we had to ask what the word even meant before we could order! We love all this so much. The list goes on and on. We have enjoyed discovering the differences and look forward to more of the same as we plan to be in the UK through March when we will move on to Berlin and then Poland and Italy. We are indeed feeling like a stranger in a strange land even though here we supposedly speak the same language!
Now in reality, we know and do our best to practice the true meaning of Christmas. In our family, we go to church on Christmas Eve and celebrate the birth of the Christ child who brings peace and love to all the world. That said, we have a real tendency to be VERY generous with one another at Christmas time. Anyone who has visited us during the holidays can attest to this. The gifts under our tree are usually overflowing. In our defense, we do not spend a lot on “extras” during the year. We tend to put off until Christmas both things that we really need and some special “wants” that we wouldn’t justify buying for ourselves, hoping that someone else might give it to us as a Christmas gift. We also buy each other socks and underwear and put them under the Christmas tree. Yes, we are that practical. But I have to admit that we do enjoy the material giving of (many) gifts as part of how we celebrate Christmas when we are in our own home. For better or worse, it is a tradition that we have fostered over many years. Celebrating Christmas while traveling, however, brings new meaning to our annual celebration.
This year we were in Blandford Forum, England for Christmas. We bought a tiny little Christmas tree at a local nursery. The gentleman who sold it to us “knocked 5 quid off” because we bought it so close to Christmas Eve. We are housesitting in a lovely home, but it is not ours and we do not have any of our own Christmas decorations. We do not have the tree ornaments that our children made when they were in grade school, the picture ornament from when I was pregnant with Chelsea, David’s little Christmas train or the other special items that we have procured over the years. Each one has personal and very special meaning to us, and they are all in a storage unit in Ohio. The homeowners here generously allowed us to decorate with some of their items and Chelsea and Sam brought their stockings which helped to put us in a festive mood.
An important tradition in our family is to listen to Christmas music AFTER Thanksgiving. Well, Thanksgiving takes on new meaning when you are traveling abroad – there is no Thanksgiving in England so you don’t have that day to mark the time like we do in the States. Nevertheless, we waited until after American Thanksgiving to listen to Christmas music. Greg is so good about making sure we have music in our home, wherever home might be. Spotify helped us to enjoy wonderful Christmas music every day leading up to the holiday.
But we don’t need anything and we can’t travel with more than we already have, so that really helped to prevent us from buying more stuff.
We got to celebrate with Chelsea and Sam! They joined us in our temporary home in Blandford. David will join us in Bristol and we will celebrate together again when he is here in January, but for Christmas, it was just the four of us. We did what we usually do on Christmas Eve and on Christmas day – but with less stuff and even more meaning. We attended Evensong services on Christmas Eve at Salisbury Cathedral. It was beautiful, moving and memorable. We made our traditional cinnamon rolls to enjoy In the morning. We opened the few gifts that were under the tree – mostly consumables. And we made an absolutely extraordinary meal. We recreated a dinner we enjoyed at Momofuku in New York City a number of years ago – steamed pork buns, which we ate in the afternoon, and roasted glazed duck with ginger scallion pancakes for Christmas dinner. It was a relaxing day that we spent with family. We played board games and drank champagne by the fire while discussing life. It was wonderful – all without the abundant number presents of years past.
Over the years we have celebrated Christmas in Austria, Belize, Denmark and now the United Kingdom. Each time we have missed family and friends and some of our usual traditions, but we learned more about how others celebrate Christmas, while concentrating on the love which surrounds us, which is most important. These times have given us a real chance to step back from how we typically celebrate and truly realize that Christmas does indeed mean more than what we can get from a store (even though of course, we like that too). Here’s hoping you had a wonderful, meaningful Christmas however and wherever you celebrated!
“If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.” -J.R.R. Tolkien
One of our favorite things to do while we are traveling is to eat locally by cooking our own meals. More and more, we are staying at Airbnb or self-catering apartments that include a kitchen. When traveling with a family of four, it is often cheaper than two rooms at a hotel and we are usually staying in a real neighborhood rather than a tourist area.
We save money by making our own breakfasts in the morning. It tends to make our morning launch more relaxed. We eat in our pajamas, sleep a little longer, make as much coffee as we want. The apartment begins to feel a little more like our home away from home.
