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The Wine Guy Goes Mojito!

THE ANTIQUES DIVA™ TOURS – CLOSED FOR ANNUAL VACATION DURING AUGUST – REOPENS SEPTEMBER While my tour guides are taking a much needed holiday and I’m away for the month of August sipping champagne at sunset on a Mediterranean Cruise (after taking a driving tour of Italy), I haven’t forgotten you, my loyal readers, in my absence. August 2008 you’ll enjoy a multitude of guest blogs, pre-posted light blogs and miscellaneous reader questions. Don’t worry, I’ll be back with more great addresses and shopping tips this fall! All email inquiries or posted comments will be responded to come September!

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top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>While my husband the Wine Guy is more a St Emillion or Sancerre kind of guy, from time to time he goes Mojito. He just gets a craving for this sweet, minty concoction and before I know it he’s got the mortar & pestle out, going to town grinding mint leaves. So many guests have asked for his recipe that we decided to share his secret recipe on The Antiques Diva Blog as part of our Special August Edition while we’re on holiday soaking up the sun in the Med! While you’re reading this pre-posted blog, we’re sipping ouzo off the coast of some gorgeous Greek isle!

For one 12 oz glass:

  • 1/4 cup Havana Club Rum
  • 2 splashes of Dutch “Authentique Angostura” Ooievaar Bitters (or any bitters)
  • Juice from 1.5 to 2 limes
  • 1/3 cup fresh mint leaves washed and dried
  • 2 – 3 tsp sugar 10 oz bottle of Tonic Water already cold
  • Crushed Ice

to.jpg”>to.jpg” border=”0″ />In a mortar & pestle, combine lime juice, sugar and mint leaves. Press the mint leaves considerably to extract as much flavor as possible. Let set for 30 min to allow flavors to mix. Pour into a clear tall glass, and then pour in rum and splash of bitters. Add very cold tonic water until glass ¾ full, stir very well then add crushed ice. Put a slice of lime and mint sprig on each glass and serve on a silver tray!

Enjoy the summer!

The Antiques Diva™

A Birthday Blog and La Reine’s Favorite Blogs – All in One!

I’ve been prancing around my house all week singing Happy Birthday to myself with an enthusiasm rarely exhibited in one past the age of 29. Though I like to think that you might be fooled into believing I’m barely a day past that point, I know better than to kid myself. Most likely you’ve already aged me at least 5 years from my real age as people always think I’m older than I am. Perhaps that’s because I’m so darn mature and not because I look so darn old.

That said, I just celebrated my birthday… but this birthday celebration is about more than just my physical age. Yes, I am another year older – and I like to think that I just keep getting better each year. I hope and pray that my husband, The Wine Guy, has the same opinion on women as he does on wine – that age only improves a quality vintage! Before I go too far with these wine metaphors and fall into deep depression over the fear that I might have , lets talk about the celebration! WG indulged me lavishly on my special day. On this occassion, The Wine Guy became known around our house as The Chef Guy!

We’ve been so busy here lately that I’ve barely had time to enjoy my own home, so when The Wine Guy asked where I wanted to celebrate, I said “Right here at home, Honey Boy, and I want you to do the cooking!”

Ladies, believe it or not, he not only cooked me an extraordinary dinner but he cleaned up afterwards. We started with a , roasted garlic olives and German sausages served along-side a perfectly prepared which I sipped while lazing on the couch letting WG feed me olives one after another. With a puff of steam the first course came from the kitchen and was presented with such beauty I wanted to weep. My husband, a man who thought he couldn’t cook, had made my favorite – scallops and sea bass served on a bed of grilled spinach. True to his name, he poured me some liquid gold, a 2004 Chateau Jouvente Graves we’d purchased this summer in Bordeaux, and it immediately became my favorite white wine.

After languishing over the succulent morsels of fish, WG fired up the grill to sear me a side of Brazilian beef and to grill some vegetables. A trick WG has learned is that the Canon Fronsac (near St Emilion) can offer nearly equally divine wine as St Emilion but with a slightly lower price tag. WG served me a beautiful, red 1997 Chateau La Horse and I lingered over my wine letting it last in my glass until the perfectly appointed arrived. And just when I thought it was over, for surely WG wouldn’t make me a cake, I was surprised when a refreshingly light lemon tart (store bought, but who cares!?) arrived. Thinking it wasn’t possible for me to eat another bite, I forced myself to partake as WG serenaded me with the birthday song once again. I think I married a saint – and he’d have to be one in order to put up with me for so long! In case you haven’t yet figured it out, I can be a bit of a hand full.

