Posted on

Explore the Wonders of an Amazon River Cruise

When you think of river cruising, the first thing that comes to mind is probably intimate cruises of the Danube or Seine rivers in Europe or even cruises of the Mississippi River. However, a lesser-known option for river cruising is to cruise the mighty Amazon River. The Amazon river is truly a sight to behold, as it is not only the second longest river in the world, but it is also the largest river by volume of output, making it a truly spectacular destination for any river cruise enthusiast.

Whether you choose to cruise the Brazilian, Peruvian, or Ecuadorian sections of The Amazon, you will be exposed to the breathtaking natural wonders of The Amazon rainforest, and you will see wonderful cultural sites that have developed along its banks. If you have not previously considered an Amazon river cruise, here are just a few of the reasons to consider doing so.

Ample Ship and Line Options

boat on the amazon river
With the popularity of Amazon river cruises on the rise, more cruise lines and ships are adding itineraries along the Amazon each year. This means that no matter your tastes when it comes to cruising, whether you like something rustic, elegant, intimate, or large with lots of amenities, there will likely be a cruise that meets your needs. In fact, one of the unique things about The Amazon River is that it is wide enough, and (more importantly) deep enough to accommodate large ocean cruise
ships. This provides the perfect opportunity for those looking for the unique experiences a river cruise has to offer but who still want access to the extensive amenities of larger cruise ships.

Multiple, Unique Itineraries

amazon waterfallWith a river as large as The Amazon, you will also be able to choose from a variety of unique itineraries. If you want to see more nature and historical sites rather than large cities, then the less traveled Peruvian section of the river may be right for you. Peruvian Amazon cruises often originate in Iquitos and use more intimate vessels to explore some of the rivers more fascinating tributaries. These cruises often include a tour of the Yacapana Isles, which are famous for their iguana populations, and they also take passengers to see the Yarapa River’s stunning pink and grey freshwater dolphins. The Peruvian stretch of the Amazon is definitely for those adventurers looking for the road less traveled.
A cruise along the Brazilian stretch of the Amazon allows you to pick from a wider range of cruise lines, ships, and itineraries, and is great for those looking for a more cultural experience as you will be able to see a variety of cities and villages includes Parintins, Manaus, Santarem, and Boca de Valeria. A unique feature of booking a Brazilian Amazon cruise through one of the larger cruise lines, such as Princess Cruises or Viking, is that these lines often offer cruises that originate in Florida ports and make stops at Caribbean islands such as Barbados, St. Thomas, and St. Lucia before cruising The Amazon, allowing you to experience the best that ocean and river cruising has to offer.

The Diverse Wildlife

Monkey eating Food One of the most spectacular features of a cruise of the Amazon is the diversity of the wildlife that you will see as you travel through the jungles of the Amazon Basin. In fact, the sheer diversity of flora and fauna in the Amazon is staggering as this area contains the largest collection of living plant and animal species in the world. This region is home to 2.5 million insect species, over 10,000 species of plants, 2,000 birds, over 400 mammals, 400 amphibians, and over 300 reptiles. On a cruise through The Amazon, you will never cease to be amazed by the wonders you will see each day.

Gateway to The Inca Empire

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

One of the benefits to choosing a cruise of the Peruvian section of The Amazon is that many of these cruises include a trip to the lost Inca city of Machu Picchu at the beginning or end of the cruise. Built hundreds of years ago but not re-discovered until 1911, these Inca ruins atop a mountain have fascinated people around the world for over a hundred years. As part of your Peruvian Amazon trip, you will be able to explore these ruins for yourself and discover what has captivated travelers for a century.

The Meeting of The WatersBlack river and Solimões River

Should you choose a Brazilian Amazon cruise, one of the key features you will get to see if the meeting of the waters near Manaus. The meeting of the waters is where two major tributaries of strikingly different colors, the light brown Solimoes River and the black Negro River, come together and run alongside each other for several miles without merging. This creates a stunning visual effect where one is able to see the distinct line where these two rivers touch without intermingling, allowing for stunning vistas and photographs.

Things to Keep in Mind When Cruising the Amazon

Prepare for Rain, and Lots of It
While a cruise of The Amazon river will allow you to see amazing natural wonders, it is important to remember that The Amazon Basin is so green and alive with activity because it gets a large amount of rain; an average of 12 feet per year. You will likely encounter rain at some point on your trip so come prepared with an umbrella and light rain jacket to help keep you dry.
Bring Plenty of Insect Repellant
With all of that moisture and wildlife also comes an abundance of insects. You should consider covering up as much as possible by wearing long-sleeved shirts, pants, and long socks. Keep these layers thin, as it can be hot and humid, particularly during the dry season. You will also want to pack plenty of insect repellant to protect any parts of your body that are exposed.
Be Ready to Explore
While you will be able to experience breathtaking views right from your cruise ship, some of the best sights will be seen while you are on land, and you should plan accordingly by bringing clothes and shoes appropriate for extensive walking and hiking.
For those who have never explored The Amazon River Basin, you will likely be blown away by the wonders you will see on your trip.

Posted on

Tasting Your Way Through Philadelphia Neighborhoods

The City of Brotherly Love is one of the most exciting places to visit in all of the United States. This historical city is divided into distinct neighborhoods, and it seems that each one is known for something delicious. In addition to being the birthplace of our nation, Philadelphia is the premier destination for succulent foods. Below, we will provide a guide to tasting your way through one of the biggest cities in the country. When you visit Philadelphia, be prepared for one of the most mouthwatering experiences you have ever had!

South Philadelphia

South Philadelphia is a large, mostly residential neighborhood. In areas such as Queen Village, Bella Vista, Graduate Hospital, and Passyunk Square, there is no shortage of Italian restaurants serving home-cooked pasta, meats, and seafood.
philadelphia-food-cheesesteak-fries-worldvia
Diners are prominent in South Philadelphia, so start your day by having a cheese omelet at the Melrose Diner, or perhaps French toast at the Penrose Diner. Classic breakfast selections are only the beginning. Diners in Philadelphia are famous for
their bakery sections, so save room for some of the best muffins, danishes, cookies, cakes, and pies you’ve ever had.
Later in the day, try places such as Ralphs, The South Philly Bar & Grill, or Marra’s for lunch or dinner and prepare to be delighted. The South 9th Street Italian Market is the center of it all, consisting of ten blocks of bakeries, butcher shops, and specialty food stores. It is at the Italian Market that you’ll find two of the restaurants that serve the sandwich that Philadelphia is famous for, the cheesesteak. Pat’s King of Steaks has been known as the “Inventor of the Cheesesteak” for almost a century. Open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, this walk-up window with outdoor seating proves that there is no wrong time to enjoy what the locals call a “Steak Sandwich.” Located across the street is Geno’s Steaks, also open around the clock. They pride themselves on the “Best Cheesesteak in Town,” so stop by and decide for yourself.
After your meal, remember that no trip to South Philly is complete without dessert from one of the Italian bakeries that the
city is known for. Stop by Termini Brothers for Italian Rum Cake that will melt in your mouth, or Isgro’s Bakery for the best cannoli in the city.
philadelphia-cannolis-worldvia

