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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Why I want to go on an eight-day Emerald Waterways river cruise through Europe

Why do I want to go on an eight-day Emerald Waterways river cruise through Europe?
Art, music, food, wine, finding my "roots"- Lots of reasons! 
My husband is a chef, and I’m his resident “foodie”, and we are both history buffs and “culture vultures” of the first stripe, so a river cruise through Europe, with the opportunity to see and learn about the culture and history of our ports, as well as enjoy fine food and wine, has long been on our “bucket list” of dream trips! The eight-day “Danube Delights” cruise offered by Emerald Waterways  is incredibly appealing to both of us, for while we both spent time studying, living, and working in Europe many years ago, the ports on this cruise, especially Bratislava and Budapest, are places we haven’t been to and have always wanted to visit, especially as my father’s family is Hungarian, and the town his family was from is in Slovakia! (The one Hungarian expression he taught me is Eg├ęszs├ęgedre! (Papa pronounced it “Eggesheggereh!”) which means Cheers! or To Your Health!, and hopefully I’d get to use it a lot on this cruise!) I am Jewish, and my father’s family was from Michalovce; Nagymihaly in Hungarian, which my father pronounced “Nutmehi”. It is in eastern Slovakia, about 200 miles from Bratislava, and it would be amazing to finally see where I’m from! My father’s immediate family immigrated to the USA many years before WWII, but family members who remained there were murdered by the Nazis; the deportations of Jews from Michalovce to the extermination camps began in 1942, and in 1944, 3500 Jews of Michalovce were deported. The fact that this cruise includes both a home-hosted tea with a Slovakian family, and the time to go to the Holocaust Memorial and Museum of Jewish Culture in Bratislava would be deeply precious to me. The other reason we’d love so much to do this cruise is for the music: the Bavarian Oompah Band and Hungarian folk music evenings both sound delightful to us, and the chance to attend a concert in Vienna sounds totally wonderful! A very personal reason for so wanting to do this cruise is because I’m a pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrator, and it would be grand if I could do some sketches in the towns we visit, like I did when I studied painting in Italy “way back when”… My fondest memories of Europe are the hours I spent simply sitting in cafes, drinking endless cups of coffee, watching life go on around me, and sketching. I think the chance to do that again would be, perhaps, the best part of this cruise…
My European travel illustrations... would SO love to do this again!

My husband and I first cruised a few years ago, almost convinced by friends not to, as they were sure we wouldn't like it- and we discovered we LOVED it! They said cruising was for “old folks” (not adrenaline-junkies of 67 and 55 like us, LOL). Wrong!  They said the food wouldn't meet our expectations. Wrong! They said we’d be bored. Wrong! Although we highly enjoy the ports and excursions, I think what we love most about cruising is the romantic time we have to reconnect with each other, getting “dressed up” to enjoy lovely, elegant dinners (reminding each other of just how good we can really look!), sitting and talking over a glass of wine and taking pleasure in each other’s company, and just relaxing- being far away from the rushed “reality” of everyday life, and getting to see and enjoy new things… And we both truly like the fact, that, on this cruise, all the cabins have a river view (inside cabins are depressing!), and that it’s a smaller, more intimate cruise experience, with less people than on a huge ship. I think one of the things that would make this cruise so enjoyable is that Emerald includes so many “little” things that aren't so little: complimentary wine with lunch and dinner, coffee, tea, and bottled water, WiFi, port charges, shore excursions, and tips- as so many cruise lines “nickel-and-dime you to death” with hundreds of little charges for these things! While we've taken several Caribbean cruises, we've never had the pleasure of a river cruise, where we’d get to literally travel through Europe by boat, seeing the picturesque, historic towns “up close and personal”, and docking right “downtown”, as it were, with no tenders to wait for, and no choppy seas to deal with! So yes, this European river cruise looms large in our dreams for Many reasons!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Why we're the Ultimate Funjetters!

