A Visit From Some Very Special People & Our Trip to Salzburg

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“I have next week off because my mom and aunt are coming to visit me.” Jana gave me a look of happy surprise.  I was trying to focus during my Friday morning session, just hours before my family members were set to arrive, but it was hard.  Luckily, Jana just wanted to talk.  Our hour together ticked by slowly and I finally cut us off at 8:56.  “Well, that’s all for today!” I said, maybe too excitedly.  “Okay, well enjoy your week off and your time with your mother and aunt,” Jana said.  And I knew I would.

Jordan and I went to the airport around 11 to pick up the crew: his mom, my mom, and my aunt.  I was so nervous and excited to see them!  We had a wonderful reunion and then came back to our apartment and got settled.  The travelers weren’t too tired so we decided to walk around Prague a bit to see the Charles Bridge, Old Town, and New Town.  We had dinner at a restaurant at the top of Petrin Hill with an amazing view over the city and great food.

On Saturday, we woke up and went on a Walking Tour around Prague.  Jordan and I had done it before and learned a lot, so we thought it would be a good thing for the visitors to do.  Before the walking tour, we got fruit and chocolate parfaits 🙂

For dinner we went on a Vltava River Cruise… It was so great to see the city from the river.  They had a Czech band and a great variety of different Czech foods.

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Sunday, we went to the Prague Castle.  We spent almost the whole day exploring the ins and outs of the different castle rooms and just enjoying the sights.

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We called it a night early on Sunday, because we had to get up early to go to Salzburg the next morning!  I made some Eggplant parm for everyone and we relaxed playing some cards.

We got to Salzburg on Sunday around 4 in the afternoon.  We were all starving, so we when to our hotel restaurant for dinner.  They had a special “Sound of Music” menu that included a lamb appetizer, pancake noodles in beef broth, pork schnitzel, and apple strudel.  We were all stuffed, but loved experiencing the classic Austrian food.

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After dinner, we walked into Old Town Salzburg and explored a bit.  We loved seeing the active lifestyle of the locals, and walking along the beautiful river.

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The next morning, we were more than amazed at the lovely hotel breakfast that was included in the price of our room.  It was the best continental breakfast any of us had ever seen before.  There was any kind of breakfast food you could imagine! We filled up and got ready for our busy day of tours!

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First was the Sound of Music Tour in which we saw many of the different sights that were used in the filming of the movie.

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This was the back of the Von Trap House where the kids fell in the water when the captain came home.

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This was the path where Maria sang “Confidence.”

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Here is the gazebo from 16 going on 17.

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This is the church where Maria and the captain got married.  They made it look a lot bigger for the movie but we still thought it looked grandiose. Half way through the tour, we got a chance for a coffee break and we had one of my favorite meals of the whole trip.  I had the raspberry torte and it was clear they had taken so much care to make it.  Inside the crust was a layer of chocolate and inside the cream in the middle was even a bit of cake.  WOW!

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Our last stop of the tour was Mirabelle Gardens.

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After the Sound of Music tour, we went on a Salt Mines Tour that brought us to even different parts of the area.  We got to go through a real salt mine where we learned about the way they mine salt, and different facts about the mine.  We got to ride on a train through the mine, as well as slide down an amazingly fun slide!

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Our last day day in Salzburg, we went to the Fortress and then to the Salzburg zoo.

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That night, we went to a restaurant that had a huge outdoor courtyard and I got Krautflekerl: an Austrian dish made of noodles and cabbage (YUM), and we all went a little wild over the desserts getting a waffle and an egg soufflé to share.

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The next day, we had to head back to Prague already.  We got back in the early afternoon and I took my mom and aunt to see the school where I teach at and we took a trip to Tesco, the grocery store near my house. At night we went to a concert in one of the churches near my house.  It was a four part string quartet as well as an organ that played classical music and we all really enjoyed it!