Center City

Center City is where most of the action takes place, and that starts with an excellent meal. There are so many sights to see in this city, but it is important to visit the hottest restaurants first. Center City, which is compromised of several neighborhoods, including Washington Square West, Rittenhouse Square, Old City, and the Midtown Village, is the premier location of many great eateries.
Let’s start with the Midtown III Restaurant, right in the heart of Center City. With an old-school ambiance that visitors can’t resist, this classic restaurant is just as popular for pancakes as it is for late night cocktails, so stop by at any hour of the day. If you come in the morning, ordering scrapple with your meal is a must. Enjoy your breakfast and gear up for the rest of the day with more great food to come.
philadelphia-food-pancakes-worldvia
In the afternoon or evening, head to Serpico, which features an open kitchen and an industrial feel, not to mention some of the best food in Philadelphia. Located on South Street, one of the most iconic streets in the city, this restaurant does not disappoint. Try the grilled short ribs, halibut, or fried duck legs and see why city tourists come here every time they visit Philadelphia.
When you are in Philly, you must save room for water ice. Head over to John’s Water Ice for this Philadelphia staple in flavors that include chocolate, vanilla, cherry, pineapple, and much more. Customize your treat any way you like. Try mixing flavors, or make it a gelato by adding a scoop of ice cream. A true Philadelphia tradition, you’ll want to try a different flavor every day.

Chinatown

No one wants to leave Philadelphia without a visit to Chinatown. There are so many restaurants packed into this neighborhood, and you’ll want to try them all. Whether you are in the mood for dim sum, Cantonese cuisine, or Sichuan cooking, Chinatown is where you will find it.
Stop at Red King’s 2 Restaurant for some of the best Dan Dan noodles you’ll ever taste. Perhaps you are in the mood for seafood, in which case Tai Lake Restaurant is the place you need to be. Or, it could be that you are looking for Sweet & Sour Chicken and Pork Fried Rice. If so, you are in luck, because there are plenty of places that serve your tried and true favorites. Come to Chinatown when you are good and hungry, and you are sure to have the experience of a lifetime.

West Philadelphia

This area of the city is known for casual cuisine with plenty of diversity. Here, you’ll find not only burgers and hot dogs, but plenty of Ethiopian, Thai, halal Senegalese dishes, and much more.
philadelphia-food-maccaroni-worldvia
You do not want to miss out on the Walnut Street Cafe, open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, as well as brunch on the weekends. Try dishes such as Hanger Steak, Pan-Seared Potato Gnocchi, or maybe a selection from the pastry counter. With cinnamon rolls, pistachio-cherry croissants, and raspberry jam scones, you’ll want to savor every bite and then come back for more.
Visitors of the city should definitely try Local 44, a Philadelphia brewpub that is known for favorites including Korean Fried Chicken, Loaded Mac & Cheese, and a Pastrami Spiced Ruben.
philadelphia-food-pretzels-worldvia
Every foodie knows that they must try the soft pretzels when visiting Philadelphia. Stop by the Philadelphia Pretzel Factory for a treat that you’ll love indulging in. Here, you will find freshly baked, handmade and hand-twisted pretzels that are delicious from the first bite to the last. Specialty items include Pretzel Dogs, Pretzel Sausages, and Pepperoni Pretzel Melts. Enhance your pretzel with a dip such as honey mustard, cheese dip, or cinnamon dip. No matter what you choose, a soft pretzel is a true Philadelphia experience. One thing is for sure, everyone will have a great time eating their way through West Philadelphia.
Philadelphia is a place known for its many wonderful restaurants, which serve up plenty of must-try foods, making the city a culinary delight.
 
worldvia-email-subscribe-food700

Posted on

How to Live Like a Local in Ecuador

Amazon colorful apartment

Here are some of the best ways to live like an Ecuadorian, even if you’re only going to visit for a short time.

Live Like a Local in Quito

The capital city has lots of fascinating historical and cultural attractions. However, if you want to experience it like a local, you can also enjoy some of the everyday pleasures of the city.

Rent an apartment

One of the benefits of visiting Ecuador is that it’s quite reasonable. While there are some luxury hotels, you can find cheap apartment rentals by the day, week, or month. This gives you a chance to live in a residential area and experience local life for a while.

Explore the city by bus, bike, or on foot

This is how most people get around in Ecuador. It can be fun to discover new neighborhoods off the beaten path. Cities such as Quito and Cuenca have a cheap bus service with bus lanes making transportation quite efficient. Quito is extremely bicycle-friendly, with many streets closed to car traffic on Sundays.

Enjoy the parks

One of the nice things about Quito is that it’s full of green spaces right inside the city. For example, Parque El Ejido is known for its spontaneous volleyball and soccer games as well as weekend art shows. The city’s locals take advantage of the parks and you can as well.

Experience nightlife of Plaza Foch

This is a busy area where you’ll find lots of cafes, restaurants, bars, and clubs. Locals enjoy this area for late night fun and partying.

Brush Up on Your Spanish

If you want to live like locals and mix with them, you need to speak their language. If you’re already fluent in Spanish, you have this covered.

If not, this is the perfect opportunity to do some studying. There are quite a few tools to help you. If you don’t have time to take formal classes, you can get a language learning app for your computer, tablet or phone. Don’t worry about speaking perfectly. People will appreciate your effort if you address them with the Spanish phrases you’ve mastered.
Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world so learning it will serve you even beyond your trip to Ecuador.

Sample Local Markets and Street Food

Locals don’t usually dine in restaurants every day. They shop at supermarkets and local markets. Ecuador has an extraordinarily rich tradition when it comes to markets. You can find all kinds of delicacies such as vegetables, fruits, meats, and sweets. There are lots of bustling open-air markets where you can find both familiar and exotic items. There are also street foods you can buy from vendors for a quick meal. Here are just a few of the foods you should try while in Ecuador.

