20 Aug

What’s Next: A Mexican Road Trip, An Overland Bus Journey, and Nicaragua!

After four months of pedalling, eating, and drinking our way around Europe, it’s time to leave.

Winter is coming to this hemisphere (even if it never really felt like summer anyway!) and, as we vowed not to spend another day in the cold and icy grip of Old Man Winter, it’s time to find the sun.

So tomorrow (or today, or yesterday, or three days ago, depending on when you’re reading this) we fly to Mexico!

I dreamed of Mexico all last winter. As we braved (ok, ‘braved’ is a probably a term better saved for those around me who had to endure all my snivelling and whining about how cold it was), the -20C temperatures and snow-banks-as-tall-as-me in southern Ontario, I dreamt of white sand beaches, palm trees, fresh lime margaritas, spicy tacos and, of course sunset beers.

Clichéd, I know, but damn it was cold last winter!


Talk about cliched!

We’re not sure exactly where we’ll end up in Mexico. I want a place that is near the beach and quiet, yet close enough to a town so we can pop in for a beer and meal once in a while. We had thought that Playa del Carmen would be it but I have been worried that it might be too developed and ‘touristy’ to have what we’re looking for.

And so the One Giant Mexican Road Trip was born. Our plan is to pick up a car at the Cancun airport and spend a few weeks driving around the Yucatan Peninsula searching for the ‘perfect place’ to settle in for a couple of months.

It should be fun and having a car will mean we’ll get to see parts of the peninsula that we wouldn’t normally see. We’ll be able to really look around the places we visit and get a sense of what it might be like to live there for a while. We may well end up finding that Playa del Carmen is the perfect spot for us but we’ll have battled the FOMO by checking out some of the other great spots first.

Our Big Plan (in so much as we have any plan at all!) was to spend the whole winter in Mexico, hence the worry about finding the ‘perfect spot’, but opportunity came knocking and, in the spirit of saying ‘yes’ to whatever we can, we stepped into it.

My friend Darlene runs the most amazing photography tours to Nicaragua. This time she, and her husband, are interested in staying for a while (to also avoid the dreaded Canadian winter) and asked if we would be interested in travelling farther south to share a house with them in Granada for a couple of months.

Nicaragua!! Who knew?!

So, plans change, time frames are adjusted, and the research starts! How do you get from the Yucatan Peninsula to Granada, Nicaragua? I’m guessing it’ll be One Giant Overland Bus Journey. Stay tuned!



17 Aug

The Iconic Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral

It was our last week in London and we still hadn’t seen two of the city’s iconic sites so we hooked up with City Wonders for a guided tour of the Tower of London and St. Paul’s Cathedral. 

Here’s the thing; I’m usually loathe to hire a guide but lately we’ve been feeling as though we’re missing out and, when we have had a guide, our experiences have been much richer for it.

Marc, our guide for this tour, was a Blue Badge Guide which means that he had to earn that flashy blue I’m-a-tour-guide button hanging around his neck. In fact, it turns out that he had to study for two years in order to get his certification and thus the great honour of having people like us follow him around asking the same questions over and over and over and over and over again.

Works great for us though because:

  1. We didn’t have to do the studying.
  2. We didn’t have to do any research before visiting these historic landmarks.
  3. We could trust the answers he gave to our inane questions – he didn’t have to make up the answers because he actually knows the answers!

Our day started early as we had the chance to witness the Key Ceremony where the Yeoman Warders and Palace Guards officially unlock the gates to the fortress. It is, of course, now a ceremonial ritual – I mean, they don’t actually rely only on that gate to keep those Crown Jewels safe, right?
Tower of London Key Ceremony
Tower of London Key CeremonyOnce the Tower was officially open we could enter deeper into the grounds. Historically the site was a palace; a stronghold of power and economy before becoming a prison, and the site of several executions,  later on in its evolution. Of course I kind of knew all of this but Marc brought it all to life as he spewed dates and names and stories to catch us up on all our lagging high school history lessons. A welcome refresher indeed.

Besides being the home to many a history lesson and ghost story, the Tower also houses the Crown Jewels. It was an impressive display of artifacts and royal regalia that has been used for centuries and is still used by the monarchy today. Seeing the pieces (no photographs allowed) and reading their stories brings to life those television images of the Queen carrying the sceptre or of the newest Prince George being baptized.
Tower of London Crown JewelsAfter getting our fill of gruesome history, a look at armour throughout the ages, and visiting the on-site ravens (who, legend says, must remain or the Crown will fall), we walked along the Thames to St. Paul’s Cathedral.
Raven of the Tower of London
London's Thames RiverNow, we’ve seen our share of churches this summer so St. Paul’s Cathedral is not one we probably would have visited were it not part of the tour. Having Marc explain the history, the architecture, and the main players did make a difference though; he described its building, pointed out where the decorations deviate from the original vision, and took us back to World War I when the Cathedral was one of the only buildings remaining in London as its residents kept it safe during the Blitz.

My favorite part, though, was climbing to the top of the dome. The views of London were outstanding and worth the somewhat strenuous climb to get there.
London view
London ViewWe were lucky to be able to stay in London so long and to see so much. It’s a city that I really enjoy and could see spending a ton more time exploring all the neighborhoods (and all the neighborhood pubs!) but, OMG IS IT EXPENSIVE!! Really expensive. Like make me sick to my stomach expensive. We may return one day but we’ll have to be dragging a bag-o-money when we do.
Until then we’re off to a warmer, and more affordable, corner of the world.