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Friday we went to the Lennon Wall and then to feed some birds at the nearby park.  We even saw Peacocks! Afterwards, we went up in the Petrin Tower and got a great view of the city.  Afterwards, we hung out and got Trdlnik for a snack, and the ladies loved it!  We went to the nearby Restaurant and Design Shop for dinner and it had great food and a wonderful atmosphere. IMG_4250 IMG_4261

Saturday was our last day together.  We went to Vysehrad and enjoyed walking around the parameter of the park and seeing the beautiful views of the city.

IMG_4276 IMG_4287We were all so sad when our time together was up.  It was the most amazing time to see my family and even to get to go on a little trip with them!  I am so lucky to be so loved!

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Roma

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To celebrate easter and our extra day off this weekend, Jordan and I went to Rome, Italy.  It being both of our first times in Italy, we were excited to try some pizza and have nice weather.  We soon found that Rome had much more to offer us than we might have thought.

We arrived on Friday and checked into our Air B&B flat.  We met the loving Italian woman who owned the flat as she welcomed us with an Italian Easter cake made of fluffy, flakey cake, lemon cream, and thick vanilla glaze.  She took about a half hour out of her day to get us acclimated with the flat as well as the city, showing us different spots on the map, outlining a walking tour we could take that day while the sun was shining.  Once we had our bearings, we jumped out the door into the daylight to explore.  We walked around and saw many of the major sights around the colosseum and the city center.  That night, we had some delicious pasta and pizza with red wine.  We were just starting to realize what a delight we were really in for.

On Saturday, we woke up and went to the Vatican which required an excrutiating 3 and a half hour wait, but in the end, we saw some amazing things.  The best including inscribed tablets, the Sistine Chapel, and a zoo filled with marble animals.  Jordan commented on how it seemed almost evil how many riches and art the Catholic church owned in the massive palace of the Vatican.IMG_3596IMG_3616IMG_3611

We left the Vatican to go to a 4pm walking tour.  The spitting rain was no deterrent to the hardcore tourists of Rome; our tour group started with 35 people.  We learned some interesting facts about the history of different buildings and statues that we saw throughout the city.  Starving after the tour, we headed to a less touristy part of town and stumbled upon a restaurant that served a buffet free with the purchase of one drink.  The mixed drinks we got were the best I’ve ever tasted, and the buffet was most enjoyable trying different bites of Italian food we never would have gotten to try from an ordinary restaurant.  After dinner, we stopped by a bakery on the same street and chose some random Italian cookies to take home and sample.

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On a rainy and dark Sunday we woke up to a blacked out room, surprised that a morning could be so lightless.  We needed to pursue an indoor endeavor due to the cold, pelting rain so we headed to the Maxxi Contemporary Art Museum.  The gallery had a main exhibit on art in wartime focusing on architecture.  The other areas had many large sculpture pieces.  The rain was dying down slightly as we left, heading for the Roman Forum and Palatine Hill.  Regardless of the rain, we had a lot of fun wandering through the ancient ruins in what we decided was the most scenic city park in the world.  We ended the day with homemade gelato.IMG_3643IMG_3657

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Monday we woke up early and went to the Colosseum right when it opened.  We learned a lot about how people enjoyed the Colosseum and the habits of people of the time.  The sun was peaking in through the rugged brick windows and the blue sky shown with fluffy white clouds.  We left the Colosseum and headed for the sea.  I wanted to see the Mediterranean while we were close, and the beach was right near the airport.  We had time to walk around and enjoy the sand between our toes.  The beach was a popular pass time for Italians on Monday due to the holiday, so we felt like locals.  It was beautiful.IMG_3766

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After experiencing Rome, we can’t wait to see more of Italy some day.  We both agreed Italy should be the food capital of the world, as we couldn’t get enough of the amazing foods, desserts, and beverages.  Now that our legs are sore and tired, we are left with some great memories and happy hearts thanks to the Eternal City.            IMG_3778

Plzeň, Czech Republic

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This weekend was spent in Plzeň enjoying brewery tours, beer, and the festival celebrating Plzeň recently being named the European Capital of Culture for 2015.

