Archive for the ‘Local Cuisine’ Category

Costa Rica – Day 1

October 3rd, 2008 at 3:46 pm (AST) by Krystyana Richter

My dad’s and my first whole day in Costa Rica started with waking up at 6:00am; thirty minutes after my alarm went off. And the person who woke me up was my dad, who would later use this as an annoying nag. We walked down to the hotel’s restaurant and ate from the breakfast buffet that was included with our room package. The buffet included Gallo Pinto (traditional beans and rice in Costa Rica) and cheese platter that had a cheese like the Mexican Queso Blanco (translation: white cheese). The buffet had all the other regular continental breakfast components, but the tea, coffee, and water had to be ordered through a waiter.

After breakfast, my dad and I hurried to our room to pack our day bags and cameras. We rushed to the lobby in haste due to being five minutes late! The Costa Rica Expeditions mini-van (the tour company we used in the entire trip in Costa Rica) was waiting for us and my dad was quick to use the Yana-waking-up-late-by-30-minutes nag as our “excuse” for being late. Our guide’s name was Jonathan and our driver’s name was Mauricio.

Nice vistas at 11,000 feet atop Cerro de la MuerteWe started our drive to our high altitude destination atop Cerro de la Muerte while Jonathan talked about the history and the area that we were passing through. I slowly started nodding off and finally sleep came.

When we reached our destination, Jonathan got out of the minivan and walked to the back of the vehicle to get a large telescope on a tripod. There appeared to be a few buildings of the government on top of the mountain we were on.

Jonathan pointed out a bird after dad and I put on sweatshirts and got out of the van. There were several birds, and many flowers and plants. After having some birds come up close and taking many photos of our new feathered friends, Jonathan led us across a dirt road to the side of the mountain we were on. I was the first to see an emerald colored skink skitter through the bushes. We followed the little skink for photos for as long as it kept our interest and then headed to higher grounds to look for more creatures. We found more than just animals. The view of the mountains against the morning sun was breathtaking but my dad had his eyes on the weird fungi, lichen, and mold.

Well camouflaged spiny lizard atop Cerro de la MuerteA really cool lizard type creature that took a few moments for us to see it, due to its amazing camouflage, was pointed out to us by Jonathan. Many other skinks and lizards were also pointed out to us – some of them had a rocky look while others blended well into the green grass and plants. We saw a very few animals and the only mammals I saw were humans (my dad, the guide, and driver). And so, came the time to leave for a lower altitude destination known as “the cloud forest”.

Birds could easily be heard as we zigzagged down through the cloud forest into a valley, we could occasionally see a lizard trying to avoid the van. The minivan passed small lodges that all seemed to be in this one valley. Our search was for the rare quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala (not Costa Rica), and in order to find a quetzal, you usually had look for their food source, a fruit tree.

The rare quetzal - found in a tree hundreds of meters away in the valley of San Gerardo de Dota-3Our driver spotted one, but it was at least a kilometer away and behind a few trees. It took me a good fifteen minutes to even see the back of the bird without the help of the telescope. It was hard to take photos of the quetzal from where we were and so I wandered off to look at the other animals and trees nearby. My dad was trying to take a picture of the quetzal through the telescope but we had to leave with a photo that was not quite what we wanted, and so Jonathan was nice enough to give us photo of a quetzal he saw last time. The front of the quetzal was red and green, while the back was a few different shades of green, including emerald. The tail was two to three time his body length. We were told that the quetzal we saw and the quetzal in the photo were both males.

Hummingbirds enjoy the feeder at the Savegre Mountain Hotel in the valley of San Gerardo de Dota-4It was lunch time and that was just down the road at a lodge that grew their own fruit and had a trout farm. The restaurant had many choices but I ordered the steamed trout, which my dad and I both agreed was pretty good. After lunch we went out onto the porch of the restaurant to see hummingbirds of every shape and color fighting their way to a hummingbird feeder. Many photos were taken but Jonathan thought we might like to see the smallest hummingbird in the area and so we walked up hill to where the grounds were the lodge grew its fruit. We passed a few birds of interest but they flew off and so we continued up the hill to see a view of the part of the valley we were in.

