Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | November 30, 2016

The 2016 Dominican Republic Report: Puerto Plata & Costambar

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | November 20, 2016

Walking the Staten Island Greenbelt Trail

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | November 13, 2016

Farm Fresh Getaway: Heading to Hudson Valley


By Ernest Barteldes

Once a regular part of our lives, the MTA one-day getaways to Long Island and the Hudson Valley were forgotten for a while. I guess our little circle of friends got busy with other things and it just got tiresome to take the trips on our own – until someone else came up with the idea of doing it again.

So we headed to Grand Central Station, where we met our group for the two-hour ride to the city of Poughkeepsie, where we met the bus that would take us on our “Farm Fresh Weekend” trip, which was labeled “wine, cheese and ice cream” was slated to begin in the village of Millbrook, located a few miles from Poughkeepsie, NY.

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The Millbrook Cafe

Millbrook is one of these quaint locales where you find several antique shops and a handful of restaurants – we looked at several of the shops and then went for a quick lunch at the Millbrook Cafe, where Renata and I both had their tuna melt and a couple of glasses of wine. It was quite delicious and filling, and it was a pity that we didn’t have more time there to enjoy the home-like atmosphere and especially the heat of their wood-burning oven.

The weather that day did not help – it was cold and raining most of the time, so it made of a less enjoyable experience. One of the members of our group was in a bad mood as a result, but that didn’t faze the rest of us – we just enjoyed the day the best we could. We then headed to The Clinton Vineyards, where we tasted a variety of locally produced wines – their Pinot Noir was quite good, and so was one of their dessert wines – so we brought back a bottle of the former. The next stop was at Meadowland Farm, where we were supposed to try some cheese – but that did not happen. Instead, they had two barns where they were selling apples and cider and a small grocery store that sold vegetables and frozen meats.

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Meadowland Farm 

At that point, I started wondering why the hell they selected this stop. It was not like anyone would buy any frozen lamb to take back to New York over a 2-hour train ride. Cured meats would have made sense, but this just didn’t. Incidentally, where the hell was the cheese? Our hosts apologized for the weather and all, but this was just ridiculous to begin with. After about 45 minutes we got back on the bus and headed to the last stop, a local creamery called Zoe’s Ice Cream Barn, a shop whose motto is “to the cow to the cone in three days.” The experience was like stepping back in time – an old-style shop with quite a menu.

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Zoe’s Ice Cream Barn

I cannot remember what flavor of ice cream I had – I rarely have the stuff – but it was quite nice. I wandered around the premises and a bit outside and then we headed back to Poughkeepsie, where we met our train back to New York.

On previous trips we’d hung at the local bar across from the train station, but for whatever reason we didn’t. Probably it was the weather, or the mood of one of the members of our party. But it was a good time nevertheless, and I hope to have that opportunity again soon.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 19, 2016

Potatoes! Potatoes!


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By Ernest Barteldes

I find potatoes to be among the most versatile vegetables ever – I mean, how many ways can you use prepare them? You can bake, mash, broil, slice, boil or fry them – anything but serving them raw (haven’t seen a recipe yet, but let me know – I was surprised with raw Russian beets already).

Though I do everything that is on the above list, one of my favorite concoctions is twice-baked potatoes – which are a great alternative to sandwiches or other quick dinners that are not part of the usual lineup. Sure, it take a bit of preparation, since you have to bake the potatoes once, remove them from the oven, scoop them and then mix them with whatever you mix might be. But seriously, the first step is so easy – does it kill you to throw a few potatoes in the oven for an hour or so?

Anyway, this is the way I have done it for a while. I recall that years ago some telemarketer from some phone company called me as I was preparing them and somehow we engaged into a conversation (this was before I met Renata, so I was pretty lonely) . She asked me if I could cook other things and she asked me where I lived … but she was in Tennessee.

I am not complaining – soon after I met the love of my life, and she does like the way I make this recipe.

Anyway, this is how it goes

Twice Baked Potatoes

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(serves 4)

Ingredients:

four large potatoes

two cups ricotta cheese

½ cup sour cream

salt and pepper to taste

paprika to taste

garlic powder to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350F. Put the potatoes on a baking sheet and bake for an hour. Remove from oven and let them cool (you can bake the potatoes a day early). Once cool enough to handle, scoop the pulp and mash. Add other ingredients (except paprika) and then spoon back into skins. Top with paprika and bake for 30 minutes. Allow to stand for about 5 minutes before serving.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | October 4, 2016

At the 2016 Feast of San Gennaro

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | September 17, 2016

The Summer Report: New York City Pools

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | September 2, 2016

The Summer Beach Report: Where We Go

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 29, 2016

A Visit to The New York Aquarium on Coney Island


 

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The Sea Lion Show – picture from website

By Ernest Barteldes

 

It had been quite a while since I had  been to the New York Aquarium, which is located on Coney Island not far from the rides on Luna Park and the various eateries that have popped up close to Nathan’s Famous (in recent years, a Wahlburger joint and an Applebee’s have opened in the area – quite a change from my first visit over a decade ago when there were very few options). My last time had been in 2013 not long after Superstorm Sandy, and it was a shock to see it back then: the shark tank was gone and at least half of the grounds were closed to the public.

