Tuesday, November 03, 2015

The Meatloaf Trilogy

Before you start getting warm and fuzzy over the idea of your grandmother's and mother's meatloaf recipes, or three generations or more worth of comfort food, lovingly presented to your family, let me stop you. We are not talking about the American staple made of ground beef. We are wandering into the realm of familiar words used in a foreign country to describe something very different from your normal frame of reference.

The item I ordered from the menu, at a small family run delicatessen, that incidentally was owned and operated by three generations of butchers in the Austrian city of Melk, were technically loaf shaped, and made of meat, but entirely different. To their credit, I think the younger members of the family knew the joke was on English speakers and were  most likely the translators of the German menu into English, since they seemed fluent when speaking it.

I can't say I was completely surprised when the "Meatloaf Trilogy" arrived at the table, because I had seen variations of these loaves all over Austria, and had been tempted to try one. More like Mortadella or its American counterpart, baloney,  these were meat products obviously made from pork and pork fat. 

The loaf I had noticed most often was spotted not with fat, but with cheese. What surprised me the most was that they had been cooked. These could easily have been thinly sliced in their cold state for a sandwich. This cold cut was very good served hot. The selection was a loaf made with either cheese or pickle and pimento, or just plain. Served simply with some mustard and potato salad, the meal was both filling and tasty.

As long as we're already here, let's discuss the Josef Sdraule Restaurant on the same premises as their butcher shop. The space was old world to the core and charming with walls lined in wood paneling, antique light fixtures, and a menu that didn't break the bank. In fact the most expensive item was Fried Chicken for 9.5 euro.

The warmth, as well as the   charm, of this family run restaurant, continued with the old stove that kept the room cozy on a seriously cold afternoon. Beer helped to lift 
the spirits.

Oh, about that chicken dinner; it was pretty filling for under 10 euro. And the Meatloaf Trilogy at 6.9 euro was a steal.

Hauptstra├če 2, 3390, Melk, Austria
+43 2752 52447
- See more at: http://www.austriayp.com/company/43497/Sdraule_Josef#sthash.JgAIqHas.dpuf
Hauptstra├če 2, 3390, Melk, Austria
+43 2752 52447
- See more at: http://www.austriayp.com/company/43497/Sdraule_Josef#sthash.JgAIqHas.dpuf
Address: Hauptstrabe 2
3390, Melk, Austria
Phone: +43 2752 52447

Josef Sdraule Website 

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Finding Bad Food in Italy

Since the very day I started traveling there, I have said that you would have great difficulty in finding a bad meal in Italy. Italians are exceptionally proud of their culture and express that through their food, by keeping their recipes regional and passing them down from one generation to the next. You, as a traveler, only need to seek out restaurants that advertise regional specialties to find a good meal.

That was then, but this is now, after a visit to Bolzano. You can easily find a bad meal in Italy if you try ordering a pasta dish or a pizza in this town. Travelers expect to eat pasta in Italy, but in Bolzano, you are better off ordering Austrian specialties. Bolzano is too Austrian for the Italians and too Italian for the Austrians. You hear both languages in the streets, but there seems to be no blending of the cultures, unless you choose fusion type food, which I suspect, satisfies no one.

I was so upset after our 2nd meal, that I wondered out loud why Italy didn't just give it back to Austria. I later mentioned this to a young waiter we met from Trento, and his response was matter of fact. He said that Austria didn't want it, thinking it too Italianized. He went on to say that after World War II, when the borders changed, Italy transported many Southern Italians to Bolzano in an attempt to integrate more of their culture into the area.


If Southern Italians migrated there, what happened to their ability to make pasta? They invented tomato sauce and Pasta Puttanesca. How could they be abandoned?  The tomato based lasagne I ordered would have been better if it were the frozen product of Stoffer; ironic since the company name sounds Germanic. Our pizza was soggy; yes, we stooped to that for dinner, because we craved an Italian taste. This is something one does not expect to find in Italy, the country that invented the pizza.

Bolzano has a lively open air market in town and as we wandered through it, we saw all the ingredients one would need for making traditional Italian recipes; tomatoes, herbs, meats and classic Italian cheese. There seemed no good excuse for the lack of classic Italian dishes.

If the truth be known, we decided to add Bolzano and Trento to our itinerary, just to get away from schnitzels for awhile. As much as we liked Bolzano as a small city, we looked forward to finding good Italian food in Trento, and we did.


Bolzano is worth a trip for architecture, shopping, strolling and just about anything else except food. The one exception was the pastry, which looked spectacular, as you can see by the following photo. Those in front are made with chestnut puree and rich dark chocolate.