Street Food

Empanadas – These are South America’s version of the wrap that’s filled with meat, vegetables, and all kinds of spices. Ecuador has its own unique version of empanadas which are especially popular in Quito.
Llapingachos – This is a delicious potato omelet stuffed with foods such as cheese, eggs, salad, avocado, chorizo, and spices. This is a satisfying street food you can enjoy any time of day.
Churrasco – If you want a typical hearty Ecuadorian complete meal, order Churrasco (there’s also a Brazilian version which is slightly different). You’ll get a grilled steak served with eggs, rice, avocado, vegetables, and a spicy sauce.

Buy Food at Markets


Fruits – You can find a dazzling array of tropical fruits from street vendors and market stalls. You’ll recognize some of these fruits such as papaya, watermelon, coconut, and bananas. Some lesser known but equally delicious fruits include uvilla (a berry), pitahaya (related to dragon fruit), mora (a type of blackberry), chirimoya (similar to guava), and the tomato-like naranjilla.
Potatoes – Many Ecuadorian recipes use potatoes. Since the country grows more than 500 varieties, you might want to buy some at market and cook them yourself.
Meat – South Americans are big meat eaters. You’ll find all kinds of animals for sale at markets. Unlike what you’re used to in America, you’ll often see whole animals on display. You’ll see, for example, a whole pig head rather than pork that’s already been cut up for you. You can get extremely fresh meat in Ecuador but you may also have to overcome any squeamishness.
Fish – Seafood is another staple in Ecuador’s cuisine. You can find all kinds of fresh fish and other seafood on display at markets such as shrimp, clams, shark, mahi-mahi, corvina, and much more.
It’s nice to have some type of cooking capability where you’re staying so you can shop at local markets and prepare some of the fresh ingredients you find at markets. If not, you can still sample many amazing dishes from street vendors. Markets are also great for finding arts, crafts, gifts, and wearables. Otavalo Market is one of the country’s premier markets for traditional art.

Enjoy Festivals and Celebrations

There are countless festivals and holiday celebrations in Ecuador. Some of these are large and celebrated throughout the nation while others are more local. Carnival or Carnaval is the most festive time of year throughout Ecuador. No matter where you are in Ecuador, there will be a Carnaval with lots of colorful costumes, parades, performances, and all-around partying. Be warned that it’s common for kids (and even adults) to spray strangers with water and other liquids during Carnival season.

The Andes region has quite a few distinctive festivals. The largest of these is Mama Negra, which is celebrated in both September and November. During these celebrations, you’ll see long parades of costumed characters representing ancestors. This is a multicultural festival that recognizes a variety of traditions that have influenced Ecuador, including African, Incan, Spanish, and Mayan.
There are also many other religious and cultural festivals in Ecuador. Before your trip, make sure you check the calendar and find out what’s happening during your stay.

Become a Soccer Fan

Soccer, known as football (or Fútbol in Spanish) is one of the most popular national pastimes in Ecuador. If you want to blend in with the local culture, it helps if you learn a little about the teams and current rivalries. Of course, if you want to make friends, make sure you root for the right team! The best-ranked football teams in Ecuador right now are Barcelona SC, LDU de Quito, and Delfin SC.
During football season, games will be on display everywhere. A good way to pass a few hours is to sit in a restaurant or bar with a game going on. Ecuador has over 200 football clubs so it can be a bit confusing if you’re not familiar with the scene. However, soccer is a fairly easy game to follow. Even if you’re not up to date with all the rules and teams, you can follow games and cheer for the local team. You’ll find that the enthusiasm is contagious.
These are some of the best ways to experience Ecuador as the locals do. This doesn’t mean you should skip the popular tourist attractions. However, it’s also nice to learn about the traditional customs of the country and get insights into the culture and everyday life of its residents.

Posted on

6 Adrenaline-Filled Activities to do in New Zealand

Bungy jumping in new zealand

From bungy jumping to mountain climbing, and even some cave exploring, there’s something for everyone. Adventures can be found throughout the diverse terrain of New Zealand, so the only question is, where will you begin?

Go Zorbing in Rotorua

Did you know that zorbing got its start in New Zealand? In 1997, Andrew and David Akers invented this unique and fun activity. But what exactly is zorbing? Essentially, you jump into a giant, transparent plastic ball and are sent tumbling down a hill. It may not seem like much, but zorbs have been known to reach speeds in excess of 30 miles (about 48 km) per hour. You’ll have the option to enjoy the ride buckled into the zorb or foregoing the straps and sliding freely. There are many different ways to zorb — with or without water, surrounded by bubbles, down a hill, or even on water. If you are looking for the biggest adrenaline rush, try the MEGA Track at OGO, the longest, steepest, and fastest track in zorbing. It’s an adventure you’ve likely never tried before and one you won’t soon forget.

Bungy jump off the Auckland bridge

For some, climbing to the top of the Auckland Bridge will be an adventure in itself. With heights reaching 67 meters above water, you will have a spectacular and one of a kind view of the country’s capital city. But if you are looking to take it up a notch, why not jump off the bridge while you are up there? AJ Hackett Bungy New Zealand offers thrill seekers just this. The jump will take you on an 11-second rush as you catapult 40 meters, finishing with a dip in the ocean below (jumps that do not touch water are an option too). You can tandem jump with a partner or just watch as a friend takes the plunge. Children 10 and older can also partake if you have a younger adventure lover.

Jet boat through Hukafalls

Hukafalls is New Zealand’s most visited natural attraction. The falls are a powerful display, flowing at a force of 220,000 liters per second. A jet boat is the best way to experience the fury of the falls up close. Take the journey down the Waikato River to the falls and immerse yourself in the native wildlife and brush as you experience 30 minutes of waves and 360 spins.
In Maori, Huka means foam, and that’s exactly what you will experience as you ride the waves at speeds up to 80 km per hour. Boats hold up to 14 people and run every day except Christmas. Boats run from 9 to 4, but be sure to book in advance to make sure you reserve your spot.
If you are looking for even more adventure, Hukafalls Jet offers various combo packages that include options like skydiving, bungy jumping, and white water rafting. Hukafalls is also a great place to hike, go biking, or enjoy a river cruise.

Hike Tongariro Crossing

Hiking Tongariro Crossing is a great way to test your endurance. The hike, which typically takes six to eight hours to complete, is 19.4 km of mountains terrain. Though difficult at times, the hike consistently ranks as one of the best day hikes in New Zealand and top ten in the world. Tongariro Crossing does lie in a volcanic hazard zone, so hikers take the trek at their own risk. Be sure to wear all weather hiking gear and hiking boots for the challenging areas.
A little trivia — The Lord of the Rings setting of Mordor was shot in Tongariro National Park. The locations can be difficult to find on their own; if you’re a Lord of the Rings fan, consider looking into a guided tour.

