Eating Abroad: The Ends and Meals Bit (Part 2)

(A fanciful Maltese first course – and a rare time I’ve photographed m’ food!)

Okay so last month I blogged about foods that remind me of places I’ve traveled. And here (drumroll, please!) is the second installment of this limited series!

Um. Part of its limited-ness comes from my actually not being any kind of food connoisseur. Just want to be upfront about that. I mean, I respect Michelin stars and stargazers – I do! But for me, it’s not so much the content that made the following out-of-town meals extraordinary –

It was the context.

Take breakfast (as you should – most important meal and all). One memorable morning repast from travels past featured scrambled eggs, pastries, cheeses, fresh berries and coffee – and one secret ingredient that made it absolutely unforgettable!

The folks had given me the incredible gift of their company on a Mediterranean cruise with a few days in Athens first! It was all an upscale experience like I’d never had before – right down to the guy who met me at the airport late at night holding one of those signs with my name on it! He whisked me off to the Hotel Grande Bretagne on Syntagma Square where Mum and Dad were waiting – and since it was Happy Hour back in our home hemisphere, we indulged in some excited catching up over duty-free scotch!

(”Cheers!”)

On our first rather jet-laggy morning in Athens, even though I only knew how to say “thank you” in Greek (plus “Opa” – which I just threw out there whenever I was at a loss), I managed to figure out that breakfast was being served on the hotel’s top floor. And while I desperately wanted to follow the siren-like aroma of fresh coffee, I knew the first order of business was to find a proper table for three. Blearily spotting one by an awfully clean window, I stumbled over to claim it for Clan Parmeter.

That’s when I discovered there wasn’t a window! Nope – just an unspoiled, open-air view of the city below. And off in the distance? There loomed the ancient, majestic Acropolis of Athens – a place I’d read about but never imagined I’d see right over my shoulder, and then (after a fine breakfast, of course) see up close!

Honestly, that out-of-the-blue sighting alone brought me wider awake, body and soul, than any cup of coffee could ever have done!

(Breakfast with Mum, Dad – and the Acropolis!)

Okay so next up – a lunch break on the road! And what a gift when your day’s work is getting to know a charming village on the dramatic Cornish coast! That was the task at hand for lifelong friend Kelly and me during a college-days backpack tour of Europe!

After separate pursuits the day before (Kelly checked out Glastonbury Tor while I researched my Tregaskis family roots in Truro), we both luckily caught the last bus into Tintagel for the weekend and set ourselves up at a youth hostel situated right on the cliffs!

Our main goal was to explore the ruins of medieval Tintagel Castle! I don’t recall any on-site amenities at the time (college was a while ago…), and this was also before Tintagel Castle Bridge spanned the chasmic divide between ruins. So we bought Cornish pasties and drinks in town to be prepared to hike around all day if we chose.

Tintagel and its crumbled castle are a wondrous combination of natural beauty, history and myth! They’re still sorting out what went on just above those clear, turquoise waters – like they’ve been finding evidence of a thriving post-Roman community with trade ties to the Mediterranean (meaning their Dark Age life probably wasn’t that dark!). And legend says that Tintagel was the place where Merlin magically arranged for King Arthur to be conceived!

(Tintagel Castle, Cornwall in 1985!)

When lunchtime found us still hard at work storming the castle, Kelly and I sort of stepped into history ourselves by dining on a spot of grass within knee-high walls believed at the time to be part of an old Celtic monastery! (Current thought seems to be that it’s the remains of a medieval settlement.)

I thought Cornish pasties made a most appropriate lunch! (After all – when in post-Rome!) These “D” shaped pastries were filled with meat, potatoes and vegetables, and used to make a practical meal for tin miners who might have held them by the crimped edge like a handle to avoid dining on any dirt or arsenic left on their fingers.

And in Cornwall, even a pasty main course comes with a side of folklore! It’s said the miners might also leave a bit of the crust behind to stay on the good side of spirits called “Knockers” who lived in caves and wells. Kelly and I ignorantly ate our entire lunch without leaving the customary offering – but the spirits were generous enough to grant us a thoroughly enchanting day anyhow!

(Magical spot for lunch!)

And finally – suppertime! For me, an ingredient that enhances any meal experience is to have it al fresco (you know – if it’s also al warm-o). And I’ve been lucky to discover that a dinner outdoors, seasoned with lively conversation and topped with the nearly perpetual light of a summer’s evening in Finland is awfully hard to beat!

(Cruising through Finland!)

Finnish winters can be freezing and dark. But in summer, this northern country becomes a Land of the Midnight Sun where in some parts, it won’t get dark at all. I got to see for myself on yet another grand adventure with the folks as we toured the country that, according to Ancestry, was home to a full 100% of Mum’s kin!

Man. Some days on the road can be so rich and sweet that you want to stretch them out as long as you possibly can. And on one summer’s day in the Finnish city of Savonlinna, that proved to be no problem at all!

As I recall, we three kept quite the pace that day! First, we wandered Lusto – a museum dedicated to all things forest and a must-see for former plant pathology professor fathers! We saw everything there from wood sculptures, to a chainsawing competition, to the faithful fashioning of a wooden “church boat” – that’s a large canoe once used to ferry a community’s worth of Finns to church!

Next, we had a terrific time at the Retretti Art Center (closed now, I think – too bad…) – a museum with most of its works installed below ground in caves!

Then we fit in a relaxing lake boat ride before exploring sturdy Olavinlinna Castle – a 15th century fortress that once defended a Swedish border from eastern invaders. These days, however, it’s a bastion for performing art, hosting the Savonlinna Opera Festival each year.

(Olavinlinna!)