14 Aug

Eating Our Way Through Prague

We headed to Prague on a whim. The weather in Munich was crap so we checked the weather channel, and the train schedules, and decided that Prague was perfect for a last minute weekend getaway. I love that about Europe!

Knowing absolutely nothing about Prague, I decided that the best way to get in on the secrets was to connect up with the EatingPrague gang and see the city through our stomachs. Best. Decision. Ever.

We met Mirka, Jan, and the other foodie tourists in Gallery Le Court; a beautiful, shady, hide-away in the middle of the city. That’s the thing about Prague – there are so many little hideaways to discover. Tiny streets curving in and amongst each other, secret courtyards, and veiled sanctums. The city may be humming but these quiet corners offer peaceful respite.

Gallery Le Court

Here, just like you wanted to as a kid, we indulged in dessert first. When I think of apple strudel I tend to think of Germany and Austria so I was surprised to learn that this apple layered pastry is traditional here in the Czech Republic and is, in fact, the most popular dessert. This one gets top marks; sweet and spicy, with soft apples and a pastry that holds together without being tough. A great start to the day!

Eating Prague Food Tour

There is no denying that this part of Europe has a heavy love affair with meat. I know people travel this region as vegetarians, but I have no idea how they do it!  Naše Maso (Our Meat)  is the newest butcher on the block. Modern and compact, with glass walls all along one side so you can have a peek at the skillful preparation of all things meat. The beef, ham, sausage, and meatloaf we tried here were excellent. We watched the butchers’ eyes light up every time a customer had a question; obviously a man taking pride in his work.

Eating Prague Food Tour

Eating Prague Food Tour

And then it was time for dessert…again. You know when you’re heading to a place called the Choco Cafe that things are going to be good. Believe me, there was no disappointment! Crispy wafer tubes filled with the freshest whipped cream dipped in a pot of warm, melted chocolate. Need I say more?

Eating Prague Food Tour

Did you know that beer prices in the Czech Republic are regulated? Regulated in so far as beer is not allowed to be the cheapest item on the menu!! Beer drinking is taken seriously here whether it’s mass produced or hand created in small batches as it is at Novomestský pivovar (New Town brewery). Cheers!

Eating Prague Food Tour

Our next stop was the biggest surprise of the tour. Mirka had told us we would be trying Staro?eská kysela?ka (Sauerkraut  Soup) and, quite frankly, I was not looking forward to it. I mean, how could it possibly be good? I imagined fermented and pickled cabbage in an insipid broth and was already practicing my ‘ooh, it’s good’ smile as we entered the secret location (which I won’t reveal because it’s such a cool space!).

The soup was amazing. Of course it had the slightly sour under-note of the sauerkraut but was rounded out with pureed veggies and potatoes, cream, and basil oil. It turned out to be my favourite dish of the whole tour. I know, colour me surprised!

Eating Prague Food Tour

Our last stop was in the opulent Cafe Imperial. This historic Prague institution is absolutely magnificent inside. Hailing from the Art Deco era it stays true to its roots with stunning tile work, impressive furniture, and well dressed servers. Here we sampled the sví?ková na smetan? s brusinkovým džemem a houskovým knedlíkem – I know, a mouthful, right? It’s braised beef in a cream sauce with cranberry compote and bread dumplings. This is a very traditional Czech meal; we had tried a few versions during our time in Prague and this one was the absolutely best that we had.

Eating Prague Food Tour

As always, it is the guide that makes or breaks a tour. Tasting the worlds best foods, or taking in the sights, with an insipid guide is no better than walking around blindly. Luckily for us Mirka and Jan were absolute gems. They each have an unbridled love for Czech food; they are foodies first and guides second – it shows in their enthusiasm not only for every dish but also for the history of each. Their knowledge of Prague, and its food, was extraordinary. Thanks to them we sampled the best that Prague had to offer in our very short time there.

Interested in taking a tour while in Prague? (and you should be!) Check out the Eating Prague Food Tours website or the EatingPrague Facebook Page for more info.

08 Aug

Pilgrimage to Andechs

Climbing up through the forest we were grateful for the shade. The walk isn’t long – more of a token offering than a real pilgrimage now – but it is steadily uphill from the train station below.


There are plenty of places to find a good beer in Germany. Truth be told, we never encountered one we didn’t like – and we tried as many as possible! There aren’t many place, however, where the beer has been brewed for more than a thousand years!

Kloster Andechs is just such a place. Located on a hill about 30 KM outside of Munich, it is surrounded by pastures and fields framed perfectly by the Alps in the background. It is as bucolic a scene as you might expect from German countryside and it’s easy to see why fairy tales were born here – it really is the land of ‘once-upon-a-time’.


It is, historically, a pilgrimage church. A catholic monastery built in the baroque style drawing those from far and wide to pay their respects and pray at this centuries-old place of worship.


AndechsThere are still modern day pilgrims arriving of course but, today, most come for the adjoining biergarten – as did we.


If you’re lucky you might get a seat on the outer patio with views over the countryside toward the mountains. If it’s raining, there is room to crowd inside. It’s a convivial, social, atmosphere so go ahead and share your table with newcomers, introduce yourself, and get to know your new neighbour over a pint.


I can attest that the beer is excellent; a light and spicy Weissbier, a double strong dark Dunkel, and a Helles lager. The Weissbier is my favourite.


They also have a fabulous selection of traditional Bavarian meal options. Meatloaf, cold cut platters, cheese, wursts (sausages), salads, and, of course, Schweinshaxen; the slow roasted, crunchy, sweet, juicy pork knuckle that goes so well with the beer.