Having lost over 1200 digital photos during this trip, I regret to be unable to inform you of the restaurants to avoid, but I will caution you to follow your nose for the best options. If it smells good, it usually is. Just remember to not expect too much in the way of Italian fare. Here is a visual reminder:
        Special thanks to William J. Thomson for permitting the use of his photos taken in Bolzano.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Train Travel in Europe

There are a number of options to consider when traveling through Europe by train. Should you buy a train pass, what class, should you buy an open ticket, or specify the time, do you need a reserved seat? Whether making specific plans for your chosen itinerary, or flying by the seat of your pants, even if you choose to do that on a train, there are many things to consider.

Eurail passes: you can travel to any country or select specific countries, when buying a pass, but what advantage is it to have one? If you want to save time and not stand in ticket lines, or try a self service machine, they can save you time, but can they save you money? That only happens when you consider the cost of the tickets if purchased separately. For years I purchased the pass and forced myself on day trips, so I would be using up all the money prepaid for the pass. The convenience of the pass fell apart when traveling during peak hours and the only way to sit on the train was to have a seat reservation, which required standing in long ticket lines. The romance of having the pass and hopping trains at will soon faded.

Rail pass classes: which class offers the most benefit? When I was single, my answer was based strictly on finances. 2nd class was good enough and took me to the same places the 1st class passengers were going. Perhaps it was more crowded, but it was comfortable enough and would still allow me to take the fast trains. When I married, my husband wanted to travel 1st class on the trains, because the cars were less crowded and therefore quieter. Even though I groaned when buying those passes, thinking of all the money I was wasting, I could understand his logic...until cell phones were invented and until we discovered that many places we wanted to visit were not serviced by trains equipped with 1st class cars. My groaning continued, until my spouse realized that 2nd class cars, had become perfectly adequate.

Open tickets or specific times: what are the advantages of each? When purchasing a ticket with no specific time on it, if you change your mind about when you want to leave, you can use it for up to 2 months, or exchange it and travel to a different city. Sounds good until you discover that you cannot use it on every train traveling to your desired destination. That usually happens when the conductor tells you that your ticket is for a regional train and you have just boarded a Eurostar, requiring you to purchase another ticket on the spot, at an increased price. Another disadvantage of an open ticket is that you have no seat reservation, so if you are traveling at peak times, or have boarded a Eurostar going to a popular travel destination you may discover that most seats are reserved and unavailable, and you have nowhere to sit. Worse yet, you may be unable to move to another car, seeking an open seat, due to the throngs of other travelers who also boarded without reservations, most of them holding Eurail passes, wondering why the train was so overbooked, and thinking how inefficient the European system is.

Buying a ticket with a specific time takes away many of the risks involved with an open ticket. You know the specific time to travel, and the specific train. If you miss your train, the worst thing that happens is that you will have to exchange the ticket by standing in another ticket line. Just remember to book a seat when you do that, especially if you travel during peak hours. The ticket sellers can advise you about whether or not you may need the reservation.

About paying for that reservation: what can you do when it's too late to book one? Here are a few tips. It's generally a 2 class train that has the potential for restricted seating. If you can move through the cars, you can also look for unreserved seats and take one. Seats will either have a reservation ticket on the top of the seat, or in the case of compartments, the position chart on the door will have the reservations inserted on reserved seats. Once the train starts moving, assume the reservations are for people getting on at the next stop or two and take the seat until that person boards the train. Since you cannot determine if seats are reserved, before entering the train, try getting on the train near the dining car if you are holding a 2nd class ticket. You can sit in the dining car and it may have a closet for your luggage, while you are ordering and dining. Since it would be impossible to eat enough to justify staying in the dining car on a long distance ride, try asking the conductor if there are available seats in 1st class, and ask if you can upgrade your ticket. 1st class ticket holders seldom have problems finding an available seat.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

The Place to Meat in Salzburg

No, that's not a typo; if you want mass quantities of meat for your meal, Augustiner brewery is the place to go in Salzburg. Because this was my first experience going to a beer garden, even if the inclement weather forced all the activity indoors, I found the system rather peculiar and complicated. The food was not delivered to your table after being ordered from a staff member, but was ordered by you at one of many private vendors on the premises.

There were 6 or 7 vendors that had roasts, sausage, cold cuts, all primarily pork,  but also chicken and one vendor with nothing but salads. Others provided breads and pastries. Although everyone is there for the beer, I did  see soda on some tables, even so, they seemed  awkward in combination with a pastry.

Speaking of awkward, the entire operation was bathed in ritual. In order to buy your beer, you had to select the size beer stein you wanted and pay the cashier, then, like a pilgrim at Mecca, you had to enter into a ritual cleansing. No not your feet, you had to rinse out your mug with hot water. Afterwards you would hand over your receipt to the man in charge of filling the steins. If the Augustinian monastery had been run by a woman, I do believe this system would have been simplified long before the Reformation occurred, but I digress.

Once we selected and paid for our food, my cohort parked me at a table and took off to buy the beers. It was no surprise when he returned with steins that were the size differential of Papa Bear and Goldilocks.