A very chubby but pretty bird in the valley of San Gerardo de Dota-2We passed a few trees with epiphytes (plants that attach themselves to trees in the high branches and even the trunks). The apples grown in the area were a species not native to Costa Rica and had been an attempt at growing them. The people of Costa Rica that we had talked to about this, called them slightly sour but my dad and I did not think they were that sour. There were a few guavas on the ground, which gave “fruit” to the idea of buying some fruit for our hotel room.

After looking through the apple trees, we walked back down and came across the smallest hummingbird near the minivan. The bird claimed our attention for a while until rain started coming down on us. Even though it was raining cats and dogs we walked on to see more birds and squirrels.

Jonathan and Krystyana use umbrellas to keep the rain off them in the valley of San Gerardo de Dota

Jonathan was going to take us on a trail which had a terrifying bridge that looked as if could collapse any second and additionally, mud had already started forming from only thirty minutes of rain! After crossing the bridge we found our way blocked by construction of some sort. We soon had to leave to get back to our hotel and so we took a few more photos of the hummingbirds at the feeder and returned to the minivan.

My dad asked for a possible stop at a grocery store for fruit when we came close to San Jose. We stopped at a store where we bought a papaya that was cut in half but still quite big and some limes to go with it. The store had a reasonable selection of items but it felt a little unclean and uncomfortable, though nothing like the grocery stores of Tahiti or Fiji.

Back at the hotel, my dad and I thanked Jonathan and Mauricio for our day of exploration of the wild life of Costa Rica, and hoped that our remaining tours with Costa Rica Expeditions would be as pleasant and educational as the one we just went on.


 

Photos from our Costa Rica Trip

September 26th, 2008 at 12:58 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

It took a while, but I have tagged, cropped, and titled 492 photos from the over 2000 that we took during the 15 or so days Krystyana and I were in Costa Rica.

You can see them here on Flickr or here in The Traveling Richters Gallery.

Now that the photos are up, we’ll work on some posts about our experiences.

 

Doing Uncommon Exploring In New York City

September 4th, 2008 at 5:39 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

When we first decided back in July that we wanted to spend a couple of weeks in New York City last month, we knew we wanted to do things we had not done before during prior visits. That meant we didn’t need to go to the top of the Empire State Building, see the permanent exhibits at the Natural History Museum or Metropolitan Museum of Art, or gawking in Times Square.

However, finding out-of-the-ordinary things to do in New York City was a bit of a challenge. Our American Express Concierge service could only come up with a helicopter tour of New York City. And posts on various travel sites also didn’t elicit anything particularly stellar, except for one thing – a suggestion to get in touch with Context Travel.

Context Travel specializes in scholar-led walks of a number of “great” cities, including Rome, Paris, and New York. If only we had known about them when we were in Paris a couple of months ago… We had first heard of Context Travel in a magazine from American Express just recently, and thought they only covered European cities. They were highlighted as having helped director Ron Howard get a private tour of the Vatican and Sistine Chapel in preparation for the forthcoming movie “Angels & Demons”. So when the folks at Indagare suggested we check out their New York City offerings, we jumped at the idea.

Ultimately, we arranged four tours with Context Travel – I will go into those in another blog entry. But I will say all were very informative and educational, and we’re very glad we partook of the tours.

Another uncommon thing we managed to arrange through our contacts at Relais & Châteaux (where we are members of something called Club 5C), was a private cooking lesson with Chef Tony Aiazzi of the famed Aureole restaurant in New York City. And we also attended a presentation on cooking with liquid nitrogen at Astor Center. More on both of those later too.

We also managed to have dinner in the La Cave cheese cave at Artisanal Bistro, found a last minute table at Per Se (well, actually about two weeks in advance of our dinner), enjoyed dim sum and Peking duck in Chinatown, afternoon tea at The Peninsula’s Gotham Lounge and at The London NYC, Korean BBQ in K-town, and a few other culinary delights.

While we were looking for the more unusual experiences, we also did partake of the more ordinary delights of New York, including visiting various museums to see special exhibits, and a personal first for me – visiting the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. That was an especially emotional and moving day for me because of my roots as a first-generation American. We also caught an off-off Broadway performance, saw a couple of movies, and walked and walked and walked.

There also was business to take care of – we spent our first couple of days in New York at the New York International Gift Fair searching for new products to off in our on-line store at www.BonaireStuff.com. And I had a client meeting for my patent-related consulting business too.