Zipline in Queenstown

The Kawarau zipline runs above the Kawarau River in Queenstown. Riders can ride in with a variety of views on one of the three rides including front facing, backward, and Superman style. Each line provides for the option to ride tandem, making it a perfect adventure to bring your child (ages 8 and up). The zipline extends 130 meters and takes riders to speeds of 60 km per hour.
If you are looking for more thrill from your zipline, there are plenty of options in New Zealand. The Canyon Fox zipline (also in Queenstown) takes riders a staggering 182 meters above the ground. After taking the Skyline Gondola and riding the Skyline Luge (a must for any fans of Mario Kart and adventure fans in general), take a zipline 400 meters back down to where you began.

Visit Waitomo Caves

There is so much to do at Waitomo Caves. Casual travelers will like the scenic reserves and museum, but this visit is for the adventure seeker. There are many locations to see. When you explore the Black Abyss, you will descend 35 meters. You will climb under waterfalls and zipline through a magical display of glow worms. You will wade through water, journey through the darkness, and experience a truly one of a kind adventure.
If ziplining through caves isn’t enough to satisfy your need for thrill, try black water rafting in the Ruakuri Cave. Black water rafting is not your typical rafting adventure. Besides the fact that you are in a dark cave, the rafting occurs on a black rubber tube. Think of a lazy river (but faster) in a glow worm speckled cave and that’s what you can expect. Combining the Black Abyss and black water rafting is a great way to experience the caves.
Adventure comes in many forms and a vast range of extremes. Whether you choose to hike through the country’s oldest national park of jump off its capital city’s bridge, you are sure to find the adventure you are looking for in New Zealand.

Posted on

5 Spanish Festivals You Won’t Want To Miss

Running of the Bulls in Pamplona may be Spain’s most iconic festival, but this fun-loving and deeply religious country has a year-round calendar of festivals from the spiritual to the hilarious that everyone can enjoy.

The Fallas of Valencia

The city of Valencia is transformed mid-march each year, for the annual Fallas extravaganza that ends in fire. Every day firecrackers explode, and every night fireworks light up the sky. Gigantic statues and figures called ninots fill the city’s squares and streets. Some are several stories high and can take a year to construct as well as a $75,000 investment. Others are inexpensive, often hilarious constructions. Most ninots commemorate and satirize politicians, pop culture icons, and current events.
On March 19, the day of La Cremá (burning), townsfolk stuff firecrackers in the ninots . At midnight streetlights go off, crowds cheer, and the ninots are set ablaze. One is spared by public vote and is displayed in the city’s Museo Fallero (Museum of the Fallas).
Festival days are filled with parades, bullfights, paella cook-offs, concerts, floral displays, and beauty contests all around the town. The tradition may date back to an ancient spring equinox celebration, but the first written record of Las Fallas is from the second half of the 18th century. UNESCO named the festival an event of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

La Tomatina in Buñol

Throwing tomatoes at people and whatever is within range is so much fun, this town’s tomato splattering tradition is more than 70 years old and has gained worldwide fame. It is held on the last Wednesday of August and is limited to 20,000 registered tomato warriors. Tickets sell out in a flash. Thousands more converge on the town to watch the fun. Many eyes focus on a ham on a high greased pole where challengers try to reach the top to grab the ham. Red hats mark non-competitors but do not spare them from “collateral damage.”
La Tomatina is believed to have started in 1945 when a man was shoved off a parade float; In a rage, he grabbed tomatoes from a produce shop and threw them at everyone in sight. Others joined in and just like that it became an annual event that authorities tried to stop a few times. In 1957, it became an official festival now known as the world’s largest food fight.
La Tomatina marks the end of a week of parades, parties, fairs, competitions, and street markets in the little town of Buñol, population 9,000. Many out-of-town participants and party-goers stay in nearby Valencia and travel to the festival by bus or train.
 

Cordoba Patio Festival

Cordoba bursts into bloom in celebration of spring beauty for the entire month of May. It begins with a Battle of the Flowers Parade that launches the May Crosses Festival the first week of May. This is followed by Patio Contests during the first two weeks of May and concludes with the annual town fair at the end of the month. The locals offer a host of entertainment throughout this celebration, and some of the best names in flamenco add color and sound to this lively spring scene.
The Patio Competition dates back to 1918 and reveals the courtyards hidden from street view in private homes, public houses, and religious institutions. The patios have historically been filled with plants to help cool surrounding buildings. Patio design became a point of pride and beauty for homeowners.
Expect colorful flowers, stone mosaics, fountains, and ceramic decorations artistically arranged. Along with the classic scents of Cordoba, jasmine and orange blossom, mingle with a myriad of scents from other flowers and plants. In addition to public courtyards, more than 50 private courtyards are open to the public during the festival.

The May Crosses Festival

The Crosses Festival lasts four days with about 40 Catholic brotherhoods and neighborhoods competing for the prize. Preparations take place in secret and the crosses are all unveiled at once. The crosses are about 10-feet high and are decorated with flowers and foliage. The competition began in 1953, but the tradition of decorating the crosses dates back to the 18th century.
Each Catholic brotherhood or neighborhood association sets up a bar next to its cross, lights it up at night and serves drinks and tapas. Local women dance in gypsy dresses, live band performances rock the neighborhoods, and the festivities continue far into the night. The tourist office provides visitors with maps to participating neighborhoods.
 

Semana Santa in Seville

This is one of Seville’s most important festivals. A million people visit the city during the festival week that begins on Palm Sunday each year. Each parish church puts on a solemn procession of up to 3,000 people in pointy-hooded costumes and floats with artistic, life-sized, often gruesome statues of the Virgin Mary and Jesus representing some part of the Passion story. Some statues are more than 300 years old. The Virgin Mary figures wear velvet robes embroidered with gold thread; floats are decorated with fresh flowers and flaming candles. The floats are carried by church members.
Some floats are flanked by Roman soldiers and a person dressed as Pontius Pilate. Brass bands with wailing trumpets and slow drums inspire plaintive songs from balconies to the Virgin as she passes below. Imagine prayers set to flamenco music.
There are eight or nine processions a day, each beginning at the parish church, processing through the basilica, and then returning to the church. Thanks to city-wide coordination, the processions do not bump into one other. Some processions take up to 14 hours to complete the round trip. If you do not have access to a balcony, good vantage points are wide avenues that lead to the basilica.
This festival, which dates back to the 16th Century, goes way beyond the religious events. The Semana Santa is a fantastic time to be in Seville. The city is an exotic mix of Mudejar palaces, baroque churches, and medieval lanes. Flamenco clubs keep this ancient dance alive. Andalusian cuisine is deeply influenced by Arabic dishes and is based on raw ingredients of the Mediterranean diet. Examples of these healthy, hearty dishes include huevos a la Flamenca (fried eggs served with vegetables and sauce in a clay pot), fried potatoes stuffed with ham and cheese, and a huge selection of hot and cold tapas.
If you have your heart set on the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, the San Fermin Festival takes places every July. Join an international crowd of thousands for the week-long party that you’ll never forget.

