Moments that take your breath away

One of my favorite quotes is “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take but the moments that take our breath away.” I’ve learned that when traveling I am often surprised by when I have my breath taken away.  Some times it is at all the expected places, others it is completely unexpected.


Art has the power to speak to you in ways that words can’t.  It can reach down to your inner most feelings and express hidden thoughts or ideas.

David by Michelangelo

One of the most amazing moments in my life was standing in front of Michelangelo’s David at the Accademia in Florence.  He was so beautiful that I cried.  His eyes were piercing, his body was perfect, his size was overpowering.  It was the first time that art spoke to me in almost a paralyzing way.  I just stood there for almost an hour looking at him.  The most amazing thing was that my son, then 13, had a similar experience.  He was transfixed by this majestic artwork.

Last year I had a similar experience and I must say it was very unexpectedly.  I love impressionists and I simply can’t stand many modern art pieces, especially cubist.  They don’t speak to me.  Picasso has never been one of my favorites.  I respected his work but I simply didn’t get it.  That is until I stood in front of Guernica.

Picasso's Guernica

I never knew that a painting could make me hear the cries of pain and anguish that this majestic painting did.  It was like I was transported into that awful scene and I was helpless, I couldn’t stop the slaughter.  All I could do was witness it.  It was such a powerful experience.  I hope I am a better person because of it, that when I see injustice I will try stopping it so no more Guernicas will happen.

I must say that I was expecting a similar experience when I went to the Louvre.  Mona Lisa is one the masterpieces of all time.  I am sad to say that I didn’t feel the overpowering experience that David or Guernica gave me.  There was a painting in the grand gallery that caught my eye so Mona Lisa was almost secondary.

Monet’s Water Lily

One of my  favorite Impressionist art experiences was visiting Monet’s Water Lilies (Nympheas) at the Orangerie in Paris.  Once again the size is impressive.  The play of color, light and movement make this work so interesting. There are several panels that show all the different seasons and times of the day.  And he did it while going blind.  The will power and the passion that certain people display never cease to amaze me.  I am sad that I was not able to visit his garden, but it’s on my to do list next time I am in Paris.

Two Sisters by Renoir

Renoir is my all time favorite painter and I am so lucky to live near Chicago where I can often visit my favorite painting, Two Sisters.  I simply run up the stairs of the Art Institute of Chicago and find the girls.  I must always say hello them first.  The colors are so vivid and the size is powerful.  I wish I could paint like that, brush strokes that don’t seem to have a purpose but overall give you a play of light, depth and texture.

When traveling go to the museums don’t miss out on some of these experiences.  I know some museums can be very boring, some can be very exhausting but you never know what  will move you.  After all “a picture is worth a thousand words” and you will be a better person for having taken that mental picture.


Staying with Royalty

I was very excited when I received an email from a small B&B where we had stayed last spring and it said that they had just hosted “in December [for] a four day stay a significant European Royal couple who expressed great pleasure at their quiet stay.”  I wonder if it was William and Kate. How cool is that?

I don’t stay in fancy places, instead I look for small places with character.  But I guess the new Royals are also looking for character and seclusion.  This they did find at Rio Arade Manor House in Mexilhoeira da Carregacao in Algarve, Portugal.  It is a lovely and small B&B run by a very nice Irishman, John O’Neil and his Portuguese staff.

The rooms are cozy and private.  We were given a room with a private balcony which was completely sheltered from the outside world by a beautiful bougainvillea.  The bathroom was a plain older style bathroom.  There is a lovely small pool and places to sit and relax around it.  The living room has a very comfortable couch and the big screen TV has about a million channels.  The breakfast was generous and varied.  Once you are inside, the outside world is shut off.

We also appreciated how we became friends as soon as we entered their establishment.  They were willing to talk to us whenever we wanted to strike up a conversation and leave us alone when we wanted to come and go.  John even loaned my husband his left handed golf clubs so he could go golfing, which is a must do in Algarve.  They also gave us great suggestions to see the beautiful beaches.   And because it is in a small village, there are two small convenience stores nearby where I was able to get drinks, fruit and snacks to take with us to the beach.

RIo Arade

Rio Arade

Rio Arade

Rio Arade

Rio Arade

Rio Arade

We ate at a wonderful restaurant in the village just a couple blocks away from the inn.  I am so glad the staff at Rio Arade recommended that we eat at the O Alentejano Restaurant.  It looks like a regular bar but the food was fantastic and Senhor Miguel soon became our friend.  We ate their house specialty Grelhada Mista de Porco Preto- Mixed Grilled Black Pork Meat with Migas.  It is the largest tray of all different cuts of pork chops I’ve ever seen.  There must have been at least a dozen of them.  Migas are a type of bread souffle.  The food was so good, I wish my stomach was big enough to eat it all.  One suggestion is that you don’t order for two people, only order 1 portion because it’s a lot of food.  It could have easily fed our whole family.

