Wildlife in Fiji – A Fruit Bat Eating Papaya

There are a lot of great things about Fiji like the scuba diving, the fishing and incredible people.  One of the things not really known or thought about is the tasty papaya.  The fruit bats love them a lot and will be out day or night eating them up.  Check out this one getting his fill on a ripe one.

The Guardians of Spanish Heritage – The Parador Hotels

Sweet Dreams Are Made Of These

Since 1928, the Spanish government at the initiative of Marqués Vega Inclán, King Alfonso XIII  opened the first Hotel Parador of Tourism in the heart of the Gredos Mountain range in Navarredonda de Gredos, Ávila.  For the last 82 years, the Parador Hotel Network has been rescuing ancient hilltop castles, intriguing historic fortresses, impressively enchanting monasteries, majestic medieval convents, princely palatial mansions, massive octagonal stronghold towers and noblemen´s manor houses. Additionally, they have been recruiting internationally renowned architect teams and restoration specialists to transform them into privileged paradises with 21st century comfort and hotels featuring superior amenities without losing their extraordinaire ambiances, fabled characters and historic circa details.

Furthermore, they are offering around the Iberian peninsula, expertise in the art of seducing palates with their  93 regional Tasters´ lunch and dinner cartes between 27 Euros – 32.50 Euros. My friend, and intercambio, Ana Maria Martin and I believe all 93 are worth visiting 365 days a year.  Noted for maintaining their original concepts, one of which states, to act as the guardians of Spanish national artistic heritage while promoting superior quality tourism and dynamizing those regions that are lesser known. Now in the 21st millennium, the Parador Network maintains the founding principles while adopting them to the guests of today at all 93 of their spectacular establishments. Hasta invierno.

The Parador Network’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil Tastings

The long story of Spanish olive oil production has taken an unexpected twist. Botanists, chemists, journalists, sommeliers, olive oil makers, chefs and restaurateurs have laboriously worked their way back to concentrate on the oils´ natural starting point, the fruit itself. The Parador Hotel Network is providing their guests with a finely tuned tasting profile.

A handful of olive oil varieties we sampled are:

  1. Almaszaras de La Subbética, S.C.A.
  2. D.O. Carcabuey, Córdoba

Olive Variety:  100% Hojiblanca

Production: Ecological Organic Method

Tasting Notes: Equilibrium, complexity with green apple, herbs & spearmint

  1. Almaszaras de La Subbética, S.C.A.
  2. D.O. Carcabuey, Cordóba

Olive Variety: Hojiblanca and Picuda

Production: Conventional

Tasting Notes: Lightly almond reflecting an unusual equilibrium with piquant and bitter notes

  1. Aceites Campo Liva, S.L.
  2. D.O. Pegalajar, Jaén

Olive Variety:  Picual, Hojiblanca, Arbequina & Frantoio

Production: Conventional

Tasting Notes: Green almonds, aromatic herbs and green Apple

  1. Rodau, S.L.
  2. D.O. Torroella de Fluvià, Girona

Olive Variety: Arbequina, Hojiblanca & Koreneiki

Production: Conventional

Tasting Notes:  Mature fruit, green apples & green almond

Monastic Splendour On The Silver Route

Ancient Architectural Gems

Ages before the construction of this majestic monastery, monks were already residing behind the Parish church of San Miguel in what was once called The Santo Domingo Viejo. The community’s relocation to the new monastery took place while Fray Alfonso Maldonado was friar in 1477. Historians have traditionally attributed their sacred miracles to Saint Vincent Ferrer, who resuscitated the sole male child the duke and dutchess had. The monastery was severely damaged in the War of 1812, in which Spain fought for its independence from Napolean. It was reconstructed and renovated in 1850. Over the years it was occupied by various religious orders. The Fathers of Heart and Maria and the Servitas, were the last theological  orders to occupy it.

