Archive for the ‘Food and Wine’ Category

Philadelphia, a Sunken Ship, Treasure, and a Boy Pirate? Oh my! Count me in!

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

Gargoyle by Sheree Zielke

Okay, count me in.  I’m hooked.

When I began my initial research into Philadelphia, I wasn’t expecting to find, of all things, pirates.  But lo and behold, yes, indeedy, matey, I am on my way to see pirates.

Or rather what is left of them. This July.  On a day trip from New York City.

I have decided to ignore pre-arranged babysitting tour company all-in-one tours, and arrange the trip myself on the Amtrak train.  It’ll save my husband and I a bundle of money.  And I am a sucker for the unexpected.

So, the pirate exhibit in Philly was a most delightful unexpected surprise.  I can hardly keep my timbers from shivering.

Read on . . .  (more…)

New York City? Try a day trip to Philadelphia! It’s easy!

Tuesday, June 3rd, 2008

New York City Double-Decker  Bus Tours by sheree Zielke

We are off to New York City in a few weeks, but we’ve been there lots of times.  And, while we LOVE the Big Apple, we are adventurous travelers.  So, it’s time to step out of our comfort zone once more.

The “City of Brotherly Love,” – that’s Philly, for those of you not in the know, is just under 2 hours away, by train.  This historical hub of the USA sounds very intriguing.

But how to get there?  And what to do?  And how long do you have to do it?

Read on . . . (more…)

Airport Security: What is allowed and not allowed in your carry-on baggage?

Wednesday, April 30th, 2008

Photo by Sheree Zielke

Guns, knives, hand grenades, alligators, and bottles of water — these things will be confiscated if you try to take them through American airport security. But what currently is allowed in your carry-on luggage?

Since the terrorist attacks of 9-11, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has changed its mind repeatedly on what is and what is not allowed onto a plane. Nail clippers, once taboo, are now okay. But what about foods? Can you take your lunch onto the plane? What about lithium batteries? A camcorder? What about a tube of face moisturizer?

The answer is “Yes,” to some things, and “No,” to others. If you are still unsure, here’s a quick checklist of some of the most common items allowed and those disallowed in airport security.

Read on . . .


Brownsville, Texas: You Must Crash a Mexican Wedding!

Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Photo by Sheree Zielke

Who are these people? We didn’t know them either, that is until we attended their wedding, uninvited. But you haven’t lived until you’ve crashed a Mexican wedding.

My husband and I don’t normally go uninvited to the wedding of strangers, but cheap happy hour drinks, great Mexican food, and authentic Mariachi music were too attractive to resist. An evening out at a local Mexican restaurant sounded like a great idea. We weren’t planning on the wedding.

Read on . . .


Progresso, Mexico: Cheap drugs, get a tooth fixed, or chow down on great food!

Wednesday, April 23rd, 2008

Photo by Sheree Zielke

Looking for drugs? Do you need a tooth fixed? Or maybe you just have a yen for a darn good taco.

A visit to Brownsville, Texas is great but you must spend at least one day in a foreign country when in the area. And that’s so easy to do, because Mexico is just a short drive, or walk, away.

You can choose from a variety of entry points (International Bridges), but double your fun with a drive up Hwy 281, the “Old Military” highway, and hang a left at Progresso.

Read on . . .


Mother’s Home Cooking? Try New Orleans, Louisiana

Tuesday, April 8th, 2008

Mother’s Restaurant - New Orleans

Ignore its dumpy exterior because if you want to eat in this New Orleans restaurant, you’ll have to get over first appearances.  Besides, the place was good enough for celebrities like Steve Martin, Jimmy Buffet, Kathleen Turner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and LeAnn Rimes.

Look for a plain building with a side entrance; one of the entrances probably has a busted door, so you’ll have to go to the side.  You’ll see lots of people coming and going; that’s always a good sign of good eats.  Once inside, don’t stand around waiting for any special attention, just grab a menu, and place your order.

Read on. . .


Brownsville, Texas: Smallest sit-down hamburger joint ever!

Tuesday, April 1st, 2008

Rutledge table

Don’t let the look of the ketchup bottle put you off.  You simply must visit this tiny 84-year-old restaurant hidden away in historic downtown Brownsville, Texas.  You’ll be able to say you’ve rubbed shoulders in a place where American President, Lyndon Johnson, once rubbed shoulders, too.

