I eat. I drive. I write. I check out cute guys.
I’m a single woman traveling — and living — solo. It occurred to me there are a million “mommy blogs,” but very few blogs for single women who aren’t sitting at home waiting for Prince Charming or watching their biological clock. Consider this the “non-mommy” blog.
Think Anthony Bourdain meets Bridget Jones.
I’ve never been to Prague, Czechoslovakia, but it was love at first sight. It was back in the 80s, at the height of my obsession with INXS, and particularly, singer Michael Hutchence. If you’re at all familiar with their music and their videos, you probably know I’m referring to the video for the song “Never Tear Us Part.”
Michael sang this romantic love song around various locations of Prague, including Charles Bridge. It was a perfect fit for the song and the man, and implanted a deep desire in me to see the city before I die, a desire that has not lessened one bit in almost 25 years.
Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, and if you love that old school architecture and high Gothic embellishments, boy is this the city to visit! It was spared much of the damage that other nations received during World War II, and as such, now has one of the most varied and extensive collections of architecture you will find anywhere in the world: Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, Rococo, Neo-Renaissance, Neo-Gothic, Art Nouveau, Cubist, Neo-Classical and ultra-modern.
I’ve often looked into taking a course to teach English as a second language, and when considering the classes in an international setting, product is my first choice destination. I obsess over it. Apparently I’m not alone, as Prague is now ranks sixth among the most popular cities in Europe for visitors behind London, Paris, Rome, Madrid and Berlin.
Lest you think this city is nothing more than a pretty picture, remember that before was the Czech Republic, it was Bohemia, and the birthplace of the term “Bohemian.” Aside From the obvious tourist attractions, some more unconventional sites to check out include Bunkr Parukarka , a 1950s cold war bunker turned techno night club. Housed underground in what was a 1950s nuclear bunker, this quirky nightclub welcomes revelers through a graffiti-covered door that juts out from a hillside.
And if you really want a rough things up after hours, go to the suburb of Zizkov, with more than 300 bars in the neighborhoods to square miles. No need to dress up for these dive bars, where you can expect your beer in plastic cups. That should give you little feel for the neighborhood.
For a more open space outdoors, ride the railway to the top of Petrin Hill, Which has an eclectic assortment of attractions in itself: a miniature version of the Eiffel Tower, a mirror maze, and the Church of St. Michael–a 17th century wooden building relocated from a village in the Ukraine.
And of course, there’s food. You knew that was coming, right?
In get your food, beer and accommodations all in one at the 550-year-old Hotel Midvikdu. As this is the home of the infamous X-Beer 33 with it’s alcohol content of 11.8% (the strongest in the Czech Republic), the accommodations will come in handy. They ferment this dark lager for six months in an oak barrel. Fortunately, they also have a menu that guarantees you won’t want to drink on an empty stomach: half of duck with potato, white bread, bacon dumplings, red and white cabbage; larded roast beef with rosehips sauce and croquettes; boar steak with baked apple cranberries and potato chips; and their signature Brewers pork steak with homemade beer sauce, bacon and fried onion, with a side order of french fries.
That almost sounds American.
Or if you want to go high-end La Degustation Bohême Bourgeoise, but allow plenty of time for this six course tasting menu, which can take up to three hours to complete. It seems they no longer have the “gelatinous tomato meringue that melts to release honey and balsamic vinegar,” but I’m sure they have found plenty of suitable replacements surprise and delight your palate.
I found some fantastic images on Flickr by Moyan Brenn under CC ATTRIBUTION AND NO DERIVATIONS licensing, so I included a gallery below–check out the wonderful photos on his site. And, of course, the video that inspired me so much to add Prague to my bucket list.
If this sounds–and looks– good, you may want to consider a couple of great tour options to drink in Prague. Monograms offers independent tours of Vienna and Prague, over six nights. Your in country transportation, hotels, breakfasts and must see site admissions are included, as well as having your own city guide available to consult. And without the big herds of a traditional tour. If 2 1/2 days in Prague isn’t enough for you, you can add on a four-day Prague city package. Or just do the four-day package on its own. Vienna to Prague starts at $1497 pp, and the four-day Prague tour starts at just $663 pp.
What’s better than those Mississippi restaurants that serve up comfort food made from fresh produce and home-style cooking? One that also sells the produce, quirky gifts and a little liquid sunshine with a smile.
Now, I appreciate those fancy Mississippi restaurants as much as the next gal, and the kind of gourmet food where you aren’t really sure what it is, but you know it’s supposed to impress you. But I also enjoy a slice of down-home cooking served up with friendly service, and The Tomato Place in Vicksburg, Mississippi, has garnered quite a reputation for both in these parts.
