Friday, December 27, 2019

New year's happiness around the world comes in lights, locks, libation

New Year's Eve lights are spectacular in Bangkok, from the beautiful hotels and a dinner cruise on the Chao Phraya River.
Times Square in the distance will soon be aglow and visited by
by thousands to watch the ball drop in central New York City.


  We witnessed a New Year's Day proposal on a Melbourne bridge.  Aussies 
use "love locks" to declare their affection. The keys get thrown in the water.


WE HAVE logged many splendid holidays abroad. It's a fun way to make new friends and learn new traditions. Some favorite memories of the last week of the year:
Down Under, New Year's falls in the summer. So Aussies like to slip a shrimp on the barbie and take a stroll sometimes to add love locks to the bridges they so cherish:
Sydney's famous Harbour Bridge, Melbourne's and Brisbane's several distinctive ones. During the holidays -- even more than the rest of the year -- young Australian couples use padlocks to engrave their names or a message, attach them to a bridge, then throw the keys into the water below.
AUSSIES TAKE credit for inventing the now worldwide  phenomenon but we've also seen love locks on bridges in Europe, the U.S. and South America, particularly Buenos Aires, on El Puente de La Mujer, or Woman’s Bridge which is said to represent the voluptuous shape of a female tango dancer.
DURING A TANGO dinner show one New Year's Eve in Buenos Aires, we feasted on empanadas, flavorful Argentine steak and an inexpensive, delicious red wine.  
The Bay Area's Filoli Historic House and
 Gardens dresses up Christmas-New Years 
week.  Here, Cookie and Keller enjoy.
In Barcelona one New Year's Eve, we joined friends in a splendid paella feast then at midnight, we ate 12 grapes each for good luck, one for each stroke of the clock. Filipinos put their spin on this fruity tradition, too. Philippine tradition is also to eat 12 plums, berries or grapes at midnight. They also believe polka dots are lucky and wear lots of those.  The fun-loving Scots celebrate New Year’s Eve with Hogmanay, or “first-footing.” The first person who crosses a threshold of a home in the New Year brings a gift for luck. Scots also stage bonfires where people swing giant fireballs on poles. This symbolizes the sun and purifies the coming year. Adult beverages are usually part of the fun.
Buffets in Bangkok's best hotels are lavish and detailed.
Here, fruits and vegetables in holiday colors abound.  
WE TOOK our half-Scottish great-niece and nephew and their Scotch-Irish-English parents during the holidays to Filoli Historic House and Gardens. If you're in the Bay Area, soon, do visit this splendid 654-acre estate in Woodside, you'll be treated to a fairyland of lights and holiday decorations, a dozen beautiful Christmas trees and a splendid light display. It's 25 miles south of San Francisco, worth the drive.
Corned beef and cabbage, with onions and potatoes usher in
the new year in Irish homes here and on the Emerald Isle. 
The Thai people love New Year's Eve, time for friends, feasting and fireworks. Bangkok's biggest countdown party is staged each New Year's Eve in front of the city's biggest shopping mall in the heart of the downtown. We once had New Year's dinner at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, where spectacular food displays shared the spotlight with festive lights and decorations.
Melbourne, Australia, "Down Under," decks out its beautiful bridges
with holiday bows.  And the attire is summer clothes, south of the Equator.

Strolling the bridges is a popular New Year's Day tradition.

 IN IRELAND holiday pudding is often served on New Year's Eve, made with Guinness or Irish whiskey, whatever your pleasure. Corned beef, cabbage, carrots, potatoes and onion are as traditional for Irish New Year as they are on St. Patty's Day in the U.S.
South Africans may break their fast New Year's with "khetum." It's rice, fish, chickpeas, yogurt soup, dried nuts and grape jelly desserts.
BUT HERE IS my favorite New Year's tradition, which we joined in once in Cartagena:  With two other couples -- new friends, one hosting us for dinner -- we honored their frivolous Colombian custom. In hopes of a travel-filled new year, we smilingly carried six empty suitcases around the block.

When you fly or cruise into Naples, you'll have an opportunity to visit
the spectacular Amalfi Coast. Consider that for your 2020 wish list.  
UP NEXT:  Where in the world should you travel in 2020? Be daring, do some homework. The new year offers a time to plan and dream, and travel hopes come in many  concepts and possibilities.  We'll share one of our favorite destinations and help you plan to get there yourselves as Naples and the Amalfi coast call us.  We'll have fun and be helpful, so join us. Meanwhile, remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, the arts, nature, family, recreation and more:

Friday, December 20, 2019

Holidays abroad: Let yourself go, invent, try something new

When in Tuscany one Christmas, we took a vineyards and wine making tour. These lovely casks are in a Greve winery.