And rub shoulders is exactly what happens here – the walls are only about 6 feet apart.

Read on. . .


8 hours to pack a suitcase? That’s just nuts! No, it’s WINE! No-fail tips for packing wine, and other liquor!

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Actually, it was more like 12 hours, but I had already experienced enough derision from my travel mates.  So, I didn’t fess up to the real amount of time.  But…

I had precious cargo to transport.  And I wanted it to survive the ravages of airline luggage wranglers, airline conveyor belts, and airline scales.

I was not about to leave my hand-selected New Zealand wines behind; but neither did I want to ship the bottles only to have them broken in transit.  And I didn’t want to pay an overweight baggage fee at the airport.  So, logistical plans take awhile.  Okay?

I have brought back many fragile things in my suitcases — with almost complete success.  Especially wine.  I haven’t lost a bottle, well, except one to an unscrupulous airport security inspector, but that’s another story…

A Quick and Easy Guide

Here is a quick and easy guide for the supplies you will need, and tips for how to pack your imported wine for safe and secure transport in your suitcase….


Day at Sea: Day of Boredom or Day of Fun! It’s Your Choice!

Monday, January 28th, 2008

A “day at sea” sounds like a splendid idea, doesn’t it?  But after you’ve gazed out at unending waves, for hours on end, with not a hint of land in sight, you will soon begin looking for something to do to ease the boredom.  A cruise ship activities staff has just the answer. Whether you are super physical, or you like attentive pampering, or you are a trivia junkie, you WILL find something to do.

Here’s a sample list of activities recently offered by our ship the Celebrity Mercury on a January sailing around New Zealand and Australia.  The list is typical of most cruise ships depending upon the size of the ship.

Participatory Events/Organized Games:

  • Salsa or ballroom dance lessons
  • Scavenger hunt
  • Trivia games (Beatles, TV, men vs. women, musical oldies)
  • Shuffleboard tournament
  • Boxed games – Tribond, Scattergories, Pictionary
  • Bingo (this can be a costly affair as cards cost $20 each)
  • Bridge tournaments
  • Golf putting challenge
  • Pool games
  • Table tennis competitions
  • Basketball free throw
  • Cooking demonstrations
  • Flower arranging demonstrations
  • Wine-tasting with a sommelier (you’ll even be given your own aluminum tasting cup)
  • Art auction (TACKY!!!! We know this is part of every cruise, but we would walk miles to get around this uniquely horrible offering.)
  • Prizes are usually lame like pens, sun visors, notebooks, but sometimes you can win bingo cards, or even a stay in the ship’s penthouse suite.

Passive Activities – Drop-in:

  • Casino slot play/card tournaments
  • Deck walking
  • Spa treatments
  • Pilates and yoga classes
  • Arts and crafts – making picture frames enhanced with seashells or paper bead necklaces
  • Reading
  • Internet
  • Edutainment (educational) presentations (port history, port hi-lights, digital cameras, wine)
  • Golf technique improvement clinic
  • Movies
  • Stage shows
  • Musical presentations

Non-physically demanding Activities:

  • Sunbathing
  • Eating
  • Shopping (most ships have a variety of jewelery, clothing, perfume and souvenir boutiques and “sidewalk” sales)
  • Sleeping
  • Watching TV
  • Journaling
  • And…Catholic mass

And then there are the Junior Cruisers:

Many parents and other caregivers bring children on cruises.  And most ships are ready and able to help with children as young as 3 years of age.  The Celebrity Mercury calls those little ones aged 3-9, Ship Mates; those aged 10-17 are called Ensigns.  Activities might include the following:

  • A huge variety of crafts including mask-making
  • Design your own race car
  • Physical participation games (like camp games)
  • Movies
  • Sleepover nights & pajama parties
  • And for the ensigns…a learn-how-to-gamble class.  (I’m not kidding…they’ll teach your teen to play Texas Hold ‘em and Blackjack.)

For a more in-depth overview of cruising with children, see my article on “Cruising with Children.”

There’s just no excuse for being bored, on board!

Regardless of what activity you choose to alleviate boredom during your cruise ship “day at sea,” rest assured that the cruise activities staff will do its darndest to get you involved.  Your participation or lack thereof, is entirely up to you. 