But for as long as I’ve droned about my birthday, this isn’t the only thing we were celebrating on the weekend. We were also celebrating an anniversary of my blog! Dear readers, The Antiques Diva ™ Blog has passed that crucial juncture when most bloggers realize how much work goes into blogging and decide to do the humane thing and let their blog go to that place in the internet abyss where all the not-so-dedicated blogs go to die. I’ve passed the 2-month point most bloggers consider to be the “fail or succeed point” and let me tell you, I’m here for the long run!

You might wonder why I’ve titled this email “A Birthday Blog and La Reine’s Favorite Blogs”. The Birthday Part you get – but why “La Reine’s Favorite Blogs”? When I started writing The Antiques Diva ™ blog, I wasn’t actually a big blog reader. So I contacted “mes amies” and asked them which blogs they liked and why in order to help me with the genre. La Reine happened to be a Blog Reader Aficionado with a list a mile long of what she liked and what she didn’t. In these past few months I’ve turned to her for help, for ideas, when I had a question or hit a technical wall. Being friends with La Reine is like having your own personal life coach and as she is my most wired friend, she happens to be “on call” 24 hours a day.

Anyway, it occurred to me that if you like my blog (and I hope you do) that you would also probably like La Reine’s other favorite blogs as well… Before I link them to my blog site, I thought I’d give you a chanc
e to pick your favorites and to tell me which ones should be on The Antiques Divas Recommended Blog Reading List! The fact they’ve already made La Reine’s list speaks volumes, as she can be one tough audience. That said, La Reine’s list is a long one and is certainly not for the faint of heart…. It just goes to show that “A Diva’s work is never done.”

Yours Truly,

The Antiques Diva ™

La Reine’s Favorite Blogs:

Luxist — because its fun and tells me everything I need to know and buy. Today they have an outrageously expensive dog collar perfect for Mignette.

Traditional Home — because I like the magazine and their blog is a good supplement to the maggy.

— same as above plus good tips and recipes

ND Nation — because despite getting humiliated AGAIN in the game last weekend, I am a “domer” (plus there are a billion other ND blog sites if really you want to devote a whole section to S&M;).

Girls Gone Styled — has fun urban fashion tips. I like that it is sort of a video blog,

Chicago Mag — because some of the most current info on the housing market is in real estate blogs, and I am in the middle of buying a condo in Chicago.

Mom 2 My 6 Pack — this is really more our friend Tamara’s life than mine, but I think the author is hysterical even if I don’t have kids at home.

TMZ — I usually check this one 2 times daily because I’ve become a celebrity cyber stalker and they make stalking easy.

Chic Shopping Paris — because I can still vicariously shop in Paris and I like Rebecca’s taste.

Features Blog Chicago Tribute — because I need my tech info summarized and compartmentalized, and the two Erics have good information and an easy writing style.

Palm Blog — this is Palm Pilot’s official blog so you get good updates on their products, but also its a bit of a commercial.

Sling Community — because I can watch live TV any time, any where on my Palm thanks to slingbox.

BMW Blog — which is again an official company blog, and is full of typical BMW jargon and hype, so I’m looking for a good blog for Beamer owners that can help resolve some problems…any suggestions from an Antiques Diva™ BMW Driving Reader?

Some of my favorite pod casts are:

Epicurious — because since moving back to the USA two years ago after living the better part of a decade in Europe I find very few people who want to talk food, and I miss that! Somehow HGTV, Food Network and Fine Living, all of which I watch on the telly, have turned the foodie talkers into foodie observers…it’s so sad!

— because they are informative and smaller and lighter than dragging along a travel guide book. Even though they’re annoying, they have a lot of good content.

Jane Smart — good content, and again, smaller than a guide book.

Pod Cast Alley — when I’m searching for new pod casts in my free time!

And these don’t fit in either the blog or pod cast categories, but I’m a real fan of Facebook and You Tube! FYI, I recently purchased a , and it makes my computer time much better than my 5-year-old laptop did – but I’m not a fan of Windows Vista.