Visiting Andechs is one of my favourite things to do while in Munich. It doesn’t get much better than fresh country air, beautiful scenery, great beer, and fabulous food.

If you want to visit Andechs you could easily make a day of it. We took the S-Bahn S8 from Munich to Herrsching (about an hour). There is a lake very nearby; you could spend the morning at the lake and then follow the signs to walk up to Andechs from the town. Don’t worry if you lose sight of the signs – just continue up hill and you’ll see the monastery eventually. Work up an appetite – you’ll need it.



05 Aug

Cycle Tour Europe: The End…But Not The End

Our triumphant, if soaking wet, arrival into Munich; 78 days and 2440 KM after we started in London.

It was bittersweet to reach the end. On the one hand it was a lot of work to be constantly on the move but, on the other hand, we really loved cycling through the countryside seeing parts of countries that we would never normally get to see. We would miss it whenever we stopped for a few days and always had such big grins on our faces at the end of each riding day.

Every day I would be amazed that I was in the middle of absolutely nowhere pedalling my way through a foreign country without a care in the world. Just the wind in my face, the feeling of the bike underneath me, and the whir of my tires on the pavement. I love, love, loved it. There isn’t a single day that I didn’t enjoy. Not even the very first day when I barely made it up the hill to our bed and breakfast, or the day with 3 flats, a broken rack, and a malfunctioning GPS unit, or the day(s) that it rained incessantly and we were soaked. They were all good. Really.

And that’s what I’m going to miss. The riding. The being outside on my bike every day. Wheeling through the tiniest of villages. Wrestling traffic in the big cities. Heading down unmarked tracks. Rolling through farmers fields (we seem to have ridden through an inordinate number of farmer fields). Stopping for a well earned beer. Cresting the hills. And screaming down the other side. Seeing the look on peoples faces when we tell them we rode our bikes here…from London. Knowing that I did ride my bike here…from London. Almost 2500 kilometres. I’ll miss the riding. Every. Single. Day.


My body held up for the most part.

My butt hurt like hell for the first week. Not when actually in the saddle but when I would lift off the seat; the blood would rush back in, the numbing would cease all at once and all the feeling I was missing would return in one fell swoop. YOUCH!! That was the worst of it and it eased after that first week. Thankfully, I never suffered any chaffing thanks to the boy-short undies I wore (no inseams) and the…um…application of vaseline to delicate parts. Messy but way more comfortable. Yep, you can file that in the things-you-didn’t-want-to-know-but-might-find-useful-later bin. You’re welcome. :) 

I had feared my lower back might ache from being hunched over the handle bars all day but it didn’t bother me even once. I guess all those core exercises I did over the winter proved useful after all. I have two rebuilt knees (the result of long ago mountain bike accidents), and I wondered how they would take the constant revolution and pressure but they did amazingly well and only required Advil on the longer days.

Interestingly it was my hands and feet which suffered the most. They became numb from the hours of pressure – we would have to stop every few hours to let the feeling return. Unfortunately it was cumulative and they got worse as the trip went on requiring breaks more and more often. We’ve been off the bikes for more than three weeks now and my hands still hurt when I put pressure on them. Bummer.

It really is amazing what you can ask your body to do and it will just do it. Day after day after day after day. In fact, we’re now in the position of undoing what the biking has done to our bodies. Our quadricep (thigh) and back muscles are very strong but our hamstring (back of the leg) and stomach muscles definitely took the summer off. We’re getting back to running and working out very slowly as we try to build up those parts without pulling something in the process.


As the end drew near, and we were pedalling our last days, we started the ‘last official’ countdown; the last official big bridge crossing, the last official hotel to book, the last official flat tire, the last official picnic lunch, oh nope that’s the last official flat tire, the last official packing of the panniers, and finally, the last official day of riding.

And we officially realized that we weren’t done.

I loved it so much that I can’t imagine travelling through Europe in any other way. Hopping from city to city to city on trains just feels jarring and un-natural. Cycling allows an evolution from countryside to village to town to suburbs to city that just feels right.

Luckily, we don’t have to be done. Well, we have to be done for now (visa rules, and our wallets, say we’re done for now) but we’ve managed to store our bikes and gear in Munich (Jason’s sister just moved there and had room – thank you Tracy and Brian!!) and plan to return as soon as we can to continue on.

Who knows what that will look like, or where we’ll go (although there is talk of riding from Munich to Crete in Greece – how cool would that be?), but it feels good to have the option open and to know that, one day, I’ll be riding again with the wind in my face,  feeling the bike underneath me, and listening to the whir of my tires on the pavement.

31 Jul

Cycle Tour Europe: Finding Our Way

Of the three formidable tasks in cycle touring – determining where to go and how to get there, finding a place to stay, and deciding what and when to eat – the first and second combined to be the most work. (Primarily because, when you cycle that much, you will eat just about anything at just about any time!)

Cycle Tour EuropeEurope has plenty of well-marked velo routes, but our itinerary (such as it was) never seemed to sync with many of them. We certainly found ourselves on many bike paths but we never simply followed one marked route for very long. Instead, it was a combination of deciding the long term destination – for example, the Vimy Ridge Memorial in northern France – and then finding a route to there over a number of days.

