Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Afternoon, Evening, and Morning Walks in the Streets of Prague

Walk to Wenceslas Square
Jake drinking Turkish Coffee

We’re coming to the end of our stay in Prague.  Yesterday we walked all day beginning with a "health walk" in the morning.  From our apartment we briskly strode to the tiny Franciscan Gardens, then up a pedestrian walkway to Wenceslas Square and the National Museum.  We took a brief break for Turkish coffee and mineral water and stopped by the apartment briefly for a change of clothes.

Old New Synagogue, Prague 2011 
After a quick lunch along the Vltava River (poor quality even for tourist food) we made tracks to the Old Jewish Quarter.  After gazing at the outside of the Maisel Synagogue, we paid 200 Czech crowns each to visit the Old-New Synagogue.  This simple early gothic style synagogue is the oldest functioning Synagogue in Europe.  Dating from 1270, it also is one of the oldest buildings in Prague.  The structure has survived fires and pogroms, and is the religious center for Prague’s Orthodox Jews.

The nearby Spanish Synagogue showcased elaborate interior decoration.  The Spanish design surpassed the many baroque style churches we visited as a true work of art.  Within its walls we learned of the many famous Jews born in the Czech Republic including the writer Franz Kafka, composer Gustav Mahler, and Sigmund Freud, founder of Psychoanalysis.

A good meal in Prague was a real find.  We capped off our last evening in Prague by eating at the King Solomon Restaurant in the Jewish Quarter, and relished superb kosher food of vegetable soup and roasted lamb served over spinach.

Jerusalem Synagogue, Prague 2011
This morning we dodged several tour groups on a walk to the Jerusalem Synagogue during our last few hours in Prague.  A sight to behold!  This hidden jewel is in a Moorish style and is awesomely decorated with Art Nouveau flourishes.  Art Nouveau may have started in France but certainly reached a height in Prague. 

Royal Gardens, Prague Castle, 2011
Who wouldn’t fall in love with Prague with all its architectural beauty?  Besides the hordes of summer tourists, my only reservation was that almost everyone smoked.  The smell of stale tobacco hung cloyingly in the air of most bars and restaurants. The lack of indoor air quality made me all the more grateful for peaceful open spaces like the Royal Garden of the Prague Castle.

Travel tips:  Use restaurant recommendations in a good travel book (wish we’d followed this advice).   There are lots of mediocre tourist restaurants that we should have avoided.  Another useful tip: There’s a small supermarket inside the Prague Airport with plenty of good fruits and vegetables and lunch food.

Weight gain in Prague?  Unfortunately yes.  Too much apple strudel (though we shared) and three days of rainy weather with little exercise!  Will I arrive home with extra pounds?  It’s going to be a squeaker now with only one more week to go! 

Yours in joy and health!


View from Prague Castle, 2011
Hotel Europa, Art Nouveau Prague, 2011

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dinner at Home in Prague

Havelská Market, 2011

It’s raining right now.  Luckily we arrived back to our apartment from food shopping last night just as it began to pour.  We shopped for the first time at Tesco, a local supermarket three blocks away for meat and staples.  Earlier in the day we walked to the Havelská open market that sells fruits, vegetables, and souvenirs.  Everything looked so fresh and the cherries were humongous.  We left with arms laden with fruits and vegetables. 

Pan Grilled Chicken
Green Salad 
Last night for dinner, Jake grilled chicken with fresh garlic and thyme and made new potatoes in the microwave while I prepared a salad.  We each had a small piece of a simple cherry cake for dessert. We enjoyed the cake, and because it wasn’t super sweet we weren’t tempted to eat another piece. As David Kessler discussed in the book The End to Overeating, the food industry has hyper-loaded our foods with sugar, fat, and salt as a way to hyper-stimulate us to overeat. 

Living Room of our Apartment
Travel tip:  We’ve rented an apartment for a week in Prague.  We prefer this to staying in hotels when we travel.  Why?  We love to prepare some of our meals at home to save money, eat less, and enjoy our favorite foods. Smaller portion sizes to the rescue! We can spread out more in an apartment than with a hotel room, and it’s usually not much more expensive.  