I am hoping we'll be chosen as the Ultimate Funjetters, so I'm posting 4 photos that I hope will prove that we'll give them the best bang for their buck! :-) They asked for four photos- and I was hard-pressed, because we're a couple of old adrenaline junkies, and I have LOTS of photos of us doing all sorts of cool things, from flying the Wright B flyer in Ohio, to floating on the Dead Sea and riding camels in the Negev desert, to horseback riding in Belize & Jamaica, to bathing in the volcano mud in Cartagena, Columbia and dressing up as a Maiko & a Samurai in Kyoto! Basically, we're game for anything! There are SO many things we've yet do to, and so many things we'd LOVE to do... We love snorkeling and fishing and para-sailing & horseback riding... We love to dance... and we're "foodies" who would love to explore the cultures of Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, and Hawaii- and having a blast in Vegas has been on our bucket list for a decade! Winning this amazing prize- 40 nights in 10 trips at 7 amazing places- would be THE best- an extraordinary chance to have The most romantic adventure trip of our lives! Dan is a workaholic, "can-do" US Army Retired guy, and I (Elisse) am an illustrator and an Official Artist for the US Coast Guard with 35 live-action illustrations in the USCG art collection. (And yes, I'd bring my pens and watercolors on our trip!) We met as FEMA disaster response workers during the 9/11 disaster response operation in NYC, and together we are partners in the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre, the historic inn we created from the flood-damaged building we bought after the floods of 2002! :-)

Zip-lining in West Virginia...

King of the world! We climbed to the top of pyramids in Mexico!

Dan & I para-sailing off the Mexico coast!

Dan & I Jet-Ski fishing!

Our "kids": beaded pet pins by The Lone Beader!

I have been following The Lone Beader (Diana L. Grygo) for a Long time.... and I have Badly wanted to own (and be able to wear) at least one piece of her work!
The Lone Beader's art is really incredible- her pet pins are truly miniature and wearable works of art:  fun, and sweet, and both incredibly clever and perfectly designed, and her beaded paintings are truly magnificent. Perhaps the most amazing thing is that she's "self-taught"- and I don't say that lightly, as I am a watercolor illustrator by profession, and I truly know what it takes to reach that level of skill, not to mention creativity.
My mother sent me a Hanukkah gift check this past December, and I quickly decided- backed by my hubby- that before it wound up going to pay for bills or some such necessity, I should "play it forward", as it were, and finally commission The Lone Beader to do pins of our "kids": Bear the kissy-needy pit bull, Lady-the-Almost-Lab, and the two Psycho Kitties, Caramel and Butterscotch! Back In The Day I had a contemporary art gallery in Germany and NYC, and I represented 26 artists. My original concept when I opened the gallery was to buy a piece from each artist to enable them to make a living at their art and not have to wait tables, and to build a collection at the same time. And I did it- until I literally ran out of money and lost my shirt in the gallery business thanks to a robbery that essentially finished me off. I had to reinvent myself professionally... which I did: as a FEMA Disaster Response Specialist. After I met my husband during the 9/11 Disaster Response Operation in NYC, I went to WV to be with him when he was deployed to West Virginia following the floods of 2002, and became not only his wife, but his partner in the restoration and owning of of the Elkhorn Inn & Theatre:!  And in the process of reinvention and working to make a living all these years, I'd forgotten how much fun it is to be able to commission an artist whose work you love, and let them do what they do best! I sent The Lone Beader photos of our four critters, and she started with Bear. It was So much fun to watch her work through the photos she sent us! And here they are, both completed, and as "Works-In-Progress",  from her sketches to the final pin/necklaces! We were going to frame them, on velvet in a shadow box, but I'm in the process of making myself a necklace on a silver wire with spacer beads, so I can wear them all at once!

The Lone Beader's pins: Caramel, Lady, Butterscotch, & Bear!

The Lone Beader's pins/necklaces, & the lovely boxes they came in!
PLEASE check out her etsy shop and get yourself a pin!:

Tuxedo Cat

Here are the photos of her work on our pets in progress:  

The Lone Beader's Sketch for Lady
Bear in progress!