On Saturday morning we left early on a train and got to the city around 11:30.  It takes about an hour an a half to get there from Prague.  When we arrived, we realized that a lot of celebrations were going on due to the new cultural title.  Everyone in our travel group was so excited to see what this city of culture had to offer us!

Upon our arrival, we went and found a cheap hostel/hotel that had a nice room for the four of us that would be staying overnight.  It was a really well equipped hotel room with nice beds and a bathroom of our own and it was very reasonably priced.  We checked in and then headed to see what was going on in the nearby city center.

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We started off the day at the brewery.  When we arrived, we saw the famous arches above and walked through them into the area devoted to the brewery.  Special tents were set up due to the celebrations, so after buying our tour tickets, we went inside the huge green tent with giant Pilsner Urquell logos that was set up there.

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Inside there was traditional Czech dancing and music that was a lot of fun to watch.  It seemed like all of the performers were really enjoying themselves, and their enthusiasm was catching.

IMG_2800We all grabbed a beer from the taps they had set up in the tent and then made our way over to the food area.  There they had a catering style lineup of dishes where you could ask for what you want and they would dish it up for you.  I got a meal that would soon be remembered as one of my favorites that I have eaten here in the Czech Republic thus far.

IMG_2795It was pork with pickled cabbage and potato dumplings with caramelized onions.  All of the flavors blending together were amazing, and the dumplings were some of the best that I’ve had here.

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There were various bands playing traditional music.  This one was particularly good; I stood up near the front to get a good view and enjoy the music.

Soon, it was time for our brewery tour to start.  We left the tent and headed next door to the brewery where we began our tour.  The guide brought us through rooms displaying artifacts of history of the brewery, as well as rooms that held the vats and other machinery things needed to brew beer.  We watched a couple of different videos on the brewing process as well.

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This was the actual tank room where the beer is heated.  It was pretty warm in here because the process was happening as we were taking our tour.

IMG_2821The next and more interesting part of the tour was walking through the damp and chilly beer cellars where we could see beer fermenting in tanks, and some huge wooden kegs that were ready to be tapped.

IMG_2834In the final leg of our tour, we got to taste some unfiltered beer right out of the keg in the basement.  It was so fresh and delicious — I don’t know if I will ever have another beer like it again.

When we stepped outside after our tour, there was a large crowd congregating outside the brewery.  There were men on stilts standing in the crowd as well as a giant Angel statue manned by a few people.  One leg of the parade was starting right in front of our eyes.  We decided to join up and walk with the parade through the city and into the city center.

IMG_2846There were four different parade routes that met up in the middle of the city.  We walked with a giant mass of people through streets that were shut down and blocked off to traffic.  People looked down from their windows and watched from bridges.  The parade consisted of a giant mass of people, various bands (one man walked with his band playing an upright bass violin), flame throwers, and people on stilts.  At one point, we walked right next to some huge Clydesdale horses towing a few fake kegs on a flat bed.

IMG_2850We made it to the city center with our parade group and waited for about an hour in the cold for the festivities to start.  In the mean time, there was music playing over speakers and an interesting light show playing on the buildings in the square.

IMG_2853The show finally started.  It included a giant metal puppet partaking in some theatrics I can only describe as “art,”  as well as a man walking across a tightrope to the top of the cathedral.  He was walking that route in order to signify the returning of the bells to the bell tower that were stolen in World War II.  He made it across the tiny wire that hung directly above our heads and by the time he finally made it, we were all freezing.  So we went to a nearby restaurant and had some dinner.  I had chicken stuffed with blue cheese, spicy peppers, and bacon.

After that, our some of our friends had to leave to catch their train back home, while others headed back to the hostel.  Jordan and I decided to check out the night life around Plzeň which we had heard many good things about.

We started at the Funky Money which was a cocktail bar where we ordered some interesting drinks.  Then we went to a music bar where they were playing a lot of American dance music.  We ended our night at Music Bar Andel, an alternative music bar where a DJ was spinning vinyl record of 90s music (both American and European).  We really enjoyed dancing the night away with tons of locals in this unique atmosphere.  Oh, and, they had Discovery Channel playing on the screen behind the stage… 😉

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After our long night out, we went to get Kebabs on the way back to the hotel.  They were huge!  We headed back and hit the hay in our comfortable hotel bed.

