Saturday, January 30, 2010

Summer in Vermont '09

Vermont is so beautiful in the summer. The weather is perfect for outdoor activities such as kayaking, biking, fishing, jogging, tennis, swimming or just go on a picnic. Stowe offers most of them, there are trails for biking or hiking, ponds and lakes for kayaking, a recreational area for indoor activities and places for picnics. We just went up to Spruce Peak (above) overlooking the Stowe Mountain for a late afternoon picnic. Just brought a sheet, bottle of wine, cheese and crackers and found a great spot on an empty lot. It was a lovely day and the mountain is green and lush.

You see so many colorful flowers on the roadside such as Poppies, Peonies and many more. Cattles and horses are out grazing. What a wonderful sight. You're closer to nature and it's more laid back. Farmer's markets are also in operation where local farmers bring their produce such as organic vegetables, sweet corn and grass-fed meats, delicious home-cooked meals and home-baked goods, artisan breads, cheeses, plants and herbs, artworks and the like.

We drove to Boyden Valley winery where we sampled their locally produced wine. They also have their Cranberry orchard on site. Boyden Farm is right across the street.

We drove down to Warren/Sugarbush and also to Middlebury and Bristol. These are smaller towns than Stowe and each town has it's own character.

Our friends wonder why we always visit Vermont, it's plain and simple, we love Vermont coz of it's beauty aside from the fact that it's a year-round destination. People here are friendly, food is great and we feel safe. After a while, you get tired of living in the city, so we come here to unwind, destress and enjoy the nature. Air is fresher, water tastes better and best of all, Life is simpler. Can't argue about that. Above is one of the farms we visited with a red barn (of all colors) and yellow wild flowers blooming that add color to the scenery.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Autumn in Vermont '09

We've always wanted to visit Vermont in the fall coz we heard it's beautiful. We stayed in Stowe about 35 miles northeast of Burlington, for the 3rd time. Yeah, we love Stowe so much that we came back in the fall, first was in the winter for skiing and second in the summer. We stayed at the Mountainside Resort which we found online. The place is pretty decent and has a nice view from the balcony just like the one above. It's just a little dated but well-kempt. Afterall, we were out most of the time. When you're in a beautiful place like this, you would just wanna stay out most of the day like we did. There are so many things to see and visit like farms, events and festivals. Pumpkins are everywhere that's why I bought some decorative ones to take back home and they're still on my table up until now (February). I know it's time to toss it away but they still look nice, just as long as they're not rotting.

Below is the visitor's center in Jeffersonville where you can get maps and information or recommendations.

These gorgeous loaves of bread were from 158 Main Restaurant and Bakery in Jeffersonville where we had lunch twice. The restaurant was featured on Edible Green Mountains Magazine. I had their French Onion Soup and it was very satisfying, while my hubby had a Turkey sandwich on their homemade bread. Not many restaurants especially small ones make their own bread coz it's really time and space consuming. I was really surprised by how packed and busy they were despite their location, a small and sleepy town. It's not fancy at all but the food is awesome. Saw the chef and he looked like just got out of bed, or probably he forgot to comb and look in the mirror. There are so many great restaurants in Vermont that serve Traditional New England cuisine. In Stowe, our favorites are Harrison's Restaurant and Bar located in the historic village on Main Street right down the basement of a bank and The Blue Moon Cafe, a fine dining with a bistro feel. For breakfast, we always go to McCarthy's on Mountain Road, cash or check only. For people on a budget, Gracie's Restaurant isn't bad at all. We also like The Bee's Knees in Morrisville, a short drive north about 10 miles. I love their Steamed Mussels and Black Beans Burger. We've also stayed in Warren/Sugarbush or Mad River Valley area in the past and we love The Warren House, too bad they closed and I was really disappointed coz it's where I had the best Lamb Shanks. We also like The Common Man located in a 19th Century barn that serves New England cuisine using local produce. For lunch, Easy Street Cafe is the place to be. I had a half sandwich with a mug of Tomato Soup that was sooo good especially right after skiing. I've also tried their Asian Chicken soup which is very flavorful. Their Asian Seafood Noodle soup was also hands down. For a real fine dining, we headed to Pitcher Inn. It's a Relais and Chateaux approved inn, so elegant and fancy. We had a memorable dinner here. We were disappointed at Chez Henri coz the service was kinda slow and food is just okay. Not what I had expected from a French Bistro. Tucker Hill Inn used to run their own restaurant but closed down 4 years ago. I remember having great dinners there,too.

