Friday, August 28, 2009

Comfortable transatlantic crossing



















I am happy to say that I have finally booked my trip from Oslo to Boston, and I travel cross the Atlantic yet again with Icelandair. This in spite of having paid more than many other airlines charge. 599 Euros is close to 200 more than e.g. KLM and Air France offer for their transatlantic tickets. Why? Because flying Icelandair is easier, less stressful and so much more comfortable.

(Photo: Arpingstone)

How much I loathe traveling through London Heathrow airport should be well known by now. Flying through London Heathrow or any of the other larger European airports cause more and more distress for the traveler. You may end up running through long corridors to reach connecting flights, short of time, due to the increasing congestion of the European air space. The other alternative is to choose a very early flight and then end up waiting for hours for your connecting flight.

When choosing Iceland as your transatlantic hub it is such a different traveling experience.

Entering your Icelandair flight you escape the overcrowded conditions found on many transatlantic economy-class compartments. Icelandair offers 3+3 seats instead of 3+4+3 and with a generous 81 cm leg room.

Flying time is another important reason. A 2 hour and 40 minutes flight from Oslo brings you to Leifur Eiriksson International Terminal in Reykjavik, and Boston is only a 5 hour and 30 minutes flight away.

Here, you are away from the congestion in the UK, Germany or France. No need to be in a hurry, as the connecting plane to the US is a short walk away and will leave in 1 hour and 35 minutes. The atmosphere is relaxed and you may sit down with a cup of coffee and wait for your flight to board.

At 5 PM you board the plane to Boston and your flight will arrive in Boston 6.35 PM EST.

It may sound like I have been paid by Icelandair, but I assure you, it is really this relaxing. To set you in the right mood, take a look at this Welcome on board video from Icelandair. When I saw it, I was already on my way past the Atlantic.



What to see and what to do in New England 2006-2009

I have visited the Boston area so many times the last three decades, that I cannot wait to leave. I will keep you posted via Enjoy Food & Travel. Here is a map with sights, restaurants, and hotels visited in Massachusetts and New Hampshire 2006-2008 waiting to be updated.

(Photo: Keflavik: Manfred Morgner)


View Boston on Enjoy Food & Travel 2006 - 2008 in a larger map

More on my views on London Heathrow see article:
Other Icelandair stories:

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Pizzini margherita

- or bite-sized pizzas with mozzarella and cured ham

Even pizzas are well suited at a tapas table. Buy a sheet of pastry and get going.

I had made enough pintxos to feed an army on my birthday, or at least 16. I needed some complementary dishes that would need less work to fill up my guests. I thought back on what I did at Halloween a few years ago, where I had made easy-to-make-bite-sized pizzas - pizzinis, if you like. Piece of pie, really! So I decided to do an encore. It really worked well!!

Pizzinis Margherita (Serves 8)

1 sheet of pre-made pizza pastry
½ jar of good tomato sauce
2 buffala mozzarella, thinly sliced
Cured ham, preferably parma or Serrano ham, thinly sliced (8)
50 grams parmesan cheese, finely grated
Fresh oregano
Olive oil (optional)

Divide pastry into 16 equally large pieces. Place tomato sauce, mozzarella and ham on top. Garnish with parmesan and oregano. Drizzle a little olive oil (optional). Bake in a medium hot oven 180-200 C / 200-240F until pizzinis are golden brown. Serve immediately.

Or try this as another nibble

More pizza stories
Scallops with bacon (Serves 8)

8 large scallops, divided in two
5 slices of bacon, divided in three

Roll bacon around scallops and place in medium hot oven 180-200 C / 200-240F for 10 minutes.

Use a toothpick as a skewer when baked.

Serve immediately.

More scallops

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Mixed bag at Tabibito

(Reviewed August 15th 2009) Tabibito means wanderer in Japanese, and symbolizes one that has been in one a pilgrimage to the Asian cuisine. Tabitito is also one of the newest Asian fusion restaurants in the Norwegian capital. I had one lunch here a while ago, and left very satisfied. I was convinced I would be in for a treat when booking a Saturday dinner, but I have to admit that I left a little disappointed.