Happy Surfing !

La Reine

Living La Diva Loca – Part 3 – Tuxedo Shirt Shopping

hen my friend, The Gourmet Goddess, and I get together we tend to talk until the proverbial cows come home – and as she and I both grew up amongst rural surroundings this isn’t as figurative of a comment as you might think it is! With The Gourmet Goddess, getting together for lunch, a cup of coffee, or more likely a bottle of champagne finds us covering every topic under the sun – with long, lengthy tributes to travel, shopping, meals out and complex recipe exchanges. Needless to say, The Goddess happens to be one of my favorite people in the world as she is one of the few people I know who has the stamina to discuss these issues in the intensity and depth I desire. The Goddess also happens to be one of those perfectly poised people who would make me green with envy if it weren’t for the fact that she’s so loveable and down to earth. That said, whenever I’m seeking some style advice (or life-style advice in general) she’s one of the first friends I turn to, as she is certain to tell me the most appropriate thing to wear, to do, or the best way to respond to any situation. It’s sort of like having Emily Post and Martha Stewart () combined in one well-rounded friend – only The Gourmet Goddess is much funnier and I suspect better dressed than either Emily or Martha, and certainly more attractive. She is a “goddess” after all.

So when my husband, The Wine Guy, and I received our invites to The Gala at the Louvre I immediately asked The Goddess her opinion on everything. I began by telling her what I was planning to wear and, believe it or not, the conversation actually died much quicker than you’d expect. I had already found a perfectly appropriate gown and after we “oohed and ahhed” over the dress details there wasn’t much else to add to the conversation. But when she asked me what my husband WG, otherwise known as Penguin Boy, was going to wear, the conversation took off. We’d found WG a tuxedo on sale for such a phenomenal price that when we calculated the cost of renting one times the three occasions we’re anticipating to need to rent one this year it was actually cheaper to buy “Le Smoking” suit rather than to rent it. And it really sounds so James Bond to own your tuxedo, and as it turned out, we’ve discovered that somehow WG was the only one of our guy friends who didn’t already own his own “Smoking”. Ideally, if WG were going to buy a tux, he’d rather have had it custom-made by the Parisian tailor who normally makes his suits, but given the limited number of times he’d be wearing the tux we couldn’t quite justify that expense. One haute couture costume per gala was enough… adding a custom-tailored tuxedo to top it off might have broken the bankbook. And trust me after buying my most recent bevy of gala gown accessories, I’m thinking that we might start eating a lot of frugal-friendly beans to counterbalance the spending spree.

When The Antiques Diva ™ was a child growing up in a small town in Oklahoma where the only men in town who wore suits were the bankers and used car salesmen, I used to browse the Sears catalog imagining that one of those smartly dressed men wearing a tie and button down shirt was my future husband. Little did I realize at the time that a suit from Sears was a little too “Death of a Salesman” and that the man I eventually married would rather walk naked through the halls of his office throwing candy and coronating the Admin Assistants with flower lei’s before he’d wear a suit purchased at Sears. Nevertheless the point remains – misguided childhood fashion sense or not – I remember telling my mother that when I grew up I wanted to marry a man who wore a suit to work each day. Interestingly, my sister told our mother on that same day that she wanted to marry a dark-eyed artist and in fact we both fulfilled our childhood fantasies. Anyway, here lately WG has been trying on his tuxedo and strutting around the house showing off his GQ look and he has considered implementing a new “dress for dinner” policy in our home. As WG is a CFO, he has figured that each time he wears the tux he is decreasing the average cost per wear, thus making the tuxedo an even better bargain than we thought originally. With WG, it’s always about the numbers.

And that’s a good thing because he’s decided that if he isn’t buying a custom-tailored tuxedo, than at the very least he should buy a custom-tailored tuxedo shirt to go with it and to class it up a bit, which brings me back full circle to The Gourmet Goddess. You might think that I ramble at times, but these ramblings always have a reason. As I explained to The Goddess that we’d purchased a tuxedo but were still in need of buying the full range of accessories that go along with it, she immediately offered to let WG borrow one of her husband’s tuxedo shirts, along with his cumberbund, shirt buttons, matching cuff links and tie. This was to be our back-up plan, she advised with a knowing nod, “One must always have a back-up plan”. She dug into her purse, pulled out her little black book, and began looking for tuxedo shirt shopping addresses.
“WG needs to take a business trip to London.” She sighed, as she always did when she said the city’s name. Though German, The Goddess had lived in London for quite some time and had picked up the most perfect British accent I’d ever heard on anyone not related to The Queen.