Posted on

Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting Finland

Finland is every free-spirited explorer and nature enthusiast’s dream come true. Known for its stunning boreal forests, historic monuments, and the world famous northern lights, Finland is one of Europe’s hidden gems.

Top Highlights of Finland

The first stop in Finland for most visitors is the capital, Helsinki. From Stone Age hunter-gatherers and the Vikings to the Swedish Christian crusades and Russian Tsars, Finland has had a long, complex and rich history. This is best reflected in the Fortress of Sveaborg. A 20-minute ferry ride from Helsinki harbor, the fortress is located on the fortified islands of Suomenlinna. Originally built by the Swedes, the fortress fell into the hands of the Russians during the Swedish-Russian war. Today, it is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument.
Another historic structure is the Uspenski Cathedral, the largest Orthodox church in Western Europe. With its characteristic deep-red brick walls and multiple spires, the cathedral has 13 green and gold colored onion domes. Representing Christ and the twelve apostles, the cupolas dominate the skyline above Helsinki harbor. The interior is even more impressive, with its vaulted ceilings, marble arches, chandeliers, and gold-embellished iconography.
The Kauppatori Market Square represents the bustling heart of Helsinki. It is home to one of northern Europe’s best outdoor markets, a place filled with traditional Finnish foods, bakeries, chocolatiers, crafted cheese, souvenirs, flowers, and fresh fish from the Baltic Sea.
Compared to other parts of Finland, Lapland is remote and sparsely populated. But the region is home to Finland’s best outdoor activities and nature’s most spectacular phenomena, the northern lights. After a morning of skiing, visitors can relax and unwind in the world’s only sauna gondola at the Ylläs Ski Resort. The resort is also home to Kivinavetta, one of Finland’s most high-quality restaurant that serves up traditional eats including reindeer stew and fresh cloudberries. For a romantic night, visitors can watch the northern lights from igloo styled Aurora Domes, snuggled in sheepskin blankets and sipping on champagne.

Things To Know Before Visiting Finland

Best Time to Visit

The best time to visit Finland is between September and March when the autumn leaf foliage is at its peak, and the Northern Lights shine brightly on clear nights.

Weather 

Finland has a relatively mild climate courtesy the Gulf Stream and the country’s many lakes. February is the coldest month, with most of the country snowbound between November and April. Finland also comes under the Land of the Midnight Sun, which means that parts of the country experience continuous daylight during the summer.

Languages 

The two official languages of Finland are Swedish and Finnish. Many residents are also fluent in English and Russian.

Currency 

Finland’s official currency is the Euro. All major credit and debit cards are accepted.

Electricity 

The electrical sockets in Finland are type F, also known as “Schuko”. The standard voltage is 230V, while the standard frequency is 50 Hz. If you are traveling from the US, you will need a combined power plug adapter and a voltage converter.

Social Conventions

  • Finnish customs are predominantly European. Some of them are:
  • Finns are reserved on public transportation like buses, trams and even elevators.
  • Cell phone etiquette is important. Using cell phones in places like hospitals, pubs, and restaurants is considered rude.
  • Tipping is not the norm in Finland. It is acceptable to pay to the next rounded figure or leave the matter entirely to the discretion of the establishment.
  • Finland has banned smoking completely in most public spaces.

Saunas

Visiting a sauna is part of Finland’s national culture. There are only two million saunas in Finland catering to a population of 5.3 million. While there are no mixed public saunas, visitors should try not to be shy about taking off their clothes.
Don’t be shy.
Finns have a very healthy body image, and swimming naked is fairly common. The oldest swimming hall in Finland, Yrjönkatu, offers separate swimming sessions for men and women. Since 2001, visitors can choose to wear a swimming costume, but shouldn’t be surprised if others don’t.

Traveling around Finland

Finland is the 8th largest country in Europe, which means there are large distances to cover when traveling the country. However, Finland’s extensive transportation system comprising of railway lines, canal boats, ferries and the national bus company Matkahuolto, easily connect to different parts of the country. Visitors can always find local bus services in every town in Finland.

Food

Finnish cuisine primarily consists of wholemeal bread, berries, dairy, meat, and seafood. It is becoming increasingly popular to blend traditional rustic recipes with modern contemporary cooking techniques. Some iconic Finnish foods include:
Karjalanpiirakka: Also known as Karelian pies, the pastries are made from rye flour and stuffed with potatoes, rice or carrots.
Kalakukko: Pies filled with muikku, a small herring-like fish.
Grillimakkara: Most popular during the summer, these grilled sausages are eaten with mustard and a mug of beer.
Näkkileipä: Sold internationally, this rye bread cracker is eaten with spreads like cheese and butter, or usually accompanies lunch soups.
Korvapuusti: The Finns love eating their cinnamon buns with coffee.
Mustikkapiirakka: Fresh berries like bilberries and lingonberry are often eaten with milk, or used to make homemade pies, jams and juices.
Poronkäristys: Reindeer meat is a staple from Lapland, and is usually served with mashed potatoes.
Juustoleipä: Made from cow, goat or reindeer milk, this cheese bread is best enjoyed with cloudberry jam.

Geographical Landscape

The topography of Finland is largely flat, with more than 70 percent of the country covered by forestland. Moving north toward the Arctic Circle and the Norwegian border, the landscape changes to form hills and low mountains. This region is Lapland, home to the indigenous Sami people and Finland’s highest point, Haltiatunturi.
Finland has a large archipelago in the Gulf of Bothnia known as the Aland Islands. Situated between Sweden and Finland, this archipelago is made up of three hundred islands (eighty of whom are inhabited) and over 6,000 smaller rock islands.
The south of Finland has more than 188,000 clearwater lakes. During the last Ice Age, most of the country was covered by ice. When the ice retreated, it left behind countless rivers, lakes, and streams. While most of them are on the smaller side, some of them like Nasijarv and Oulujarvi measure more than 200 meters wide. Many canals connect to these water bodies. The largest of them, the Saimaa Canal, connects the Gulf of Finland with Lake Saimaa.
From its jaw-dropping snow-capped landscapes and the mesmerizing northern lights, to its medieval stone buildings and maritime culture, Finland is undoubtedly the rising phoenix amongst the Nordic countries. The laid-back Nordic lifestyle combined with artistic quirkiness makes the country both unique and inviting for travelers to Europe. So, what are you waiting for? Are you ready to discover your “inner Finn”?