I ventured in the first time on a lark, after I had done some shopping at the local Big Blue Generic Warehouse of Goods down the street to check out the place. First of all, watch for it closely as it’s literally just an extra-wide shoulder of the highway and you can easily drive on by. Second, you may not have much parking space, as this cafe stays pretty busy all day.
But if you find it and park your booty there, you’re greeted with brightly-colored buildings and very casual outdoor seating area. There might be some homemade pork rinds cooking outside, smoking up a bit. One building is cooks only, but the other is a produce stand and a wall of freezers full of delicious and nutritious smoothies to go.
Or stay, if you choose.
Inside you’ll find sauces (try the Mississippi Fever made with real tomatoes and fresh hot peppers) and containers of rice or beans for sale, but also hats, gifts and local-themed odds and ends, like the wonderful book I discovered there, “Eat, Drink, Delta,” full of lovely photos and stories from Delta restaurants and kitchens.
And of course, the cafe.
You know they gotta have fried green tomatoes, but also some other expected classics like fresh squeezed lemonade, po’ boys, fried catfish and burgers, but prepare yourself for plenty of surprises, like the meatball plate: Three large meatballs on a bed of stone ground cheese grits, with tomatoes, and your choice of squash or green beans. Or maybe get a southern-style BLT, as in BL and FGT (Fried Green Tomatoes) in case your arteries aren’t quite clogged enough.
But all that matters is dying with a smile on your face, right?
A decidedly non-southern popular meal is the Jamaican Burger plate, with fried yams and jerk sauce. And check out this list of available side items: fried okra, mac and cheese, cheese grits, fried yams and baked beans, just to name a few.
I had the Tomato Place Pie plate, and it sounds sort of lasagna-like or even a little pizza-like, but much milder on the spice, and shouldn’t kick up the ol’ reflux. As I had the misfortune of coming on a Sunday evening after the huge rush of the day, I had to go with okra instead of green beans. And the salad was a marinated cucumbers and cherry tomatoes, and… why, I believe they threw some watermelon in there.
I have to tell you, I’m not a big raw tomato or cucumber person, but that was a very good salad, and refreshing sitting outside in the heat. Personally, I think I’d kick up the spice just a bit on that tomato pie, but it was tasty, and with all the food I had, I took a healthy portion home.
Perhaps I’ve watched one too many episodes of “Chopped,” but I “transformed” those leftovers into a nice breakfast hash the next morning, and that was mighty tasty. Alex Guarnaschelli would have been so proud. Or Geoffrey Zakarian, who I have personally dubbed, “The Silver Fox.”
I’m a lonely woman, okay. I use cable to window-shop hot guys.
Anyway, the fried green tomatoes here are very lightly breaded with mostly a cornmeal breading, and btw, if you want to make your own, this is one place you can find green tomatoes for sale. If they haven’t used them all themselves. But this appetizer here is light with a zesty remoulade sauce making it a nice start to any meal.
They have nice little indoor dining area, but plenty of outdoor seating if you can take the heat. Check out lots of photos below, and make a little trip south of Vicksburg on Highway 61 for some casual, comfort cuisine.
Moab, Utah is known for magnificent scenery and an outdoor sports culture. I was hellbent on checking out the local Arches National park, and sampling some nostalgia at the Moab Diner, but hit a small distraction on the way.
The Blu Pig.
Even cruising by on the highway entering town, the Blues, Brews and BBQ sign was about to make me slam on the brakes, because anytime you want to combine good food, alcohol and music, I’m down. Unfortunately, I had many hours to fill till they opened at 4 pm, so I did my hiking/photography thing and pulled in as the full moon was rising over the blue neon.
The restaurant is laid out with a huge table running down the middle, and the servers seemed to be preparing for a big party. Bummer – I like a nice, quiet and preferably empty setting when I’m going to geek out taking food and restaurant photos.
My waitress was friendly and very professional, and told me they do have live music Wednesday through Sunday, but on this Tuesday night I had to settle for piped in blues. Eh, I’ll take that. It beats the hell out of Nicki Minaj, Justin Bieber, or whatever top-40 douchebag du jour is on heavy rotation on the radio.
Even though I wasn’t very hungry, I opted for the three meat platter, choosing sausage, smoked turkey and pulled pork. Call me crazy, but I have yet to meet a Texas brisket I’ve liked, so I left that for another day. You also get two sides with this order, and they have a huge selection, including southern favorites like fried okra as well as more traditional sides of baked beans.