We visited the Applecheek Farm by the Clarks in Hyde Park for the second time. We had been here in the summer and bought some meat to take back home. They raise organic and free range chicken, Turkey, Emu, Muscovy Duck and grass-fed cattles. They taste really good that we went back to purchase more. They were having their Open Farm Tour day, just right timing or else we would have paid for a private one. So glad it turned out to be a sunny day.

We stopped by a roadside fresh produce stall called the Garden of Eden. The owner is a nice and friendly old man that he didn't want to stop chatting. We bought some fresh corn and Cherry Pie. He even showed us his little nursery where Tomatoes are growing.

You'll see a lot of picturesque sights along the way. We drove down to the border of New Hampshire and checked out small towns such as Norwich, Quechee and Woodstock. We tried to navigate the back roads on our way back but almost got lost, can't rely much on GPS, so always bring a state or road map with you.

I got this Pear Frangipane when we visited King Arthur Flour Co. in Norwich, Vt. Their store is expansive and it's every baker's paradise. I didn't leave empty handed, I had to buy what I needed for my goodies. I had to try this tart and it was up to par. I have their Baker's Companion Book and I haven't tried their recipe for this. Now I know how it's gonna taste.

This is one of the beautiful sights we came across. We had to stop for direction and eat my tart.

Woke up early at 7am and saw this hot air balloon from Stoweflake taking off. That must be fun!

Once again, the view from our balcony. Can't wait to go back, it really feels like home each time we're here. That's why Vermont is one of my favorite places to visit and hopefully retire in the near future. I'll just have to deal with the cold weather.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Barcelona Trip Summer '09

Arrived in Barcelona, Spain on July 30, 2009 afternoon. We stayed at the Hotel 1898, a Philippine themed hotel right on La Ramblas, heart of Barcelona, I suppose. It's a great location next to the Boqueria Market, Carre Four Supermarket, Starbucks conveniently located at the hotel lobby, McDonald's, Burger King, Tapas Bar, Museums and so on. You find beautiful, fresh produce at the Boqueria. It's nice to take a walk in the morning when they start putting out their produce which are being handled carefully and displayed nicely. Perfectly sliced fruits and smoothies are ready to go.

There are lot of stalls that sell cured meats such as ham, chorizo, salami, deli meats and etc.

Below must be the Hotel Monte Carlo. The light effects make it look eerie at night.

Since we love to walk coz you get to see more places on foot, we decided to head to Sagrada Familia which is about 2.5 miles from the hotel. We didn't go in coz of the long lines and it's under renovation as you see in the picture.

I stumbled upon this pastry shop. They look soo good and had to take pictures from the side of the shop. I just didn't want them to stop me from taking.

Below was taken inside Picasso Museum. We went there on a Sunday and line was really long. Found out that admission is free on Sundays, 10 Euros on regular days.

Below is the Casa de L'ardiaca Catedral. It's a nice place to hang out, so many souvenir shops surrounding this Cathedral.

A Cookie store. I wonder how long they've been on display. They all look old.

Parc de Carles where I almost got robbed. Yeah, be careful when you go to places or parks esp. if you're alone. Never entertain people that look locals on their bikes asking for direction. They're just trying to scale or size you up, see what you got and don't be surprised if they come back. Thankfully, I was aware and suspicious of them esp. when the guy came back with another person also on a bike and stood behind me. I had to grab my belongings immediately. I maybe wrong, although, I knew they're up to something. They knew I was a tourist, so why would they ask me? They could've gotten away with a digital cam and an HD Camcorder. Guess, they realized that I sensed it so they fled. Believe me, I was frightened and weakened my knees. Made me paranoid the whole time. So, never let your guards down whenever you're in public.

Below is the Mirador de Colom right at the end of La Ramblas towards the water. Walk along the boardwalk in La Barceloneta and make sure you bring a mat or beach towel with you to lie on the beach.

If i'm not mistaken, that's the Maritime Museum (below) near Mirador de Colom.

Crema Catalan served on their traditional plate.

Be sure to visit Placa Reial where you find restaurants with the best deal such as Le Quinze Nits, the line is so long that you have to be there early. Ambience is great and to my surprise, most of the staff are Filipinos. Food is amazing and very reasonable, just 7 Euros for a pitcher of Sangria, can't beat that, huh? Their sister restaurant few feet away is La Fonda, also good food and nice decor. Below is a Duck with Strawberry sauce over Sweet Potato puree from La Crema, right across from Les Quinze Nits. This restaurant is a lot smaller, so be sure to get there early.

