A Travellerspoint blog

Travel Inspirations: A Series

Italian Espresso & Cappuccino

Travel inspires me in a myriad of ways. Each trip, whether foreign or domestic, leaves me altered in some way that is reflected in my home, my cooking, my writing, and my way of life. In the past, I've only written about my journeys. For this sporadic series, I am going to write topics such as what I've brought back from my travels, what has made my travels easier, and even a recipe now and then. To be clear, no one is sponsoring me or paying me to recommend any products I may mention.

My first subject is Italian espresso. I am a coffee perfectionist. I never drink from the office coffee pot,nor do I order coffee when I'm out unless I know exactly what kind it is. At home, coffee is made exclusively in my own espresso machine. I do however love boutique coffee places, such as Porto Rico Importing Co.. They have two locations in Manhattan and one in Williamsburg. There, bags and bags of beans cast off intoxicating scents that surround my brain, leaving me drunk with desire for freshly ground, freshly brewed Columbian coffee.

But I digress. While other blogs can tell you about the glorious scenery and foods of Italy, this post is about espresso. On my first trip to Italy one of my first stops was the enchanting city of Siena. Certain travel moments remain frozen in time and one of my favorite memories is the first morning I stood at a bar and ordered uno cappuccino et uno brioche con marmelade. The small thrill of being understood when I spoke Italian was immediately overshadowed by the taste of the beverage and the flaky freshness of the croissant, followed by the explosion when I bit into the center of the pastry and the orange jam exploded in my mouth. As soon as I scooped the foam from the bottom of the cup with my tiny spoon, I ordered my second cappuccino. I went back every morning. This is still my routine every time I come to Siena.

In Italy, cappuccino is only appropriate at breakfast. Period. No exceptions. You drink it standing, not seated at a cafe table. If you are seated, you might as well wear a sign around your neck stating: TOURISTA. Depending on how late in the morning it is, you may see others at the bar indulging in alcohol, a "spritz," which is considered a mid-morning pick me up. It's usually made with Campari, prosecco, seltzer, and served over ice. At lunch, there is wine. No wonder Italians siesta in the afternoon. When they awake, there is a need for an espresso to revive them.

Italian espresso changed my life. Specifically illy brand espresso. Every time I left Italy, I cried as I drank my final airport illy. Then, I had an epiphany. No matter the cost, I would order illy at home. If I couldn't live in Italy, I could drink Italy. I was over the moon to discover that my favorite Italian beverage had a subscription service and would deliver my beloved espresso to my doorstep every month. After extensive research, I purchased my espresso machine, one that can also make cappuccino and steam milk. In the interest of saving my bit of the planet, I did not want plastic capsules which are available to fit certain machines. I decided to try the ground espresso as well as pods.
I discovered that not only did I love the product, I was thrilled with the company. There is a family who owns the company and Andrea Illy is a conscientious man who strives to keep his coffee high quality. As a regular subscriber, I have been rewarded each year with a gift. One year, it was sweet porcelain cups. Another, it was a thermos. But the best reward of all is the continued quality of the product as well as the responsive customer service. If you call, you get a human!
Every morning I make espresso. The mere thought of my Italian, indulgent coffee bliss gets me out of bed every morning. It's not just me. The first thing family and friends who visit ask is if I would mind making them an espresso. With pleasure.

As if I wasn't impressed enough by their coffee, illy recently sent me the below email explaining their continued commitment to sustainable coffee:

"On May 18, 2018 Illy was in Colombia to celebrate an important moment for the country, and our company: A victory that's helping integrate the ex‑revolutionary armed forces of Colombia (FARC) into the nation's economy through the production of high quality, sustainable coffee.
For four decades, much of the project farmland had been used to cultivate ingredients for the illegal drug trade that financed the FARC group's operations. Now this land represents an investment in peace, following the end of the violent insurgency in the area.

We are proud to share that our chairman, Andrea Illy, met with representatives in Colombia to sign an agreement of understanding that established, among other things, a system to help share illy's best agronomical practices with as many as 600 former FARC guerilla fighters.
We agreed to purchase coffee lots that meet our standards
directly from the group.
Words From Our Chairman:
“We want to tangibly contribute to the complex peace process, working alongside the people and the organizations that are joining forces to make this happen.”
- Andrea Illy

Although the coffee is imported from many places such as Columbia, the tradition feels Italian to me. Every morning when I sip my espresso, I am transported back to an early morning in Siena. Cerulean blue skies contrast against the dusty red of the brick and clay that built the city. Vendors are outside washing their sidewalks, opening their shops, and preparing for their day. Windows are open and the clatter of breakfast dishes and morning chatter float above the narrow street as I walk to my favorite cafe to stand and drink my lovely breakfast cappuccino. Ciao!
Check it out for yourself and let me know what you think! www.illy.com