Bear- as a work-in-progress! 
The Lone Beader's Sketch for Butterscotch
- aka "Li'l Psychopath"

Lady- as she started out!

Lady and Bear!
All the critters!

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Wisconsin Dells: Ducks & Cheese & Wine! And More Wine! And Indiana Wine, too!

And now back to The USA-Canada Road Trip! 
Driving east and south from British Columbia Canada towards West Virginia and home, our first stop in Wisconsin was Foster's Cheese Haus, for we could not leave Wisconsin without one last Wisconsin Cheese & Wine Debauch! We treated ourselves to a plate of assorted Wisconsin cheeses and glasses of Wisconsin wine, and then stocked up on both so we could enjoy them back at the Elkhorn Inn! (And yes, we managed to find places for it all in the packed-like-a-drum truck and freezer! LOL)
Driving through the Wisconsin Dells we Had to do The Ducks! I'd heard about these WWII amphibious vehicles from my US Army Ret. hubs, but while he'd done it all, I had never experienced one, so taking a ride through The Dells on land and sea in a WWII Duck was a must-do on this trip! The Wisconsin Dells are a pretty fabulous kitsch theme town of attractions and motels, that includes the Coliseum and Trojan Horse, as well as flamingos(!), and we got such a kick out of it all that we hope to get back sometime and have a holiday there! 

The Wisconsin Coliseum...

An original WWII Duck, fitted out with troops...

The Original Wisconsin Ducks are WII amphibious vehicles, which far-seeing Wisconsin tourism entrepreneurs were wise enough to buy up, and then use to create sightseeing tours through the Wisconsin forests and on the rivers and lakes... They are a Lot of fun to ride in, and the guide we had made it even more fun! We got to cruise down the Wisconsin River, crawl over the Sand Bar and through Dell Creek, and then plunge into Lake Delton (wheeee!), as well as travel across miles of really pretty wilderness trails, spotting deer hanging out in the woods, and learning about the history of the area. It's a great tour and we highly recommend it!
Through the woods...

On the river...

On the lake...

On the lake...

On the lake...

Deer! Back in the woods...

On the lake...

Our Duck...

Duck with The Wisconsin Trojan Horse... LOL

Dells Distillery

After our Duck Tour we needed a bite to eat, and trusty FourSquare on our Nexus7 led us to the Dells Distillery, a fun, local restaurant downtown, where we had a tasty lunch accompanied by their house-made fruit-
infused rums and whiskies! 
Foster's Cheese Haus Wine & Cheese!

Desert was Really good coffee and house-made fudge we bought down the street at  Original Wisconsin Dells Fudge, (I loved their pumpkin fudge!), and then we got on the road again... 

We had a map of Wisconsin apple farms and wineries in our truck that I had picked up at a tourism office, and we both wanted to stop at at least one of them... and so our last stop in the state was the Apple Barn Orchard and Winery, in Elkhorn, WI, where we tasted and bought heirloom apples (including really cool ones that Thomas Jefferson enjoyed!), as well as apple wine to take home... (Note: there is Always a place in a vehicle for a few bags of apples and a couple of bottles of wine!) 
Dan, choosing wines at Apple Barn Orchard & Winery
Dan, apple picking at Apple Barn Orchard & Winery
Our last day on the road found us in Indiana, and as I was Really blue, without telling me, Dan decided to make a detour to a nearby winery to cheer me up! (Did I marry good, or what?!) We passed a really fun hour+ having a wine tasting at the Buck Creek Winery, and Dan insisted I buy a cute winery top festooned with rhinestones to accompany all the wine and apple cider we bought to take home- and yes, found places for in the truck! :-) 

Buck Creek Winery
Last Road Trip Lunch:
New Bethel Ordinary, Wanamaker, Indiana
FourSquare on our Nexus7 again led us to a great local place to eat: we had a really good house-made pizza lunch at New Bethel Ordinary in Wanamaker, Indiana, before starting the final leg of our month-long road trip home. We arrived at the Elkhorn Inn safe and sound that night, with 450 lbs. of yummy moose meat in the freezer for Chef Dan to turn into fabulous smoked moose tenderloin, moose roasts, moose kebabs, moose chili, and moose burgers! 