[nggallery id=33]

The remains of the fortifications were found during archaeological research while carrying out the restoration of the building and it was confirmed that the Parador de Santo Domingo was a former fortress. Additionally, the area possessed a Sefardic synagogue and a Hebrew faith graveyard.   Many artifacts had been found including a yad which is a pointer for reading, fragments of a hanukiyot which is a votive lamp and thus confirmed the existence of a significant Sefardic settlement in this area. The presence of human life in the area dates back into the remote past has been proven and a series of structures were partially built in caves.

Construction work on the monastery was directed by the master stone mason Pedro Gonzalez with the assistance of his son Francisco and the master craftsmans Maluenes, Dara and Garcia Escalante, who also collaborated on the two Plasencia Cathedrals.

The Monastery Complex

The 66 room Parador Hotel complex located in a small cosmopolitan city that flirts with all who encounter its treasures,  is centered around the church which is almost cathedral like in proportions. The temple is reached through a large 17th century neo classical façade. Access to visit the the monastery complex is located on the Westside at an 18th century portico.

The Cloisters & Chapel Houses

The stunning proportioned cloister is late Gothic.  The Profundis chapel was a most important room of its day and the star ribbed vaults date back to the 15th century.

Monumental 1577 Staircase In The Tapas Bar

The monumental staircase commonly called the Staircase of Air is especially noteworthy.  It was built by Plasencia native Juan Alvarez in 1577.  This architectural wonder rises without pillars, hanging almost in the air in a faultless study of thrust and executed with exceptional mastery.

The Wine Cellar, Bar De Copas & Chillout Lounge

The Hotel Parador ’s wine cellar, which dates back to the 15th century has been adapted to the needs of the 21st millennium guest however, it has been preserved virtually in its original state, with its embedded earthenware jugs, stone, bricks and ceiling vault. The perfect place to enjoy a wine or cocktail and enjoy the conversational background music.

Room 320 & Room 222

Firstly, Director Felix Lobo showed us  ROOM 320, which houses the original walls of the Convent of Santo Domingo. The VIPS unique suite consists of  78 m2  and is divided into two large rooms each of which has its own cosy lounge to ensure maximum unwinding. The deep cherry red and white upholstery, period furniture and the fireplace all add to the warmth and romance of this suite. Our hotel ROOM 222 was absolutely a perfect place to spend a couple of nights. The wide ranging balcony views over the Gredos Mountain Range, pool, gardens and courtyard are divine.

Chef Luis Mora

  • Mar :  What is your culinary philosophy ?
  • Luis:  Adapting quality traditional products of the zone with modern concepts,  reinterpretation and author creativity.
  • Mar:  Where have  you studied ?
  • Luis:  I have been learning all my life as I was born into a family of chefs . My formal studies have been with the Parador Network.  I have worked in the Parador Hotels of Chinchon, Antequera, Málaga, Hostería Del Estudiante in Alcalá de Henares and since October 2000 in the Parador of Plasencia.
  • Mar: Your dream trip.
  • Luis:  The profound depths of Spain in all its regions.
  • Mar:  Tell us about autumn.
  • Luis:  Venison and wild hoofed game varieties, lamb, saffron, wild mushrooms Bolteus Eduli, Niscalos, chestnuts for desserts and red wine Tentudia from Almendralejos, Badajóz. I also employ some historic Sefardic ingredients.
  • Mar:  Your inspiration is derived from ?
  • Luis:  I read a lot, plus collaborate recipes with Juan Marí Arzak and Dani García.

Chef Luis Mora Savours Spanish Culture

  • White wine:  Sánz Clásico Rueda 2009
  • Red wine:  50% Cabernet Sauvignon & 50% Tempranillo Tentudia 2005
  • Torta del Casar sheepcheese & straight out of the oven assorted breads
  • Palate cleanser French greenbean slaw & prawn salad
  • The exquisite black cherry gazpacho
  • Divine roast lamb with criadillas, Plasencia´s local potatoes
  • Tecula Mecula:  an ancient Roman almond gel concoction translating: For you, for me
  • Sweet ripe stuffed fresh figs:  D.O. Almohain, Cáceres
  • Cañas: pastries with white chocolate filling
  • Cherry sherbert

Hotel Parador Santo Domingo Convent

Plaza San Vincente Ferrer  S.N.