“There he should visit any one of the following shops,” she continued, as she pulled out a pen and began writing in her perfect, precise penmanship one address after another. I immediately began scanning my PDA to see if WG was scheduled to be in the UK before the gala but sadly he didn’t have a trip planned. Krakow, Vienna, Berlin, yes, but not London. I text-messaged him from my mobile, “Find a business reason 2 go 2 London B4 the gala. I’ve got some serious shopping 4 U 2 do.”

His response, typical WG, was “Yikes! That sounds expensive!” Did I mention that with WG it’s always about the numbers? This doesn’t make him the easiest man for a fun-loving diva to be married to. ”It’s 4 U.” I responded in text.

And that’s all he needed to get him booking a trip to England with The Goddess’ secret addresses folded up tightly in his shirt pocket. As always, I want to share my secrets with you so that next time you’re in London, you too can have a few custom-tailored shirts made or pick up some sensational “off the rack” shirts as well.

The first place on The Goddess’ list was “Thomas Pink – London’s Leading shirt maker, where the “” is so divine that you nearly forget altogether about going custom made. Then came TM Lewin, on the New Bond Street, which is just a hop, skip and a jump away from one of my fav window shopping streets in the world – “Bond Street”. Of course, 3rd on her list was the shop that WG is most likely to hit, Austin Reed, whose name is practically synonymous with classic English style and whose bespoke shirts simply scream class, if class is a word that can be screamed.

Finally, perhaps as a concession to the fact that WG’s business schedule might not allow him to make it to London before the gala (you know what they say about good intentions and best laid plans…), The Goddess included in her list the well-respected Charles Tyrwhitt, the largest mail order shirt company in the United Kingdom and she noted that “they also happen to have a store at La Vallee Outlet Mall just outside Paris”. Knowing us as she does, she knows that Paris is as much a part of our blood as is oxygen, so she knew that if all else failed we could swing out to La Vallee next time we were in “the city of light.” Whatever the case, whether purchased in London, Paris, or on our own sofa while surfing the net, The Gourmet Goddess made some super shirt shopping recommendations – and Ladies, these shops don’t sell only for the gents….

Happy Shopping,

The Antiques Diva ™

Check out the Living La Diva Loca Series!
Part 1 – Haute Couture Ball Gown Shopping
Part 2 – Shoe Shopping
Part 3 – Tuxedo Shirt Shopping
Part 4 – A Night To Remember
Part 5 – Little Black Book

Braai and Jabulisa – A South African Treat!

hile my friends in America were celebrating Labor Day with barbeques and one last dip in their swimming pool before flipping on the switch to their gas fireplaces for autumn, here in Holland, on the other side of the pond, we’ve been doing a little end-of-the-summer-barbequing as well – South African style!!

When The South African Princess and her charming beau, Dr. Braai (pronounced Br-Eye), invited us to a Sunday afternoon backyard barbeque, my husband, The Wine Guy, and I would have walked over hot coals to get there. Fortunately for us, our friends didn’t make us “Braai-virgins” go through any initiation rites and the only thing they asked was that we bring a bottle of wine to go with the barbie – a task we were certainly well equipped to handle. Though they didn’t get picky specifying what type of wine we should bring, I’m certain The Doctor had a preference for us to bring a to complement the vast quantities of meat we were about to inhale. When braai-ing, none of that prissy “Chateau de la bla bla blah a la France” will do. Braai-ing is a strictly masculine endeavor and must be done with a sufficient amount of grunts and hollers.

Even the mild-mannered, excruciatingly polite and gentle Doctor was found next to the coals with a longneck in hand making his entourage of Merry Men guffaw in the most surprising and shocking of manner. I can’t imagine whatever they might have been discussing which could cause such an uproar. Though I was certain I wasn’t allowed to enter their “fire pit”, I dared to go beyond the bush. To my surprise, as I peered through the fog of testosterone and smoke, there wasn’t a Weber® Grill in sight!

