As far back as I can recall, probably starting when I was around 6 years old, I remember that on the occasional Saturday or Sunday my mother would tell me that we were taking a drive. Of course I’d ask, “Where are we going, Mama?” and she’d slyly smile and say, “We’re going on a mystery ride.” A “mystery ride” never ceased to induce excitement and curiosity in me.
Pancakes. Hotcakes. Griddle Cakes. Flapjacks.
No matter what they’re called, they happen to be one of my favorite ways to start the morning, and when I travel around the country I make it a point to seek out the very best local places to find these breakfast staples. I personally don’t like a lot of extra stuff on or in my pancakes: whipped cream, chocolate chips, strawberry sauce, ice cream, hot fudge – in my opinion they are just ways to mask a boring pancake. A really top-notch pancake should be able to stand on its own, maybe with some simple blueberries in the batter, and always with a little help from butter and real maple syrup.
Hawaii’s “Big Island” was the first of the Hawaiian islands I ever visited, way back in 1994. That trip began a 25 year love affair with Hawaii, and while Maui remains my favorite island, I have a special place in my soul reserved for the still volcanically active Big Island.
Two years ago I went on a Mediterranean cruise as part of a study abroad experience with three of my faculty colleagues and about 25 students from my university. We boarded a very small cruise ship of only 250 passengers and went from Venice, Italy to Nice, France with stops at Split and Dubrovnik in Croatia, the Greek island of Corfu, Taormina, Sicily, and along the west coast of Italy.
Dubrovnik is truly lovely, unique, and bustling walled city that can seem overwhelming when the hordes of cruise ship tourists come streaming through the old city’s impressive stone gates, huntung for snacks and souvenirs mostly along the main street, the Stradun. But for those in the know who want to escape the crowds, and who are willing to climb more than a few of the old city’s purported 4,343 stone stairs, a peaceful oasis can be found nestled close to the famous city walls at a charming little restaurant called Azur.
Every year when graduation ends and I take my summer trip to Europe, I’m drawn back to the same places that I have grown to love so much: always Italy, usually Paris and Greece, Britain or Ireland. But I also try to add a new place to the mix that I’ve never seen before. Last year was Portugal, which I adored. This year I decided to visit Budapest, Hungary.
Last summer while staying in a rather remote area of Tuscany near the town of Vinci (of “Leonardo da” fame), I drove over the mountains in the direction of Prato and Florence and stopped for dinner at a restaurant called Antica Torre. I was one of only a few customers that weeknight, but I was blown away by not just the quality of the food, but the amazingly beautiful preparations that made each dish seem like a work of art.