Posted on

How to Experience Hungary Like A Local

Hungary Parliament

“The traveler sees what he sees. The tourist sees what he has come to see”— Gilbert K. Chesterton.

To get the best experience in Hungary, you really need to live like the locals. Slow down, strike up a conversation with your neighbor, and explore. Once you have experienced the culture, taken a minute to deeply inhale the wafting scents of paprika, and soaked in the thermal waters, you will come away with an appreciation that far surpasses the thrill of having another stamp on your passport.

Find your home base

Just like the locals, you will need to decide where to stay. Whether finding a room at a hotel or renting an apartment, you will want to consider your location. The most popular destination within Hungary is its capital city, Budapest. Budapest straddles the Danube river and provides some of the richest cultural experiences. One side of the river lies Buda, an area with a quiet vibe, beautiful hills and some of the city’s great architectural wonders. Pest lies on the opposite side of the river. A residence in this area will provide you with easy access to the city’s nightlife and their numerous ruin bars, as well as the Jewish District.
Hungary’s public transportation is reliable and efficient and provides an affordable option to travel throughout Budapest and to sites outside the city. Arguably, the best way to get around is through the metro system. Another great option is the trolley system. The yellow streetcars have been running in Budapest for over 125 years. If you are looking to get a broad view of the city’s main attractions, hop on tram number 2, which runs down the Danube river.
If you do choose to rent a car while visiting, be sure to stop by a local gas station or pick up a vignette (or rental car). This will save you the shock of receiving a rather large bill for all the tolls accrued throughout the city.

Pack a lunch and visit a local park

A trip to the park is a great way to meet locals and get the insight into the places only the residents know about. Begin your morning by visiting The Great Market Hall. Pick up some salami, fresh bread, pickles, and maybe a bottle of Tokaj wine. Head to The City Park, behind Hero’s Square, and enjoy a view of the lake as you relish in your market treats and do a little people watching.

Relax at one of Hungary’s thermal baths

Aside from its food and architecture, thermal baths are one of Hungary’s most popular draws. Whether you are recovering from jet lag upon your arrival or a másnaposság (hangover) after a week of visiting the city’s ruin bars, a dip in a local thermal bath is a great way to relax. Over 150 thermal spas exist in Hungary. They are packed with minerals and are said to relieve arthritis and other ailments. Be forewarned, soaking pools have become increasingly popular through the years, with many spas being overwhelmed by tourists. The Széchenyi Baths are the largest and most popular baths in Hungary featuring 15 baths, 3 pools, and 10 saunas. Try Veli Bej Baths located in district II, for a more peaceful and authentic experience.

Grab a bite

Hungary is more than goulash. Though this famous dish can be found in many restaurants throughout the country, the cuisine offers an array of options to savor. Chicken paprikash rivals goulash as a favorite among locals. Halászlé (fisherman’s soup) is great as well. Try Pest-Buda for some of the best chicken paprikash in Budapest. If you want the best selection of street food, go to Karavan. Be sure to try a langos, fried dough covered in sour cream and cheese.

Enjoy the nightlife

After a long day of seeing the sites, it’s time to treat yourself to a drink. There is no shortage of places to enjoy a refreshing beverage in Budapest. While in the city, it would be borderline criminal not to visit one of its famous ruin bars. Ruin bars often inhabit abandoned buildings throughout the Jewish District. They each are adorned with one of a kind wares, with each location providing its own distinctive vibe. Szimpla Kert is the most popular ruin bar, and though it has a high tourist draw, it is still worth your time to visit this original ruin bar. Try to include DZZs Bar and Mazel Tov as you explore.
Enjoy yourself and unwind, but be careful not to clink your glasses for a toast. Legend has it that after the failed rebellion of the 13 generals in 1849, the Austrians celebrated victory by drinking beer and loudly clinking their glasses. Because of this, Hungarians vowed not to clink their glasses for 150 years. Though this time frame has now expired, many Hungarians still find it disrespectful, so you are best to avoid this practice. Instead, a firm glance at your neighbor and Egészségedre (Cheers) are customary.
Odds are, if you are looking for the local experience, you will find yourself staring down a glass of Palinka. In fact, if you find yourself invited into a Hungarian home, there’s a good chance you will be offered a glass of Palinka first thing in the morning. Be prepared—Palinka is a strong drink. Called the moonshine of Hungary by the New York Times and Hungarian Brandy by Visit Budapest, it has an alcohol content ranging from 37% to 86%. The New York Times wasn’t far off when they compared the drink to a “slap in the face”

Take in a festival

The International Wine Festival in Budapest runs in early September. The festival features various wines from Hungary’s 22 wine regions, as well as a vast collection of wines from around the globe. Concerts run throughout the festival and food is offered as well. The festival is family friendly with a good amount of activities for kids. If you are planning on attending this event, you can order your tickets in advance online and purchase a souvenir wine glass.
If you are visiting during the winter holidays, be sure to stop by the Christmas market on Vorosmoty Square. The market runs from the middle of November to the end of December and is ranked as one of the top Christmas markets in Europe. Try a chimney cake and discover the unique gift of the region.

Escape the city buzz

Don’t be afraid to venture outside of Budapest. Though the capital city is over seven times larger than the country’s next biggest city, that doesn’t mean you have to stay in town. The city of Eger is a two-hour train ride from Budapest. Here you can enjoy the city’s baroque structures and appreciate their place in history. Stop at a local vineyard or relax at Eger’s thermal bath.
The Baradla Cave can be found on the border of Hungary and Slovakia. Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the caves offer breathtaking views and a cool retreat on some of Hungary’s hotter days. Aside from the caves, there are hiking trails, a playground, and food and gift stalls.
If any country was made to be seen as a local, it’s Hungary. With architecture that will make you want to wander the streets for hours and a nightlife without compare, Hungary will have you planning your return trip before you even leave.

Posted on

5 Festivals in France You’ll Never Forget

France offers visitors an abundance of urban sophistication, pastoral beauty, and cultural attractions. If you want to make the most of your trip, you can time it to coincide with one of the country’s many exciting festivals. France has quite a few festivals throughout the year, some famous and others not so well known. The following are some suggestions for attending France’s most fascinating festivals.