Our apartment is so gorgeous that we want to move in for good.  Our one bedroom apartment in the Residence Karolina is modern, light, and quiet.  It’s located close to the National Theater and the Moldau (the Vltava) River in the Old Quarter.  I highly recommend a stay at the Residence Karolina in a beautifully renovated renaissance building if you’re coming to Prague.

I just finished doing T’ai Chi and am enjoying the afterglow feeling of peace.  We’re resting indoors today because of the rain. 

Municipal Hall, Prague 2011
Tonight we go to a concert at the Smetana Hall in the elaborately decorated Art Nouveau Municipal House.  The Prague Dvorak Symphony Orchestra will play pieces by Mozart, Liszt, and Dvorak.  They will play the New World Symphony by Dvorak which is one of my favorites.

What are you doing today to find your joy?

Yours in joy and health,


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Provence: Lavender Fields Forever

Lavender Festival, 2011
On Sunday, we joined the festivities in Valensole for the Fête de la Lavande (Lavender Festival) as we drove back from the mountain village Moustier Sainte Marie.  Turns out it was a Marché where everything sold was made from lavender or had a lavender theme.  Goods ranging from lavender soap to lavender jelly were on sale.  My favorite is the lavender honey that I like to eat as a dessert spread on whole grain bread.  We bought cookies flavored with lavender (sables) that tasted extraordinary.

Lavender fields near Valensole, 2011
Lavender Bouquets, 2011 
Young girl carrying lavender, 2011
Free lavender was available for the taking and the festival included displays of lavender distilling equipment along with claims that the traditional method is better.  We loved taking pictures of people in costume and the lavender fields around Valensole (about an hour north of Aix) where the aroma of lavender perfumed the air.

Now that we're in Prague, the search for a vegetable market tops today's agenda.  Vegetables are few and far between here.  We savored fresh local raspberries with yogurt this morning for breakfast that tasted like the kind my great aunt Elsie used to grow in her backyard.

What summer produce do you especially enjoy this time of year?

Yours in joy and health,


Traditional lavender distilling equipment, 2011 

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Celebrating Bastille Day in the Mountains of Provence

Moustier Ste. Marie, 2011

In the mountain village of Moustier Sainte Marie the crowds arrived all day on July 13 for the Bastille Day celebration that evening in  The fireworks pierced the night sky in an explosive display much like the Fourth of July.  We could see their large arcs of dazzling sparks from our bungalow that became our mountain retreat for the week.  The village of Moustier drew us in with its dramatic cliffs which loom above and as a gateway to the Grand Canyon of France, the Gorges du Verdon and Lac St. Croix. 

Marché in Aups, 2011
Jake hiking around St. Moustier, 2011

Three hikes later, we’re getting rest and relaxation in the clear mountain air.  What luck that the wind and rain swept away the haze and heat of a couple of days ago.  Yesterday we discovered the old city gate on the les Claux trail, an easy hike through old olive groves over looking the village.  A day earlier we walked the Sentier botanique de Trégulier trail marking the local flora.  The trail led us to a panoramic view of Lac St. Croix.  We also explored a couple of nearby villages including the pretty and quiet Cotignac and Aups where we bought olives, sun dried tomatoes, and tapenade at the local Marché along with other provisions.

Kay, Marché in Aups, 2011
Now for a progress report on the weight gained in Krakow.  From the way clothes fit, I’ve lost the weight put on in Krakow.  But wait, there’s more!  Next week we visit Prague, and they have a similar cuisine as Krakow (lots of meat, dumplings, and beer).  It’s time to do some advance planning.

Portion sizes make all the difference.  As Brian Wansink discovered in his studies at Columbia University, when they feed us more, we eat more.  Portion sizes in restaurants are moderate in Provence.  The food is well prepared so we are satisfied without going overboard.  In anticipation of the trip to Prague, Jake and I have discussed ordering an appetizer and sharing a main meal as a way to prevent another bout of weight gain.

What is your advice? 

