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food & travel: eastern europe

well hello!  now that my jet-lag has subsided and things are back to normal… here it is… my long-awaited food of eastern europe blog post!
it seemed a natural choice that my wrap up of this trip would be all about the food… but what i didn’t realize was exactly how many pictures of food i took… and sorting through them was a bit of a task.
and trust, i did take pictures of every single thing i ate… but this is the greatest hits, so to speak.

we started our fine culinary journey in prague.
our very first night was spent at a traditional czech restaurant that featured the classics of their culture… this was part of the included meals with contiki and really a lot of fun and delicious!
we started with some appetizers:

 

stuffed tomato, asparagus in ham… lettuce.  a nice light start given the meat extravaganza that would follow soon…
and the soup. it was a really tasty potato soup. light and well seasoned. and while part of me was a tad disappointed it wasn’t goulash, i realized when the main came that it was for the best.

we feasted on duck, sausage, ham and roast pork. and two kinds of dumplings (bread & potato) and it perched on two kinds of cabbage (red & white).
ridiculous amounts of meat & carbs. not a green vegetable in sight. welcome to eastern europe.

we finished off with crepes & coffee.

and enjoyed the entertainment…

day two in prague brought us more delights…
and i finally got my goulash and dumplings.
and we also had table pretzels (do not be fooled, they are not free) and maybe my favourite thing of the afternoon – svařák – a czech hot mulled wine that worked wonders for fighting the chill in the air.

 

i really must unravel the secrets of svařák for this winter… i see recipes online and i think its worth experimenting with because it is a delight.  after this meal, i grabbed a cup to go from a vendor and wandered through the fog across charles bridge.  this is the stuff dreams are made of, kids.

but all good things must… change scenery?  sure!  off to vienna!
one of my favourite meals of the trip was our first night in vienna.  it wasn’t fancy or rich or anything crazy, it was just very well cooked and featured fine ingredients.

our starter was a delicate leek & potato soup and our main was a braised beef with mashed potatoes and carrots.
dessert was a decadent chocolate lava cake.
wins all around!

   

but my most favourite culinary moment on this trip was definitely the schnitzel.

i was so excited to eat schnitzel in vienna… and so when i asked my contiki tour director for her suggestion, she sent me without hesitation to figlmuller for what is considered to be the best in city.  (man, i LOVE having an expert to ask these things!)

and behold… the mother of all schnitzels.
with a side of the most unique potato salad i’ve ever had, topped with lamb’s lettuce.  amazing.

see… look how happy this made me…

the most amazing thing about this meal?
i actually somehow managed to eat the entire schnitzel.  i have no idea how, but i can only take it down to sheer willpower and the fact that my new tour friends were cheering me on.
and also because it was so delicious and the thought of wasting it made me unbearably sad.
the potato salad was sacrificed.  while delicious, something had to give.

after a brief wander around gorgeous vienna, my companions and i had one more vienna specialty to take down.
so again, on the advice of our awesome tour director, we headed to cafe leopold hawelka for an apple streusel and an espresso.

oh wow.  this was an amazing experience on its own.
i’m not the biggest apple lover, but this was a pretty special little treat.  wonderfully balanced, not sweet and not full of mushy fruit.  when you taste it, you know why they say the best in world comes from austria.

and of course, i couldn’t leave vienna without one last specialty product… the world famous sacher torte.
i’ll be honest.  at this point i wasn’t sure i’d ever be able to cram anything else into my body…
so i bought 2 sacher tortes and packed them lovingly for home.  gave one to my mom and my husband and i devoured the other.  it did not disappoint.  its hard to describe… so just think of the best chocolate cake you’ve ever eaten and then times that by 10.  and add a layer of apricot jam.  and you have the magic that is sacher torte.
plus it comes in a fancy wooden box.

last, but most certainly not least… our final stop was when the contiki bus rolled into the gorgeous city of budapest.
where i once again was on the trail of goulash.

our first night we spent on a dinner cruise down the danube and there’s just no words for how stunning this evening was.  the food was an excellent buffet of local eats and the scenery was indescribable.

my last full day in budapest was spent wandering the city after a tour of the parliament buildings… and naturally i was powerless to resist a mid-morning snack in the form of pastry stuffed with cottage cheese.
seriously, budapest knows the power of the cottage cheese.  it’s in a lot of food. and i approve.

after snacks, we moved on to check out the food markets… i could do a whole post on the wonders of the market, but since this is a pretty picture heavy post already, i’m going to give you my two favourites.
a streusel stuffed with cottage cheese and apricots warm from the oven… and kremes.