On this visit (like most of the previous times, it was part of a field trip with my students at ASA College), things were not that different – construction is in progress for the new facilities, but  they have a temporary shark tank with about 10 specimens swimming around.

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Sting Ray at Conservation Hall

My group arrived just before 11:00 AM after a long ride on the F train from Midtown Manhattan  and went straight to the Sea Lion show in the Aqua Theater. It was a very hot and sticky day, but thanks to the the ocean breeze it was quite bearable.  The show has pretty much kept the same format over the years – first they bring a younger animal and they do a few tricks while giving facts about them (there are some humorous moments, such as when a sea lion “steals” from his trainer’s pouch) and then they bring an older one. The surprise this time was when they brought out a two-year-old that was very small but already in the process of being trained. The presenters also spoke about environmental issues and how much trash is left in the ocean – at that moment, one sea lion “recovered”  a plastic bottle from the pool and gave it to his trainer, who put it into a recycling bin.

The entire presentation lasted about 20 minutes or so, and then we explored the grounds, starting from Glovers Reef (a large tank with various kinds of fish),  Conservation Hall (where they include some endangered species) and the outdoor “Sea Cliffs” where walruses, sea otters and South African penguins.

There were several programs for kids going on, including a “petting zoo” of sea creatures and a play about the importance of conservation and how trash can affects wild animals in parks and forest around the country.

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South African Penguin

There was not too much to see there, so after exploring a bit we headed to the gift shop and then left – walking on the boardwalk until we got to Nathan’s for a quick meal before heading home.

I really can’t wait to see the Aquarium’s renovation completed (one staffer told me that everything should be ready in about two years) and the place is returned to its previous glory. But even with the limited amount of things to see, it is a fun way to spend a few hours – even on  a such a hot day.

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 20, 2016

Summer Cooking : Keeping Things Easy

Posted by: Ernest Barteldes | July 8, 2016

Back to Poland Part 4: Krakow and Oswiecim


By Ernest Barteldes

We arrived in Krakow in the early afternoon and set out to locate our hotel, which was not far away Krakow Glowny, the main transit station in the city,. Google maps played a few tricks on us, but once we found the right street we made our way there. It was a very hot day compared to the much lower temperatures we’d experienced in Zakopane, so before we checked in we stopped by Pod Kurem, a small restaurant we’d happened to walk by . The place seemed to be patronized by folks who worked around the area – mostly offices, small businesses and hotels that catered for users of the long-distance trains that stop there, so the prices were quite reasonable. We had planned on just sitting down for drinks, but we realized we were hungry enough to eat so Renata ordered kotlet schabowy (pork cutlets)  while I went for a hearty goulash.  The food was very satisfying, and then we checked in at  our hotel, which was just a couple of blocks down the street.

The room was nothing to write home about – a comfortable enough bed, a TV and free but spotty WI-FI. There was a single bar next door, but in its favor it was very conveniently located and in a very quiet area.  After settling down, we headed over to the nearby Jordan Park, the home of the monument built in 2014 for Wojtec, the bear soldier adopted by the exiled Polish army during World War II.

I stumbled upon his story on a piece on the Krakow Post, one of the few English-language online publications in Poland before our 2014 trip. I was fascinated by the story of how he became a soldier, holding the rank of private and even drawing a salary, which went for his keep and the beers he enjoyed (he also learned how to smoke).  He was trained to carry ammunition in the front, and after the war he remained in the care of the Edinburgh Zoo until the end of his days. We reached the park by tram in only a few minutes and walked around for a while  until we found the monument.

Unlike most of the busts of Polish heroes that populate the park, the monument for Wojtec is quite majestic – it is over six feet tall, and before him are his steps and the steps of soldiers marking the different battles he participated in. After admiring the monument, we checked out the grounds and saw the other busts – including those of Pope John Paul II, Marie Curie and others.

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Monument to Wojtec

We walked around Krakow’s Main Square for a while and then returned to our hotel. The next morning, we woke up early and ate breakfast at a Lunch Bar Tu, a diner we’d discovered the previous day and headed to downtown Krakow, where we took my Iphone for a quick repair – the device had stopped charging in Zakopane, and I found a place called iMad , the only service center in the area that could look at it. After a brief exam, the tech told me that some dust had gotten into the circuits, but a quick clean was enough to get it up and running. He charged me PLN 10  (about $3.00) for the service, and we were quickly on our way.