The next morning, our compadres left early, as Jordan and I got some extra sleep after our late night.  We woke up and got ready for another day of exploring the city.

IMG_2863Today we enjoyed a relaxed day of sight seeing throughout the city and visiting all the sights that we hadn’t yet seen.  We discovered a nice small park with ice statues.  I had never seen an ice statue like this up close, and it was an awesome discovery.  There were actually 4 separate statues with one really big one (shown below).

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They were starting to melt a little, but, still very cool.  We also checked out the Jewish Synagog which is the third largest in the world.  This month, it is closed for tours, but we got to see the outside and later viewed a picture of the inside, so we thought it was close enough!

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IMG_2875The picture above is the Town Hall.  The outside of the building has amazing carving drawings in it.

IMG_2895Our wanderings led us to stumble upon some other really interesting things like the hand made boat art projects shown above, as well as a photo exhibit of the city’s culture.

Finally, we had lunch at the Beer Museum and decided it was time to hit the road back home: hopped on a train and back we went to the city of stories – Prague.

Velka Amerika and Old Town Square Christmas Market

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This weekend, we decided to take a break from our studies and go out and explore.  Our housemates had heard good things about the “Grand Canyon of Prague,” Velka Amerika, so we decided to make a day of it and check it out.

We had to take a bus to the metro, and then road the metro to the end of it’s line.  When we got off we were at a giant bus depot and metro station.  There were different stands with food and goods everywhere and across the road was a mall.  We had 45 minutes before our next bus came so we decided to grab a snack.  We finally got to try Trdelnik, a sweet pastry that is rolled over a metal stick and cooked over hot coals and then coated in a sugary nut mixture.  We had seen them everywhere but never tried them until yesterday.  It was great!

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Our bus finally came and we had to pay 24 crowns to ride.  Our public transportation passes didn’t work because they are only good for within Prague’s city limits.  Everyone getting on was able to pay the bus driver directly and then our 50 minute ride commenced.

The bus ride was enjoyable because we got to see a whole new side of this country.  There were some areas that looked quite rundown, other places were huge green pastures, and there were also some normal looking country homes.  Our eyes were opened to the world outside of the city center.

When we arrived at our stop, we had to walk up a hill for about 25 minutes because the bus stop that was closer to the canyon was not in service due to it being Saturday.  The hike up the country road was one of my favorite parts of the day.

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The canyon was visible by a parking area right off the road we were walking on.  We rushed up the small dirt path to the first view of the canyon and wonder struck us all.

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We ended up walking around the entire canyon, stopping at different view points, finding natural clay to play with, and just generally enjoying the beautiful view.

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The canyon was created from limestone mining.  There were small caves lining the walls and a dirt road that we saw people walking on.  We figured out how to get down to the road, but we were somewhat intimidated by the huge, extremely heavy metal doors that stood in our way.

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So at this point, we decided it was time to call it a day.  We had to wait at the bus stop for the bus to come for a pretty long time because the weekend schedule only had it coming once every three or so hours.

We all made it back at last and were starving and freezing.  We went to a restaurant in Wenceslas Square to warm up and get some good food.  Jordan tried Grog and we both got Goulash for the first time.  It was so good!  Jordan’s came in a rye breadbowl, and mine came with bread dumplings.  I love dumplings. 🙂

IMG_2232Next, we took a short walk over to Old Town Square for their Christmas Market.  Since it was the first day they were holding it for the season, it was as busy as Black Friday!   But it was well worth fighting the crowds to see the many vendors selling crafts, homemade foods, artisan honey, and so much more.  We are planning on going back to get some of the amazing food on Friday for lunch.  I was particularly eyeing the Chocolate fondu parfait.  Just imagine, instead of yogurt in a parfait, they had chocolate.

Our friend Amanda was intrigued by little slices of a loaf of marzipan and she got one to try.  We decided it was interesting to try but not something we were crazy about.  The best part of the Christmas market were all the lights lighting up the square and the christmas choir that was singing in one area.