A Cuban Christmas before President Trump curtailed
U.S. relations.  Dinner was a delicious mojo pork.



Turkish appetizers. a mezze party platter, made a lovely holiday meal in Istanbul.
ALTHOUGH WE ARE seldom in the United States for the holidays, we always celebrate -- sometimes with paella and sticky pudding, maybe borscht and bagels, rijsttafel and raisin pie.
Paella is served for special occasions, and whenever friends
gather in Spain.  This one featured crab, chicken breasts, 
mussels, shrimp, ham and calamari rings served with rice. 
Although we plan our basic trips and destinations years in advance, once we arrive, we're spontaneous diners, up for anything.
WE ASK THE locals, consult the hotel concierge, see what people like, where they dine on "our" holiday. Some of our best culinary adventures happen by the seat of the pants. Christmas and Hanukkah "on the road" meals are no different.
When in Rome, Spain, Greece, Israel, or Argentina, you can be sure it's a holiday -- somewhere, even if Christianity is in minority.  If you're outside the country, on a ship or in a hotel with a group of Americans, there will be a gathering staged to celebrate the holiday with traditional fare. Many places worldwide celebrate their own versions of Christmas, while only a few countries joined our Thanksgiving celebration: Canada,  Germany, Grenada, Japan and Norfolk Island and China.  More and more Chinese are celebrating  Thanksgiving -- to express thankfulness to those who have enriched their lives and even though there are few Christians in China, it's becoming a popular holiday there. Everyone knows Santa, known as "Sheng dan lao ren" or Old Christmas Man. People give apples on Christmas Eve, called "Ping'an Ye" meaning peaceful evening, translated from the carol 'Silent Night'.
Desserts in northern Spain. Have paella in Barcelona and
drive north to San Sebastian for apple tart and bar cookies. 
IN CUBA, CHRISTMAS is a big feasting and family day. In Havana, the day is not complete without a good mojo pork, similar to our pulled pork with spices, lime and orange. That made an early, memorable holiday for us, before relationships were severed, sadly, by President Trump. Another tasty holiday meal was a gorgeous paella cooked by friends in Madrid. We continued the feasting fest the next day with a dessert orgy in San Sebastian.
Potato latkes with sour cream and
apples usher in Hanukkah in Haifa.
Friends served fabulous potato latkes once for a Hanukkah meal in Shaker Heights, Ohio. Complete with the requisite applesauce and sour cream, of course.
'Eating Europe' fun food tours, click here
IN TURKEY, we found duck.  Istanbul’s vibrant expat American community keeps holiday traditions alive.  Tourist-savvy Turks advertised a feast at our Hilton's Bosphorus Terrace Restaurant.  While it was not promoted as holiday fare, turkey, mince meat, ham and pumpkin were are on the buffet line, and we were invited to a table reserved by other Americans. We chose the Turkish cuisine, that wonderful fusion of Central Asian, Middle Eastern, Eastern European and Balkan favorites. We enjoyed mussels stuffed with rice, nuts, and raisins. stuffed vine leaves and squash flowers, purslane with yogurt and garlic, roast lamb and meatballs.
Cheese and red wine began a memorable
French Thanksgiving meal for us in Provence.
 AS WE STROLLED to work off the meal, we smelled the intoxicating aromas of Cantonese and Szechwan cooking.  Following our noses to the nearby Dragon Restaurant in the same complex, we found classic Chinese fare being enjoyed by French, Moroccan, Italian and Australian diners.
We peeked in the Dragon Restaurant as the chef was
serving this beautifully sliced duck -- in Istanbul.
We dined on a festive holiday
cheese plate in France, making a meal of those fabulous bleus, bries and munsters. The French love their cheeses and offered many different types, from camembert to roquefort and boursine that we scarcely had room for the creme brule. Happy Christmas and Hanukkah it was.
Steak and lamb in meat-loving Argentina make 
a  Christmas meal we thoroughly enjoyed.
THE PEOPLE of Buenos Aires don’t need an excuse to party. But Christmas gives them one, in the city's  major restaurants and hotels. The biggest celebration is at Kansas Grill and Bar in upscale San Isidro. As the name implies, the food is inspired by high-end American steakhouses.  Our holiday meal lived up to expectations, artfully served by a tango dancer on break. We had steak and lamb, not turkey or ham, and wonderful pie -- pecan, not mince or pumpkin. Ole!

