Wine Cellar Retreat, Czech Republic

 

My school organized an overnight wine tasting event at a vineyard or cellar as they’re more commonly called here. It was at Milanuv Sklep (Milan’s Cellar) in a village called Moravský Žižkov.

 

Some of us arrived early and walked around the village. We drank in the view of the retiring sun, which looked spectacular with its rays painting the sky a pink that my camera lens couldn’t capture. 

 

 

The others arrived and our food was laid out. As hungry as teachers on a Friday after a day of teaching, we devoured platters of cheeses, meats, salads and breads. The owner had smoked the meat just a couple of days before, in preparation for our arrival and it was done to perfection. 

the first round of food

 

The vigneron or as he called himself, the winer*, [Teehee- as a Trini this made me chuckle every.single.time] began telling us about his wines, the region and his friends who are professional winers. Teehee. 

Milan, doing his work.


 

We had 11 different kinds to sample and they came in generous sample sizes. By number 6 it was time for a break and we merrily migrated south for a tour of the cellar. Most of the shelves were empty as they tend to sell out quickly around late autumn.

the line up

 

Milan also let us have our pick of a bottle from one of his fellow winers/competitors. Though his wine was great, that bottle ended up being the favourite of a few of us. Oops 🙂

    

Mr. Winer and Mrs. Winer

 

After his breakdown of the remaining wines, we were invited to finish all the bottles we’d tasted. All 12 of them. Later, we headed outside for some stargazing. The lack of light pollution in the village meant we had a lovely, clear display. Then it was time for us to retire. We returned and headed just upstairs to our rooms. It was the perfect set up. 

 

super comfy beds


In the morning, some went for a walk, some slept in 😉 Breakfast was had, wine was bought and we were on our way. It was an excellent first experience overnighting at a wine cellar. I hope I get to repeat it before I leave the Czech Republic. 

 

 

~~~The Wandering Pier

 

Cost: 700 CZK each (£20/€25/$28) included our accommodation, the food and the wine we tasted. 

*to wine (v) – Trini vernacular. Rhythmic rotation and gyration of one’s waist/hips usually to Soca music. A winer (n) is someone who wines and usually does it well 😉 

Food, Glorious Christmas Market Food!

20141230-123409.jpg

Christmas markets are wonderful for a multitude of reasons. Awesome finds, unique presents, pretty lights and best of all, it gets you the festive mood. Among these, one of the highlights has got to be the food! That could just be me. That could just be the Trini in me. We love our bellies!

20141230-130559.jpg

In this one concentrated area of Christmas fun, you can find so many things to eat. It’s been particularly great this season, because I’m in a new city in a new country and lots of the foods are new to me. My eyes were as wide as the huge, steaming saucepans they fell upon, as I walked along peering at everything. The smells, the colours, the names I very slowly try to pronounce, depending on how many čárkas ´ and are háčeks ˇ are present. All of it makes for an exciting cultural experience.

So, without any further delay, here are some of the delights I have sampled over the past few weeks.

Koleno na pivě. This taste just like the stew we make in Trinidad!!!! So it’s probably one of my happiest finds- stew pork. Extremely tender and juicy. Flavourful. Beautiful.

20141230-121155.jpg

Halušky (“haloushky”). I completely forgot that I was strictly instructed to only have this when I go to Slovakia. But the person wasn’t mad, because apparently now I’ll be able to see why he said that. Haha. Surprisingly tasty… I’m always a little weary of what to expect when cabbage is involved. It also had chunks of sausage in it and some sort of doughy pieces which I later learned is typically made of a mixture of potato and flour. It did make my tummy grumble a bit after :z I’m not sure if that’s due to the dish itself or where I bought it.

20141230-121403.jpg

Horká medovina. Hot honey wine. Ooh-wee. This one will go straight to your head if you’re not careful. Shout out to my students who recommended I try it. Not overly sweet, decent kick, warms the soul and your organs. Yes.

20141230-121550.jpg

Good ol’ ham. The reason this became a priority was because one of my students told me his dad said to him and his mum, “There’s ham in Prague. We are going this weekend!” That was reason enough for me. When I was in Prague, I followed suit. However they cure it gives it an excellent flavour. I could see why one would travel miles for it. Succulent, tasty, divine. One of the best buys.

20141230-121803.jpg
20141230-121718.jpg

Trdelník. I saw lots of these as I wandered around the markets. I had never seen anything like it before. The dough was wrapped around a massive stick and cooked over hot coals. They were then rolled in sugar and nuts. You could also get chocolate put on the inside or add cinnamon as well. Crispy on the outside, chewy on the inside. A filling treat.

20141230-121958.jpg
20141230-122107.jpg
20141230-122037.jpg

Staple mulled wine. Tis the season. There was a huge opportunity to customize your drink at this hut. Spike it however you want and then you could also choose to add lemon, orange, strawberries or raisins and almonds. We bought the recommended Královský Punč (included brandy) and added raisins and almonds to ours. Chin chin!

20141230-122331.jpg
20141230-122423.jpg

Bramborák. Fried potato, need I say more? Okay 🙂 This was essentially a hash brown of sorts. The smell as you walk pass makes it irresistible. That is, until you try it. The flavour was good, it was lightly seasoned. The edges were crispy and crunchy but wow, the oil. About three of my napkins got soaked through with oil. As I got to the halfway mark, I decided to give up. The oil started making me feel a bit queasy. This one was not for me, though I’ve been told that this is one you have to make at home because it’s usually miles better. I believe them.

20141230-122645.jpg
20141230-122612.jpg

Sausages. You can’t really go wrong, can you? I chose a black one and it tasted kind of like black pudding. Kerry chose a lighter one with a yellowish colour, which tasted a bit like liver. We were both pleased with our choices.

20141230-122906.jpg

Langoše. Another one that reminded me of stuff from Trinidad (fry bake). After carefully stretching and shaping the dough, it goes swimming in hot oil. You could add different toppings. Available were cheese, mustard, ketchup and something else I didn’t get the name of. Another one that made the favourite list for me, but I’m probably bias because it reminded me of home 🙂

20141230-123018.jpg
20141230-122950.jpg

And those were my “new buys, new tries” at the Christmas markets here in the Czech Republic. What things do you most look forward to at the Christmas market? Have you ever tried anything strange and new there?