As I figured I’d be hard pressed to find anyone else offering red beans and rice in a radius of, well… several states, I went with that, and asked for a recommendation from the waitress for my second side. She recommended the coleslaw – a classic BBQ side, and a simple dish, but one so many restaurants can’t seem to get quite right.
I got my corn bread before the main meal was served, and after smothering it with butter, couldn’t resist starting in before the rest of my food arrived. It was moist and fresh, and a nice start to the big plate that came out quickly after.
Thank goodness for take home boxes.
The waitress explained each of the sauces at the table: Carolina mustard sauce, Kansas City-style and their “house” Texas BBQ sauce. The smoked turkey comes with a special BBQ sauce, as well. And the pulled pork uses the house Texas sauce, so I tried the Carolina and Kansas City-style both on a little turkey, as well as the turkey BBQ.
Much to my surprise, I liked the Carolina sauce best, perhaps because it stands out so much from more traditional sauces – I found the Texas and Kansas City somewhat similar.
The red beans and rice was a little bland, and it occurred to me afterwards it really needed the sausage mixed in with it to give it some kick, as it didn’t really seem to have any in the side dish by itself.
But the coleslaw… I swear they resurrected my mama and had her back in that kitchen making slaw. It was a creamy, fresh cabbage (not browned, old cabbage like so many restaurants serve) adding a nice contrast to the BBQ sauces.
Good tip for me, means good tip for you, Ms. Waitress.
The sausage was my favorite of the meat offerings, with good spicy flavor and nice and juicy. The turkey had just a hint of smoky flavor, but paired well with all the sauces offered. The pulled pork was moist, tender, but a little less flavorful than some pulled pork I’ve had, but hey, we’re in Mitt Romney/Mormon country, not the deep south or Kansas City, so how high can you really set you BBQ barometer? Especially for a girl who used to live less than a quarter mile from Slo’s BBQ in Detroit.
Tasty food, good service and good music, in a beautiful town. You can’t beat that.
“I’ve always wanted to get as far away as possible from the place that I was born. Far away both geographically and spiritually. To leave it behind…”
You would think that being free to roam this country now with my mobile income would satisfy me, but it feeds that unquenchable need to explore and experience new things: I don’t want to confine myself to the borders of one country, or even one continent. I want it all. Even though I know there is no place or number of places I can go to where I say, “Aha! This is it. I am finished as I have now seen everything I ever want to see.”
It will never happen. I know that now.
I crave something that doesn’t really exist, at least not in a tangible way. It can’t be summed up in a bucket list, although they can serve a purpose. It’s something deeper I suppose. Living with a sense of purpose. A sense of adventure. A sense of wonder.
Some people say when you give up your dreams you die. I’ve given up so many dreams… and found new ones, but I’m still alive. The thing that I think really kills you? Giving up your sense of wonder. Your sense of the sheer madness of the world, the brutality, the suffering and all the horrid things that threaten to break you but make you really understand and appreciate the preciousness of the beautiful moments… watching the sun rise over a desert mesa, the silence under a sky of stars and no other soul around, the sound of the surf and the wind in your hair as you ride your bike along the beach, wine-buzzed laughter among companions, the sun-weathered face of a 103 year-old Navajo woman studying the strange alien creature you are in her world. Driving into the sunset… literally, with the top of the convertible down and Elvis Presley blaring. Or maybe The Gun Club… or Sonny Boy Williamson… or all of the above.
Of course, most people can’t just run away and live as an expat in Morocco or Thailand. But you really don’t have to. It’s all a state of mind… a different way of seeing everything, even the most simple or mundane encounters. It means engaging and being present, not thinking about your shopping list or all the shit at work you have to deal with or who the hell is going to win “American Idol.”
Hey! This is your life! Right here! Right now!
You can find that adventurous spirit and your sense of wonder in your backyard. Slow down and disconnect from technology a bit, like I did at The Garchen Institute outside Chino Valley, Arizona, the home base of H.E. Garchen Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist lama and the embodiment of pure grace. You don’t have to be Buddhist to go there (although I have been a spiritual tourist as well as physical and geographical), nor to appreciate the sense of transporting to another time and place. And you don’t have to be a Buddhist to recognize the holiness of man who walks the talk, after spending over 20 years in a Chinese prison.
Being in the presence of Rinpoche is sort of like being spiritually stoned. You sort of get this weird feeling and find yourself sort of staring in a daze. Then he chuckles, pats you on the head and carries on.
Don’t bother with cell phones or trying to find wi-fi or TVs if you go there. Really, you can live without them a few days. Many retreatants have taken vows of silence, so don’t expect much noise up in the mountains except the sound of wind and flapping prayer flags. Which is to say, it is divine.
As is everything around you if you see it with the right eyes.