UP NEXT:  New Year's traditions and celebrations around the world are as varied as the people of the many lands where a bridge might be wrapped in a bow and food rules. We take you to a few favorite spots where we've ushered in the new year -- from Singapore with its magical lights and gardens, to Bora Bora and Fiji, where Santa arrives in a kayak, to Times Square, soon to "drop the ball." Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for a fresh look at travel, the arts, nature, family, food and more.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Fountains Abbey: towering, vast, ancient link with a long ago time


Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal in Yorkshire is  the largest of  its kind in Europe, a vast ruin open to the sky.

Bruce Keller dons a monk's robes to try to imagine what life might
have been like centuries ago, working the inhospitable land.



 NAMED FOR the nearby water source that once fed the monks' crops, Fountains Abbey is one of the best preserved ruined Cistercian monasteries in England.
We recently walked in the monks' shadows in this beautiful but rugged, much loved sanctuary in North Yorkshire. It's located near the charming village of Aldfield and is a World Heritage Site.
Medieval architecture remains in a beautiful setting
making Fountains Abbey a unique tourist destination.
Our Yorkshire hosts, John and Sue, prepped us for the beauty and drama of the ruins, but not the sheer size.  Fountains not only boasts beautifully preserved ruins. It is also by far the largest monastic ruins in the country.
ONE CAN walk for hours, and still not explore its verdant slopes entirely.
The abbey goes back nine centuries, founded in 1132 when 13 disgruntled Benedictine monks broke away from St Mary’s in York. They felt St. Mary's had strayed too far from the original Benedictine principles of austerity and simplicity.
These hard-working men eventually founded their own order, meanwhile plowing the land, raising sheep and providing their own food and garments.
Fountains remained in private hands until the 1960s, but in between were the Georgians, who crafted the first of the stunning gardens.  John Aislabie, a well known British politician, and his son William owned the land for years and added to its elegant hedges and sculpture gardens.
An opulent Victorian church was designed by William Burges in the deer park.  A Jacobean manor house also stands on the grounds, and this month, Christmas is ushered in with frost twinkling above the moon ponds and a carol service in the cellarium.

"Keller and Cookie" prowl the Fountains grounds.
  The place is lighting up for the holidays and concerts.
THE ESTATE is expansive -- almost 670 acres -- and includes a unique water garden, graceful temples, imposing statues, and large grassy areas used for weddings, picnics, concerts and parties. People travel from all over the world to bask in the glories of the natural landscape. National Trust volunteer guide John Carter explained the history behind the landmark as we wandered: The thick forests and mountain slopes, jutting rocks and raging River Skell convinced York's Archbishop Thurston to deed the inhospitable land to the troublesome  monks.  Perhaps he figured it wouldn't amount to much. Wrong.
Clever, and desperate, the monks offered to pray for their neighbors' salvation in exchange for gifts of money and endowments.
Eventually, their enterprise made it one of the largest, richest and most influential Cistercian abbeys in Britain.
Abbeys abound in Europe and the United Kingdom, but none to surpass
Fountains Abbey with its well preserved ruins and fine Visitors Center.

BUT LIFE for a 12th century monk was not easy. The monks undertook vows of poverty, simplicity, obedience, chastity and silence. These vows were strictly observed.  Contact with women was forbidden. Their diet was severe: bread, vegetables and beer; just two meals were offered each day in summer, only one in winter. The monks dedicated their lives to prayer and meditation with church services eight times a day, every day, starting at 2 a.m. Not a life for the weak or unprincipled. 
  A wedding party rests between photos at Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire. 

LOCALS LOVE to show  the abbey off, as well they should. We promised our friends we would return to do adequate justice to it.  One could easily spend a day or two in any season. The site is part of the National Trust, which looks after the place. It also boasts a nice restaurant where we enjoyed lunch. And, of course, a gift shop.
Perhaps it's time to purchase your own personal monk's robe.

This Chinese style duck was found not in a Cantonese city
but in a fancy Istanbul restaurant, on Christmas Day.
UP NEXT:  You may not find traditional fare while dining abroad during the holidays.  But you may be pleasantly surprised if you watch where the locals go to celebrate -- and embrace their choices.  Whether it's steak in Argentina, latkes in Israel, paella in Spain or a barbecue Down Under, give something new a try and embrace the change.  You may find yourself dining on duck in Istanbul! Remember to explore, learn and live, catching us each Friday for a fresh look at travel, the arts, family, nature and more:

Friday, December 6, 2019

York's Castles and great houses beckon -- with a visit to York Minster

Castle Howard's grand entrance and courtyards hosted the wedding reception of a famed British singer Ellie Goulding
to a Sotheby's  art dealer.  Part of the stage assembly and sound system are visible at the right.
 A staged pre-ceremony photo of the Goulding-Jopling
wedding reception at Castle Howard was shared
with the press. -- photo courtesy London Times  