Sunday, January 19, 2014

BEST. BURGER. EVER: Chef Dan's Moose Burger! From Elisse's Moose!

BEST. BURGER. EVER: Chef Dan's Moose Burger!
From Elisse's moose! :-) 
I truly can't even Begin to describe HOW good these are! Seared on the outside, rare in the middle... So simple and SO good! IMHO, this TRULY belongs on the list of Great Burgers of the World! Moose courtesy our Foodie Hunting Trip to Canada, augmented by French Fries and Chef Dan's house-made Remoulade Sauce! Can't put moose burgers on our official Elkhorn Inn menu, but we can treat friends! :-)

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Vulcan, Canada, MT & ND: Crashing a National Park, Chasing Trains, THE Big Cow, & Fargo Fine Food!

And now back, again to our road trip back from British Columbia, Canada to West Virginia! 
When I wrote the blogpost on Alberta, Canada, I neglected one short but Very Important stop: Vulcan, the Official Star Trek City of Canada!  While not named for Mr. Spock's home planet (the town was named by a surveyor for the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1915 after the Roman God of Fire- Vulcan- and originally all the streets were named after gods and goddesses of the classical world such as JunoMars, and Jupiter), the town had the great, good sense to capitalize on Star Trek, and is now known primarily for that! Vulcan has a Star Trek themed Tourism and Trek Station, a replica of the Starship Enterprise, and hosts "Spock Days", drawing visitors from around the world! We made a bit of a detour to get there, and unfortunately the museum was closed by the time we arrived, but at least we got to see a bit of Vulcan, and hopefully we will Live Long and Prosper! 
Elisse sez: "Live Long & Prosper!"

Sunset on Vulcan...

Driving south and east, we stopped in Glasgow, Montana at Sam's Supper Club, for a nice dinner; Sam's was packed with happy regulars and very obviously THE place to eat in Glasgow!

Happy Dan at Sam's!

We began our short time in Glendive, Montana being checked into the Comfort Inn by a super-nice gal...  And being checked out by a total psycho with attitude. Pregnant one, with a pierced eye and lip to go along with her bad attitude, apparently a Choice Hotel Staff Tradition. We had our door banged on at 8:23a.m. by cleaning staff. Then our wake-up call at 8:30a.m. Then Another banging on the door at 9a.m., followed by a call from the front desk at 9:30a.m., reminding us that check out was at 11a.m., at which point I said “We got the message- you want us out! We got it!” Checking out we got an earful of ugliness from Ms. Piercings, along with someone else’s bill. When I got to the truck and realized I had the wrong bill, I returned to the desk; finding no one there, I went looking in the back offices, only to be greeted by a screaming Ms. Piercings, now yelling how the Manager was in Florida (“I already told her about you!” she screeched. What, pray tell, did she say? That we paid money to be abused by her?) when I demanded to see her. This loveliness culminated in her actually threatening to call the police (“Please do!” was my response), if I didn't give her back the other guest's bill she had mistakenly given me, and was followed by even MORE nastiness! What a lovely send-off... (This bit of delightfulness was included in our letter to the Choice Hotel CEO. We were told we'd be getting a call from the hotel and an apology. We're still waiting).