Location: BBBB+

Tabibito is located in downtown Oslo, located by the Norwegian city hall, easily to get to, just a few minute's walk from Karl Johansgate and Nationaltheatret subway station.

Service: BBBBB

The staff at Tabibito provided brilliant service with a smile. That was not obvious at the start. We were given our menu, and we had to wait long to order. From that point all turned to the best. All the dishes (6 of them, in fact) were brought to our table without delay, and the waiters provided good information on each dish.

Interior & Atmosphere: BBBBB-

The interior is an eclectic mix of Japanese and Chinese elements, in red, white and beige shades. Here you are greeted by warriors from Qin Shi Huangdi's terracotta army, small urns with candles placed in zen inspired sand decorations.

Tabibito has an open, welcoming and very airy interior with enough space for the guests to relax in. We were comfortably seated by a delicately designed beige wooden table, I in a white designer chair, and my nephew in a soft leather sofa. The table was elegantly set in front of us, waiting for the dinner to commence.

The delicate tranquil atmosphere was interrupted by Chinese violin music that annoyed us at times, interfering with the peace provided by the interior.

Food: BBBB+

We chose a six course dinner priced at NOK 398 per person - a very low price when divided on so many dishes. The quality varied from dish to dis. The best was exquisitely made and on the other end of the scale was food dull as dishwater.

Fish cake coated in panko and sesame seeds: BBBB+

A very interesting small starter. The small fishcake had the most delicate mild taste.

Interesting contrast given by the mild tender fish and the crusty panko (Japanese bread crumbs) and sesame mix.

The cake was served with pickled vegetables and sweet chili. Good balance between sour, sweet and salt.

Thai soup with king crab: BBBBB

The second course was a bowl of Thai soup hotter than hell. This was most certainly one of the exquisite culinary experiences during our dinner.

In spite of being exceptionally pungent, due to the chili, the soup was perfectly balanced, by the citrus perfumes provided by the kaffir lime leaves, the sweetness of the galangal and coconut milk.

The bits of king crab was surprisingly in its shell, being hard to eat, at least with the aide of our chop sticks, so we had to ask for fork and knives - not very practical.

Prawns in tomato in a sesame oil and tomato sauce: BBBB+

The first of three main courses, all presented rather plainly on small white trays. This one had a small orchid as garnish.

The prawns was served in a tomato based sauce with a very pungent taste of sesame oil. Well balanced, but a little bit too much acid, lower on sweetness and salt.

Prawns and vegetables well prepared, not over cooked and with a good bite.

As you were to eat this dish with chopsticks, I found it rather strange that the cook had decided not to peel the shrimps. We had to peel them with sauce all over our sticky fingers, and we decided to continue to use western cutlery for this task.

Chicken with shitake: BBBB-

The second chicken had a name, but with or without any proper name, the kitchen with shitake was the least interesting dish we were served at Tabibito.

It was presented with the two other dishes in a small white china tray. It should certainly have been served in a more colourful dish.

We found small pale pieces of chicken served in a mild sauce with vegetables and shitake mushrooms rather uninteresting, good cconsistency, but sadly lacking in tastes, neither salty, sweet or sour aromas.

All in all a disappointing experience.

Duck served in a curry coconut sauce: BBBB+

The third main course was two pieces of duck served on vegetables immersed in a rich curry-coconut gravy. In my mind the best of the three dishes.

Duck prepared well done, and in spite of this, succulent. Great crunchy vegetables, sauce rich and smooth. The meat was a little too tough for my taste.

Good balanced seasoning, and quite mild, suitable for most pallets.

Tapioca in creamy coconut soup with mango and passion fruit sorbet: BBBBB-

The end of the meal was sweet, in more than sense of the word. We were served an exquisite dessert, a coconut flavoured soup with small tapioca nuggets with deliciously tropical fruit sorbet.

The small tapioca nuggets provided a delicious crunch as you sipped into the exquisitely flavoured soup, and the sorbet gave additional freshness to the soup.