TWO OF YORKSHIRE'S most historic and magnificent structures became even more famous recently when they hosted the wedding of a famous English couple. Singer and composer Ellie Goulding and Sotheby's art dealer Caspar Jopling had just married on the grounds of the famous Castle Howard the weekend before we visited.
Their elaborate wedding ceremony was held in nearby York Minster.
History, gardens in California, click here
The home's magnificent art collection includes ancient sculptures and Roman busts, paintings by old masters and works by Joshua Reynolds and Thomas Gainsborough. 
Castle Howard, like many British castles, is known for its magnificent art
collection:  paintings, sculpture, furniture, tapestries and historic mementos.
Castle Howard is northernmost of the ten castles and houses considered "Treasure Houses of England." 
Owned by Castle Howard Estates Ltd, Simon is chairman and managing director; his elder brother Nicholas, is 63, and each are 50 per cent shareholders. There's family scandal at the castle, made famous by the TV adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's iconic novel "Brideshead Revisited." In 2015, it came to a head as the oldest heir evicted his younger brother and family.  The stately home, 15 miles north of York, is still a private residence for the older brother, but litigation continues. The home has been in the Carlisle branch of the Howard family for more than 300 years and was once served by its own railway station. (What do the simple folk do?)
Anthony Andrews and Jeremy
Irons were on set at Castle
Howard for the filming
of "Brideshead Revisited,"
a 1981 BBC masterpiece.
--photo courtesy BBC Films
NEVER MIND the gossip.  For me, our visit was a nostalgic journey.  I am a devoted fan of "Brideshead...," that masterful 1981 British television serial starring Jeremy Irons as Charles Ryder and Anthony Andrews as Sebastian.  The bittersweet story revolves around a young painter who becomes involved with an eccentric aristocratic family. Castle Howard became Brideshead and much of the footage was actually shot there. So I remembered with affection particular scenes in the magnificent gardens, by the imposing fountain and sculpture hall.
The grounds are grand and imposing with classical
sculpture and an imposing design. 
OUR YORKSHIRE friends John and Sue, toured us around the 18th Century castle, voted by England's Telegraph as "one of the top 10 buildings you must see in your lifetime."
Bruce Keller, aka Keller and Christene Cookie Meyers
pose in front of York Minster, during a recent visit to the UK. 
We spent a leisurely afternoon prowling the magnificent grounds with expansive woodlands, meticulous gardens and the sweeping courtyard which hosted the wedding.
Positioned grandly on the saddle of a natural ridge, the classical landscape was conceived on a Roman scale by Charles Howard, Third Earl of Carlisle. He was a devoted student of classical art and poetry and wished to recreate an ideal world, a "Versailles of Yorkshire" if you will.
He might not have approved of the stage and sound equipment which were being dismantled after the expensive reception following the lavish York Minster ceremony (flowers and vegan cuisine cost 60,000 pounds. Wags put a million pound price tag on the entire affair.)
But since construction took over 100 years to complete, it didn't seem unusual that striking the wedding set should take a few days. 
THE NEXT DAY we were offered another historic treat, a double-header. Our hosts John and Sue planned a visit to York's National Railway Museum, one of the world's finest.
Riding the Brit rails, click here
Sue and John Spaight and Cookie stroll "the Minster,"
as York Minster is affectionately known.
Conveniently, it offers transportation via a charming small road train to York Minster, the second-largest Gothic cathedral of Northern Europe. (Cologne's is only slightly larger.)
We took the quick open-air trip then strolled the streets of York a bit -- the Minster is in a lovely neighborhood so we walked around the building, enjoying its splendid architecture.
INSIDE, THE minster was filled with hundreds of blooms from dozens of wedding bouquets. That added to the charm as we admired the elaborate detail of the building. The Minster charts English Gothic architecture's development from Early English to the Perpendicular Period. Amazingly, the building took more than 11 centuries to complete -- begun in 230 and completed in 1472.
TO US YANKS, whose culture was founded in the 1600s, the century span is staggering.  But like many historic places in England, the site's history stretches back near 2,000 years. It was first used in 627, when a wooden church was erected for the baptism of Edwin, King of Northumbria.
Fountains Abbey is an imposing ruin in North Yorkshire. 
UP NEXT: While we're in the neighborhood visiting splendid palace houses and castles, let's not miss Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal.  The beautiful abbey ruins in North Yorkshire remind of a hard life, when Cistercian monks raised crops and raised sheep.  It is one of the largest and best preserved monasteries in England, three  miles southwest of Ripon in North Yorkshire, near the village of Aldfield. Remember to explore, learn and live and catch us Fridays for fresh looks at travel, arts, nature, family and more.