Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Point Reyes National Seashore and Santa Cruz, CA.

Forming clouds in the valley near Interstate 5 on the way to my brother's house.
 
Had the opportunity to travel north to visit my brother and his family for the Thanksgiving dinner. The next day, we drove to Point Reyes National Seashore via Muir Woods. A long and winding journey through the mountains and the Pacific Coast Highway 1 with spectacular scenery.
 
Sunset at Muir Beach Overlook.
 
Muir Beach Overlook
 
Initially, planned to take the kids biking thru the national park but we ran out of time. Weather was perfect for kayaking- calm, sunny and cool. So, we ended up kayaking across the Tomales Bay from our hotel in Inverness for oysters since that's one of their famous local delicacies. Most families came prepared for a picnic at the oyster company's picnic ground. Not knowing beforehand that it's a DIY oyster feast, we had nothing as the oyster company only sells oysters, cocktail sauces and charcoals for the BBQ grill. No drinks, silverware or any other food. My husband had to beg for a beer from somebody. Borrowed an oyster shucker, lighter and tongs, off we went to find a table to do our own shucking. Mind you, it's a workout to shuck 60 oysters. Threw some oysters on the grill and the rest we ate raw. Very fresh, sweet and briny with a little squeeze of lemon juice.
 
Tomales Bay
Families of jelly fish out for feeding at Tomales Bay.
Approaching Tomales Bay Oyster Company and its picnic ground on our kayaks.
Raw oysters, 2 lemons, an oyster shucker, tobasco and cocktail sauce.
Oysters on the grill
 
Post- oyster, it was time to drive to the Point Reyes Lighthouse. Such scenic drives, we were pleasantly surprised by the beauty.  
 
Aren't these the luckiest cows in California? Enjoying the blue sky next to the Pacific Ocean?
 
Scenic drive on the way to the Point Reyes Lighthouse
 
The picturesque Pacific Coast as seen from the path leading to the Lighthouse
 
Easy 303 steps down to the lighthouse but trekking back up was a workout.
 
Even little cutie needed to stop and stretch herself  half way up the hill.
 
Point Reyes Lighthouse itself was unimpressive but the coastal view made up for it. Took some nice pictures of the Pacific coast and trekked up the hill back to the parking lot. My leg muscles still ache 2 days later.
 
Went to Drakes Bay Oyster Farm to see how oysters were farmed but they're closed for the holiday. These threaded oyster shells are in preparation for reproduction, I guess. To me, farming oysters takes knowledge, hard work and some help from mother nature to create the perfect conditions for them to grow.

Drove to the Earthquake Trail at the park entrance. Learned that Point Reyes used to be in between Los Angeles and San Francisco 20 milllion years ago. Due to the platonic earth movement, it is now located northwest of San Francisco. Amazing facts!

Dinner that night was at a restaurant near SF's Fisherman's wharf. From there, we drove to Santa Cruz for the night. Our hotel was right across the beach. Another beautiful sunny day. Perfect day for biking along the coast. Took off in our bikes and we thoroughly enjoyed the trails. I must say, even though Santa Cruz is well known for its surf waves, it's a paradise for cyclists. Miles and miles of flat coastal trails on the cliff with breathtaking views of the Pacific Ocean. One of the best biking trails I've ever been on.

Seals stretching beneath Santa Cruz Wharf

                                                             Santa Cruz Boardwalk

Statue of a male surfer overlooking a prime surfing spot
Very cool!
Surf city comparable to Huntington Beach, CA ?

Crawling through the traffic on the way back was torture. What should've been a 6.5 hours drive turned into 10 hours with one hour break for dinner in between. We reached home at 11pm that night, totally exhausted! Nonethelss, it's still a wonderful roadtrip.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

European road trip finale.