But the real fun thing for us to is to prepare nice evening meals with locally sourced food. We often try to prepare a regional dish and try to shop like the locals do. It is a really interesting activity to go to a city market or a local grocery store and try to find all the ingredients you need for a special meal. You will likely be surrounded by locals trying to do the same thing, and as pedestrian as grocery shopping my sound, you may find yourself totally out of your element shopping in a foreign country. Think how disorienting it can be to visit a new grocery store. Now compound that with foods you’ve never seen and everyone speaking another language. Just the other day we had a tough time finding eggs. We finally found them at the end of an isle of boxed foods. Europeans frequently do not refrigerate their eggs!
The local market is even more fun! In many parts of Europe, cities and towns have weekly street markets. Vendors travel from city to city selling everything from fresh produce, meats and cheeses, and fish to jeans, sweaters and underwear. It is a throwback to a time before department stores. Many of these towns heavily rely on the markets and they are a lot of fun. Unless you are close to a big city, you may be miles away from a supermarket or department store. You will not see a Wal-Mart. It is nice.
Once you’ve loaded up on your groceries, it’s back to the apartment to cook. This is a time to make lasting memories. Some of our most memorable meals are seafood paella in southern Spain, fresh pasta in the Provence region of France and most recently braised chicken here in Tuscany. None of the meals were perfect but the memories remain strong because of the challenges and the camaraderie involved in preparing and then sharing the meals together.
Often the kitchen can be as disorienting as the shopping experience. European kitchens tend to be much more “compact” than those in the US. Any directions on appliances will be in a foreign language, and some things you may take for granted-salt and pepper, large baking dishes, sharp knives-may be non-existent in your adopted kitchen. I will never understand the purpose of serrated chef’s knives, but we have found them time after time. It’s all part of the fun.
With the paella mentioned above we had no paella pan but we were in Spain! We went to a little market just a couple blocks from our apartment and picked out some seafood. Somewhere we found some saffron and chorizo was easy! We used the largest skillet we had and squeezed it in. It was probably the only skillet we had so we had to do everything in this one inadequate pan. It was a bit of a struggle but we had a blast and it was delish!
The pasta in Provence was a little less difficult. What made it memorable was the teeny picturesque town we stayed in had no store or bakery and we made it back to our renatl with no bread. We had however noticed a sign in town that said a pizza truck was coming for a visit that evening. So while Chelsea and I manned the kitchen, Betsy and David went down to the pizza truck the see if we could get them to cook us just a crust with maybe cheese and garlic. Betsy speaks French quite well but couldn’t exactly get the cook to understand what we were looking for. We didn’t get exactly what we wanted, but they came home with a white pizza to go with our pasta. Again, quite memorable and very tasty!
When we arrived here in Tuscany this week, Betsy and I hadn’t cooked a meal for ourselves in over a month. Chelsea is with us and we hit a grocery store on the way in to Montichiello-again a town too small to have a food store, bakery, or weekly market. Shopping with Chelsea is an experience in itself, but the girl knows what she wants. After a week in Piemonte we needed some lighter food. We decided on a simple green salad, faro and Romanesco cauliflower, and a roast chicken. All the chicken looked very nice and in recognizable packaging, but then Chelsea spied a blue-footed chicken. We knew it was blue-footed because it still had its feet…and head! When we got it home I realized that although it was de-feathered it had pretty much everything else. No neatly packed gizzards wrapped in paper inside the carcass. We also realized that even though the kitchen had a combo microwave/oven, we couldn’t figure out how to make the oven work. That’s how our roast chicken became a stovetop braised chicken!
When I cut the chicken into pieces (I couldn’t help but think of the “Christmas Story” when I cut off the head), I was surprised that there was no smell at all. It was amazing! I have never had a chicken this fresh.
Chelsea needed white wine for the braising liquid so I went down to a nice little wine bar we passed walking into town and in my best Italian asked for a bottle of white wine. It wasn’t perfect, but I got my point across. Unfortunately, they couldn’t sell me a bottle, but they sold me a glass…in a styrofoam cup…with a lid. Perfect, just what we needed. The meal was fabulous and a great way to spend the evening together.
When we rent a place like this, we cook in about every other night. That gives us plenty of time to sample the local restaurants for lunch and the alternate evenings. It is also a very special way to understand the culture and feel more like a local.