After such an all-around inspiring day, we pretty much collapsed around an outside table to enjoy a tasty salmon dinner right beside the fortress and the sparkling lake surrounding it. With so many entertaining events to review and to hone our stories about, it took us hours (and two beers each for Dad and me) to do justice to it all! Which was fine because, hey – not like it was getting dark!

In just one day, we’d had the great pleasure of sampling an extraordinarily well-balanced Finnish diet of nature, art and recreation, capped off by a fresh and delicious al fresco meal! Inevitably, and despite the lack of a setting sun, the lovely day and dinner did have to come to an end – but the memories will last a lifetime!

Yup. I don’t know much about food. But I do know I’ve been blessed to enjoy meals abroad made with hints of the unexpected, sprinkled with magic, and boasting a remarkable variety of courses to please the senses – all savored with the very dearest of people!

I’m pleased to share just a few of these “recipes” here – and I hope you both have and discover your own versions to relish as well!

Cheers!

18 comments

  1. I’m with you Amy. It is not always about the food, when you travel. It is often about where you are, what the view is, what the weather is like and who you are with. I still recall eating Sultanas by the white cliffs of Dover in 1977. Not my finest meal, but a special memory. Hope all is well with you. Allan

    1. Yup – we’re in agreement! And your Dover memory sounds lovely! And I’m doing well, thanks (and thankfully…) – hope you are too!

  2. Glad you enjoyed your visit to my country! 🙂

    1. We all did very much – and we visited twice! Kiitos!

  3. Wonderful memories. Reminds me of meals we have had in Turkey, Japan, France, and Russia. Of these I think I would most enjoy the experience in Tintagel, and not merely because I have a soft (and rather large) spot for Cornish pasties.

    1. Ha! Yes, I think I could enjoy pasties anywhere – but slap in the middle of history was quite special! Thanks for reading!

  4. Tintagel is a great place for the imagination to roam and believe any legends.

    1. You’re so right! In my tender-aged diary, I wrote that the place seemed to exude a “quiet power”. I’d be interested to know what’s changed in (gulp…) 30-odd years. I do hope it remains a place where, as you say, we’re free to use our imaginations! Thanks for reading!

      1. Yes we were only there six years ago I think. The bridge was there and we had lunch near by but everything was still remote and wild. My favourite King Arthur film is Excalibur – helped by the Wagner music – and I think it may have been fixed here.

      2. Ah – nice to hear that special and magical atmosphere is being preserved! And yes, I remember being awed by that film!

  5. You write a good story Amy. Your blogs always put a smile on my face!

    1. Aw, thank you so much – very glad to hear it!

  6. Wonderful Sunday morning reading from Amy.
    As I look at the photo of you and your mom overlooking the high city, I wonder which one of those rooftops did Jack, Paul, Todd and Matt sleep on on a hot night back in August’81?

    I can’t remember any breakfasts in Athens, let alone scenic ones.
    In ’83 I had some great lunches in the Plaka at Kostas’ Souvlaki stand on виронос street. Lamb cooked on a spit, sliced and served with cucumber, tsatsiki sauce in pita bread. In ’87 a big lady was selling them cheap and hot at the same spot. Paul and I actually spent Carnival in the Plaka. Not the dazzling show you see in Rio and Venice. Just packs of people jostling past each other down the narrow streets trying to hit each other over the head with plastic bats before the crowd carries them out of range of a counterattack. A new innovation for the late 80s was silly string. If you were bonked and couldn’t hit back you sprayed the person with silly string. One old lady got sprayed a mouthful and my brother laughed so loudly that she forgot about the guy who sprayed her and chased Paul down an empty side street. She beat him with her green bat rabidly spitting what looked like linguini the whole time. Paul couldn’t run fast and laugh at the same time so he was clobbered and covered with string by the time he returned. Then we went and bought more Souvlaki from the big lady.

    Where was I? Breakfast? How about Florence. July ’81. Pensione Soggiornio Giappone on Via del Bianchi. I remember little about the meal and more about the company. I was traveling with Zac Salem and Jack was with the aforementioned gang of four. This was our planned meeting half way around the world from El Cerrito a month before and we almost missed each other.
    Coffee, marmalade, butter and these huge breads Jack immediately dubbed “Princess Leia” buns for obvious reasons. Fortunately, there were a least 2 for each of us so nobody replaced the bread into the basket after doing their best “oh help us Obi Wan Kenobi. You’re our only hope” imitation with bread over our ears.
    Great travel memories. Thanks for activating them… again.
    Happy Easter Amy.

    1. What a terrific recollection of your times in the Plaka! I stayed right there on my first visit to Athens and, though it was noisy, I loved being in right the midst of all the life going on! Not being real adventurous food-wise, I came to love a good Greek salad with the delicious olives and a massive wedge of feta sitting on top! And glad you were able to keep that rendezvous! I have kind of a romantic feeling about those days when you couldn’t just call someone or shoot them a text while traveling – you made a plan sometimes way in advance and hoped for the best. Glad you guys connected – and thanks for the trip details!

  7. Great post as usual! In January 2020, before lockdown, we had some wonderful oysters, with a glass of sparkling wine, sitting in the evening sun up in the Coromandel. A moment not to be forgotten.

    1. Thank you so much! I had to look up where Coromandel is – I can sure see that would have been quite the moment!

  8. The food is often made better by the place. Some things just are meant to be paired.
    I don’t want to know what goes into a hotdog but I do know that a hotdog sure tastes great at a baseball game.

    1. Ha! You’re so right about hot dogs and ballparks (and probably about staying in the dark ingredient-wise…) – lots of great memories can come from that combo!

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