Second time writing this post. Accidentally wiped out the first writings with a single key. Not even sure which key it was.
The second last day of our European road trip took us to four countries namely, Germany, France, Luxembourg and Belgium. It was what it was because of the scheduling conflict from the day before. Were supposed to visit the Neuschwanstein Castle before arriving in Zurich but due to a miscommunication, we had to drive back to Neuschwanstein after staying 2 days in Zurich. That took away half a day from our original schedule. What to do but pack up the schedule on the second last day.
Having over-nighted in Triberg (Germany), we started the day with tobogganing in Todtnau (Germany). It was crowded that day but definitely worth the wait. Took us 90 minutes to queue up to buy the tickets, board the chair lifts to go up the mountain and queue again to be strapped into the toboggans. Then, off we go down the world's longest toboggan tracks. It was the most exhilarating 6 minutes of our trip.
Lunch stop was at a cafe in Strasbourg (France), the European capital, before heading to Trier (Germany) to see Karl Marx's residence and his political ideologies. Dinner time took us to Luxembourg City and by 11pm that night, we're in Brussels (Belgium) for our flight back home the next day. All in all, we had a good time and I was thankful  it went on smoothly without much glitch.

The name Black Forest had always intrigued me. Named so as the area was so densely populated by pine and fir trees. Hearing the name gave me a sense of mystery. Thus, it was a must-visit for me and it didn't disappoint. The mountain ranges, the small towns and villages just took my breath away. Very story-book like.

The most famous waterfall in Germany- Triberg Waterfalls

Working cuckoo clock in Triberg- should  have bought one since this area is famous for hand crafted wood clocks.
View from our hotel room- very tranquil and homey with smoke coming from the chimneys, laundry hanging on the lines to dry and dogs barking in the distance.

The one night we didn't reserve a hotel room for this roadtrip, we ended up at the Hotel Ketterer in Triberg- walk in rate at 85 euros per night per room with breakfast. Very basic but clean, large rooms. Each room had a queen sized bed, 2 chairs with a table, a small TV, very thin bath towels, hot shower, but no bathroom toiletries whatsoever. Our kids had the room with the window next to the entrance while we had a room in the back which was alright.

Dolmades- minced meat with rice in grape leaves. The best dish of the night at Poseidon Greek Restaurant in Triberg.

Cute little sheds


                                     Loved the homes dotting the hills of the Black Forest.

Black forest cake from Cafe Adler to go. Cake was a mess by the time we got around to it in the car. Very delicious chocolate cake with lots of liquor infused between the layers and cherries on top.

Todtnau's Hasenhorn Coasters. Chair lifts transporting the toboggans and thrill seekers up the mountain. Beautiful view of Todtnau town and the toboggan tracks in the background. A must try! Inexpensive too- 9 euros per person per trip.

Strasbourg- beautiful in some parts of town but abundant graffiti on the buildings spoiled the aesthetics.

Braised pork knuckle from a cafe near Petite France in Strasbourg- pretty good knuckles but the fries and broccoli were less desirable.

                          
Dinner in Luxembourg City- complimentary baked mussels- great flavors. Thanks to rude employees at 2 prior restaurants, we're glad we found this restaurant serving rustic French cuisine. Can't remember the name, though. Tucked away from the crowds of the Place d'Armes square with much nicer waiters and good food. (We walked out of the previous 2 restaurants- never did this before. The first one seated us and left us hanging for 20 minutes. When we got up and left, the waiter would have none of it and started throwing things around. My husband left him some tips and he broke a smile! The second one after seated us, told us we'd not be served if we drank the bottled water that we had bought from somewhere else. Fine, it's understandable. The same snobbish waitress proceeded to tell us unless we order only appetizers from their menu, the food would take over an hour to arrive. My husband was peeved off, left some tips and out the door we went.)

                                     Local pizza with bacon and shrimp croquettes for appetizers.

Enjoyed this roasted duck in cranberry sauce very much- tender and juicy. Just perfectly cooked. Salad was fresh and nicely dressed.