All in all we had an excellent time in New York City. The weather was perfect just about all the time, we had a child sitter service available to us at our great hotel (we had two adjacent rooms at the all-suite The London NYC), and we ate very very well. The only downside to our trip was the markedly higher number our bathroom scales showed us upon our return.

 

Photos From New York City Trip

September 3rd, 2008 at 10:52 pm (AST) by Jake Richter

I finally had a chance to sort through the thousand or so photos I took during our trip to New York City, which ended last Saturday.

You can view them locally on our site at this Gallery link.

Or you can go to Yahoo!’s Flickr service to see the photos.

I hope to get some stories posted tomorrow about our various adventures. For now, however, read the captions for each image.

 

The Richters in The Big Apple

August 17th, 2008 at 9:49 am (AST) by Jake Richter

There was little doubt in anyone’s mind that we could not last until October before traveling again, so today we find ourselves getting to The Big Apple – New York City.

We’re planning on about two weeks of vacation, Traveling Richters style. That means lots of eating out and exploring.

On the exploration agenda, we’re taking the kids to their first trade show – the New York International Gift Fair (NYIGF) in order to give them an idea how gift shop retailers find things to sell, as well as how wholesalers and distributors market their wares. We have a business reason in going too as we run our own on-line gift shop at www.BonaireStuff.com – we’re hoping to find some more interesting Bonaire and Caribbean oriented merchandise to carry in our on-line store.

We also have walking tours scheduled through Context Travel (www.ContextTravel.com) to learn about the Cloisters, the history of tea, ethnic cooking in New York City, and making chocolate. There’s also an off-Broadway show (Around the World in Eighty Days) booked. We’re also hoping to catch the Buckminster Fuller exhibition at the Whitney Museum, plus more regular forays to places like the Metropolitan Museum and the Guggenheim.

And then there’s the dining! We have dinner reservations for almost every night we’re in town at restaurants including Tabla, Le Bernardin, Per Se, L’Atelier des Joel Robuchon, Asiate, WD-50 (molecular gastronomy), a table in the cheese cave at Artisanal Bistro, and a few more goodies. We’re also trying to coordinate a cooking class at another top restaurant, and perhaps a demonstration of cooking with liquid nitrogen (see the post on The Fat Duck in England from a couple of months ago about what this is all about) one evening if we get the timing to work out.

I will try and post pictures and reviews here as best I can.

 

We’re Back Home – The Missing Week or So

May 24th, 2008 at 9:44 am (AST) by Jake Richter

We arrived back on Bonaire, safe and sound, yesterday morning around 3am. The trip home was uneventful, although we had concerns about being able to leave Paris due to a strike which was to have affected Air France as well as lots of other things, but that proved to be a non-issue for us.

My postings to the blog have been, well, missing, since the one below about The Fat Duck, and that’s because once we had control of our own schedule in London and Paris, we abused the schedule, pretty much getting up, going about, getting back to the hotel and going to sleep.

So a very quick summary of what we did (with only a couple of photos because we’ve not had time to process more)

May 14, Wednesday – London
We visited the British Museum, and there visited exhibits about Celts, Romans, Mesopotamia, Assyrian culture, Greek Parthenon, and the Rosetta Stone.

The great courtyard of the British Museum in London
The great courtyard of the British Museum in London
Bas holds some ancient Chinese money, over 3000 years old, at the British Museum
Bas holds some ancient Chinese money, over 3000 years old, at the British Museum
Bas poses, reluctantly, next to a replica of the famed Rosetta Stone at the British Museum
Bas poses, reluctantly, next to a replica of the famed Rosetta Stone at the British Museum

This was followed by excellent dinner at Gordon Ramsay at Claridge’s. Excellent service, great wine pairings, and a tour of the kitchen included.

May 15, Thursday – London to Paris
We had a late start, enjoyed conveyor belt sushi at Yo! Sushi at St. Pancras station, and took the Eurostar train to Paris’ Gard Nord. Dinner was at an excellent small Auberge recommended by the hotel concierge at the Marriott Rive Gauche.

May 16, Friday – Paris
We took a privately guided tour – just the four of us in a mini-van with our driver/guide Rupert – to Versailles to see the palace there and then Giverny to visit Monet’s home and lily pond. Lunch was at a very scenic restaurant located in a water-wheel driven mill along the way, but sadly we ended up in the “tour” dining room with a fixed menu, so we didn’t get to enjoy the breadth of the restaurant’s real culinary offerings. Dinner was at a nice bistro near our hotel.