I was quickly to be informed that a sissy gas grill, like we use at home, was sacrilegious to a Braai-Purist. The Doctor liked to barbeque traditional South African style – using a drum barrel turned side-ways and cut in half, drilled with ventilation holes to provide the perfect degree of air circulation. Traditionally, this might have been converted from an old wheel barrow or washing machine drum, but The Doctor was a tad too classy for that- his was hand made in Rotterdam!

Hours before we actually sat down to eat, Dr Braai had built his fire, using a technique passed down from father to son. As we were a rather large party, I felt that the benefit of the drum grill was it’s mammoth surface area, allowing vast quantities of mouthwatering meat products to be plucked from the flames ready to be served in unison to the salivating guests. While I recognized the lamb, there were also a few imported items with which I was unfamiliar. First were the very Afrikaans boerewors – a fat and spicy sausage. Next to them were the sosaties, a lightly curried meat kebab similar to an Indonesian satay.

Realizing that I was not necessarily welcome to be standing around with the boys by the barbeque, I went back to sit with the women-folk. An unwritten law of braai- ing is that the grill is strictly off limits for women. It is the one time a year that the South African male rolls up his shirt sleeves, flexes his finely tuned barbequing muscles and shows off his culinary genius.

Women-folk are to congregate in the kitchen making side dishes, such as the grit-like maize porridge “pap en sous” and homemade chutneys. The South African Princess and her two lovely daughters had already taken care of these tasks, leaving us ladies foot loose and fancy free! I installed myself on a plastic thrown and sat in The Princess’ lovely garden sipping punch and eating grilled fruit kabobs and corn on the cob.

It was a thoroughly civilized way to start the party, with the boys fetching refills and picking up our discarded kabob sticks afterwards. I decided that I could get used to being waited on hand and foot by the boys! I was already calculating how I could get my husband, WG, to become the braai-master in our home. Since moving to Europe, he hasn’t barbequed as often as he did when we lived in the States and this is a situation I hoped to be remedied soon. Perhaps he needs his own drum grill? My washing machine has been near death for quite some time – perhaps we could put it to good use when it washes it’s final load?

As often happens when the ladies get together, the conversation turned towards who
had children, who didn’t, who was expecting and who wanted to be. Then as if on queue, the Van P’s arrived with their freshly picked and ripened baby girl. The Princess ran inside to get a quilt to spread over the grass between us ladies on which to lay the baby. While everyone else was ooing and aahing, I murmured, “Isn’t IT beautiful?”

Several ladies shot me a disgusted look – inquiring with their eyebrows over my use of the word “IT”. ”No, No, No, you misunderstood,” I cried! “I wasn’t talking about the baby, I was talking about the quilt!” The South African Princess quickly piped in, “I made it!”

I remembered that she was the owner of Jabulisa, an online quilt fabric shop based in the Netherlands offering South African 100% cotton quilt fabrics, patterns, and kits. Immediately, the poor baby was forgotten and all the ladies began asking questions,“Did you make the quilt hanging in your entrance?””What about the one in the hall next to the kitchen?”

Mimi, the expectant mother of the group, said she’d love to make a quilt for her next-born son and immediately set a rendez vous for a private quilting lesson with The South African Princess. The inquiries continued and, though I’d been the one everyone frowned at when they thought I had called the baby an “It”, they were the ones who asked to see the store-room for the fabric, leaving the beautiful baby faster than you can say “Jabulisa”.

I’ve never been interested in quilting, but then again I had never seen South African fabrics before. I was already wondering if it was appropriate to make a skirt out of the quilting fabric, for the animal prints were right off last year’s runway. The ethnic prints (or what I considered to be traditional patterns) were so safari chic and the Field of Flowers line was calling out to be made into quilted pillows for my guest bedroom!

As I’m not a quilter, what stole the show for me was the charity project Jabulisa was doing with Ina le Roux. Le Roux, while doing a doctorate on Venda Folk Tales, was overwhelmed with the lack of economic opportunities in the northern region of South Africa. She decided to bring business into the area by inspiring the Venda women to embroider their folk tales, helping them to not only raise money but to preserve their oral tradition. I fingered a small, 10 X 12 embroidery of a corn-on–the-cob and thought what a perfect reminder it would make of this day.