But trust a seasoned cruiser when I say this: Move, don’t just lay around, because the steady stream of delicious food served up on most ships will make an impression upon you, and your bathroom scale, when you get back home. 

See my other blog entry on losing weight gained on a cruise.

Sheree Zielke

Napier, New Zealand: A Wine Lover & Architectural Buff’s Paradise

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Napier Building by Sheree Zielke
There is no reason to leave Napier in order to have a good time; this town was designed for day visitors.  But whether you choose to just walk around for the day, or grab a cab or tour shuttle, a visitor can’t fail to enjoy their visit to one of New Zealand’s most charming port cities.

Napier is the capital of the Hawke’s Bay province; Europeans began making this Maori area their home after Captain Cook did his explorations in 1769.  By the 1850s, Napier was a bustling centre home to seafarers, businessmen, and missionaries.

Napier Sign by Sheree ZielkeIn 1931, Napier’s buildings were destroyed in an earthquake, and subsequent fire.  If you are into geological history, visit the Hawke’s Bay museum on the Marine Parade (Napier’s main street) for all the details, and photographs of the event.  Following the town’s destruction, immediate rebuilding of the area took place leading to an abundance of charming homes and office buildings created in the art deco style.  Art deco guided walks, bus tours, and vintage deco car tours are offered to all architectural aficionados who can’t get enough of the 30s.  An Art Deco Festival is held in February complete with vintage cars and vintage costumes.

Marineland, New Zealand’s only marine zoo is on Marine Parade, easily reached by taxi or by walking from the Visitor’s Centre.  Open 7 days a week, Marineland houses a variety of animals and birds including seals, penguins, and cormorants.  Or, between November and February, spend the day at Splash Planet, Napier’s water park.  There’s also the Ocean Spa, with its salt water saunas, and the Par 2 Miniature Golf course.  And for the real duffers, there is the world class Cape Kidnappers Golf Course near by; it’s ranked among the top 50 golf courses in the world.

Napier is home to some of the finest wineries in the world.  Where there was once a tiny handful, only 5, there are now 52 wineries crowded in and around Napier (eastern side of the North Island), and its twin city, Hastings.  Some of the best known include the massive Craggy Range Winery and Sileni Estate.  But for charm and a more personal experience, Mission Estate and Brooksfield are absolute must-sees; their wines (try Mission Estate’s award-winning ice wine) are outstanding.

Organized tours into Napier’s wine country can be picked up from outside the Visitor’s Centre, or any taxi driver can take you around to 2 or 3 vineyards in under 3 hours ($60 per hour – per car, not per person).  And while touring, be sure to visit the TeMata Cheese Company to sample savoury feta, brie, and blue cheese, or visit the Silky Oak Chocolate Company, and its chocolate museum.Silky Oak Chocolate Co by Sheree Zielke

If you are into wildlife tours, many tours to see the gannets of Hawke’s Bay are offered right outside Napier’s Visitor’s Centre.  Choose from the Cape Kidnappers Wilderness Safaris, or the Gannet Safaris.

When arriving in Napier via cruise ship, you can opt for your cruise ship’s shuttle bus (usually about $4 per person one way), or you can jump into a cab ($10 for the car one way).  But don’t expect to walk out of this working port; like Naples, Italy, you will be stopped by local authorities.  You must leave the port via shuttle or taxi.Napier Port Sign by Sheree Zielke

Tip #1:  Leave your ship in the early morning and visit the “Olive Branch Bread Company.”  Purchase a crescent-shaped fluted loaf (they call it a croissant, but it isn’t one).  You are in for a treat when you bite into this delectable savoury bread because inside you’ll find candied fried onions.  The bread crust is dotted with black olives, rock salt and rosemary.  The bakery is easily reached from the Visitor’s Centre; it’s on Hastings Street, at the corner of Albion Street.  You’ll be disappointed if you miss this bakery in the morning because it closes in the afternoon.Napier Bakery by Sheree Zielke

Tip #2: When re-boarding your cruise ship, be prepared to have your wine taken into custody; ship management does not want you drinking locally purchased wine in your stateroom.  The wine will be returned to you on the last night of your voyage.  This restriction will vary from ship to ship; the Grand Princess, for instance, was a little less stringent about this rule than the Celebrity Mercury.

Sheree Zielke