Plasencia, Caceres 10600

www.parador.es

Fabled Castle Dropt From Heaven

Located in the county of La Vera, Cáceres, snuggly nestled in the Gredos Mountain Range, the XV century restored castle of Emperor Carlos V, the royal gem of the Renaissance awaits you.

Emperor Carlos V was the most powerful man in the world during his reign and resided in this historic 15th century castle for a few months before retiring to the Yuste Monastery,  8 km away in Cuacos. This renovated four star hotel is a fortified 15th century castle which dates back to the Counts of Oropesa and was built over the ruins of a fortress that had been reconstructed  centuries later and was inhabited by King Alfonso XIII.

It has all that a castle should have, a Blue Room with a fireplace and 15th century tapestries, a Salon of Portraits, a Patio of Arms,  robust corner towers, migrating storks, embrasures, machicolations, turrets which are the small projecting armed structures for gunners, and heraldic shield crests.  The Italian Renaissance prevails throughout and the dining room views lookout onto a beautiful courtyard.  The grounds include walking paths with delightful gardens chock full of orange trees, ancient eucalyptus trees, palm trees, lilac bushes and a lovely swimming pool.

Without sacrificing the original structures, one enters across a drawbridge between two cubic fortress towers. The courtyard is a sanctuary covered in ivy, shaded by palms depicting the region’s micro climate and houses a fountain, creating the privileged paradise for after dinner conversation through late autumn.  Conquering visitors’ emotions, this is a nobleman’s castle in every sense of the word.

Nobel Room 219 With Balcony Over Gardens

Our room, one of the best in the house, can be found nestled amidst the gardens, complete with balcony, providing royal refuge in this privileged paradise of sweet dreams.

Capacity Data For Bookings

The three story castle houses 52 renovated rooms which seduce and house the treasures of royalty in its salons and communal spaces. Emperor Carlos V dwelled in the castle from November 12th, 1556 until February 3rd, 1557 prior to his retirement. Debonaire Maîtré Julian Sevila informed us that the hotel is fully equipped for those requiring handicapped railings, business conventions, christenings, celebrations and weddings with a capacity for 250 people. The restaurant ‘s capacity holds up to 80 people and special breakfasts for up to 60 people.

Chef Juan Antonio Ramos De La Calle

  • Mar:  Tell us about the  specialties of the house.
  • Juan:  Firstly, designation of origin, La Vera is renowned for their goat cheeses and the 4 varieties  I believe you both would enjoy are:  QUESUCO BLUE VEIN which has a very creamy texture and is similar to Asturian Picón Azul, PIMENTON which has a paprika cayenne rind and is a semi soft variety, the French style roll or RULO and the ECOLOGICAL mild semi soft.
  • Mar:  What is your culinary philosophy  ?
  • Juan:  It has always been clear. To cook with what the environment produces, a united team, to teach, the content, the affection, new technology and the traditional with the regional and seasonal, the product and the textures. I am sort of an Extremaduran Santi Santamaria.
  • Mar:  Where are you from Juan Antonio ?
  • Juan:  Across the street,  I was born in the historic town of Jarandilla de La Vera.
  • Mar:  What are the autumn products you employ in your menus?
  • Juan:  Partridge, quail, rabbit, wild mushrooms, Boletus Eduli and Niscalos, boar, fresh figs, La Vera paprika varieities, Iberian acorn fed ham, codfish, fresh river carp, fresh trout and herrings.
  • Mar:  Dream trips?
  • Juan: China culturally and Seychelles to relax.
  • Mar:  Where have you studied and in which Parador Hotels have you worked to date?
  • Juan:  I studied at the Gastronomic Institute in La Bañeza, Leó close to Astorga. I have worked in various Parador Hotels including, Valle de Aran, Málaga, Zamora City and since 1998, in my home town of Jarandilla de La Vera.
  • Mar:  Which celebrities and/or famous well knowns have you cooked for?
  • Juan: I have cooked for the various members of the Royal Family, former Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez,  government officials, singers Shakira and Alejandro Sanz who have homes here in Jarandilla de La Vera.
  • Mar:  Tell us about innovation and the road to success.
  • Juan:  A lot of  Innovation, fusion of ingredients, evolutionary technology, textures, colors, research, experimentation and “A to Z” styles.
  • Mar:  This is a stunning area, however, what products do you miss the most ?
  • Juan:  A larger assortment of Ribera del Duero red wines and shellfish. We can obtain the ocean´s fresh catches however, we have to utilize them much more promptly.
  • Mar:  Do you listen to music in your kitchen while preparing?
  • Juan:  I am a flamenco guitarist and this inspires me.