~~~The Wandering Pier

New Things: Péct Cukroví

In the Czech Republic for Christmas everyone bakes a bajillion little cookies, with different shapes, designs and flavours. These are called cukroví. On the weekend, I joined in. A coworker, Markéta extended the invitation to her home for the opportunity to learn and get involved. A chance to learn more about culture and traditions is a big part of what living abroad means to me. It was an easy yes.

20141225-103319.jpg

We started by drinking an Irish coffee, naturally. That was followed by lengthy conversation. We then stepped out onto the balcony to admire the brilliant view of sun kissed landscape and a small village over the way. Then we stepped back inside and began.

20141225-103518.jpg

Rolling, cutting, baking, talking, burning, oops. Seconds matter in the game of cukroví. Homemade jamming. Raisin chopping, nut crushing, piping. A couple of hours in and it was break time.

20141225-104032.jpg

Markéta’s husband prepared a snack for us. The flavour of the cured meat was incredible. Wine was poured. More Bailey’s offered. I had already refused twice (having already had two…or was it three) but I told them I couldn’t say no three times. Bailey’s.

20141225-103648.jpg
20141225-103738.jpg
20141225-103908.jpg

Then came the moment for them to light their final advent candle. They asked me to light one of the candles, which was a small honour for me. That was followed by carol singing. Her husband and two sons sat on the sofa singing and nodding along to the carols they played. It was one of the cutest things I’d seen in a while.

