Distractions, Food, Wine/Cocktails

Let’s Do Brunch … Virtually

Judy and I both grew up with brunch as a regular part of our lives … we went to church and, invariably, our parents would take us to brunch, often with friends. Not as formal as dinner, but a nice way to get together and share a repast with acquaintances and loved ones, made even better when the food is excellent, the wine to-die-for, and the weather brilliant.

So it was this Sunday morning when we joined Schlossadler International Wines and winemaker Michael Opitz – live from Austria – in a virtual tasting of Opitz’ fantastic wines. With the COVID-19 pandemic taking away our ability to get out and be among friends, these virtual wine tastings using video conferencing capabilities are the next best thing … a great way to spend an hour (more if we keep the bottle open), share in a great experience, and taste some excellent wines. One simply signs-up, Schlossadler delivers the wine, and everyone joins-in the fun online.

Computer screen depicting participants in a virtual wine tasting.
The next best thing to being there…

This was our third tasting with Hans and Liza and one of the best … partly due to working-out some of the technology kinks, but also because this was a great way to spend a lazy Sunday midday. After a morning reading the paper, doing crossword puzzles, and taking an energizing walk in brilliant Arizona sunshine and 70 degree temps, we prepared a charcuterie board, opened the three bottles for this particular tasting, and fired up the computer. We joined Hans, Liza and Michael just as the latter was kissing his daughter good night (it was eight in the evening in Austria). The only thing that would have made the scene better would have been to move the whole kit and caboodle outdoors to do the tasting al fresco.

As wonderful as the wine and the flavors we paired with it were, so was the camaraderie of those from around the country taking part. There are both new and familiar faces … people with whom we share a passion for wine and who will likely become great friends when we get the chance to meet in person.

Seeing Michael share his passion for wine-making and the maps of the regions where his wines are produced brought both memories of our recent Danube River cruise and pangs of wanderlust. We’ve written often here that one of the great joys of our travels is to experience the tastes of the places we visit. We’ve already spoken with Liza about joining her on one of her winery excursions overseas … making that a reality is something Judy and I speak of almost daily.

Sign on a wall: "Winederlust - a strong desire to drink wines form around the world or just the wines from your neighborhood shop or even the ones you already have." Photo also shows a decorative card with wine glasses and wine shaped in the shape of a heart.
A sign of the times…

We have said before the pandemic is not something we take lightly … friends and family have and are effected, not just inconvenienced. But, we also know that many of us yearn for the days when this will be over, and are thankful there’s light at the end of that tunnel, bringing back our ability to travel and celebrate life with those we love. We know there’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored … it will still be there when this is all over. Until then, find joy wherever you can.

Empty wine glasses, a plate ready for the wash, a partially consumed bowl of olives and three partially consumed wine bottles.

© The World A to Z, LLC 2020

Travel

Q is for Queen of European Rivers … Part 2

The boat … or is it a ship? 

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The S.S. Maria Theresa docked on the Danube.

The boat … or is it a ship? 

Arriving at the quay to board the S.S. Maria Theresa, a couple of things become quickly apparent… most river boats (or ships) on the Danube look a lot alike on the outside: long, low and almost sinister looking with two rows of darkened glass, usually broken by the maw of an entrance approximately amidships. We quickly learn there are highly practical reasons for this look. One, there are A LOT of river boats on the Danube, which means they must often “raft” (tie-up alongside each other) at the quays, such that the passengers on the outside ship must also disembark through the other ship. Having entrances in the same place makes this easier.

The deck of the S.S. Maria Theresa as we approached a low bridge.

They are low because many just clear some of the bridges that cross the river. When on deck, crew will often lower sun awnings and implore you not to stand, lest you lose your head in a most unpleasant fashion. Even the pilothouse from which the boat is steered raises and lowers!

The common spaces were completely uncommon, with marble floors and walls, rich carpets and drapes. I’ll come back to those in a minute.

The marble bathroom has heated floors for warmth.

The over-the-top luxury continued in our stateroom. While not large by any means, the accommodations were sumptuous … Even the bath was all marble with top-of-the-line fixtures and floor heating. The darkened window opened electrically, letting in fresh air (our weather was unseasonably warm for October). Other staterooms featured French balconies that let the passengers sit outside on a tiny deck; friends we would meet later on the cruise opted for the suite, which offered a larger sitting area and bath, along with round-the-clock butler service.

Inside, however each cruise line brings its own flavor to interior decorating. Uniworld ships are among the most luxurious with a gilt-edged baroque style befitting the Austro-Hungarian Empress for which our ship is named.

Now, about those common spaces, there was a small gym and a place to grab coffee at any time on the lower level…you could even book a massage down the hall! Upstairs there was a large dining room and two bars (our kind of place!). The main bar was staffed most of the day and featured entertainment nightly. The smaller bar at the stern had more of a reading room feel to it, offering board games and books in a free lending library. Next to the bar was a small pool that unfortunately, was a bit too cold for our liking.

Let’s face it, one of the most important aspects of any cruise – river or ocean – is the food. Uniworld and the crew of the Maria Theresa did not disappoint!

Even the appetizers at dinner were spectacular.

Breakfast offered any number of American and Continental fare, including omelets made to order and a great selection of fresh fruit. For lunch, there was always a choice of at least two great soups, a wide variety of hot and cold dishes (with new varieties each day) served right – the pasta was perfectly al dente and meats were moist and perfectly done. And bread … there’s nothing in the world quite like European bread with real European butter!

Dinner … well, let’s just say don’t eat too much at lunch. Every night we were offered a chef’s choice of four courses, or you could order a la carte from an offering of meat, fish or vegetarian selections. Wines from the particular region we were sailing through were featured, described aptly each evening by the sommelier. Moreover, deserts were NOT to be missed!

When dinner was over, most of us retreated to the lounge to chat with friends, enjoy an aperitif, and listen to the excellent entertainment. Then, to bed, where the gentle lap of the water against the hull lulled us into a deep, restful sleep each night.

There’s a whole world out there just waiting to be explored. Go see it … from a bed with a view of the water!

© The World A to Z, LLC 2019