  

kremes are an emotional throwback for me.  i used to work in a slovakian bakery when i was about 19 years old and we served up all sorts of proper eastern europe treats that i’ve never seen since.  until this trip.
kremes used to be my favourite dessert we made and i sold them by the sheet pan for $2 a square for about 2 years of my life.  and i’ve never seen them since.  so this was pretty cool to see them in their natural habitat so to speak.

anyways, after a trip to the famous szechenyi baths for a few hours of sweet sweet relaxation, we had worked up a bit of an appetite.
what could possibly be left to try that you can’t find at home?  langos!

basically you’re looking at a giant piece of deep fried dough (think a savory beaver tail for the canadians) and its then topped with sour cream, TONS of raw chopped garlic and a mountain of cold cheese.

the result is nothing short of magic….
this was something i had never heard of until this trip. so thank you jen, our contiki tour manager extraordinaire!  because its not easy to show me a food i’ve never heard of before.  especially one thats so clearly up my alley. (hello deep-fried + bread + cheese)

all in all, the food of eastern europe wowed me.  it was at times, what i expected, and at other times it caught me off guard.
i’m so excited and grateful for all the authentic cuisine that i had access to and truly commend contiki on their great work with sourcing great restaurants and being at the ready to point us towards unique specialty items.
as far as culinary world travels go, this was unforgettable and just so unique.
when i first saw the schnitzel come out of the kitchen in vienna… or my first taste of the hungarian paprika in the goulash… and the delight of seeing kremes in the market…

i loved this trip.  and i’d return in a heartbeat if given the possibility.
now… to the gym to work off all those langos, lol!

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travel: prague, vienna & budapest today!

well, today is the day!  my flight departs at 4pm to take me into prague via amsterdam.
and man, i am EXCITED.
i have the pleasure of visiting 3 of the most beautiful cities in eastern europe and its all because of the fabulous folks at contiki.  so my huge thanks to them for hosting me!

prague is a city i have always wanted to see… vienna is a city my mother mentions over and over as being her favourite in europe… and budapest is a jewel i never dared to dream i might be able to cross off my travel list.
so this is not an opportunity i am taking for granted.

but as i’ve mentioned, it will be a whirlwind tour.
2 nights in each city will pass in the blink of an eye… and less than 7 days after departing, i’ll be back in vancouver.
and then i get to chill out on the flying front for a bit.
well… i’m off to hawaii on nov 17th.  but thats like a month away.
*then* no more travel until at least march.  maybe may.
but who has time to think about the future when tomorrow i’ll be looking at this:

to be honest, i haven’t done any research.  i’m basically going into all this blind.
i know that i’ll get the major highlights with contiki and then there’s a little free time in the afternoons and i figure i’ll just kinda wing it.  see what catches my fancy, wander around and take pictures… and just go with the flow.
i won’t really have enough time to really do anything big and i’m sure i’ll make friends with some of my tour mates, some who may have been to these places before, so i’m open to suggestions.
or you know, naps, lol.

anyways.  i haven’t packed, i’m still doing laundry from italy, and i guess i should check the weather forecasts to see what kind of clothes i need… so i literally *am* winging it this trip, lol.
i love this whole guided tour thing, its really allowing me to relax and not be that anal uber planner for all my trips.  its wonderful really to give up the control to a pro and just sit back and show up.  and for anyone thats ever been on a vacation with me, they know that i’m not good at giving up the planning control.
but now that i have, its so freeing.  i should have done this years ago!

okay. time to sort myself here and do the packing.

i believe our hotels will have wi-fi, so please follow me on instagram (vancityrockgirl) for pictures and also on facebook – EatDrinkFlydotcom where i’ll put some pics and updates for you.
xoxoxox

travel: eastern europe with contiki

you know when sometimes something TOTALLY AWESOME happens and you totally LOVE your life?!
that was me today.