20141225-104202.jpg

Our work turned out great! Everything looked super cute and tasted delicious. It was a Sunday well spent. It was so nice to be in a family home, doing family things. Things like that definitely matter and stand out to me when you’re living away from home and family and friends. If you’re lucky enough to be spending Christmas with your family, don’t let the holiday stresses overrule this precious time. Take a quiet moment to pause and soak it all in. Veselé Vánoce. Merry Christmas.

~~~The Wandering Pier

20141225-104336.jpg

20141225-104414.jpg

20141225-104812.jpg

20141225-105507.jpg

The Texas Folklife Festival

20140913-095905.jpg

This festival is held in San Antonio and it was on the weekend I was there in June. It starts early in the day, but we didn’t go until late afternoon. Even then it was hot, so dress lightly and if you decide to go early wear sunscreen.

20140913-101053.jpg

20140913-100913.jpg

Walking around you can see lots stalls specialising in foods and crafts from all over the world. It was like an international festival. There were also areas that had some great entertainment like traditional dance and music performances.

20140913-100102.jpg
20140913-100237.jpg

I had arrived hungry and there were so many choices I didn’t know what to have. Greek, Belgian, Argentinian, Pakistani, Chinese…. I didn’t want to jump the gun and miss out on something I would have liked more. After seeing people walking around everywhere, eating these giant turkey legs, I settled on that. Even with the help of 3 others it was too much. I definitely bit off more than I could chew, but it was surprisingly moist and very tasty.

20140913-100417.jpg

We enjoyed some drinks, live music and I even got a lesson on how to lasso, from a cowboy! On our way out we came across two fantastic stalls. One was for wine, offering free wine tasting and some very reasonably priced, delicious wine. Did you know that Texas has its own wine country? I didn’t! The Texas Hill Country has wineries, vineyards, tours, tastings and lodgings. So you can go ahead and add that to your list.

20140913-100707.jpg

The other was a stall for jalepeño & pequin jelly. Here you could also taste the flavours, which were in the categories hot (Diablo), mild and sweet. There was cilantro lemon, mint, rosemary, garlic, basil.. So many to choose from, with such fantastic flavour. You can put it on just about anything.

20140913-100535.jpg

We all bought some and if I didn’t have more travelling to do on my trip I would have bought 5 jars instead of just two. Do yourself a favour- Orma’s Original Sweet N Spicy Texas Jalepeño & Pequin Jelly 1-210-784-9526! I don’t know this lady, though I did meet her at the stall and she was lovely. But seriously, you won’t regret it! I’m nearing the end of mine and I WISH I had more. If you’re buying some, feel free to send me one. Anything Diablo, please 🙂

~~~The Wandering Pier

A Korean Wedding

First and foremost, please note that I am referring to a Korean version of a western wedding and not a traditional Korean wedding. The traditional Korean wedding was done in private.

When my friend Andrew invited me to this wedding, I was pleased since I’d never been to one. One of my New Years resolutions for last year (and I’ve kept it) was to do at least one new thing every month. In the run up to the wedding, I got introduced to Kate and she was lovely. We hung out a few times and just before the wedding, her then hubby to be had returned from Australia and we had dinner together.

20140408-041958.jpg

Fast forward to the wedding day. Andrew and I got our glad rags on and made our way to the hotel lobby. As we entered, there were some beautiful floral displays greeting us. People were elegantly dressed in traditional Korean Hanbok clothing, but most were in western attire. We signed a guestbook and then made a contribution. It’s customary to give money.

20140408-042156.jpg

There was a small room in which Kate sat and guests filed in and out for photo opps. She looked absolutely gorgeous. After that was the ceremony. As the music began to play and their family and friends made their way down the aisle. Then came the part that stood out most to me. I was straining to hear everything going on at the alter, albeit in Korean, because there were pockets of conversations dotted all around. As my attention shifted from the alter to my surrounding area, I noted that lots of people weren’t even paying attention! Many weren’t looking at the couple, others were talking with each other and lots were on their phone. Even one of her best friends who sat with us was tapping away on her phone and giggling to herself.

20140408-042408.jpg

It was all too much for me. I looked at Andrew with surprise and annoyance. He smiled knowingly. This was his third Korean wedding and the previous two had also been like this, he explained. He filled me in on his first experience and how shocked he was, but he quickly adjusted. After his recounting, I tried to follow suit. Reluctantly.

The lack of sincere gazes and misty eyes. The photographer constantly darting in and out of their faces. Some lady who’s job was to make sure Kate looked perfect at every moment, from every angle… who at the alter in the middle of it all would run in to shift a stray hair, then move the train of her dress this way, then come back and move it that way… who I must share, was wearing a bright pink top, jeans and trainers….yes, that bothered me greatly. All those, along with the constant murmur of voices meant there was a severe lack of the vibration of love in the room for me.