The Emperor’s Table

  • White wine Lar de Barros 100% Macabeo Grape 2009
  • Assorted designation of origin cold cut Deli Meats and Cheeses
  • French style onion soup created with fowl stock
  • Warm smoked herrings with scalded eggs
  • Stuffed aubergines stuffed with hake and baked apple sliced
  • Seared on flame tender mouthwatering octopus
  • Quail in port wine and spiced pear
  • A buñuelo, fusion between a Doughnut  & French toast bread,  pine nuts & creamed goat cheese filling

Parador  Hotel & Restaurant Carlos V

Avda. García Prieto 1

Jarandilla de La Vera,  Cáceres 10450

Multilingual Website:  www.parador.es

Madrid Central Reservations:   91. 561. 6666

Headquarters at   Calle Requena 3

Metroline 5 / Ópera

Chef Luis Mora’s Autumn Roast Lamb, Wild Mushrooms & Potatoes

Ingredients:

Tell your Butcher to prepare 800g – 1 Kilo Milk fed baby lamb de-boned & split open like a book

  • 150 g  Extremaduran Potatoes called Criadillas ( Galician or Peruvian potatoes can substitute )
  • 150 g  sweet spring onions
  • 100 g  leeks
  • 1 dozen small Boletus mushrooms
  • 5 or more  fresh garlic cloves
  • Thyme & Rosemary
  • Salt & Pepper
  • 1 D.L.  Jerez white Sherry wine

Procedures:

Preheat oven  210  degrees centigrade or 425 degrees fahrenheit

  1. Put the lamb bones which the butcher separated, spring onions chopped finely and the Jérez in a saucepan on low to medium flame
  2. Place the lamb roast in a large roasting pan
  3. Mince the sweet  spring onion & the leek
  4. With a sharp small knife, make 1 inch deep slits in the lamb
  5. Stuff the lamb with the leek, spring onion, minced garlic and finely chopped Boletus mushrooms
  6. Rub or brush  olive oil on the lamb roast top and underside
  7. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, rosemary & thyme
  8. Peel and slice the potatoes in 1” ovals & place the lamb on top of the tubers

These potatoes are going to serve as the foundation bed for the lamb

Reduce the sauce and cover.  Baste lamb and add a little more Sherry & Water to pan.

Te Papa – The National Museum of New Zealand

Te Papa is the national history  museum of New Zealand and is located in Wellington the country’s capital city.  This is a quick video of the front entrance to the museum.  Here are a few features of the museum:

  • Built on reclaimed land at the edge of the bay.
  • Features many interactive exhibits and works of art that are important to national and Maori history.
  • Free internet over wifi (even the library a few buildings away doesn’t have that)
  • A nice cafe and cool gift shop are located on site.
  • It’s a must visit and it’s free!