Because we were there during the clasico- Real Madrid vs Barcelona, we soon became friends with the owner who actually sat down to watch the game with us.  It seems to be the type of place where you become part of the family.

The funny thing was that I saw the Royal Wedding at the Rio Arade.  So I think it is fitting that Will and Kate came there.

I LOVE finding great restaurants

One of my favorite things to do while on vacation is finding a great, affordable place to eat where preferably there are no tourists. Of course that is easier said than done in some places but I really do enjoy it when I find one.

One night while in Budapest we were trying to find a restaurant recommended by Rick Steves. He usually does a good job but this one was just too posh for us. It looked like a bunch of yuppie urbanites might frequent it. Not what I wanted to take my family to. But right next door we found a great pub/restaurant. It wasn’t very busy but the food was great and affordable. The only down side (and that’s true of all the restaurants we went to in Central Europe) there are no non-smoking sections. This restaurant is called Franz Joseph and it had a wonderful ambiance.  It was decorated with an ecclectic selection of antiques.   It is located at Nagymezo u. 12  Even tough it was a pub I didn’t feel uncomfortable taking my children there.  It had a great selection of Hungarian dishes and some pasta dishes.

Franz JosephFranz Joseph
Franz Joseph

Outside of Franz Joseph

Because it was Thanksgiving and we had just returned from a trip to the baths, we were starving. I had a delicious chicken with sesame seeds, my husband couldn’t live without turkey so he had a stuffed turkey breast, my son had a great fettucine with salmon and my daughter was adventuresome and ate chicken with honey and apples. Every thing was delicious.  We tried eating there again the next night but couldn’t because the kitchens close at 10. We found another place nearby that was open, the food was okay but it was modern and didn’t make an impression. My daughter did love their white hot chocolate though.

Finding a non-touristy anything in Prague was difficult. So many places around Old Town cater to tourists that you must get out of there to find a great place. I found that it is so much cheaper to eat a big lunch and then have a stand up meal for dinner. This is especially true when traveling with children. It just adds up much faster.  For dinner we try finding a pizza place, sandwich shop or try eating something we buy at a supermarket.  This saves us money and keeps the kids happy.

Near Wenceslas Square we found a true gem. U Balbinu on Jungmannova street has a simple and affordable lunch menu featuring Czech cuisine.  Their dinner menu is much longer but it is also quite a bit more expensive.My husband had the Bohemian Kulajda soup- white dill and mushroom soup with cream which was delightful and very different than anything else I’ve ever tasted.  The price was only 29ck.  My son had a chicken noodle soup and I had the lentil with sausage soup also both excellent at 29ck.  What a steal.

U Balbinu

U Balbinu

The decor is really cool.  There are several beer distillery kettles and the old fashioned chandeliers add to the stone decor.  The back room has some quirky pictures of a guy doing all kinds of outrageous things and since it was written in Czech I have no idea what it said.  The main dishes all cost between 79- 189 kc most of them in the lower end.  So you can get a really nice meal  for about $5.  Several of the meals include a strudel for dessert.   The only down side is that there aren’t many dishes for kids but they were able to give my son a dish of rice.

Beef Garlic

Beef Garlic with dumplings

I had Beef with garlic, spinach and potato dumplings.  It was excellent and at 79ck a steal.  My son had the Spice meat mix, rice and strudel.  It was also very good and it included at dessert for only 89ck.  My daughter had the Pork roll with homemade dumplings and studrel.  It was the most expensive at 99kc.  For a picky eater to eat the whole thing it was a compliment to how good it was.  The dumpling was perfect dipped in the delicious sauce that accompanied the meat.  What a find.   The best part of this restaurant was there wasn’t a tourist in sight.  It must be a favorite with locals because it was busy.

On our final day in Prague we ventured outside the tourist zone and went to Vysehrad.  It is a great park with lots of ruins and one of the most beautiful churches I have ever seen.  It was rather cold so we were almost alone looking at the city walls built by Charles.  On our way out of the park we walked a couple blocks to a small restaurant.  I can sincerely say we were the only tourists there because they didn’t have an English menu or even spoke much English.  Thankfully one of the waiters helped us out. The decor was different, it had skeletons everywhere.

Restaurace Usrtaka

Restaurace Usrtaka

It is Restaurace USrtaka near Vysehrad.   They have menus for 95Kc and dinners for 85 or 89Kc.  That was about $5 per person. They made my kids some chicken nuggets and fries. I had Hovezi peceke which is a meat dish with a dill sauce and dumplings.  My son had a pork steak and my husband had a meat dish with carrots.  We had the Kvetakovy krem which is white dill soup which is very good.

hovezi peceke

hovezi peceke

meat with carrots

meat with carrots

So on your next trip get off the main road, look for a place where the locals eat. Try something that you have no idea what it is and just enjoy it.