Cycle Tour EuropeA quick series of questions usually determined this for us:

  • What is the terrain like?  This helps us decide how far we can go in a day. If it’s flat and smooth we can go a lot further than if it’s hilly.
  • What towns are there along the way? The ‘no camping’ rule means that we can’t just stop whenever we are done for the day – we need to make it to civilization at some point. In some areas, such as northern France, the distance between towns is farther and so greatly impacts our ‘how far can we go’ decision.
  • Which of those towns have reasonable places to stay? Once we’ve decided on a possible distance, and a town to stop in, then we look for a place to stay. It is certainly possible to not book ahead but we found that it caused us a great deal of stress to not know where we were staying for the night. The idea of rocking into town at the end of a long day of cycling and trying to find something that fit our budget and comfort levels just did not appeal – we needed a destination, a determined stopping point, where we knew we could shower and rest and it wouldn’t break the bank. I usually looked in the town we had agreed upon and, if I couldn’t find what I was looking for, then I would start looking at the smaller towns on either side until I found something.
Cycle Tour Europe

What Tools Did We Use?

Traditionally, cycle tourists use paper maps for navigation. The problem with paper maps for longer term trips (besides the fact they’re made of paper and it rains) is the weight and room they take up. You’ll need maps in the 1:50,000 scale in order to really see where you are, and where you’re going – they don’t cover much ground so you’ll need a lot of them!

Cycle Tour EuropeWe wanted to take advantage of technology as much as possible and thought we could use our trusty iPhone and Google Maps to lead the way. Then we realized that we would be crossing borders essentially in the middle of nowhere – where were we going to get a local SIM card? There would be no vending machine at the border in the middle of a farmers field!

Our cycling friend in London offered up a great solution. He was using a GPS unit to find his way and recommended the Garmin Edge Touring Navigator to us. After learning more about it from him we quickly made our way to the local bike shop to get one for ourselves.

Cycle Tour EuropeIt worked brilliantly. Jason plotted our route on the Garmin website and then uploaded the route to the device. While riding we simply followed along. If we went off route for any reason he could see the underlying map to self-navigate or to get back on track. It also recorded our actual route; KM’s covered, time actually spent moving, time spent not moving, total time, and elevation changes.

When we needed a larger overview, wanted to know exactly  where we were, or were looking for a beer or lunch spot, we would pull out the phone and use Google Maps to help out. The combination worked really, really well.

Cycle Tour EuropeTo support all this technology we carried an external battery. The HyperJuice Micro is the size of a mans wallet but carries enough power to recharge the phone three times over. We obviously charged everything up every night but there were some longer days where the power was getting low and it was a relief to know that we had a back up to rely on. We didn’t use it often but we were happy to have it when we did use it.

Cycle Tour Europe

Finding Places To Stay

Accommodation isn’t traditionally part of navigation but, when where you can stay determines where you go, it becomes an important part.

Believe me, you can spend hours in the rabbit hole of finding the perfect place to stay. Checking out tons of booking sites, reading all the reviews, and determining the minute differences between Hotel A and Hotel B.

Or, you can write out a list of criteria that defines your perfect place and then stop looking once you’ve found it. Just stop. If you think there is something better out there then you must be missing something on your criteria list. If it meets all your criteria then it must be perfect. Stop. Looking.

Cycle Tour Europe

Our criteria for this trip included:

  • Budget – it’s always #1
  • Proximity to our intended destination
  • Walking distance to food and drink – we did not want to get on our bikes again after showering
  • Breakfast included – so we could fuel up and get going in the morning
  • Wifi available
  • Decor/Style – will we feel comfortable there? Funny, this is becoming more important the more I travel (and the older I get). If we stay in a shit place I just get cranky and don’t want to spend any time there. A nice place = a happy Gillian. :)
  • Bike storage – although I stopped worrying about this pretty early on. We’re in Europe, lots of people bicycle everywhere. Every place we went, except one, found a safe and secure place for us to store our bikes. One place, right near the Frankfurt train station, wanted us to leave our bikes in the main, public, parking garage around the corner. Yeah, right. We had to convince him to let us schlepp them down stairs to their utility room for the night.

We stayed in some really interesting places; hundred year old inns, rustic farmhouses, apartments perched overlooking valleys, and cute and cozy little bed and breakfasts.

Cycle Tour Europe
I started out this trip using a number of hotel/hostel/pension/B&B/guesthouse booking sites. In the end I used Booking.com almost exclusively. I like their website experience, the selection of properties, the on-site reviews, the payment process (pay on arrival, not before hand) and that, most often, I could cancel for free almost up until the day of arriving. It was rare that I couldn’t find anything on there and had to use another, usually more local, site to find a place. I also liked that, as a registered user, I was privy to specials and ‘Genius’ deals that often meant we could stay in a property that would normally be out of budget. Score! Note: I tell you this because it’s honestly what I found was best. I’m not paid to say this nor do I get a commission if you use them. I just like them. A lot.

For longer term stays I used AirBnB.com to find apartments. They seem to have the best selection, are well used so have lots of reviews, and their website is easy to use. What I HATE about them is the booking fee. For longer term stays the booking fee adds a few cents to each night but for shorter stays it sometimes pushed a place to the edge of our budget. Not cool. HomeAway.com is a good alternative with no booking fees, but their selection is not as good. Shameless Plug: I wrote all about finding the perfect apartment in my book How to Find the Perfect Vacation Rental. Check it out.

Cycle Tour EuropeAll-in-all it wasn’t that hard. Yes, it was a lot of work and took up a lot of time but it wasn’t that hard to figure it all out. It would be even easier if you decided to stick to one, or two, of the main velo routes. They are well marked, pass through some beautiful countryside, and have great cycling infrastructure alongside.