Suddenly we girls were laughing with perhaps the same commotion (if not cacophony) the boys had displayed earlier around the grill. Only now it was The Merry Men who were wondering what all the fuss was about.

“Time to eat,” they yelled, “Come & Get It!”

One by one, we ladies descended the steep, Dutch staircase to sit for our dinner – all of us feeling a spirit of comradery. If The South African Princess and her lovely beau, Dr. Braai, had invited us to their backyard barbeque in hopes of making us happy, then certainly they’d achieved their goal.

For it seems I’ve forgotten to tell you that while “Braai” in Afrikaans means Barbeque, Jabulisa means, “to make happy”. Not only was Dr. Braai’s barbeque to die for, but also The South African Princess’ fabric was divine! We were one happy bunch, boys and girls united together at last, laughing and having a wonderful time.


From my barbeque to yours,

The Antiques Diva ™

An Experiment in Travel — The Antiques Diva™ and The Wine Guy Return Home to Holland

top:2px;padding-right:5px;font-family:times;”>Sixteen days, six countries, and countless purchases later, The Antiques Diva™ and The Wine Guy (WG) have returned home to Holland after easing their way through Eastern Europe in what can only be defined as yet another “trip of a lifetime.”

WG and I traversed The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, pushing as far east as the Ukraine border and dipping as far south as Austria, verging north into Poland before crossing the vast Rheinland with “A’dam or Bust” written in dust on the rear window of our sorely-abused Volvo. 3,800 kilometers had taken its toll on our automobile and any remnants of the new car sheen had deteriorated by the time we neared Romania. In the final days of the journey, our car – packed to the hilt – looked like a Steinbeckian scene retitled “Okies Done Good– 70 years later”. As we drove west for our return home, our car was overloaded with purchases and border crossing guards did double takes as they saw my socked feet resting upon a red, grainy, marble table top lining the floor of the passenger seat and the ostentatiously gilded claw-foot table it belonged to resting lengthwise atop our other purchases in the backseat.

Budapest was good to us. And not just for the antique shopping — although it is worth mentioning that it was the best we found on our journey. Budapest dripped the faded grandeur and regal elegance of centuries gone by. In the mist (or if I squinted my eyes so that I barely peaked between my mascara-laden lashes) I could see past the years of neglect, the decades of pollutants griming the buildings and yesterday’s graffiti covering all the surfaces within stretching distance to see the baroque exteriors and sparkling chandeliers within. If I listened carefully, I could almost hear the clinging of crystal champagne flutes ringing in a century gone by. While Prague was prettier than Budapest – having that jaw dropping beauty that makes you want to fill up your digital camera’s memory stick with countless pictures of everything around you – it lacked a raw edge, the wild horse sensation that real rodeo riders are always looking for when visiting un-chartered territory. And for WG and me, this trip was all about exploring undiscovered lands. A trillion tourists had unfortunately already tamed Prague long before my Keds ™ sauntered into town.

Bratislava (and Slovakia in general) was the real surprise of our journey. Though we were only in the capital for an overnighter, it enchanted us and made us wonder why we hadn’t thought of coming here for a lazy long weekend before now. Perhaps our view of the city is seen a bit through rose-colored glasses, as we arrived unknowingly during the celebration for the coronation of the queen. During this event, locals dress up and parade within the town walls throwing coronation coins and candy, partying like it’s 1699, selling handmade, traditional craft items, foods and drinks to delighted, mostly Eastern European tourists. The whole city takes on a Disney-esque quality that makes you not quite certain what is real and what is make believe. But as you wander about town on foot, you realize you are definitely in Old Europe. Only once in two days did we hear another American accent in Bratislava, which after all the “Cools” and “Awesomes” parleying about in Prague, felt like a little gift from God. If it weren’t for the stag parties scandalizing Slovakia, I’d say pack your bags and go to Bratislava today before it’s too late and gyrating bachelorettes and fallen down, drunken bachelors take over the city.