May 17, Saturday – Paris
Our Dutch friends Martin & Angela drove down to Paris from Rotterdam in The Netherlands, and we went back to Versailles with them, this time by Metro and train, to see the amazing gardens at Versailles as well as some outbuildings, including Marie Antoinette’s “modest” home.

After a mediocre lunch at a cafe at Versailles’ grand canal, we walked around to visit the musical fountain “performances” near the palace. We discovered this was nothing like the fountain show at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Instead, they had merely turned on the fountains for the show (they are normally off except for a few fixed times on the weekends) and piped in music into the area around the fountain. Kind of a let down – an example of where expectations and reality did not intersect.

We then returned back to Paris, visited Notre Dame, and walked around the nearby parts of Paris for a bit before taking shelter from the rain at a Chinese/Japanese restaurant. Not bad, but not great.

May 18, Sunday – Paris
We met up with Martin and Angela again that morning, and headed out to visit the Arc de Triomphe. Krystyana and I were the only ones of our group who braved a tour of the innards of the Arc, which included a large number of stairs to a small museum section upstairs, as well as more stairs to access the open top of the Arc. There we found a great view of Paris, but it started to drizzle, so we headed back down.

We then walked in the drizzle to the Eiffel Tower, where we had a very nice (and very expensive) lunch at Alain Ducasse’s Jules Verne restaurant, half-way up the Eiffel Tower. We learned later that this was the place that Tom Cruise rented out to propose to Katie Holmes (although the restaurant was not under the management of Alain Ducasse at the time).

Great view, and perhaps the best asparagus and best sea bass we have ever had (two separate courses). There was a mashed pea course which could have used a bit more of a salty counter-point (more caviar perhpas) as far as we were all concerned, but the food, and especially the desserts, were great.

Linda also enjoyed (I think) a belated Mother’s Day, as the kids gave her small froggy presents. The only real negative at our meal was that we had to frequently and repeatedly request to get our water glasses refilled, something that should never happen at as fine a restaurant as Jules Verne (it should be done automatically without us needing to ask). And I couldn’t quite tell if the sommelier was being condescending to me or just trying to be funny and not really pulling it off well, although the wines we ended up with were quite nice. We did miss having pairings by the glass for our meal, however – again something different from other high end restaurants we’ve enjoyed. An 8.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

Martin and Angela then made their way north to Schipol airport in Amsterdam, to eventually arrive back at our house here on Bonaire (where they still are, with us, at this moment).

We proceeded from the Eiffel Tower to Les Invalides, which houses the Musée de l’Armée, a military museum which Bas greatly enjoyed as it contained a panoply of armor, swords, guns, and other battle gear. This was followed by a visit to Napoleon’s Tomb under the great golden dome one can see from any high spot in Paris (also at Les Invalides).

We headed back to the hotel to freshen up, and then took a taxi back to the area of the Eiffel Tower, where we boarded a dinner cruise on the river Seine, which took us through sunset and into the night. Very nice views, but very poor food (Linda and I had never had mealy, mushy duck breast before).

May 19, Monday – Paris
We had another late start, but then finally ended up at the Louvre, where we viewed exhibits about various artists and schools of art, include the Dutch Masters. Part of the exhibit in the Dutch Masters section also included modern works by Dutch artist Jan Fabre – some very odd stuff, such as people made out of thumb tacks, sculptures made out of scarab beetle wings, others made out of slices of bone (crosswise), and yet more made out of other bugs, beetles, and even feathers. We also got to see the Mona Lisa and Venus de Milo first hand.

We walked around a bit and ended up at Place de la Concorde and the Champs Elysées, where we saw a large police presence, apparently in response to a possible strike.

Dinner was at Les Foundus de la Raclette, a restaurant serving, of course, fondues and raclette cooking (where you get small pans and cook your own meal, with liberal contributions of Raclette cheese). Very enjoyable meal, although our cheese fondue could have used a bit more flavor. A 7.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

May 20, Tuesday – Paris
We met up with Diane, the friend we had made aboard the National Geographic Endeavour. Diane was also in Paris for the week. Together we went to Montmatre and visited Sacré Coeur, a large cathedral atop the hill that is Montmatre. We planned to go on a tour of the crypts there, and paid admission to something similar to an ATM machine (except it takes money instead of giving it) to get to the “dome & crypt”, not realizing that “dome” meant the top of Sacré Coeur. The stairs up (the only way to go) nearly killed Diane, but the view, once we got there, was phenomenal. I believe it was the highest point in Paris mere mortals could visit, taller than the top of the Eiffel Tower. Going back down, we found the crypts closed for renovation. Sigh.

