e•nol•o•gy – (n.) the study of wines

I’m something of a novice in the enological sense. In other words, I don’t know zip about wine.

Today I visited Spec’s Wines, Spirits & Finer Foods flagship store in Houston. Hardly your typical neighborhood wine shop (it’s Texas, y’all), this 80,000 square foot cavernous warehouse has aisles (or “streets”) of bottle-lined shelves. The staff was definitely friendly and seemed very approachable, but I had no idea where to begin. It helps to at least begin with a country, then a preference for a region and type.

In the end, I chose a Pinot Gris from Alsace, only because it was affordable and I hoped it would bring back good memories of the bottles I sampled in France this summer. Next time I may venture down the Spanish aisle. I can always use the helpful signs on the shelf as a guide.

Perhaps being a connoisseur is not in the cards, but I’m willing to take it slowly, one bottle at a time. What are your favorites? How have you learned? Next time I visit this vast Mecca of fine food and wines, I plan to be prepared.

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Extraordinary Sites

Our family has had four Eurocamping adventures over the years and people often ask which campgrounds were our favorites.  Sometimes a campground is interesting because of its proximity to a beautiful natural area or a great city.  But other times a campground can be memorable and extraordinary.

Here are a few of the most memorable.

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Camping Castel San Pietro above Verona

Camping Castel San Pietro (Verona, Italy)

Imagine camping in the ruins of the ancient city walls high above Verona.  What could be more exciting?  The tent sites are fairly small, but there is an extensive network of wooded terraces with enough space to set up a tent.  The views of the city are incredible and we enjoyed the covered picnic shelter for dining al fresco.

Camping in Budapest

Camping in the Buda Hills

Zugligeti Niche Camping (Budapest, Hungary)

Located in the hills above Budapest, this campground was once a historic tram terminal and the station building now houses an on-site restaurant offering authentic favorites such as goulash.  The owner is friendly and helpful and greets guests with a welcome drink and free breakfast.  Nestled in a wooded setting, the campground is fairly convenient for public transport to the city with a bus stop right outside the entrance.

Luxury camping in France

Luxury Camping near Chambord

Camping Chateau du Marais (near Chambord, France)

This campground is far from roughing it.  On the grounds of a chateau less than 1 km from magnificent Chateau du Chambord, this site is in a beautiful setting and features a water park, tennis courts and mini golf.

camping above Florence Italy

Camping Michelangelo above Florence

Camping Michelangelo (Florence, Italy)

Camping Michelangelo offers the best views of Florence and rates are a steal for staying in the city.  With a terrace restaurant, store and the city of Florence a short walk away, camping under the olive trees is convenient and memorable.

A Taste of Home and Distant Lands

One of the most enjoyable things about travel is the opportunity to try new foods in the places you visit.  Each flavor becomes a reminder of a particular moment or place.

I remember sitting at a long table with a new acquaintance and a room full of locals at Pizzeria Bella Napoli in Verona, Italy.  The decor was unremarkable, but happiness brightened the atmosphere.  With every bite of the pizza from the wood-fired stove, we ingested the joyous spirit of the family gatherings and graduation celebrations taking place in that back street eatery.  Our new friend was a colleague’s cousin whom we had met only that morning and she had graciously guided us around the city.  She was pleased to share secret spots such as a wishing well and this well-loved pizzeria.

Other meals have also imprinted upon my memory:  a breakfast of migas in Mexico; simple black beans with Salsa Lizano at Moon Shiva in the cloud forest of Monteverde; our wedding feast, surrounded by family and friends who had lovingly cooked their favorite dishes from countries around the world and brought them to be shared by all.

On our recent trip, I discovered Alsatian and Swabian regional specialties such as Tarte Flambee and Maultaschen Soup.  The Tarte Flambee was a simple French version of pizza with a paper-thin crust, a variety of toppings such as smoked salmon or fresh vegetables and sprinkling of fresh cheese.  Maultaschen is a Black Forest favorite similar to ravioli with a spinach and pork filling in beef and onion broth.  This soup will always remind me of a special day in Stuttgart, spent with a long-lost, newly re-found “cousin-in-law” and her family.  At the end of our trip we met once again and my new cousin presented me with a special gift:  a book of Swabian recipes to awaken memories of our first meeting and to celebrate our new friendship and the beautiful Schwarzwald that she calls home.

Salmon Tarte Flambee

Salmon Tarte Flambee

Schwäbische Maultaschen

Schwäbische Maultaschen – A Black Forest Tradition

At home,  family food traditions include Pizza Fridays, waffles on Saturday, Papa’s pancakes on Sunday.  My daughters look forward to dinners when they return home and enjoy inviting friends to share from time to time.  My regular shopping safaris take me to supermarkets in Chinatown, the family-owned Lebanese deli, the local farmer’s market and the large specialty grocer to hunt for new and interesting ingredients.  And sitting down at my table is a journey to distant places and a celebration of a small circle of family and friends at the same time.

As we traveled through Alsace, we stopped to visit a winemaker that is a fervent devotee of biodynamic viticulture.  Surprisingly, the showcase at the entrance highlighted each variety and vintage, proudly displayed with a glass container full of the rocky soil that the grapes had grown in.  Biodynamic growers use very specific and spiritual growing methods and interfere as little as possible with the natural fermentation process.   As a result, the wine becomes a unique expression of a particular place and growing season and biodynamic viticulture views the vineyard as an interconnected, living system.

Food and wine, family and friends – an interconnected, living system.  I like that.