Wanting to get beyond the Eastern European capitals (and having already checked Vienna off our to do list in May), we pointed the car to the countryside for our experiment in travel. If you’ll recall from my pre-vacation blog, The Wine Guy and I had decided to travel “sans” itinerary. Although at the last minute, over dinner at De Nederlanden with good German friends, The Shulte-Schultz’s, we decided to take their advice and book a hotel in advance for the first night of our journey. The rest of the trip was taken wherever and whenever the winds blew us – or at least wherever our GPS took us en route from one decided upon destination to another. W
hen a turret or spire beckoned in the distance we shut off tomtom.com/” target=”_blank”>Tom-Tom and pursued the hunt, content in the knowledge that when we turned the GPS back on again he’d circumvent any arguments directing us back towards our decided destination. While I’ve a million out of the way places to tell you about, perhaps the biggest discovery on the trip was that our relationship is ensured a lifetime of marital bliss now that Tom-Tom makes our happy family complete, with a 3rd very wise voice ending all arguments over map reading and back-seat driving.

On this trip, the road had no boundaries… well, almost no boundaries. We did find ourselves surprised upon our return drive home when Tom-Tom took us from our fabulous hotel in the town of Levoca, at the edge of the Carpathian mountains, through the High Tatra’s to the border with Poland, having deciding it would be faster for us to go home via Krakow rather that cutting back the way we’d entered the country. Of course, Tom-Tom didn’t know my penchant for Polish pottery, so this shopping detour added a significant chunk of time AND expense to our 13-hour drive home.

Overall, traveling without reservations allowed us to see the best, and perhaps the worst as well, of the beaten (and less well-trodden) paths. While traveling in Czech, we realized we are Bohemian at heart, falling in love with to/soucas/i_zakinf.htm” target=”_blank”>Cesky Krumlov and the spas of Karlovy Vary, as well as other villages and towns in Southern and Central Bohemia. We also realized that when a tour book doesn’t list a destination, such as tokaj/tokaj.html” target=”_blank”>Hungary’s Tokay, there is probably good reason. We were both anxiously anticipating discovering the vineyards of northeastern Hungary, dead set on sampling the noble rot of the Tokay Aszu, despite the fact that all our tourist books said this region was “not yet a tourist destination”. What we found in Tokay was an utter disappointment, and even the ample opportunities to purchase the golden elixir did not make up for the lack of decent hotels. Next time, we’ll buy our Tokay at one of the ubiquitous Tesco’s dotting the Hungarian countryside and forget to forage into the region.

To let you know just how bad the tourist facilities were in this region, our hotel – the 3 star, eponymously named tokaj.hu/intro.htm” target=”_blank”>Tokay Hotel – did not have a bottom sheet on the bed, nor a separate water faucet for the bath tub and sink. To fill your basin, you turned the wall-mounted faucet from either the sink or the tub to use accordingly! All to say that while Tokay may be “the wine of kings, and the king of wines”, the area designated for this appellation has a long way to go before it gives tourisme.com/index.php?lang=uk” target=”_blank”>St Emilion a run for it’s money. Having visited both destinations this summer, we can assure you, the Bordelais have no cause yet for concern.

No matter how long I live in Europe, I am always an American at heart, bleeding red, white and blue. No matter how I try to change my travel mentality from that of a fast-paced American to the slower-paced, stop-and-smell-the-roses European, I always find myself one adventure beyond where I intended to go. Though the trip was only 16 days we saw a lifetime of places, moving across country borders as easily as crossing state lines. Without hotel reservations and a set itinerary, we found that we could go at whatever pace suited our fancy, spending more time in places that merited an extra day and “getting the heck out of dodge” when it didn’t. I could blog for ages and pages telling you about the journey, and in fact I’ll do just that, just not right now. Over the next few months, between the happenings in the diva’s daily life, I’ll cover in-depth each of the destinations we visited, advising you on where to go, what to do and most importantly what to buy while there. I’ve collected a bevy of antique addresses across the region in which you can empty your wallet when you pack your bags for your very own “Experiment in Travel”. As I suspect we’re both too exhausted from our whirlwind trip, I’ll save my “best and worst” list for later this week.

Happy Trails Until We Meet Again,

The Antiques Diva

(seen at right, sipping from a traditional Becher Cup while “taking the waters” in Karlovy Vary)

The Antiques Diva and The Wine Guy’s Travel Planner for September 2007!

e depart this morning for a few weeks driving tour through Eastern Europe – just me, my darling husband and our Volvo packed to the hilt with bubble-wrap for bringing home all the breakables we intend to purchases en route. As I pack my bags, visions of “Crystal, Pottery, and Porcelain Oh My” dance through my head like sugarplum dreams on the night before Christmas! And in the spirit of Father Christmas, I might feel generous and pick up a few beer steins for my father-in-law, although I suspect he’d be happier if these traditional tankards were accompanied by a few bottles of authentic Pilsner Urquelle or Budvar beer.