Wellington Skyline – Mount Victoria Lookout

A stunning view of Wellington on one of the few calm and clear days.  This city has a very high average wind speed. Some notes about this city:

  • Lookout includes the Byrd Memorial
  • Due South, in the direction of the airport is Antartica
  • Forest below is a popular movie set location
  • trails are great for mountain biking
  • Green belt that surrounds the city was to reduce city sprawl and size
  • You can easily spot Te Papa Museum, the stadium and the airport from this location


Queenstown – New Zealand's Adventure Capital

Sunset Across The Lake Against The Mountains

Driving into Queenstown we can feel our blood pressures rising.   Maybe it’s the advertisements for all of the activities?  Or perhaps it is the incredible energy of the natural beauty of the area permeating through to our souls, somehow resonating a wakeup call deep within, down where the kid in us lives?  One may never know but there is something special about New Zealand, and Queenstown in particular.  Summertime fills the streets with all ages.  The ambiance of the town is that of a mountain village.  Quaint, yet has all of the modern day conveniences you could want, including an organic food store.  Not only do they have extra long days, oftentimes adventure seeking tourists will be found frolicking between the amazing glacier fed river and the rugged, mountainous peaks.  It is there that we see the occasional dingy, the odd parachute, sometimes occupied, sometimes not.  Almost always there was someone talking about doing something “on the edge”, as it should be.  NZ is known for it’s extreme sports.  Queenstown is an amazing place to get the thrill of your life and come out virtually unscathed if you follow every safety precaution, and to take your chances with Lady Luck if you don’t.

[scrollGallery id=3]

Welcome to the land of extreme… EVERYTHING!  Bungy jumping was invented here, among otherterrifying things you can do with and to our bodies.   The bungy bridge, from which you would throw yourself, crosses a raging ice cold river, with steep, completely unforgiving cliffs on either side setting the stage for the full-on adrenaline rush!  The amount of adrenaline junkies that come to Queenstown is staggering, and they come year round.  Why?  Oh, because the other activities may include, but are certainly not limited to: jet boating, sky diving, heli-skiing, swinging, paragliding, white water rafting and canyoning, all of which is world class.

Queenstown was born out of New Zealand’s Gold Rush.   It has relatively easy access to the river, lake and most of the region.  Driving from Dunedin is quite quick but there are many stops you can take if you so choose.  We even went panning for gold at an old gold rush operation.  Yes, it’s a tourist trap, but a fun and educational one.  Tourism took over later here than in the US, so the charm of Queenstown has been carefully scripted as you will see when you take a quick tour of the little town.  There are a few old buildings which are in use as public spaces and restaurants, but the Queenstown you see today is mostly new.  A plethora of shoppes and restaurants await, not to mention excellent day spas and alternative health care for your ailing body.  Be sure to book ahead and make your appointments for body repair immediately after you’ve gone out and done your worst to it.

Certainly one of the main attractions to Queenstown is the fact that it has a dual dichotomy.  It has both the extreme and the serene.  It was a lovely walk along the crystal blue lake just made us wish we were better painters and photographers so that we could do nature justice.  Hot summer days repeatedly turned our minds to the turquoise waters of the lake.  The mercury rising made those shimmering waters look oh so inviting, until we thoughtfully reminded ourselves that it’s colder, much, much colder than we could ever want it to be.  So, if you are adventurous, impervious to cold, (AKA: are a superhero), or are willing to don a drysuit, surely there is a fun time to be had by all!

Dusk approached and seemingly, out of nowhere, a handful of street performers dotted the pier area while the sun did it’s final dance of the day on the water.  A fiery blur of gold giving way to wavy swirls of magenta, indigo and ending on the edges with the darkness of night creeping in brought a perfect ending to a lovely day.  It was so relaxing and the weather was perfect.  Spending a summer holiday in Queenstown is superb on every level.  It’s one of those places that you might daydream about and find yourself saying quietly, “I could live here… or maybe at least have a little hideaway”.