At Sleeping Buffalo Rock, Malta, Montana

We stopped at the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum & Field Station in Malta, Montana, where we got to see and touch fossils and dino bones dug up right in Malta's backyard! We spent quite a while at the museum, and interested the lady who showed us the exhibits in Homer Hickam's book The Dinosaur Hunter...
We then perused all the exhibits at the excellent Phillips County Museum next door, which shows how pioneers, cowboys, and Indians worked and played through tools, toys, instruments, clothing, furniture, and historic photographs, as well as life-size replicas of a cowboy bunkhouse, a one-room schoolhouse, church, and mercantile. They have special exhibit on their native outlaw celebrity, Kid Curry, who began his "outlaw career" in 1894 by shooting 'Pike' Landusky, and then going on, with his gang, The Wild Bunch, to commit more crimes in Phillips County, including a train robbery west of Malta in 1901.
We also stopped at Sleeping Buffalo Rock in Malta, Montana, which reposes in its corral under a shed at the junction of US 2 and MT 243. It is an old rock indigenous to the area, part of a group of boulders that the local Indians held sacred. People often leave coins or tobacco as offerings. Roadside America which is what the link goes to) has some interesting info about it:  "Sleeping Buffalo Rock was found by my grandfather when he was a young boy while out riding the plains. Kenneth Arnold Ball was born in Saco, MT Jan. 24, 1908 to Nora Jane and George McLearn Ball, whom herded sheep and raised wheat and grasses. Kenneth went to school with Chet Huntley; they were good friends (Chet even states this in his book Boyhood Memories). The rock was actually carved by the Plains Indians and it was a symbol for the buffalo hunt. They would dance around it the night before the hunt as spiritual hope for a good hunt like football players huddle together for a good game.The Rock was placed near the school in representation of both of the boys, Kenneth and Chet". - Nora Mae, 09/20/2010 
Railfans that we are, we chased trains across the plains... and found lots of other cool things, too!

Harlem, Montana, Pop 808

One of the things that made us stop and turn around...
And with the owner's permission, Dan, who is US Army Ret. Aviation, and I, got to take a close-up look at her!

Pretty... and good eatin', too! :-)

The Sweet Grass Hills, Browning, Montana

Yes, there are dinos here!

Our next stop was for a nice lunch at Boots Bar & Grill, in the (then closed-due-to-the- idiot-sequester) Theodore Roosevelt National Park in Medora, North Dakota: elk burgers w/sweet potato fires, and a Beaver Beer sampler!

Beaver Beer at Boots Bar!

Dan bought us some local, ND wine in one of the little stores in the Park that was open despite the "sequester", and then Dan and I Broke Obama Law, throwing our lot in with our WWII Vets, and entered the closed-due-to-sequester Painted Canyon Overlook in the National Park, me climbing under a chain and dancing over a RR grating, with Dan following in hot pursuit! We photographed the scenic rocks, and on the way back to the car we saw someone apparently examining our car- we thought we were being ticketed for trespassing, but it was just 2 nice Park employees letting themselves in; the lady even held the gate for me! :-)

Elisse, ballsy as usual...

Driving due east across North Dakota on I95, I'm thumbing though "attractions" on our Garmin, and come up the bright idea of stopping to see Salem Sue, the World's Largest Holstein Cow. As we hit Salem, we also hit Snow, and as we climb the winding hill, on top of which stands Salem Sue, it becomes increasingly apparent that this was Not one of my brighter notions... We make it all the way up there, crawling our truck round and around the steep, snow-slick hill, see Sue, and then Dan oh-so-carefully turns the truck around and down we go...

Snow in Salem, ND...

Salem Sue

Salem Sue, in all her glory...

We drove through Bismark, ND, and had a bit of a rest at Keelboat Park...
Keelboat Park, Bismark, ND

Bismark, ND
Night falls over North Dakota...

and then, as night fell, we
 made for Fargo, knowing a wonderful dinner would await us at HoDo, where we'd had such a fine meal 3 weeks previously. Tonight we were treated to live '60s music on top of a great meal: a bon bouche of pureed iceberg lettuce soup with sturgeon, followed by nori-wrapped yellowtail with a sate sauce, and then short ribs for Dan, and milk-poached scallops and lemon-seared butter tender octopus with a wine sabayon for me! And then a lush chocolate cake with a gently-zingy chipotle pepper sauce. And wine. And scotch. And Dan got to schmooze the chef! And now our freezer of moose meat is hooked up and we're ensconced in a Jacuzzi suite at the Comfort Inn in Fergus Falls, Minnesota.
I know- we're gluttons for punishment. LOL

Another great dinner at HoDos!
Next: Wisconsin Dells: Ducks!