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We were so happy that we could get out and see some cool sights this weekend!!

Thanksgiving in Prague

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The first of our series of holidays away from home was a success.  Since we live with mostly all other Americans (and one Indian), we were all very onboard with the whole idea of celebrating Thanksgiving together.  We went through a series of ideas starting with making our own Thanksgiving dinner, but since our TEFL House kitchen is not extremely well equipped, we decided to go out to eat.  And luckily there were even a few options of restaurants that serve American Thanksgiving dinners.

We chose Jama, a restaurant in Prague 1, not too far from our school where they have been serving Thanksgiving dinner for 20 years.  They also had American Football games on TV, so that made the men in our group happy.

Our evening started with some jovial Thanksgiving-themed games in our flat where we all put the immense workload of the course aside for the night at got to know each other a little better.  There was Czech beer, wine, Swiss Chocolate (one of us is from Switzerland), and pretzels. What more could you want for pre-dinner hors d’oeuvres?

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After lots of laughing, reminiscent talk about our families, and drinks all around, we had to leave the flat to make it to our 9pm reservation for dinner. We were quite loud, and possibly annoying on the bus and tram, but, we justified, it’s a special occasion, so what if they don’t understand.
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We made it to the restaurant and got a nice table in a small back room next to a group wearing Pilgrim hats and Native American headdresses. They too were English teachers from the US. We ordered our drinks and the first course arrived. It was corn chowder. Not quite synonymous with one of my favorite dishes, corn casserole, but the warm, potato based soup was great to get warmed up on a cold night.

Next, our main meal came out. It was definitely a Czech spin on Thanksgiving dinner. They love to pile plates up with food – sides go under the meat – and this meal was no different. We were faced with a pile of Thanksgiving foods all looking and smelling great. There was ham, turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans, and stuffing all topped with cranberry sauce and gravy. All of the flavors mixed perfectly together for a Thanksgiving feast like no other.

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FInally, we got some very flat slices of pumpkin pie.  Although they looked different that what we’re used to, all of the flavors were there, and the crust was some of the best Jordan, a pumpkin pie connoisseur, had had.  The whole meal, with drinks and tips cost us about 450 crowns.  Money well spent.

Sure, it wasn’t just like home, but I am thankful that I got closer with my course mates, ate some delicious food that we didn’t have to cook ourselves, celebrated the holiday even being so many miles away.

Early June Weekend Adventures

This weekend was filled with good food, good friends, and good adventures.  Let me explain.

Friday night, Jordan and I went out to dinner at Pane Vino, which is located on Water Street in Downtown Rochester.  We both loved the location and outdoor seating overlooking the Genesee river.

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The food was Classic Italian with an extensive menu.  Their special appetizer of the night was alligator fritters, so naturally we had to try those.

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The came out with some delicious chipotle mayo which was very creamy with a little kick.  The fritters were slightly sweet and kind of similar in texture to crab cakes.  The bits of alligator were tough but didn’t have a very distinct taste.

For our mains we both got pasta dishes.  I had the Tortellini Boscaiola which was cheese filled tortellini with bacon, peas, mushrooms and a light garlic cream sauce.

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All of the flavors blended together nicely.  The bacon bits were definitely the highlight and the portions were huge.

Jordan got the Chicken French which was delicious and flavorful.

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After dinner, we went to the movies to see Edge of Tomorrow.  Although I wasn’t sure if I would like it, it ended up being a pretty good movie.  I am not usually into action movies, but this one had elements of humor, drama, and action.  It was overall an enjoyable film.  It was not too gruesome and actually had an interesting plot.  (World is at war with aliens, Tom Cruise’s character must live the same day he dies in battle over and over again.)

Saturday morning we woke up early to go to Cummings Nature Center in Naples.  We stopped for an early lunch at Cafe Sol in Bristol.  We got to meet a cute little dog named Tim who seemed to belong to the restaurant owner.  We sat on the front deck to eat and enjoyed seating in comfortable outdoor furniture.  After full deliberation on the menu — almost EVERYTHING looked good — we all decided.  I got the House Salad which was recommended to us by our waitress due to the “Green Goddess” dressing which ended up being a slightly creamy herb dressing.