Cannes Film Festival (May)

The Cannes Film Festival is probably France’s best-known festival. While dedicated to featuring the world’s best new cinematic releases, it’s also a place where you can experience the beauty of the South of France, and possibly spot some celebrities—not only from the movie industry but all walks of life. If you want to attend, make your plans well in advance. It’s best to arrive a day or two early. That way you can fly into Nice (or, if you prefer, take the train from Paris) and arrive before things get too hectic. You can also fit in some sightseeing around Nice before the festival.
When attending Cannes, your location is crucial. Some people book their hotels or Airbnb outside of town to save money. This is a viable strategy for visiting this region any other time of year. Although be aware of traffic during the festival which can be intense and you could spend a good portion of the day commuting back to screenings and other events. Finding a room close to the Palais so you can walk to everything is the ideal option.
The Cannes Film Festival is a glamorous industry event. If you’re not part of the movie world, you won’t be admitted to exclusive events such as screenings and parties. Fortunately, there are also quite a few events that are open to the public that makes going to Cannes during this time worth the trouble. For example, there are outdoor screenings at the Cinema de la Plage on the beach where you can enjoy some great movies. The Cannes Film Festival typically runs for a week in at the end of May.

Paris Fringe (October)

Fall is one of the best times to visit Paris, and if you’re there in October, Paris Fringe is one of the city’s most entertaining festivals. This is one of France’s newer traditions, with the annual festival in mid-October. The concept is an amalgamation of art forms, including theater, music, comedy, and visual arts. The emphasis is on the creative and experimental, making this the ideal place to encounter up-and-coming artists of all kinds. While the festival spills out into the streets throughout the city, the center is at the Théâtre de Verre in the 19th arrondissement.
Paris Fringe was conceived as an international festival, so there are events in multiple languages with the majority of performances in English. The concept of the Fringe festival started in Edinburgh in the 1940s. There are now fringe festivals in major cities around the world, including New York, Amsterdam, and Sydney. The vibrancy and cultural diversity of Fringe, however, fits perfectly into the landscape of Paris.
What’s nice about Paris Fringe is that it’s an informal festival with many free events happening all around the city. There are quite a few reasonably priced performances, workshops, and talks that are worth the extra cost. Thus, even if you don’t reserve tickets, you can still enjoy the festival as you explore the city.

Chablis Wine Festival (November)

For wine lovers, a trip to France is a pilgrimage where you can sample some of the world’s most renowned wines. Chablis has been producing wine since the village was settled by monks centuries ago. The Chablis Wine Festival, a tradition since 1949, takes place in a town famous for creating wine. In addition to sampling many varieties of Chablis, you can enjoy a variety of events and celebrations. You’ll have a chance to learn more about the wine-making process, taste the latest vintages, and sample some of the region’s distinctive cuisine at food stalls and local restaurants.
Chablis, in the scenic Burgundy region of France, is a beautiful destination any time of year. In addition to attending the festival, you can explore the quaint medieval town and many local wineries. There are also some nearby towns worth visiting, such as Auxerre and Noyers.

Rock En Seine (August)

If you want to hear some of the leading rock stars of today along with thousands of others, head to the Rock en Seine festival in Château de Saint-Cloud’s Park, near Paris. This festival, which debuted in 2003, has grown into one of Europe’s largest and hippest annual music events. It’s typically at the end of August and is expected to attract more than 100,000 fans.
You can attend Rock en Seine for one, two or three days. One-day tickets sell for between 39€ and 59€. A three-day pass is 139€. Because the festival is right outside Paris, you can easily commute by bus, Metro, or car from the city. If you want to stay more than a day, you also have the option of camping on the festival site.

Festival of Lights in Lyon (December)

If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting France during the holiday season, the annual Festival of Lights in Lyon is a must-see in early December. While this longstanding tradition revolves around the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, you don’t have to be religious to appreciate the spectacular lights and festivities that last for four nights. This is a citywide festival that you can enjoy as you wander around Lyon.
The city is lit by a colorful mixture of candles and lights from homes and shops and professional installations created by artists from around the world. The festival dates back to 1852. Today, it’s thoroughly modernized by laser shows and multimedia art shows. Some especially impressive places to watch the lights are St. John’s Cathedral and the Bartholdi Fountain.
Lyon is another destination that has lots to offer aside from the festival. Often considered France’s second major city, it rivals Paris in beauty and cultural sophistication. One of the highlights of Lyon is a cathedral that rivals Notre Dame in Paris, the Basilica of Notre Dame de Fourviere. Wine enthusiasts will want to explore the nearby Beaujolais wine growing region. The Festival of Lights is the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit as you explore the attractions of Lyon.
These are some of the most exciting festivals you can find in France. Whether you’re a fan of music, movies, theater, wine, or fantastic light displays, there’s a festival to suit your tastes. As long as you’re planning a trip to France, why not include one of these festivals in your itinerary.

Posted on

A Blueprint for Experiencing the Best Thrills in Seattle

Thrill seeking trips near Seattle

With Seattle’s collection of hikes, aerial thrills, water activities, and much more, there are plenty of ways to piece together a spectacular journey that will capture the upside of the U.S.’s extraordinary Pacific Northwest. Consider these options if you’re headed to the Emerald City looking for thrills.

Kayaking Lake Union and/or the Lakes-to-Locks Water Trail.

Nestled in between Queen Anne and Eastlake, with stunning views of downtown, Lake Union is a water lover’s paradise regularly filled with boats of all types, paddleboards, waterplanes, jet skis, and more. It’s also a haven for kayakers of any experience level, offering excursions for both the ambitious and those looking for a leisurely day of sightseeing. With plenty of places to rent gear right at the shore, getting onto the lake is extremely easy, and there are shelters all around the lake for kayakers and paddleboarders to take a breather. While the views are great at every point of the lake, many visitors end up at the 20-acre Gas Works Park at the north end, where you get rare glimpses of the city. For those staying closer to beautiful West Seattle, you can also get terrific cityscape views by hitting the waters outside Alki Beach.
For the more adventurous kayakers, Seattle has the Lakes-to-Locks Trail. Starting in Lake Sammamish in eastern Seattle and traveling through Lake Washington and Lake Union, the trail doesn’t end until it meets the salt water of the Puget Sound in the northwestern part of the city. With about 100 different designated stops along the way, kayakers glide along the beautiful Sammamish River, through Portage Bay off Lake Washington, and right past the highlights of Lake Union all the way to the Ballard Locks at the western end of the trail. Although undoubtedly a workout and only for those committed to a long day of kayaking, the water trail is one of the very best ways to not only see the city but witness first-hand just how vital Seattle’s waterways are to the area.
However you choose to get out onto the water, no aquatic enthusiast should miss the opportunity to see why Seattle is one of the best cities in the U.S. for boating and water activities.
Other options:
Those looking to take the thrills to the next level also have a perfect day trip awaiting an hour north of Seattle on the Skykomish River. Locally known as just “The Sky,” the river has enough white water to get the adrenaline-pumping, and you can experience it on a single kayak or on a raft as part of a tour.