Posted by teethetrav 06:56 Archived in Italy Tagged espresso cappuccino spritz siena_italy sustainable_products sustainable_coffee illy Comments (0)

Scotland: End of the Road Trip

Back to Edinburgh: Canaletto, Highland Coos, & Guacamole

Edinburgh is a city I can return to again and again. Having begun my trip in the touristy old part of the city in Grassmarket, I decided to end it in the commercial, busier part. I stayed in the Ibis Styles just off St. Andrew Square close to Princes Street where all the main businesses are. Edinburgh is a compact city, so everything is within walking distance. If you are not a fan of hills or steps, you can easily reach old town and the Royal Mile by walking across the North Bridge. The hotel is also close to the train and public busses if you are going to travel out of town.

I was happy with my choice of the Ibis Styles and its quirky decor, free breakfast, and friendly staff. That was topped off by a free tea and coffee stand in the lobby as well as a cappuccino machine that was available all day, as were snacks and drinks at the cheery bar. An added bonus was the wallpaper in my room that featured my new best animal friend, the Highland Coo. I defy anyone to be in a bad mood who wakes up to this:


Edinburgh Castle overlooks the city. It is located at one end of The Royal Mile, high on a hill. Since I visited the castle on an earlier trip, I skipped it this time, but it is worth a visit to set the colorful guards outside, the views of the city, and the castle itself.


On the other end of the Royal Mile sits Holyrood Palace and the Queen's Gallery. The Queen's official residence in Edinburgh, Holyrood was also the home of Scottish royal history. The Queen has so many palaces it is easy to understand why many Brits think the monarchy is an unnecessary expense. When you learn the fraught history between England and Scotland, it is even easier to understand why there was a recent referendum to allow Scotland to become independent. The referendum failed, but there is talk about bringing back.

As luck would have it, one of my favorite artists was being featured at the Queen's Gallery which is across the street from the Palace. I have long loved the work of Canaletto. Years ago, it was his paintings of Venice that triggered my desire to see the magical city that floats. Venice is one of my favorite cities and the Canaletto show is a small gem. The exhibit is there until October. I recommend you buy tickets online and avoid a wait. By the way, the gift shop is FILLED with mementos of the royal wedding.




When you walk down the Royal Mile to the Queen's Gallery, you pass a myriad of touristy pubs, fish & chip stands, and souvenir shops, but you can also find some quirkier shops and some great, small cafes. There are more good eateries in Edinburgh than there is time to eat in them. Luscious on Canongate Road is one of those small, easy to miss places that has great, fresh food for reasonable prices.

If you love good food, which I do, the best part of staying on St. Andrew's Square was its proximity to Thistle Street which is restaurant row. There are restaurants and cafes at every price point and serving every ethnic food you can imagine. My favorite was El Cartel, a small taco-centric place with both a regular menu and a daily blackboard special. I had sweet potato tacos and the best guacamole I've ever tasted. I loved it so much, I recreated the recipe when I got home, which meant I needed to learn how to open a pomegranate. It was well the effort. Here are my pictures of El Cartel's guac and my recipe.



(Adapted from El Cartel)
2 ripe avocados
1/3 medium onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon cumin
4 teaspoons lime juice, fresh or unsweetened
1 plum tomato
1-2 ounces queso cheese
1 pomegranate

1. Halve and scoop the avocados. Pulse the avocados, onion, cumin and lime juice in a food processor or mash well with a mortar and pestle until fairly smooth.
2. Cut the tomato in half. Scoop out the flesh and seeds and discard. Dice the rest.
3. Dice or shred the queso.
4. Remove the seeds from the pomegranate by scoring the skin and leaving in a large bowl of cold water for a few minutes. Then, open the pomegranate under water and remove the seeds. You will only need 1/3 cup of seeds so store the rest in the refrigerator or freeze them.
5. Gently stir the tomatoes, queso, & seeds into the guac and serve with your favorite dipping chips. Enjoy! Let me know what you think!