24 Jul

Cycle Tour Europe: Rad & Reisen Cruise Review

Disclosure: We were guests on the Theodor Körner however this in no way impacted the fabulous time that we had. I just thought you should know. :)

Our cycle tour Europe itinerary got a bit convoluted part way through. Itinerary is, in fact,  a bit of a strong word for what we actually had. What we had was a basic circle route penciled out on a map that included most of the places that we wanted to see. Our real plan, though was to cycle as much (or as little) as we wanted to, enjoy Europe to its fullest (read: eat and drink everything possible!), and take advantage of every opportunity that came our way. Mission: Accomplished.

Our real plan took us through the beauty of Northern France,  through historic Luxembourg, along the south end of the Rhine River in Germany to Freiburg to visit old friends. It saw us up and over the Swiss Alps (by train – we didn’t cycle over the Alps!) to feast on pizza and red wine on the banks of Lake Como before taking an epic 8 train (with seven train switches!) journey to Brussels in Belgium. After drinking as much beer as possible in Belgium, and falling head-over-heals for Amsterdam, we rode along the absolutely-unexpectedly-stunning coast of the Netherlands before entering Germany (again) to cycle the truly-appropriately-named ‘Romantic’ section of the Rhine. Another slightly-less-epic train journey took us to Passau in eastern Germany so we could finish our cycling adventures in style as we boarded the Theodor Körner and biked and cruised along the great Danube river. See, convoluted but a truly successful plan!

Theodor Körner - Rad&Reisen

So, I wanted to tell you about the Rad & Reisen Cruise because I think it’s an absolutely perfect way for folk (like you) to enjoy cycle touring the best parts of Europe without having to enact a plan like above and cycle the 2500+ KM that we did.

Everyone can cycle tour Europe. Everyone. In fact, I’ve already recommended this exact cruise to my sister-in-law and my friend here in London because I think they would love, love, love it.

Here’s a link to the Passau-Vienna-Passau cruise that we took. I won’t detail the route as you can look on the site for that information (and see all the other options they offer all over Europe) but I will tell you what I liked, and what I didn’t like, about the cruise (because that’s what really matters!)

Generally the cruise works like this. The ship acts as a floating and moving hotel. You check into your cabin at the beginning of the week, leave all your non-cycling stuff there, and go cycling along the river each day.  At some point during the day the ship passes you and magically appears at the end of your cycle just when you need it for a hot shower, a cold beer, and a great meal. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. Cycle touring perfection. Easy, peasy.

Ship Facilities

Theodor Körner - Rad&Reisen

Built in 1965, the Theodor Körner is one of the oldest passenger ships fording the waters of the Danube. Lucky for us though it was completely renovated just this past winter so the facilities on board were brand new and very comfortable.

Our twin, side-by-side, berth cabin was more than I expected from a river boat. The beds were comfy, the window opened, the closet easily held all our stuff, and the full bathroom had a real toilet and a powerful, and hot, shower. During the day one of the berths was tidied away to create more space and was magically made up for us each night while we enjoyed dinner. No, it’s not a massive room but keep in mind that you’re on a ship – it was more than comfortable and, really, you’re only sleeping in there – there is plenty to do on, and off, the ship to keep you out of there!

The Panorama Bar at the front of the ship is where all the action happened. Coffee and cake in the afternoon, before dinner beers, route information meetings, and evening entertainment all occurred in this quite stylish lounge. I enjoyed spending time here except when the entertainer was playing. I really did not like the entertainment. Perhaps it was a demographic thing. Maybe I need to better appreciate old ‘classics’ from the 60’s and 70’s. It may just be that I have a thing against Casio keyboards and electronic accompaniment. It doesn’t matter; it was like nails on a chalkboard and I just couldn’t handle it. Luckily, there were other options.

The Back Deck was where you could usually find us. Comfy lounge chairs, great views, shade from the sun (or, more likely, the rain), and blessed silence. Perfect. Although there wasn’t a bar on the Back Deck we could bring our beers back or ask for service if we didn’t feel like making the hike to the bar.

There were two other lounge areas available; neither of which we really used. The Library is a comfortable, quiet, indoor lounge and the entire roof of the ship is a sun deck also – alternately too hot or too wet to use during our journey.

The ship was really comfortable, and casual. You won’t need to bring your best sparkly dress and high heels, just some comfy clothes and a smile.

I’ll make a quick note about bar prices. I have been on other cruises which, not only did not allow outside drinks on board, but then fleeced me when I ordered a drink. Not cool. This didn’t happen on the Theodor Körner. In fact, we felt no need to bring drinks on board because they served cold, perfectly poured, beer where ever we were for the same price as on shore. Very cool.


Seating is assigned on board; you receive a table number and sit with the same people all week. We were seated at a table for six amongst a few tables of English speakers – thoughtful, as we have had a few meals on our trip with non-English speakers and it can be a bit…quiet. Our group of Australians, New Zealanders, Russians, and Canadians had a great time getting to know each other over our meals. Space was a little tight but we managed although I wouldn’t want to be at a table with a bunch of burly guys.

Breakfast was buffet style with a good variety of bread, meat, cheese, yogurt, fruit, and cereal along with some hot options such as eggs, bacon, sausage and mushrooms. We filled up at breakfast in order to fuel the riding for the day. Those who stayed on board during the day were offered a prepared lunch; those of us riding made up some quick sandwiches which were wrapped up for us with a piece of fruit and a chocolate bar for a picnic lunch later on.