Hike the gorgeous vistas of Mt. Pilchuck.

There are easier hikes in the area than the one that takes you up Mt. Pilchuck, but there’s a reason why it has turned into one of the most popular spots near Seattle for weekend warriors. Just a little more than five miles roundtrip, the Mt. Pilchuck hike has it all, from views of the Puget Sound and Olympic Peninsula to some of the best opportunities to gaze at Mt. Rainier. After a moderately strenuous climb, hikers arrive at a lookout cabin that’s about 5,300 feet above sea level, which provides an immaculate view of the North Cascades and sprawling green regions north of Seattle.
About an hour north of downtown, Mt. Pilchuck is known for being very popular with both locals and visitors, which is why getting an early start to the day is definitely recommended. While the motivated, early-day adventurers enjoy mostly clear pathways and plenty of elbow room at the top, anyone hiking toward the middle of the day (especially on a summer weekend) will have more than enough fellow hikers to keep you company. Even with its status as a significant attraction, Mt. Pilchuck is a hot spot that is indeed worth the hype.
Also, consider:
For hikers who might be a little intimidated by Pilchuck, there is no shortage of other options that provide a window to Seattle’s iconic views without a steep climb. The Snoqualmie Pass of Rattlesnake Ledge, a little more than a half-hour east of Seattle, is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser that takes hikers on a gentle climb through thick forests to Rattlesnake Lake, which is an ideal place to spend a sunny afternoon having a picnic or swimming (during the summer months). For a coastal hike, Ebey’s Landing takes visitors through the serene coast of Whidbey Island, where you can see a spread of animal life that typically includes seals, sea lions, eagles, and more. Meanwhile, the White River entrance of Mt. Rainier is also the gateway to a terrific hike, although it is on the challenging end with a round trip of more than eight miles as hikers pick through meadows of wildflowers, forests, and mountain passes.

Get a bird’s eye view of Mt. Rainier and Seattle area in a hot-air balloon.

Good luck trying to top the views you’ll soak up from high above the Seattle landscape in a hot-air balloon, as passengers will drift by rich blue lakes and rivers, the great lush greenery, and the snow-capped Mt. Rainier that hovers over the entire region. As long as you’re not deathly afraid of heights, a balloon ride can be a romantic or family-friendly adventure that is particularly great for the early portion of a Seattle trip. As you gain your bearings and get a feel for the region’s geography, travelers can expect to go nearly a mile up in the air, although the top balloon operations also advertise their ability to come down and skim the waters of local landmarks like Lake Tapps or Green River.
The experience can also easily slide into other plans you might have for the day, with balloon rides typically lasting about an hour and usually taking off around sunrise or a couple hours before sunset. Although hot-air balloons operate throughout most of the year, they can be particularly awe-inspiring in late summer or during the early part of the fall just as Seattle’s famous foliage begins to peek out. The glimpses of Mt. Rainier and the surrounding national park are also unparalleled, with some companies offering routes that take passengers right up close to the 14,000-foot beauty that dominates the landscape just south of Seattle.

Weather and planning tips.

Seattle is renowned for being the perfect summer city when it comes to adventurous activities, making the window from mid-June to the early part of September the peak part of the year for visitors. Although you’ll have plenty of fellow travelers at your side during this time, you’ll also experience Seattle’s warm (but not typically hot) summer weather and skip the oft-rainy late-fall and winter.
If you’re heading to Seattle outside of the summer, you’ll still be able to try your hand at most of the major outdoor features in the area. But even though you can still hike Mt. Pilchuck in the dead of winter, you will want to check in with the on-duty ranger to make sure the path is still passable on a given day. While there is still plenty to do in the city and surrounding region when the weather isn’t great, you will want to have a plan B if you end up with the proverbial rainy day Seattle is sometimes known for.

Posted on

Best Easy French Mussels Recipe

French mussels not in your normal dinner rotation? It should be, and with this easy French Mussels recipe, you’ll bring the taste of France straight to your dinner table faster than you can say fantastique! Here is my take on Moules Marinières—French Mussels in white wine sauce. It’s a super easy recipe that is super delicious, plus I’ll give you a recipe hack to make it even easier.
Don’t be intimidated by this mussels recipe at all. You’ll feel like a true french chef and your dinner guests will be delighted (and you’ll be delighted at how easy it was).
This meal is a wonderful choice for a summer evening paired with a Sauvignon Blanc (I prefer Sancerre, but it’s up to you!). Give it a try and leave a comment about how it turned out or what your guests thought.

The Jist

Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Difficulty: Easy-peasy
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds fresh Mussels
  • 1 white onion
  • 3 scallions
  • 4 tablespoons European-style Butter
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 vine-ripened tomatoes
  • salt and pepper
  • fresh parsley, chopped, 1/2 cup
  • Crusty french bread
  • 2 cups dry white wine (I prefer Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 1 small can tomato paste & a dash of heavy cream
  • Hack: you can use about a half cup of tomato-cream pasta sauce or vodka sauce instead of the tomato paste & heavy cream

Preparation

Step 1: Finely mince the onion, scallions and garlic, keeping the garlic separate.
Step 2: Dice the tomatoes into small pieces
Step 3: Wash and de-beard the mussels.
Step 4: Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

Cooking

Step 1: Take half the butter and melt in a saucepan at medium-high heat; add the onion and scallions and saute for 5 minutes until translucent, stirring to prevent them from browning.
Step 2: Add the garlic to the saucepan and stir into the mixture. Saute for another minute.
Step 3: Add the mussels, tomatoes, white wine, garlic, parsley, salt and pepper.
Step 4: Add the remaining butter, tomato paste and healthy dash of heavy cream to give just a bit of body to the sauce (you can substitute your favorite tomato-cream pasta sauce or vodka sauce here instead).
Step 4: Saute for 15 minutes until all of the mussels have opened, then add a few squeezes of lemon juice and stir.
Step 5: With about 5 minutes left on the mussels, pop the bread into the oven on a sheet tray to warm.
Serving: There are several ways to serve this dish. I usually serve straight from the saucepan. Alternatively, you can place in a large bowl, or plate the mussels and sauce with slices of warm french bread to sop up all of the delicious tomato wine sauce.
There you have it, French Mussels in white wine sauce, my take on Moules Marinières.
Bon appetit.