Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Netherlands - Amsterdam

Several other posts have mentioned our first train journey around Europe in 2016. We initially booked a round-trip flight to Amsterdam because that was the cheapest destination from Seattle. We planned to start our trip in Venice, Italy, but the layover was several hours. Instead, we looked for a short flight that would take us within a quick train ride of Venice and had a bearable layover. We found a flight leaving within two hours of our arrival to Milan. After a night in Milan, we traveled to Venice, on to Vienna, stopped in Cologne, and finally went full circle back to Amsterdam. The trip from Cologne was just about three hours so we got to have lunch and enjoy some scenery while we coasted along at about 270 mph! 

We booked the final three nights of our trip at Radisson's Park Plaza Victoria Amsterdam.  The hotel was originally opened in 1890. Inside it has the historic architecture, with narrow winding hallways and rooms with vaulted ceilings. It is situated across the thoroughfare from Amsterdam Centraal train station. We had an amazing view from our corner room. 

There are a lot of things that come to mind when one thinks of Amsterdam... art, coffee shops, canals, red light district, etc. What does not immediately spring to mind is a nice steak lunch or steak dinner. We managed to find three! Click the photos below for the full review.

Eetcafé Lusthof

La Estancia

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Canada - Victoria, Vancouver Island

Back in 2014, when we lived on the West Coast, we were in the Seattle area for business and decided to spend a long weekend in Victoria on Vancouver Island. We enjoyed it so much we went back for New Year's Eve that year.  The ferry runs from Port Angeles or Anacortes, Washington. We have taken both routes to downtown Victoria. Traveling to Victoria from Washington by ferry is easy and enjoyable.

On our first trip we stayed at The Westin Bear Mountain Golf Resort & Spa for one night. The resort is beautiful with mountain views. There is a huge terrace, along with private terraces, for wining, dining or just relaxing. Although in our case, it was a place for working that first day! 

 As much as we enjoyed the resort and the suite that was enormous, the location is pretty far from downtown Victoria. It is perfect for golfers and families.

What we were looking for was a central location from which to explore the city on foot. Luckily we had scheduled the next two nights at Victoria Marriott Inner Harbour. We had a corner room with a nice city view. We booked the same room our full stay there for the second trip.

We love Victoria for its people, its charm and its walkability. You feel as if you are in an old European city. It is also very safe. During our explorations we found amazing watering holes with views of the harbour and seaplanes, Cuban cigars, and of course steak!

In a small out of the way place on Trounce Alley, we wandered to The Tapa Bar. The staff was warm and accommodating. The menu has a wide array of items sure to please any diner and we tried several items! Our favorite (no surprise) was by far the New York Steak served with salsa fresca and pickled onions.

They grill the steak to the perfect medium rare. We tried it with white wine garlic butter sauce and the chimichurri sauce. Both were excellent and our usual order was one of each so we could share - the way tapas are meant to be! I also tried it with shrimp, which was great! We fell in love with this place and ate there every day.  The sangria is made fresh and met all expectations. Even when we tried to venture out, we would wind up back on Trounce Alley. If you love tapas, you should try The Tapa Bar and prepare to be transported to Spain.
If you love steak, you can't miss The Tapa Bar if you are in Victoria. 

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Deutschland - Köln (Germany - Cologne)

In 2016, we took our first train trip around Europe. We started in Milan, Italy and ended in Amsterdam, Netherlands. One of the stops along the way was Cologne (Köln), Germany. Cologne was a stop-over night at Courtyard Cologne to break up the long trip from Vienna to Amsterdam. Neither of us had ever been to Cologne or knew much about the city so we watched some shows like Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown. We took time the following day for sightseeing before moving on to Amsterdam.

In our research we found and were delighted by the tradition involving Kölsch. Kölsch is a beer specific to Cologne and has an interesting history. In Cologne, if you order a Kölsch, you get continuous, bottomless, refills unless you place a coaster over your glass. 

We visited Max Stark because it had great reviews, was close to the hotel, and we wanted to try Kolsch. Let me tell you, they are not joking around. Servers walk with trays of glasses and as soon as you are dry, they do the switch. Somehow they keep up with it but you have no hope of keeping track.

We didn't visit for the steak but were thrilled to see a steak on the menu. After a starter salad, the food arrived fairly quickly but the people watching was great so we were thoroughly entertained. 

The steak was surprisingly good. It was tender and cooked a perfect medium rare. It was severed with a veggie medley, fries. It was nice to have a side that is not a root vegetable in Germany in the fall. 

I hope to go back to Cologne and spend the time needed to get to know the city. If you find yourself in Cologne, and I hope you do, Max Stark is worth a visit. 

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

France - Biarritz


In October 2017, we decided to take our first trip to Basque Country. Many people think first of Spain when hearing the term "Basque"but the Basque people call a geographic area that is located within both Spanish and French borders home. According to Britannica, "The Basque, who speak a language that is among the oldest in Europe, are ethnically distinct from the people who surround them in France and Spain, having preserved their identity among the waves of migrants who have passed through the region since prehistoric times." The region has not only a distinct language and culture, but also a distinct cuisine. Most of the traditional fare is fish based so I won't be doing a review of Basque dishes here. it was a highlight of the trip though!

On this trip we flew into Bilbao, Spain, and out of Madrid, Spain. We spent two nights in San Sebastian, Spain before traveling up the coast to Biarritz, France. Although the two cities are only 48.9 KM (approximately 30 miles) apart, traveling without a car is somewhat confusing. That is a story for another blog. 

Finally in Biarritz after figuring out the travel,we were happy to arrive and enjoy a glass of French wine at the first little cafe we came to.

Biarritz 2017

Biarritz is a beautiful city on the Bay of Biscay in the southwest of France. Well known for its world class surf, Biarritz is a mixture of a surf town and a resort town for the elite. Luckily, we traveled on the off season for tourism. We were told during high season it is impossible to navigate the narrow winding roads due to traffic. Surf town is more our speed and we found cafes and watering holes where the surfers gathered in the evenings. 

We booked two nights at Radisson Blu Hotel. We were given a corner room with a spectacular ocean view. The hotel has a rooftop area with panoramic views that were breathtaking. We normally try the restaurant when we stay with Radisson but on this trip we wanted to explore the city and dine like a local.

We dined at Le Café du Commerce which was trendy and overrated. 

Click the photo below for the full review.

Le Café du Commerce

California Kitchen Biarritz is a place to sit back, relax and dine like a local. We enjoyed the vibe and the food.

California Kitchen Biarritz

Click the photo above for the full review.