Dinners were good and varied. A menu was placed in our cabin each evening so we could choose our evening meal the next day; usually a choice of meat, fish, or vegetarian. Each meal had an appetizer, a main entree, and dessert. Some meals were better executed than others; I would say that the fish dish was the most consistently good throughout the week. Wine was available at a cost but you could buy a bottle, have a glass or two out of it, and they would save it for you for the next day. Nice. My favourite part was after dinner. Along with the usual coffee service they came around with a bottle of schnapps or digestif to finish off your meal. A different bottle was offered each night; I sampled them all and proclaim them all to be delicious!


Theodor Körner - Rad&Reisen

Of course we had our own bikes and gear for the cruise, as did a number of others on board, but it was possible to arrive with nothing more than your bike shorts and a smile. You could rent all the gear that you needed; 7-speed, 21-speed, and electric bikes were all available at a very reasonable price. The bikes all appeared in great condition – and were well sized for each participant. Each had a small repair kit, a handlebar bag (which all riders received even if you had your own bike) and a side pannier to store the stuff you’d need for the day. Helmets aren’t mandatory here but you could buy one for a a couple of euros if you wanted to be safe. Each rider was assigned a bike but there were many, many, many more on board so, if you didn’t like the one assigned, another could easily be found. Everyone I spoke to seemed to be quite pleased with the equipment they had rented.

The crew took excellent care of the bikes, whether rented or our own. They stored them away on deck for us each night and had them all lined up and ready to go well before we were ready in the morning. My only complaint here was that it had rained on the bikes one night and my seat was wet in the morning. Petty, I know, but it wouldn’t have taken much effort to have given them all a quick wipe to save our wet bums.

Route Information

Theodor Körner - Rad&Reisen

This is what made the experience for us. We’ve spent weeks and weeks and weeks and weeks cycling through Europe. Determining where to go, figuring out the best possible route, discovering interesting stops along the way, searching for places to stay, and always looking for regional cuisine and the best beer we could find. It’s takes a lot of time and effort and there is no doubt that we cycled right by some of the best that Europe has to offer simply because we had no idea it was right there!

On board, each cycling group had been issued a route book which not only included daily detailed maps but also turn-by-turn instructions to accompany the map. Every afternoon Andreas the cruise director held a meeting (once in English and then again in German) to review the next days cycle route. It wasn’t the detailed routing information that we were after though – we could easily get ourselves from Point A to Point B – no, the best part of the meeting were all the secret spots he pointed out along the way. Places that you wouldn’t know were there unless someone told you about them (or you could read the German signposts).

It was the charred mackerel (with ice cold beer) for ‘second breakfast’ one morning, knowing which castles were worth climbing up to (and which brewed their own beer!), refreshing glasses of Most (local apples cider) on hot afternoons, bicycle museums to explore, schnapps tastings on the cycle-only river ferries, platters of delicious food we enjoyed at the taverns he recommended along the way, whiskey and wine tastings, and the best coffee and ice cream must-stops.

Each days cycle had two possible routes – usually one on either side of the river – a recommended route and an alternate route. Andreas described each route (along with each ones hidden secrets) and explained why one would be recommended and one would be alternate so it was easy to choose which route we wanted to take. You can bet we always chose the one with the most tasty options along the way. :)

Biking Route

Theodor Körner - Rad&Reisen

The riding was easy. Really easy. Downhill-trending-smooth-flat-with-a-tailwind easy. Anyone could ride it easy. You could totally ride it easy. There were some alternate routes and spurs that we did that were not flat and smooth but you don’t have to do those bits. The regular route is mostly on bike only paved or packed gravel paths and only on lightly trafficked roads occasionally – and those roads expect cyclists on them. It is very safe. There were a few families riding with children as young as seven or so and they were fine. Any hills or roads with cars on them were clearly pointed out by Andreas during the route information meetings so there are no surprises. You could totally do this.

It’s beautiful. I’ll let you in on a secret; we preferred riding the Danube to riding the Romantic Rhine. I know! I’m surprised too but the Danube was so peaceful, and green, and quaint. The villages were cuter and friendlier, the people didn’t seem tired of tourists or expect them to be there, there was no railway right along side with trains barrelling along every 10 minutes, and most of the time the only river traffic were the kayakers slowly drifting downstream. It was nice, and calm, and relaxing.

We rode between 35 and 50 KM’s each riding day. There were 5 riding days total and one day off in Vienna (if you didn’t book the biking tour, that is). There was no set starting time each day – we didn’t all leave en masse or ride together, although we all generally left between 8 and 9 AM and tended to ride in the same groups leapfrogging each other along the route all day. We had all day to get to the end point and were free to stop wherever and whenever we wished. We were often the last on board, having taken our time eating and drinking along the way, and we always had plenty of time to get ready for dinner. There is no need to rush the cycling – there is lots of time.

We luckily had no breakdowns or accidents (well, one of our group did have trouble staying on his bike but fortunately suffered no real injuries other than the hit to his pride) but the cruise director is always available by phone should the need have arisen. This isn’t a guided tour but it is well supported.


There were a few excursions available throughout the trip. A bus or bike tour was offered in Vienna – we did the bike tour and really enjoyed it. An evening operetta was also offered in Vienna but opera sounds, to me, like cats screeching and makes my ears bleed so we went to a nearby wine house instead. I think we made the right choice. In the small village of Grein a young resident came and gave us a tour of the historic theatre in town – it was a fun glimpse at what used to make a small town click and a revealing look at how villages like this are struggling now as young people move away and tourism replaces industry in the economy.