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Krakow fruit market

A few blocks away was a fruit and vegetable market, and we decided to explore it a bit. Strawberries were in season, and their smell was everywhere, since vendors sold them by the kilo on almost every street corner. After buying some, we returned to our hotel, had a bite and went over to the train station to get tickets to Oswiecim – the city where the former Auschwitz Concentration Camp – is now a museum.

 

 

From the first time we went to Poland, I had wanted to visit the former concentration camp, but on that visit we didn’t have the time. The second time we were not quite prepared to do it, but as the cliché goes, three times is the charm – so we settled on going.

Admission to the museum is free, but reservations need to be made in advance. I got tickets online, and our appointment was for 5 PM. We took the PKP train for the 90-minute ride to Oswiecim. It was an uneventful but very slow ride on what was mostly a commuter train.

There was a single sign telling you where to go, and when we learned that city buses were horribly delayed, we chose to take the 15-minute walk towards the camp’s location.

I had always thought Auschwitz would be in an isolated location, but in fact it is in the middle of a residential area, with apartment buildings and a church right in the surroundings.  After a  while we thought we were walking in the wrong direction until we saw a sign pointing to the museum’s location, and then we walked a few yards into the entrance.

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The Gate into Auschwitz

We had our tickets scanned and went through airport-like security in what seemed to be a nondescript building.  After exiting that building, we faced the famous gate with the infamous  German words “Arbeit Macht Frei,” or “Work will set you free.”

We walked through it and began to explore the different buildings, which are mostly dedicated to the memory of the different people that came here to suffer and die, beginning with Soviet POWs, then Poles, Gypsies and finally the millions of Jews –  victims of Hitler’s “Final Solution.” Each of the structures tells a story – we hear the voices of various victims who ended up here written on the walls of each exhibit, including Anne Frank in an exhibit dedicated to the Dutch Jews brought here.

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The replica of the shooting wall – Auschwitz

Towards the end of the camp are the places where the most horrifying acts happened, beginning with the  gallows were several Poles were hanged, and a re-creation of the black wall used for summary executions by firing squad (the original was removed by the Nazis towards the end of the war).  In an adjacent building were the places where prisoners were tried, stripped and then shot. Inside other parts of the building were the starving cells – one in which Polish priest (and now Saint)  Maksymilian Kolbe was taken after he offered to take the place of a man originally sentenced to die there because he had a family.

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The gas chamber and crematorium at Auschwitz

After that we get to see the gas chambers and crematorium where people were taken for “showers” after being brought on cattle trains. Gas was released and they quickly died – the bodies were then systematically cremated in the same building.

It is at that moment that it hit us. We were standing inside the building where millions of people were gassed and incinerated – many of whose names are completely lost to history, since the Nazis did not record the names of those who were immediately killed after arrival.

 

 

We walked out and found a bus back to Krakow just outside the museum, where we pondered on where we had been. After reaching our hotel, we visited the bar next door for a quick drink.

We still had a full day in town, so we headed over to Schindler’s Factory on the other side of the Vistula river. Located in what used to be a mostly industrial area, we had a hard time actually finding the location, since the city of Krakow does not post many signs on where to go.

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Schindler’s factory

The Schindler Factory is not a museum totally dedicated to the memory of its namesake, but a museum that tells the story of how Krakow fell to German powers and how life was like under occupation done in rich detail. As we went along, we learned about life for the Jews  in that city’s ghetto  and how Schindler made life for at least some of them bearable.

Halfway into the tour, we see a replica of Schindler’s office and a memorial made from roughly 1,200 pots – the approximate number of people he saved through the efforts depicted on the Stephen Spielberg movie Schindler’s List.

We left the factory and walked over to the nearby Makaronarnia, a restaurant we accidentally discovered during our previous trip. As I described then, it is a nice little Italian restaurant clear out of the more touristy area. The meal was as usual very satisfying – Renata had a risotto while I went with a more traditional pasta dish.  From there we headed to Wawel Castle to get a few souvenirs (way cheaper than downtown) and then it was back to the hotel.

We took a late-night flight back to Warsaw –While booking,  I could not find a flight that would connect more directly to our trip home to New York on Saturday afternoon, so we stayed overnight at a nearby hotel that offered shuttle service to and from the terminal.

We had plans to head to the Old Town, but we realized it was time to rest a bit, so instead we explored the surroundings. There was an outdoor clothing market mostly operated by immigrants – it was one of the few times we saw people of Chinese and African descent interacting with Polish folk.  I tried to find a Poland T-shirt, but they were all themed around the Euro Cup. Renata did find a few things she was interested in.

Eventually it was time to head to the airport, so we took the shuttle bus and headed back to the airport – it was time to check in and come back home.  It was a great trip, but there is so much yet to discover in Renata’s homeland.

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