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It had mixed greens with chopped avocado, blanched asparagus, pistachios, and blue cheese.

Jordan got the Cesar salad which came with a circle of grilled cheese – what he said was definitely the highlight.

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My mom got the turkey salad sandwich which came on a whole grain croissant and had wonderful undertones of pear – unusual and delightful.

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We arrived at Cumming Nature Center with the intent of hiking some of their trails.  When we arrived and paid our donation ($3 per person) we were informed that they were having a porcupine demonstration.  We wandered out to the pavilion where two porcupines were dwelling.  One was able to be picked up by his carrier.

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She was the only one able to touch him due to laws regarding dealing with the animals.  We learned they are a part of the rodent family and that they were bread as animal ambassadors who are kept in the woman’s home.

The other was a breed of African Porcupine who’s quills were hard and wood-like.  The two porcupines did not get along due to their territorial nature.

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We ventured out onto the trails and we checked out the Pioneer first trail which had a great overlook.

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We got to see tons of little salamanders swimming under the water while the sun was warming our backs.  It was so quiet and peaceful on the overlook.  We also enjoyed the tall pines that enclosed the trail near the beginning.

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Next we went on the other side of the woods and checked out the Haudenosaunee Trail which had a maple house as a stop off the trail.  The trails were very easy to hike and no longer than 2 miles each.  Being outside was relaxing and peaceful with the beautiful weather we had.

After our hike, we went back to Canandaigua for my friends’ birthday party.  Two of my friends were having their birthday’s this weekend, so we met for a pool party where my friend Jamie was making delicious blended strawberry margaritas.  We relaxed around the pool catching up and enjoyed some beer made with organic barley.

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After a few too many Wegmans Oreos and salt and cracked pepper kettle cooked chips, we decided to go to the Wine Walk that was taking place in Down Town Canandaigua.  We walked a half mile to Main Street where we meandered in and out of shops to wait for our wine samples.  Around 15 shops had a mixture of wine tasting and food samples.  For $5 we were able to get a wine tasting glass and various samples from local wineries and food vendors.

The lovely weather this weekend facilitated enjoyable outdoor activities with good friends and good food. Here’s to more exciting adventures to come!

 

The Rochester Lilac Festival

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Last night I made my second trek to the ever-popular Rochester Lilac Festival in Highland Park.  This time, five of us went for the “Perfect Pair Event” that featured local vendors serving samples of wine, cheese, and chocolate.  The event cost $15 and for the cost, we got 15 sampling tickets, free food samples, and a small wine glass with the Lilac Festival logo on it.  They also sold tickets for designated drivers or non-wine fans which cost $5.

Upon walking into the huge tent, we saw a flurry of activity with wine drinkers crowded around the 30 different vendors’ tables.  The majority of tables were giving wine samples, while some tables had delicious cheese, and one table even had fudge samples.  All of the food samples were free with entry.  Each wine vendor had 5 or 6 different choices for wine to try.  I was able to go to pretty much every table to try one type of their wine and still had some sampling tickets leftover to revisit some vendors.  Some of the highlights were sangria slushies, a wine named Yummy, and blueberry cheese!  Each wine table had Vigneri Chocolate displays on them, but the chocolate was definitely not the center of attention.

After our enjoyable jaunt through the tent, we explored a little bit of the festival.  We took this picture in front of the lilacs that are finally starting to come out!

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Jordan and I in front of the lilacs at this year’s Lilac Festival

It was around 8 when we made our way to the food tent and got garbage plates (a Rochester classic with cheeseburgers, home fries, mac salad, and spicy meat sauce) for dinner.  The food was delicious, but as the festival was nearing a close, the service wasn’t that great (no ketchup, etc.)

It was overall a lovely evening.  The Perfect Pair event was well worth the $15 dollars to get in.  15 wine samples ends up being more than you might think!

Until the next adventure…!