Who Else Was On Board?

I wasn’t at all surprised by who our fellow passengers were. Mostly Germans, with a smattering of Belgians and our little international English speaking section. There were a couple of families with children on board but the average age was mid-60’s I would say. It’s an active cruise so people are fit and mobile of course. Although we never had any deep conversations, most people spoke some English and all were very friendly. They certainly were all interested in having a good time – we were often tucked away in bed well before they had danced their last dance in the Panorama Bar in the evening.


So, is it worth it? I can’t decide that for you. We usually travel on a tight budget and Budget Girl (that’s me!) is loathe to spend extra on things that we can do ourselves for a lesser cost (and really, it doesn’t matter how much less, Budget Girl is a hard-ass!). Having said that, I am SUPER HAPPY that we took the cruise. We really enjoyed it, thought the facilities and service were excellent, and got SO MUCH out of having someone do most of the planning work for us.

If you’re wanting to do some cycle touring yourself but aren’t sure if you want to do all the work involved then this is definitely a great option. Like I said, I have already recommended it to my friends and family as I think they would really enjoy it.

You can check out all the Rad & Reisen Tours on their website; they have a bunch, there’s bound to be one where you’re going!


17 Jun

Discovering Amsterdam Through Our Stomachs

I think I’m in love with food tours. I have often said that walking tours are a great way to get a ‘lay of the land’ when we first arrive in a city; food tours take it up a notch by taking us into the cafes and restaurants, hidden treasures and hole-in-the-walls that make a place. Do I want to take a jaunt around a culturally significant neighbourhood with new friends while tasting the best that a place has to offer? Yes, please!

After love-love-loving the Eating London Food Tour a few weeks back we signed up for its sister tour Eating Amsterdam Food Tour as soon as we rolled into town. Best. Decision. Ever!

Amsterdam Food Tours

My favourite part about these tours – well, besides the amazing food, of course – is the work that has obviously gone into researching the neighbourhood and finding the best that it has to offer. In fact Annamaria confided that she had gained 5 kilos in her pursuit of the tastiest apple pie, the freshest herring, the best bitterballen, and the most amazing broodje pom in the area. A sacrifice to be sure but one I am most definitely appreciative of. :)

The Amsterdam tour takes place in the historic Jordaan neighbourhood; an old working class section of the city with narrow streets and alleyways filled with cafes, butchers, shops and markets. Though working class no more (it is now one of the more hip, and expensive, areas of the city) it retains old world charm that hints at its past.

We started in one of the oldest ‘brown cafes’ in Amsterdam. With dark walls and smoke stained ceiling it’s easy to see why it’s called a ‘brown cafe’ – it takes years and years to gain character like this and Café Papeneiland has the pedigree having been around since about 1642! They make a mean Dutch Apple Pie here…of course here it’s just called ‘Apple Pie’ ;) Part cake, part sweet apple goodness, and part crumbly topping, it was the perfect start to our day together.

Cafe Papeneiland Apple Pie

The Netherlands may be a small country but they have historically spread themselves across the world. It is inevitable that they would return with some of the best culinary secrets of the places they ‘visit’. Pom is one of the tastiest imports; chicken and malanga (a starchy taro-like veggie) are baked together for quite some time and then served on the freshest of bread alongside a pickly mixture with a spicy kick. Completely unexpected but absolutely delicious. This is a dish that I would have never discovered on my own but am so glad to have tried.

Broodje Pom

Another chance to try something we would not have otherwise – I mean, who walks into a butcher and just starts trying meat? We did! Louman’s has been around since 1860 and they know their meat! We tried the ossenwurst (a raw, smoked beef sausage) and the grillworst (a more traditional grilled sausage) – guess which won out? The raw, smoked sausage had a smooth texture and a sweet, soft, smoky flavour that was the favourite of everyone on the tour!

Amsterdam Food Tours

We were lucky enough to be in the Netherlands during the time of the Neuwe Haring (or New Herring) season – a chance to try the freshest fish the North Sea has to offer. Here they eat it raw with onions and pickles – being a huge sushi fan it’s no surprise that I loved this although others in the group were not quite so keen. It’s worth a try though – a fresh, oceany flavour that, for locals, heralds the arrival of spring.

Amsterdam Food Tours

Have you tried Dutch liquorice? They like it salty. Very salty. At Het Oud-Hollandsch Snoepwinkeltje we tried a range – from the sweeter version saved for children to the salty versions (although not the locally favoured double-salted) and the flavoured treats also. I’m not ashamed to admit that the kiddy version was enough for me!

Amsterdam Food Tours

There are many ways to discover the secrets of Amsterdam but seeing it from the water is very special. Seeing it from one of the oldest salon boats on the canals is beyond special. We had noticed The Tourist from afar a few days prior; with its gleaming wood and stately presence it was hard not to notice as it docked next to one of the most prestigious hotels in the area. We had chatted about taking a canal cruise while in town and joked about how it most likely wouldn’t be on such a beautiful vessel. Imagine our surprise when Captain Bruné welcomed us aboard for a floating tour of the city!

While being treated to some of the best views and stories of the marine history of the area we enjoyed bubbly wine, Dutch Gouda cheese, beer from the local Brouwerij ‘t IJ, and other treats delivered to the boat from the canal side as we sailed along. What a treat!

