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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!