20140408-042717.jpg

That took away a lot from the experience. Some of it was redeemed by the heartfelt performance of a song by some of her childhood friends. Her sister also did a little dance routine with her school friends. I’m still not sure it was appropriate for a wedding, but it was really sweet nonetheless.

20140408-042939.jpg

Then came a lengthy photography session, which we were invited to be part of. After that came the reception. The food was buffet style and it was fantastic. Korean, Japanese and western dishes graced our plates. During this time the private Korean ceremony took place. Following that, the couple came out to the dining room to individually thank guests for attending. Kate looked stunning in her Hanbok. Seeing the couple dressed in their Hanbok was one of my highlights. We got a few pictures with the newlyweds and said our goodbyes.

20140408-043307.jpg
20140408-043452.jpg
20140408-043749.jpg

We decided to walk home due to our overindulgence. Then, we had a proper chance to talk and I reflected on the whole experience. It really felt like the part of the wedding we experienced was done just because the western style wedding is the thing to do. It’s like the shell of the idea has been adopted, but the yolk got left behind. That’s not meant to cause offense and of course this is just one experience. Perhaps if people would put down their phones, stop talking to each other and turn their attention to the stars of the day, sincerity and happiness for the couple would resonate more in the atmosphere.

20140408-043957.jpg

The Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival 2014 (UWI, St. Augustine showing)

My friend shared a link on Facebook about the festival and I knew straight away that I wanted to check it out.

After spending the day celebrating Phagwa and the evening trying to scrub off the colourful abir staining our bodies, we arrived late.

20140508-100957.jpg

I had already seen the first movie Doubles with Slight Pepper. I enjoyed it when I had watched it. We put down a blanket and sat under a tree. There was complimentary fresh popcorn available, so we munched on that while watching the second film Papilio Buddha.

It was an interesting film, but we unanimously thought that it was dragging on. Maybe the fact that half of the subtitles were not visible because of whatever format used cut them off or that the sound wasn’t always clear because we were sitting at the back, contributed to our growing restlessness. The actors were great and the plot was also good. But it just seemed to draw on much longer than need be. Maybe we were missing the point.

20140508-101154.jpg

Anyway, by the time it was over we were more than ready to leave. In all I think was a good way to spend a different night out, it was free and pretty well organised. There were just the minor gripes with the subtitles and the lack of sound in the back, that I think could have been easily avoided and in future would be easy to fix. If you’ve never been to a viewing, get yourself out to one of them during the next festival. Show some support to the TTFF and hopefully see a great film too.

Off to the theatre, darrrrling.

While I’ve been living away, I have sorely missed events like theatre shows, art exhibitions and live gigs. So, it was an absolute treat when my bestie revealed that her surprise Christmas present for our friend and me, was an evening at the theatre.

We went to see Once a Catholic, which was written by Mary J. O’Malley and directed by the brilliant and talented Kathy Burke. The story is a comedy that takes place in a girls’ convent in 1950’s Willesden. The three of us all went to school at convents, so we could relate to lots of things in the story. For most of the show, I was out of breath with laughter.

20140105-091352.jpg

Even if you don’t have a Catholic background, I think you would know and have heard enough to fully enjoy this show. It was absolutely hilarious. I could totally see why it would ruffle feathers in the Catholic community. But for us, it awakened old childhood memories and made for a really wonderful night out. It was a great return to seeing theatre shows for me.

My friend’s cousin was in the show, so we got to meet her after the show. She and a friend joined the three of us for a drink at the pub across the street. I felt so fancy in the company of actors. It also made me want to run out and do something creative, so here I am writing this blog post.

Joke.

20140105-091623.jpg

But really, talking with everyone at the pub was terrific. Conversation flowed with ease and the atmosphere had a low volt of excitement that ran over from the buzz of the show. At least for me it did ^_^ As the evening grew old, we said our goodbyes. The three of us went home and enjoyed a Sunday roast dinner, which my bestie’s mum had lovingly prepared. This rounded up my Sunday evening perfectly. I hadn’t had a roast dinner in years. Yorkshire puddings, yes!

20140105-091752.jpg