Gorges du Verdon, 2011

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Midnight in Paris and Finding Your Joy

Eiffel Tower, Paris 2011 
If you haven't already been to this film, Midnight  in Paris is a "must see" if you're a bit nostalgic and interested in finding your joy.  We so loved this film that we saw in Aix two nights ago in English at the Cinema Mazarin.  We now yearn for more time in Paris.  Like Gil Pender, played by Owen Wilson, I believe there's no place that's quite as magical.

Since the film came out in May, I'm not sure whether Minuit á Paris is still in the theaters.  Anne Hornaday, film critic of the Washington Post said that this Woody Allen fillm "provides a profiterole or two for thought."

Rotten Tomatoes is a good place to start for reviews of this thought provoking movie.

Yours in joy and health,


Saturday, July 9, 2011

Back in Aix: Weight Gain Alert

Dinner at Chlopskie Jadlo Restaurant
I waxed enthusiastically about the fruits and vegetables in Krakow in one of my last blog posts.  By the last few days in Krakow I found the food heavy.  The mainstays on Polish restaurant menus are dumplings (Pierogi), breads, potatoes, and sausages.  The portions are large.  Many of the cakes and pastries are big and dense. 

I could see that Jake and I had gained weight after only a few days in Krakow. What to do?   For starters, we stepped up our walking and ate in our apartment more often.  I began thinking twice when we ordered in restaurants and then again when we received our meal.   

After a day at the Oscar Schlinder Factory, we ate at the  Polish Chlopskie Jadlo Restaurant (Peasant style) for our last meal out in Krakow. Maybe we added insult to injury with this dinner? We ordered sautéed forest (Cèpe) mushrooms and chicken broth with dumplings as appetizers, a salad of shredded cabbage and carrots, buckwheat kasha, and shared an entrée of baked pork tenderloin with prunes and topped with cranberry sauce.  We had lots of kasha, potatoes, and bread leftover!  The bread came with a cheese spread with chives and a pot of flavored lard (Wow!). 

Yet, as we looked around, few people in Krakow were overweight.  On the contrary, many people looked thin. Maybe they don’t eat regularly at tourist restaurants?  It also may be a matter of economics.  It seems that people have less money overall based on their clothing.  Many older persons are missing some or all of their teeth (a holdover from the old days of communist rule?).  Yet the people were kind to us and showed an interest in hearing about my husband Jake’s first trip back to Poland since 1945.

The fountain Le Rotonde, Aix-en-Provence, 2011

Fresh Fish from the Marché
I’m relieved to be back in Aix as much as I enjoyed the trip to Krakow.  We’re taking a break from the nomadic life of being tourists.  The food is lighter and portions at restaurants smaller.  We're back to shopping at the Marchés.  Now for some belt tightening!  I’ve sworn off French tarts for awhile and we’re walking in the mornings.  We’re eating fresh fish from the Mediterranean at home for dinner tonight (and are in the midst of a heated Scrabble game).  We’ll have fresh strawberries for dessert.

Gooseberries and  Strawberries at the Marché
What tips can you offer from your own personal experience about how to avoid overeating when surrounded by oodles of good food?

Yours in joy and health,



Thursday, July 7, 2011

People in Krakow Find Their Joy

Klezmer Concert, Jewish Culture Festival
The streets are full of life in the Old Quarter of Krakow.  On every outing we marveled as street musicians, mimes, and others entertained the many passersby day and night.

So many concerts.  We picked three.  We attended a piano recital, Klezmer concert, and Polish Folk Show.  Pawel Motycyński, a young 22 year old Pianist, played pieces by Chopin, Liszt, and Mozart with technique to burn.   For more about Chopin Concerts in Krakow visit:

The rousing Roger Davidson Ensemble (made up mostly of Americans) played Klezmer music for an enthusiastic crowd at a concert, held in the Synagogua Tempel now used for special events. The concert was part of the Jewish Culture Festival held in Krakow, June 24 – July 3.  

A Polish Folk show featured a spirited and polished performance by a trumpeter, violinist, and accordion player who sang and accompanied two folk dancers who celebrated Polish traditions.  Jake loved participating in the dances.

How  do you like to kick up your heels and celebrate life?