Luxembourg City- small, pedestrian friendly world heritage city but having tasted its local snobbish attitude made it a never again place in our travelling book. Too bad!  
Adolphe Bridge- Luxembourg City

Luxembourg City 

Last leg of the roadtrip- on the way to Brussels at 10 o'clock at night. Memorable trip!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Zurich, Switzerland

Such an international city! Impressive window shopping at Bahnofstrasse- lined with banks, gourmet food stores, fashion boutiques, and name brand stores like Rolex, Cartier, Phillippe Patek, Tods, Chopard, Omega, etc. The best chocolates and mini macaroons (Luxemburgerlis) I had on this trip were at the Sprungli store on Bahnofstrasse. Tried 12 different flavors of their Luxemburgerlis plus 6 flavors of chocolates and they all tasted so good- melt in your mouth smoothness. All that for less than 25 euros. Loved Jelmoli Department Store's gourmet food section- could be my gastronomical playground for the whole day. The countless cheeses,  meats, olives, oils, pastas, wines, pastries, aromatics, etc- amazing. Great selection and variety.
Another grocery store that I like is the Migros Market. This place was across the street from our hotel in Zurich. It's expensive to eat breakfast on site at the hotel or Starbucks or McDonald's. Yes, a Big Mac in Zurich will set you back 11.95 euros. So, we'd wonder across the street in the morning to this market and buy the freshest, most delicious savory pastries stuffed with ham, cheese and bacon for only 2.40 euros each. A 1.25 L bottle of distilled water sells for 1.25 euros here. A lot of the locals came here to pick up some food on their way to work. So, eating in Zurich can be affordable. Just go where the locals go, like any other place.
Drove around Lake Zurich, intending to find the cable car ride to Felsenegg, instead we ended up at Restaurant Buchenegg. Nice place with wonderful views of Zurich, ordered ice creams and apple strudel. Hiked for about a mile and a half up the countryside searching for more views of Zurich. With hardly anyone else in sight, we had a fun time running thru the flowery meadows and stopping once in a while to enjoy the different vegetation along the trails.

                            
Chas Vreneli, a small specialty cheese store at Fraunmunster Square. Had local brie (soft and gooey) and camembert with butterzopfli (braided bread)- so buttery and satisfying. We happened to park our car at the square and I had to check out the store. Parking here is not that expensive. If I remember correctly, it was 3 euros for 2 hours.

Went to lunch at the nearby Zeughauskeller- this restaurant was housed in an old building dating back to 1487. It used to be an arsenal storehouse for weapons and ammunitions- some of which are still on display in the restaurant today. Very friendly service with rustic Swiss food. 

                        Zeughauskeller- half meter long sausage with rosti- hash brown pancakes.  

Veal and mushrooms in creamy white wine sauce- salty otherwise quite good with the rosti.

                                                         Sprungli's confectionaries

                                                The melt in your mouth goodness at Sprungli

 
                                                Jelmoli's Dept Store- very tempting

                                                   Jelmoli's assortment of fresh pasta

                                                         Jelmoli's cheese shop

                                                         Tough choices to make.

                                                            Jelmoli's Italian mozzarella

Scamorza- similar to mozzarella

Olives from around the world

                                Pancetta, prosciutto, smoked ham, bacon, pate, terrines,etc

                                                             More charcuterie

Meat and liver sausages
                                                              
Cute farmhouse at Buchenegg

Apple strudel with vanilla ice cream- sour berries at Restaurant Buchenegg

               Grimmenturm- medieval tower and the red building is about 800 years old in Old town

Swiss Chuchi- famous for cheese fondues. The cheese smell was quite profound about two blocks away. They have a hotel upstairs. One have to really love the cheesy smell in order to stay here.

Traditional four cheese fondue in garlic and white wine with lots of bread- my kids loved it but my taste bud was unable to distinguish the flavors of the cheeses. 


                                           Swiss cold cuts with pickled vegetables- the best

                                                           Fraunmunster Abbey

Grossmunster Church's bell tower

                                                            Grossmunster Church

                                                                    Lake Zurich
                                                                   
                                                                  Lake Zurich

                                                        Swiss flags down an alley

                                         Swiss flags on almost every building in the city

                                                    
                                             Lake Zurich- near the town of Rapperswil

Lake Zurich viewed from Buchenegg