He had selected a pork knuckle that tasted like a cured ham, while I had gone for the pork roast. We both opted for potato salad that tasted like potatoes and onions bathed in a vinegar syrup. The urge came over me to add a pickle and it helped to cut the fatty taste of the pork.

As we looked at our plates, we started to marvel at the huge portion of meat on each of them, so much meat, that the potato salad could have been mistaken for a condiment instead of a side dish. That was an exaggeration, but the memory I had prior to seeing the photos again. Our only remedy was to go back to the food vendors and buy more food, which took the form of a huge pretzel and some home made potato chips. Our decision making may have been slightly influenced by our beer consumption.

Although I felt let down by the lack of beer hall camaraderie, since no one was singing, swaying to music, or clinking their beer steins together, it was a fun experience that I would repeat.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Selfie Less

When we travel we seldom take notice of tour groups, other than to make fun of the group guides who wander around with bright colored umbrellas, oversized flowers or  flags,  even teddy bears, so as to stand out in a crowd and not lose their fledglings. Perhaps that is because we visit so many large cities. Traveling to a smaller destination makes them stand out, every individual in the group.

I often joke that I had lost my greatest  opportunity to add the ultimate travel photo to my blog, after I failed to take out my own camera, when conscripted to take a  photo of a Japanese tour group at the Arc d' Triomphe in Paris. If the groups are more like those seen recently in Cesky Krumlov, my services may never be demanded again.

I know that people want to be in some of their own travel photos, but the selfie  craze has hit a low point when people feel the need to be in every photo. Common courtesy vanishes as people crowd in front of the attraction and one another, jockeying for their position in the perfect selfie, however, that perfection seems never to be achieved and the process continues at the next spot that catches their fancy.

On our 2 night stay at this diminutive World Heritage site, my husband and I reshot countless photos, because after we set up our shots, groups taking their selfies would step in front of us. They didn't see us because they were looking behind themselves to set up their own shots. In Hallstatt, I decided to give one man a taste of his own medicine, when he planted himself less than 3 feet in front of me, as I was about to take my photo. I repositioned myself 3 feet in front of him, as he attempted to take his shot. If looks could kill...now I know the meaning of that cliche on a personal level.

Well, that was nothing compared to the man we passed in St Peter's churchyard in Salzburg. He bellowed a loud "f--k you!", as we passed him along the path. Didn't he know about the delete button on his digital camera? I thanked my lucky stars that I could delete all the disrupted attempts I had made in taking photos. This man wouldn't have lasted 10 minutes in Hallstatt or Cesky Krumlov without resorting to fisticuffs or having a nervous breakdown. He really needed to toughen up; taking successful photos is not for the impatient nor ill tempered traveler.

What about these accessories that allow the iPhone or Samsung to be held 2 feet away from the self involved photo taker? Does the background even get in the shot when the photo subject/photographer is busy craning their neck to see if they are ready for their closeup? I kept observing and not one person looked at anything but their camera, even when it was above their head.

We decided to break for lunch and get away from the group tours. Two women sat at the table next to us and spent their entire time taking posed photos of one another until their order arrived. Even though they were not selfie indulgent it was still annoying. When one approached us and asked if we wanted her to take a photo of us, we answered in unison "No thank you!"

OMG, I just had a frightening thought...what if these people decided to use drones next year?

If You're Full, The Food Is Good

This was an old Czech saying, according to our waiter from The Hotel Grand Cafe located in Cesky Krumlov, a World Heritage site in the Czech Republic. It was embarrassing to hear, because it  reminded me of how very little deprivation the American public has suffered in recent history. We expect food to be much more than filling in order to be good, although that doesn't seem to stop us from over eating at fast food restaurants.


Our meal was filling alright, in fact, a cardinal rule was broken by not cleaning the plate. Because of being just too full to eat another bite, I placed one of the more than generous dumpling slices onto my husband's plate, so my plate would look as though at least an effort had been made to finish the meal. That is a technique that is generally successful, but not this time.

Since we had started with the chicken soup, loaded with what looked like the same bread that had been the primary ingredient within the dumplings, we seemed doomed from the start.
Judging by his selection of roast pork with cabbage, flanked by not one form, but two kinds of dumplings, bread and potato, my husband was already in the weeds when it came to being full. He was overcome by the sheer volume and weight of his own meal, so the "gifted" dumpling languished on his plate.

He jokingly remarked that the Budvar was causing the dumplings in his stomach to expand at a rapid pace. 


Although I could not identify the cut of the venison, it may have been from the shoulder, the cream sauce and red currants added a nice note to the flavor. 

As we scanned other restaurant menus the following day, we couldn't help but notice that the menus with photographs were showing plates with at least 4 or 5 slices of dumplings swimming in cream sauces. We had learned our lesson and dined at a restaurant that didn't even list dumplings.