Jake Folk Dancing  

Yours in joy and health!


Annual Celebration of 1287 Krakow Victory over the Tartar Invaders 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Krakow: Ample Walking and Biking Paths

Walking Around Wawel Castle, Krakow 2011
The beauty of Krakow may rival Prague.  This well preserved city is oozing with architecture from the14th century and beyond.

We found ready access to scenic walking and biking paths in Krakow.  Our usual route was the shaded three -mile Planty path that surrounded the old quarter.

Wawel Castle
Walking Path along Vistula River
Kay walking along Vistula River
Then we discovered an even more interesting route.  A visit to the Wawel Castle (the size of a walled-in village) presented the opportunity.  The magnificent castle sits on a hill overlooking the city and the gentle Vistula River that runs through Krakow.  From there we could see the much used river-side paths.  We joined walkers, bicyclists, and rollerbladers and took a good long brisk walk.

Bride and Groom on Pedestrian Bridge over Vistula River
How romantic!  A bride and groom posed for wedding pictures on the pedestrian bridge crossing the Vistula. We noticed them during a break at one of the many riverboat restaurants along the way.  We met a couple there who had roller-bladed from their home a couple of miles away.  They recommended going to the nearby Schindler Factory where there is a large exhibit about the Nazi occupation of Krakow during World War II.  This is our next stop.

Jake at Wawel Castle

Sunday, July 3, 2011

A Bounty of Fruits and Vegetables in Krakow

Dinner at Media Aetas Restaurant, Krakow 2011

Last Monday night we ate an amazing Sorrel Soup with chunks of chicken and red rice as part of a unique dinner at the Media Aetas (Middle Ages) Restaurant during our first evening in Krakow.  The rest of the dinner was sumptuous.  We relished the meal that featured an abundance of vegetables, something I’d been missing in France where salads seem to be the most common source of vegetables.  By the way, we’ve left France for a week to visit my husband’s home country in Poland

Honey Beer from Poland 
Dinner began with a salad of goat cheese, figs, and dried cranberries with mache greens and hazelnuts.  The sorrel soup (a field green) followed and then we shared a main course of pork ribs accompanied by a wonderfully tangy red cabbage slaw.  A round of celery root topped with shredded beets and a sprig of rosemary took center stage with the pork ribs playing a supporting role (no gooey barbeque sauce either).  We ended the meal with a delightful serving of honey cake.  My guess is that honey is more frequently used in Poland since the restaurant also offered five kinds of beer with honey.

Selling Cherries in Krakow, 2011
Fruit Plate, Cherubino Restaurant 
And the fruits—cherries and fresh raspberries are divine and local.  Doesn't the young woman look lovely from whom we bought fresh cherries?  We took a short break on Wednesday afternoon at the Cherubino Restaurant in the Older Quarter for a luscious fruit plate and fresh squeezed orange juice.  Who says a fruit plate has to look dull?

Kay taking a break
The apartment we rented in Krakow sits on the third floor of an older building just off the main square of the Old Quarter, the heart of the city. Our modern apartment interior (fully equipped by Ikea) offers a contrast to the Cloth Hall (Sukiennice) with its mammoth Renaissance style remodeled in 1875 and the bugle-call tower of St. Mary’s Church with its turrets and gillded crown looming in the distance.  Yes, a bugler plays from this tower every hour sounding exactly like reveille at 6 am.

Now for a long walk along the three-mile Planty Green that surrounds the old quarter. The Planty replaced the medieval fortifications built between the 13th and. 15th centuries. All that’s left is the stunning St. Florian’s Gate and remnants of the 13th century City Wall.

I’m wishing I’d tried to learn a little Polish before coming to Poland.  I’m feeling helpless even though many people speak English and my husband enjoys brushing up on his Polish.

Tip:  Give coleslaw a new twist this summer.  It can be made with vinegar and a little mustard rather than mayonnaise and with purple cabbage for a more colorful salad.  Loving it in Poland!

Any tips to share for other low calorie summer eating options?

Yours in health and joy,


Cloth Hall (Sukiennice), Krakow 2011