My husband, “The Wine Guy” (WG), is certain to fill our trunk with wooden crates of Moravian and Tokaji wine which is fine with me as I’ll soon be serving them in my new gilded and hand-painted Bohemian stemware. Of course, I’ll have to lug back some artisanal water from Carlsbad to serve with the wine for we wouldn’t want to break the Eastern European dining theme – although I might have to draw the line at cooking up some authentic cuisines, as I must confess Eastern European food is a little too hearty for my taste buds. As I have a few preconceived notions about what to expect from the food on this trip, I’m making an attempt to contradict the stereotype I’ve formed from other forays east. Should you have any recommendations on places where I must dine, do email them to me, as I value your opinion!

From shopping for peasant blouses to paprika, Zsolnai to Herendi porcelain, Czech chocolates to heel-tapping, gypsy, music cds, The Antiques Diva is going to be one busy gal. I’ve been given a few addresses in Budapest where I can buy some “made to measure” clothes and covert research has already begun on where to find the best antiques across the region. I’ve even been walking around Amsterdam muttering the word “Starozitnosti” over and over again (which perhaps not so surprisingly hasn’t even drawn a raised eyebrow or two). All this in preparation so that, when the time comes, I won’t miss an antique shop sign simply because the language is unfamiliar.

By the time The Wine Guy and The Antiques Diva ™ return in mid-September, we’ll roll back into Holland with our car doors bubble wrapped shut, exhausted by our whirlwind tour through The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary (and need I mention the vast expanse of Germany we’ll need to cross in order to reach our destination). I would give you an itinerary so that you could follow along each day except that I have none.

The consummate planners have planned not. We’ve decided to do “An Experiment in Travel” as we swing by the seat of our pants, waiting to see where the road leads, what hotels we stumble upon and what adventures await. Now you see why I called my shopping research “covert” as research of any kind has been strictly forbidden by WG as defeating the purpose of our experiment. I’ll try to pop in for a quick blog hello should we stumble upon an internet café to at least touch base and keep you abreast of our travels. Of course, this should only serve as an “aperitif” to wet your appetite. Stay tuned next month for our post trip travelogue.
It really doesn’t seem fair that while I’m off having fun you should be here all alone… so to keep you company while I’m away, I’ve organized a few things for your entertainment:

Pack Your Bags….
Slam a ‘Sling and book your Easy Jet tickets to Singapore Sept 1 – 2, 2007! Well, sort of… since you can’t fly to Singapore on Easy Jet, then the land that brings you Europe’s lowest priced airline brings the taste of Singapore to you! is hosting its annual “Tiger Beer Singapore Chili Crab Festival”. If we weren’t already going away, The Wine Guy would be all over this like a fly on… uh…. “chili-crab”.

If spicy Malaysian food isn’t your thing, then how about breezing into the weekend of Sept 15 & 16 for a tobelfast.com/Events/ViewDetail.cfm/Events_Id/1441/level/page/category_key/197/Page_Key/278/parent_key/0/type/Page/pagename/GARDEN%20GOURMET” target=”_blank”>Garden Gourmet weekend at Northern Ireland’s largest flower show / food and drink festival. State-side readers still have time to hop on the Chattanooga Choo-Choo to go to Wine Over Water, a festival held on Sept 15 in the Tennessee River Valley where wines from over a 100 different countries are presented for your tasting pleasure.

Speaking of things that tickle your taste buds, who wouldn’t want to spend two weeks Sept 6 – 16 at “Pizzafest” in Naples, where pizza was first created in the 19th C in it’s home, the worlds first pizzeria “Antica Pizzeria Port’ Alba”. During this same time period, you can “drop the cannoli” and pick up paella instead in Valencia at Sueca’s Feista del Arroz during their international paella-making contest.

Safe & Happy Travels (for both you and me!).

The Antiques Diva

Please note: the photo of crystal stemware is courtesy of www.casachameleon.com

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