Overall, Barcelona is a vibrant city. There are so many young people on the streets especially on La Ramblas, just hanging out until the break of dawn. My hubby and I thought it was "okay", will I go back? Sure, but I would consider going outside the city next time.

Puerto Vallarta, Mexico '09

This is my second time spending Christmas and New Year's in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. The weather is perfect during this time of the year. We stayed at the Mayan Palace in Nuevo Vallarta, about 10 miles north of the airport. It's such a nice place to stay coz we got a really huge accomodation with 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a kitchenette, dining and living rooms plus a killer ocean view like the one above. We would watch the sunset, the luxury cruises coming and leaving and all the action going on the beach such as the parasailers and nice sail boats and yachts go by.

Every morning, we would walk along the beach for a little exercise. But there's one thing we noticed, it seemed like the water level had risen. On our last visit 3 years ago, the beach front was deep but this time, the water destroyed some of their properties such as the Palm trees, retaining walls and even the preparation for the New Year's eve gala. They were supposed to hold it on the beach but then the big waves spoiled everything. So, they had to transfer right on the golf course. They didn't want to take a chance which i'm glad they did.

Then one day, we saw these little eggs on the beach and found this baby turtle. It's the cutest thing ever. They were all in a bucket trying to get away while the rest of the eggs were buried. The waves must have eroded the sand and exposed all the eggs and these little creatures.

This picture was taken when we went to El Centro, downtown Puerto Vallarta. It's where the action is, more touristy and crowded. You find countless bars and restaurants right on the beach, as well as, hotels. Although it lacks privacy coz the hawkers would just pop up right in front of you. Unlike where we are staying, it's very serene and private. We don't have to worry about leaving our stuff on our lounge seats while we're having lunch at the bar or go back to the room. It's very secluded. The downside is that it's very limited in restaurant options. We always have to take the bus to get to El Centro and when we go, we would stay for hours.

This is Grilled Chicken with Lettuce and Tomatoes on Tortilla which I had for lunch almost daily on the pool. While below is Chicken Tacos smothered with Tomato sauce and Sour Cream with Guacamole. They're equally delicious.

Below are hand-painted plates made of clay (I guess) which you find everywhere. I bought some bowls with chilis and a plate for our plate rack in the dining room. I got them for a reasonable price in the town of San Francisco when we went on a day trip up north.

Next is a Mexican feast. Yes, we had Mexican buffet one night and it was fantastic. We both enjoyed the food, my hubby had the Cochinita Pibil (a Pork dish) for the first time and he loved it. I tried almost everything but a little bit of each dish. I love the Chicken Posole and their Salpicon de Res. They're all familiar to me since we prepare most of them at school. I also like the Bunuelos and watched the cook made them. He uses this flower shaped mold, dip it in batter and fry. It's so light and addictive. You can top it with Cajeta or melted Chocolate or Cinnamon sugar and so on.

We went back to El Arrayan (below) for our Christmas eve dinner. It's always nice to be back to your favorite restaurant where you know you'll have great authentic Mexican food. My hubby had this Grilled Mahi-mahi with Tomatillo sauce while I had Steak with Mole sauce. It was divine. I've always wanted to have Mole and this didn't disappoint me at all.

For appetizers, we ordered Duck Tostadas, didn't look appetizing coz of the color but the flavor was there. Then the Chicken Taquitos with Cream and crumbled Queso Fresco are also to die for. I'm not exaggerating it nor got paid to rave about it. When I like it, I really do. And I would tell the whole world. No desserts, we don't normally get it from the restaurant as we always end up stuffed.

Below is a table side Fresh Guacamole salsa. We went to Pipi's restaurant in El Centro. This was recommended to us by the resort concierge, very touristy ,yet, the ambience is great. They had the Mariachi serenading every table and people are in their festive mood. As soon as we sat down, they served us a basket of Nacho chips with Pico de Gallo and Fresh Guacamole salsa. That's what i'm talking about. Atleast, I know it's freshly made right before my eyes. We ordered Beef and Chicken Fajitas served with Rice and refried beans. The frozen Margarita was served in this humongous glass as big as my face. The food is mediocre but we still had a wonderful time. It's not as authentic as what I had expected. We originally planned to go to El Arrayan but they were closed, so we ended up here. Will I go back? I doubt it.