Beverage: BBBB+

I always find it hard to choose drinks to Asian food. A good riesling may be excellent to sushi, but I always end up choosing a pint of beer. This dinner was not an exception. There were both Japanese Kirin Lager or Chinese Tsingtao available. I chose a pint of the local brew. The fresh slightly bitter drink is in my mind the best to such a meal.

Rating the Tabibito experience: BBBBB- (4,62 points)

High scores on location, interior and service, and NOK 398 for this meal is very favourable. Personally I found the six course to be a culinary roller coaster. It went from exquisite to mediocre. I would still recommend tabibito for an evening dinner. I would, however, composed my own dinner instead of choosing their menu.

Address:
Tabibito
Stortingsgaten 20, N-0161 Oslo
Phone: +47 22-62-42-02
E-mail: bord@tatbibito.no
Web: www.tabibito.no

Photo attribution:
From top:
(An officer in the terracotta army - Photo: Tor Svensson)
(BYOC Shanghai reusable chopsticks - Photo: Rjanag)
(Root of the galangal plant, used in Asian cooking and for medicinal uses - Photo: Ld31337)
(Close up of white sesame seeds - Photo: Sanjay ach)
(Fresh Lentinula edodes (shiitake) mushrooms - Photo: Eric Steinert)
(Curry in the spice-bazaar (egypitan) in Istanbul - Photo: Thomas Steiner)
(Pearl tapioca, before soaking - Photo: Una Smith)

Monday, August 24, 2009

UPDATED AUGUST 2009 - Maps on Enjoy Food & Travel 2007-2009


View Brussels on Enjoy Food & Travel 2006-2009 in a larger map



To help you find sights, restaurant and hotels Enjoy Food & Travel have visited on our travel, we have made maps of different destinations, to help you on your way.

Here is a map on Brussels where I have marked restaurants and places of interest. Here you find:
  • Royal Windsor Grand Place Hotel - the last hotel I stayed in Brussels. An excellent first class hotel by Grand Place. On hrs.de, and you may book a single room for EUR 109 per night the weekend from August 28th to 30th. That is a real bargain. I got a double room for myself with a view to the illuminated city hall tower. Magic!! See more on the hotel here.

  • Hotel Metropole - a hotel that has kept its old world charm. Located close to Grand Place and Bourse. Hot deal on hrs.de the weekend from August 28th to 30th. Only 95 EUR for a single room. See more on the hotel here

  • Cirio 1889 - the place to have a drink and a snack. Originial interior from the late 19th century. See more on Cirio here

  • T'Kelderke - a restaurant located in the vaulted cellar of the building of the Dukes of Brabant from 1698. Definitely the place for a deliciously tender horse steak!
More stories from Brussels
Maps on other destinations

There are maps of the following destinations here on Enjoy Food & Travel:
Theme maps - bars & restaurants
Theme maps - hotels
Theme maps - sights
Theme maps - webcams
(Photo: Ssolbergj)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

My experiences with hotel booking sites

I shop hotels over the net regularly, and I have rarely been disappointed. I have had great and inexpensive stays on different European and US locations. When comparing the internet rate to the room rates displayed at the hotel, I have in many cases found that I have saved large sums compared to the official rate. And reassuringly - security has become increasingly better, so there are no needs to hesitate. Skip the phone, book over the net and save money!

Internet booking is a win-win both for the hotel and the customer. Many hotels will give you a discount if you choose to book over their internet site. Even better is that many hotels sell a number of low price rooms to internet booking sites. This means that you may get great deals.

Recently I checked the availability of hotel rooms in Brussels, as I am spending a weekend there in November. The site, www.hrs.de, offered great bargains at good hotels, but even better. The creme de la creme of Brussels hotel had put out rooms for grabs at a relatively low price.