I’m very very very excited to be heading off in a few weeks for my very first travel agent familiarity trip courtesy of Contiki.
I applied and really really hoped i’d be chosen and somehow all my happy thoughts panned out and it happened!

so, a mere 5 days after flying home from italy, i’ll be back on a plane to europe, with my destination as prague.

this is a very fast trip.  i am 6 nights in destination total… 2 nights in prague, 2 nights in vienna and 2 nights in budapest.
and i am absolutely losing my shit with excitement.

i booked my flights today (thank you KLM for the awesome deal!) and i am locked, cocked and ready to rock.

Day 1 – Friday 19th October Prague

Make your way to the hotel and meet up with your fellow travellers and Contiki team. This afternoon explore Prague on a relaxed city bike ride past Municipal Haus, National Theatre and stopping off in the iconic Jewish Quarter. The rest of the day is yours to explore this medieval city’s maze of cobbled streets and Gothic architecture.

Tonight we will sample traditional Prague cuisine before kicking off the nights activities with the traditional Polka dance. (D)

Day 2 – Saturday 20th October Prague

This morning we start the day with a city tour. Our local guide will show us Hradcany castle, the Cathedral of St Vitus, Charles Bridge and Wenceslas Square. This afternoon is at leisure to enjoy the city. A chance to taste the local beer or shop for Bohemian glass, the choice is yours! Dinner will be on your own, so you can experience the local culture and cuisine. (B)

Day 3 – Sunday 21st October Vienna

We start today travelling through the Czech countryside via small town Kutna Hora and onto Austria’s cultured capital, Vienna, home to Mozart’s music and of course Apple Strudel!

This afternoon take the time to stroll through this beautiful city – stopping for delicious pastries and coffee along the way.

Tonight we will cruise along the historic Ring Road in Vienna where you will be able to see the Hofburg Palace, St Stephen’s Cathedral and the State Opera House. Dinner will be on your own, so you can experience the local culture and cuisine. (B)

Day 4 – Monday 22nd October Vienna

This morning start the day with the chance to stretch your legs with a walking tour in the city. See the various courtyards of the Hofburg Palace and the famous Kartnerstrasse – before stopping by at the iconic Swarovski Shop for the chance to view the fantastic world of crystal.

This afternoon we will stop by the Old Vienna Schnapps Museum, for a little insight into the tradition of the distillery craft and a chance to sample the product in true Austrian fashion!

After some Schnapps it’s back to the hotel to get glammed up for a night with Mozart. Dinner will be at the beautiful Schonbrunn Palace followed by a Mozart classical music concert in spectacular surroundings. A magical last night in stunning Vienna. (B, D)

Day 5 – Tuesday 23rd October Vienna

Departing Austria this morning we travel into Hungary and onto the Paris of the East – Budapest. On arrival our local guide will give you an insider’s perspective of one of the most beautiful cities in Europe. You will have the opportunity to see hilltop Buda, bustling Pest, The Royal Palace, the Church of St Matthias, the Chain Bridge and Fishermans Bastion. Dinner will be at a restaurant where local cuisine will be served. (B, D)

Day 6 – Wednesday 24th October Budapest

This morning we will check out the Budapest Parliament Building at a leisurely pace – regarded as one of the most beautiful parliament buildings of the world. On the tour you will also have the chance to see the Holy Crown of the former Hungarian Kingdom up close.

A chance this afternoon for you to experience ‘bathing’ in this famous spa city. Your Tour Manager will show you the best baths to visit if you wish, where you can try the steam baths, saunas, massage services and other therapies. For those of you who don’t wish to try the spa, the afternoon is at leisure for you to explore this amazing city.

Tonight we enjoy the city by night with a traditional Hungarian dinner served while you are cruising down the Danube River, taking in evening views of Buda and Pest. (B, D)

Day 7 – Thursday 25th October Budapest

A final farewell to your new friends as we transfer you to the airport for your flight home. (B)