Queenstown is perfectly situated as a stop over point when on your way to a Doubtful sound cruise.  We booked a Christmas Eve Cruise Special and decided to try the smaller, family-owned Deep Cove Charters.  It turned out to be an excellent choice and one of the most amazing experiences we have had in NZ.   Summer in Queenstown is warm, chilly and everything in between, so pack accordingly.  If you plan on being outside for any duration, get the Tui Balm and slathe it on all exposed areas.  The sand flies love and live off of the tourists.  They might be small, but they’re mighty… mighty painful!  The locals say that after a few years they don’t get bothered by them anymore but if you’re not bug resistant, get the balm.  Sand flies are a formidable force to reckon with on a hike, camping trip or just getting out of the car at certain times of the day.

Overall, summer is beautiful here, don’t forget the musthave’s are a hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, bug repellent, to bring clothes with long sleeves and pants, good hiking boots, an extra jacket and your sense of adventure.  I can’t imagine anywhere else being more exciting than Queenstown.  Luckily, it’s my job to keep looking!  Having hardly begun our drive back to Christchurch, our conversation had turned almost immediately to our next visit to the Queenstown area during the winter to do a more in depth review it’s fine accomodations, excellent restaurants, the Remarkables and other attractions.

Travel Checklist

Home Checklist
  • ________Arrange for pet and plant care
  • ________Stop routine deliveries
  • ________Make your home seem lived-in while away by putting lights and a radio on timers
  • ________Turn down thermostat
  • ________Leave keys and itinerary with a friend
  • ________Lock windows, garage, and doors

Before Leaving
  • ________Guide books and maps
  • ________Passport and visa(s)
  • ________Foreign currency of your destination country
  • ________Credit cards
  • ________Travelers checks or ATM card
  • ________Insurance: Trip Cancellation/Medical
  • ________Personal Identification
  • ________Photocopies of documentation
  • ________Birth Certificate (if necessary)
  • ________Marriage License (if necessary)
Basic Essentials
  • ________Appropriate Luggage
  • ________Luggage Locks & ID Tags (Do NOT Lock checked baggage)
  • ________Appropriate Clothing
  • ________Comfortable Footwear
  • ________Rain Protection
  • ________Camera and Film (Place film in carry-on baggage)
  • ________Telephone Plugs for Modem
  • ________Small Flashlight
  • ________Travel Alarm Clock
  • ________Small Binoculars
  • ________Brimmed Hat or Visor
  • ________Reading Materials
  • ________Playing Cards/Games
  • ________Address Book
Maintenance Items
  • ________Batteries for camera and flashlight
  • ________Mini Sewing Kit (place in checked baggage)
  • ________Travel Iron or Steamer
  • ________Sink Stopper
  • ________Folding Scissors (place in checked baggage)
  • ________Laundry Soap Packets
  • ________Laundry Bag
  • ________Ziplock Plastic Bags
Medication
  • ________First Aid Kit
  • ________Aspirin/Pain Reliever
  • ________Cold/Sinus Medication
  • ________Diarrhea Medicine
  • ________Laxative
  • ________Insect Repellent
  • ________Contact Lens Preparations
  • ________Antibiotic Ointment
  • ________Alcohol Wipes
  • ________Sunscreen
  • ________Motion Sickness Medicine
  • ________Personal Hygiene Items
  • ________Personal Prescriptions
Toiletries
  • ________Comb/Brush
  • ________Toothbrush/Paste
  • ________Dental Floss
  • ________Shampoo
  • ________Blow Dryer
  • ________Deodorant
  • ________Lotions/Creams
  • ________Cologne
  • ________Lipbalm
  • ________Towelettes
  • ________Shaving Cream
  • ________Towel/Washcloth
  • ________Earplugs

Greenland

This is as close to Greenland that we will probably come for many years.   Maybe in the summer it would be cool to check it out the icebergs and glacier.  Greenland’s coast looked great with it’s many valleys, bays and villages.  We passed over the southern most edge of Greenland on our way to Canada.  Our flight into Europe from Canada was apparently on this same course.  I guess we flew over when I saw the amazing green auras.  The northern lights were moving rapidly around the sky in shades of green from as far as I could see.  I suspect those lights are why this place was named so.

[scrollGallery id=39]