At Brussels Hilton or at the Royal Windsor Grand Place you could get a single room for around 100 Euros. Both great hotels, with a good location. The first at the end of the trendy Avenue Louise area, and the other a stone's throw away from Grand Place, the heart of the Belgian capital. The rates are equally favourable if you decide to book directly at the hotel website. Be aware that certain conditions may apply for special offers, e.g. that reservation may be non-refundable.

But suddenly you get that particular bargain. I have booked super exclusive hotel rooms at the fraction of the going rate. If you know that you are going to a destination, I do recommend that you make your reservation there and then. I have stayed at the prestigious Roosevelt Hotel and the classy Helmsley Park Lane Hotel in New York at budget rates.

(Photo: The Venetian hotel, Las Vegas - source: Svgalbertian)
Study the conditions on each booking site carefully!

When booking, I prefer two sites, mainly as they do not charge my credit card immediately, but they will charge you in case you do not show up. Booking through www.hrs.de or www.venere.com I pay, as any other guest, i.e. when I leave. In this respect, these sites are different from many other sites, that charge your credit card when you book.

When booking through hrs or venere it is less complicated if you decide to cancel your reservation, as they will not charge you if cancellation is done 24-48 hours before you were to arrive.

Be aware that other sites may regard you booking as binding, i.e. non-refundable. The site hotwire.com, that offers special deals on hotels, cars, and flights. One of their conditions on Hotwire Travel Products Rules and Restrictions states:
All bookings are final and cannot be changed, refunded, exchanged, cancelled, or transferred to another party;
In addition to this the site will not disclose the name of hotel until booking has been finalized. You are well advised to check which conditions that apply before you book rooms on the net.
How do I know that I have booked a good hotel?

In most country hotels have stars or other rating systems that is meant to show the standard offered. Having a five star rating does however not mean that the hotel is good, rather fulfilling criteria set in the different national rating systems. A hotel may have a swimming pool, but you do not know whether it is nice or even clean. A hotel may be exclusive, but is it a nice place to stay?

So what are you to, if you do not have a clue whether the hotel of your choice is good. You may either consult sites as tripadvisor or virtual tourist, where visitors may evaluate their stay.

Hotel booking sites may also offer evaluations based on feedback from those that have returned, providing future bookers with information on the quality of their stay. These evaluation may be more reliable as the ones at sites as tripadvisor as the guests will have to rate their stays after a strict rating system.

The sites also open up for individual statements as well e.g. why they just loved the hotel they stayed in. When you have visited you hotel, you may give your account of the stay, providing future booking with valuable information.
Location important in the US

Another different question is location. The number of hotels displayed on the different cities varies from site to site.

Some sites makes it possible to restrict the search to hotels i.e. less than 5 km or miles from the city centre (where ever the centre is.) Is it Grand Place in Brussels, Westminister Abbey in London or Times Square in New York? The distance is shown as the crows fly, which means that it could be much more difficult to get to the city centre than you think, in spite of the short distance.

Others gives you a possibility to restrict the search to particular parts of the city and may be accompanied by a map where you can see the town plan. With this in front of you, you're often able to understand whether the hotel you book has a good location or not.

Some websites display a very large number of hotels, and it is often very difficult to see whether the hotel has a good location or not. Then you have to check one hotel at a time. This is vital if booking a hotel in one the larger US cities.

Without a car, you risk being stranded in a suburb with one gas station, a Dunkin' Donuts, and a motorway just outside your door. In larger US cities you are recommended booking a hotel at a good location down town. In European cities, however, you may rely on public transportation to a greater extent, and living some distance from the city centre may give you a good bargain.

(Photo: John Hancock Tower, Boston - source: Tomtheman5)

Dream on, but......

I love to shop hotel rooms over the net, looking through the websites with glossy images. You are allowed to dream, but be aware that if you pay a discount price, you will most likely not end up in that luxurious den showed on the image. As on board flights, it will be the wealthy traveler that will get the room at your dreams. Budget travelers should try to scale down their expectations, and end up pleasantly surprised if you are given that wonderful room.

As I have been surprised and it is a wonderful moment when you are allowed to get that particular hideaway at that budget price!

(Photo: Four Seasons, Miami - source: Averette)