Posted by teethetrav 05:47 Archived in Scotland Tagged edinburgh guacamole canaletto the_royal_mile luscious holyrood_palace the_queen's_gallery highland_coo ibis_style princes_street el_cartel guacamole_recipe Comments (0)

Scotland: From Skye with Love

The Scottish Isles are Braw

The journey was coming to an end. The weather was way more than I bargained for, as was the terrain. Rain, rain, more rain. Even when it didn't rain, the wind in the Highlands was powerful and at that altitude, it was brutal. I was completely over the weather, but I could never be over the scenery. If you stand in one place, you can binge watch nature for hours since it changes constantly. The broody clouds cast shadows on the mountains; the fog and mist drift in and out; the water in each loch has its own color and movement and it is all quite braw*. The Cullin mountains of Skye cast a spell and, although I am the first to admit I am a wimpy rough traveller, my small taste of the inner Hebrides islands of Scotland left me wanting to see more. There is something compelling about being in the middle of nowhere, in nature, in silence, surrounded by water. I am a water person. I can't be too far away from a sea, or at least a lake or a river. Scotland is surrounded by water on three sides and within its boundaries lie 38,000 lochs. Along the edges lie clusters of islands: the inner and outer Hebrides, the Shetlands, and Orkney. I need to explore them. Next time, I'll bring warmer, water-proof clothes.
Here are some final views from Loch Lubnaib. Tomorrow it's back to Edinburgh for one final fling.

*braw-fine, splendid, beautiful





Posted by teethetrav 05:09 Archived in Scotland Tagged scotland isle_of_skye outer_hebrides inner_hebrides braw loch_lubnaib Comments (1)

Scotland: Castles & Kilts on the Isle of Skye

Dunvegan, Eilean Donan, & Kilts

"Why do Scotsmen wear kilts? Because the sound of a zipper scares the sheep." That is an often-told bad joke. The historical answer has to do with the rain, the rugged terrain, and wool. Every clan has its own plaid colors. Now the kilt is mostly ceremonial. And no, they do not wear anything under their tartans. Or so I am told.

If you are overwhelmed by all the Scottish castles and want to narrow down your visits, Dunvegan Castle on the Isle of Skye is one of two to see (the other is Edinburgh, although I have not seen the Queen's favorite, Balmoral). Dunvegan has belonged to the Clan MacLeod for 800 years and is the oldest continually inhabited castle in Scotland. A good bit of the castle is open to the public and the views of Loch Dunvegan are beautiful, as are the grounds and the many gardens. Since I went in May, flowers were blooming. I guess all that Scottish rain is useful for something besides making whiskey. There are motor boats that will take you across to a small island opposite the castle where you can see seals, heron, and other sea birds.

For someone like me who can't trace her ancestors further than my grandparents, I am jealous of Scottish clans. The current owner of Dunvegan is the 30th !! Clan Chief of the MacLeod family. The idea that anyone can track their family that far back blows me away. One of the Clan's prized possessions is the 800 year old Fairy Flag. The tradition says that should the MacLeods be in peril in battle they can unfurl the Fairy Flag and they will be invincible. But the magic will only work three times, and it has been used twice in the past. Fingers crossed they don't ever need it again.


Also on the Isle of Skye, Eilean Donan Castle dates to the 13th century and stands on a small island. (Eilean means island.) Although it was completely destroyed at one point, a descendant of the MacRae Clan bought the island in 1911 and rebuilt the castle. Today it is a picturesque tourist attraction and can even be rented out for weddings. The castle has also been featured in many films including: Bonnie Prince Charlie starring David Niven (1948), Highlander (1986) and the more recent Made of Honor.


Posted by teethetrav 05:49 Archived in Scotland Tagged kilts eilean_donan donvegan_castle macrae macleod Comments (0)

Scotland: Isle of Skye

Portree, Bridal Veil, & the Old Man of Storr

Before the Isle of Skye bridge opened in 2004, the only way to get to Skye was by ferry. There are dozens of Scottish isles that are still only accessible by ferry. Skye is one of the biggest and most popular isles and has become quite a tourist attraction. That is not to say it is touristy. It simply means that it get more visitors than it used to and it may be difficult to find a place to stay and you may have to wait to get into a restaurant in the major town of Portree.

Here are some photos of the Bridge to Skye and views from Loch Alsh before crossing over to the Isle of Skye. In the first two photos, the bridge is in the background, to the right.

The Isle of Skye is rugged and you need a vehicle to explore its many natural sights. One popular landmark on Skye is the Bridal Veil waterfall, with views across to the Old Man of Storr overlooking Loch Leathan. A country of folktales, myths, and legends to explain the inexplicable, there are multiple stories about the Storr rock formation. Here's one: A man who walked up the hill every evening with his wife told stories every evening to entertain her. Faeries hid and listened to his stories. One day, the couple realized that they had grown too old and could no longer climb to the top. The faerie folk who had listened to the stories every evening, offered the old man the chance to always have his wife with him forever. The old man accepted the offer but the faeries tricked them and turned them both into pillars of rock, ensuring that they would indeed always be together on the hill.
Even today when people no longer believe in fairies these tales still have the power to enchant, fascinate, and explain natural phenomena. Photogenic Scotland is the setting for many movies and the Storr appeared in Snow White and the Huntsman.


Posted by teethetrav 07:36 Archived in Scotland Tagged isle_of_skye portree Comments (0)

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