We wandered about Montmatre for a bit, had a reasonable lunch in the open square where all the artists paint under the open sky, then wandered downhill to the Pigalle area, where we saw the famed Moulin Rouge. From there it was another cafe stop, and then a walkabout which led us to covered shopping galleries featuring unique and interesting shops – antiques, collectible toys, philatelists, galleries, etc.

We had an excellent dinner at a small restaurant we stumbled across, part of which had a retail specialty foods section, although the name eludes me at the moment.

Diane then parted ways with us to go back to her hotel while we made our way to the Eiffel Tower for the last elevator up to the second level (the top level – the third level – was already closed, alas) for a nice night-time view of Paris. Got back to the hotel around midnight.

May 21, Wednesday – Paris
We attempted to visit the Musée Rodin, home to Rodin’s famed Thinker sculpture as well as dozens of his other works, but found instead a massive police barricade around the museum. People were walking past the barricade, so we joined the small flow to discover the museum had been closed for the day. The police presence was there to corral a hundred or so protesting and striking fishermen who were protesting that the combination of high fuel prices and EU restrictions on the types of fish they could catch were hurting their livelihoods.

When we asked one of the policemen in riot gear about this strike, thinking it was the civil servants getting an early start for their announced strike on Thursday, he explained that that strike was scheduled for the following day, and that the fishermen were “today’s strike”. When we asked if there was another strike on Friday, he responded “probably”. Pretty funny and sad at the same time that strikes and protests are so much a part of the Parisian (and perhaps French) culture.

We ended up going to the Picasso Museum instead, where we saw hundreds of his works as well as a film showing him exercising his creative processes.

Dinner was at the Michelin three star restaurant Le Pre Catalan, which had a mind-boggling wine list. We all tried the chef’s menu, which provided a decent sampling of many of the dishes on the menu, but while the food was quite good, nothing really stood out to us. Again, the lack of pre-researched wine pairings was something of a disappointment, and we again had to ask to have our water refilled regularly, although at least here, in contrast to Jules Verne, the refilling was done as soon as we asked instead of having to repeat the request several times. Service otherwise was quite good, but for what the restaurant cost, it could have been better. An 8.0 out of 10.0 on The Richter Scale.

May 22, Thursday – Paris
We spent the morning packing, checked out, and then ended up going to the catacombs at Place Denfert-Rochereau. The catacombs are the resting place for the bones of countless people (records indicate it might have been as many as seven million bodies) who ended up there from cemeteries on the Right Bank which had begun to seep into people’s homes in the 1760s. The bones we saw were mostly neatly stacked and organized, a macabre tribute to mostly unknown people, however plaques on the walls in the catacombs indicated that a fair number of those executed by guillotine in the late 1700s during the French Revolution and its bloody aftermath also found their way there. The catacomb tour was self-guided, and one way. After going in at Place Denfert-Rochereau, we came out about a mile south in a small neighborhood.

Lunch was at a very good and busy bistro on a side street, and we then made our way back to the Rodin Museum, which was now once again open (the day’s strikers and protesters were in a different part of town), but the top floor of the main museum building was closed due to a lack of personnel (due to the strike du jour). A number of Rodin’s sculptures were in a large garden, and more inside the ground level of the main building. We finally got to see The Thinker first hand as well. There was also an exhibit of the works of Camille Claudel, one of Rodin’s protégés. Amazing what these artists could do with marble and bronze.

We made our way back to the hotel to hang out in the executive lounge for a while, and then were off to the airport for a smooth check-in and flight to Amsterdam, and then from there back to Bonaire.

And that’s it for The Traveling Richters’ Moroccan and European adventure.

Our next trip is to Texas in about a month to see one of the showings of the True Colors tour (and we’re scheduled to briefly meet Cyndi Lauper as part of our ticket package too). And, as we’ll already be in Texas, we will be visiting The Alamo as part of the children’s American history school work. Best to see history first hand than merely read about it in a book – or at least so we think.