Amsterdam Food Tours

Amsterdam Food Tours

Amsterdam Food Tours

The only other food related item on my to-do list in Amsterdam was the pannekoek, or pancake. Luckily Annamaria came through at our final stop where we were able to fill up on poffertjes with an excellent cup of coffee. These ‘little ones’ are dense and sweet – a full meal in themselves!!

Eating Amsterdam Food Tours

This was the end of the official food tour but, as is our tradition, we ended our afternoon at a local watering hole. Wynand Fockink is more than a funny name; it’s one of the oldest jenever bars in the city. As the lady behind the counter will tell you, jenever is NOT gin – the English tried to replicate jenever but used too much juniper and ruined it – THAT’S what gin is. Regardless, I have become quite a fan of having a glass of the clear, bitter, liquor along with a nice glass of pilsner. Now that’s how to end the afternoon!

Interested in taking a tour while in Amsterdam? (and you should be!) Check out the Eating Amsterdam Food Tours website or the EatingAmsterdam Facebook Page for more info. I can’t think of a better way to get under the skin of a place than through its food – definitely worth it.

02 Jun

Cycle Tour Europe: Not All Flat Is Not Created Equal

It would seem that, after cycling through the hills of northern France, we should have been grateful for the flat lands of the Rhine Valley.

I am here to tell you though that not all flat is created equal. As with everything in life there is always a hierarchy and flat has one too.

Although I’m not one to usually look a gift horse in the mouth, flat is not all that it’s cracked up to be.

Yes, it’s easier on the legs than an uphill but it doesn’t offer the resting opportunities of the downhill that usually accompanies the up. Every inch of road gained must be worked for – there is not coasting, no lifting your tired, achy butt up off the seat, and no ‘woooo-hoooing’ down the other side. Every revolution counts, there is no free ride.

After many hours of traversing many kilometers of flat (and not-so-flat) terrain I have developed the following Flat Dictionary:

Downhill Trending Flat: This is the Queen Bee of flat. Click into the highest gear and speed along the landscape feeling like Superwoman with legs of steel and a grin that can’t be beat. It’s almost better than downhill…(1) because I didn’t have to climb a hill to get it and (2) because I often don’t realize it’s downhill trending and I feel so strong whereas I know when we’re really going downhill and just let gravity do it’s thing.

Flat Flat: True flat. Riding is easy but getting into the highest gears takes effort. We’re grateful for it after an uphill section but, after a while, grow weary and miss the variety of up and down. You really can’t please some people, can you?

Uphill Trending Flat: Definitely one of the worst. I often cannot see that it is uphill trending; my legs feel like they are filled with concrete, the bike feels like it has a dead body on the back, and I’m constantly downshifting in order to keep moving at a slug pace. Unlike true uphill where there is a summit to focus on and sense of success to be gained no matter how steep the hill, this flat is soul sucking, misery-inducing, and confidence-shattering. We even did one section of Uphill Trending Flat that actually appeared to be Downhill Trending – farmer fields on either side belied the truth and had me preparing for a Superwoman section…only to be doubly confused as my pace slowed and my legs screamed. I had to look behind me to be sure that Jason hadn’t grabbed on trying to pull me backwards. Tricky Uphill Trending Flat…tricky!

Smooth Flat: Smooth flat is where it’s at. The smoother the better.

Tailwind Flat: Nothing better than a helping hand from Mother Nature. A tailwind can make a riding day pass easily as we sail along whistling Dixie (well, not really) and enjoying the ride.

Headwind Flat: A headwind, however, can suck the fun out of a day faster than well I-don’t-know-what, but fast! It actually doesn’t take much of a headwind to make a difference but if there’s a storm brewing it can make riding downright nasty. Like pedalling in sand, or uphill in sand, or uphill in sand with a flat tire. Not only is the riding harder but it pretty much also heralds the oncoming rain – yay, now I’m tired and wet. Not my favourite.

Rough Pavement Flat: You know, pavement that maybe didn’t have the right mix of wet to dry ingredients. The pebbles stick out and the surface is anything but smooth. Friction counts and riding on Rough Pavement Flat is more difficult than trying to determine the coefficient of friction in physics class.

Gravel Flat: A tiny bit worse than Rough Pavement Flat, Gravel Flat now has small rocks to negotiate. This isn’t so difficult but is wearing as the bike is a little bit less stable so it takes a little more energy to manage that dead body on the back of my bike.

Grassy Flat: There is, of course, a whole hierarchy of Grassy Flat alone. Short grass vs long grass. Tufted grass vs carpet type grass. Fortunately we don’t do much Grassy Flat riding and it’s usually accompanied by beautiful country-side views so we’re happy.

Broken Pavement Flat: Another one of the worst. Broken pavement has no pattern, no defined way to tackle it, nothing to redeem it at all. It slows us down immediately. Time riding on Broken Pavement Flat is spent zigzagging across the road trying the find the smoothest route through the minefield of pot-holes and uneven surfaces.

Farmer Field Flat: Farmer Field Flat is an amalgam of many flats. Never really flat, it’s often uphill trending (are we always going the wrong way?) and sometimes will downhill trend. Often grassy (of the tufted variety) but sometimes there is a track of mud, hard-packed earth, or cobblestone. Usually accompanied with amazing country-side views but also with the earthy smell of cows. It is peaceful and relaxing.

Cobblestone Flat: Sounds quaint, but it ain’t. Cobblestones are tough to ride on and will slow us down faster than just about anything else as we try to find a path through that is smoothest and offers the least resistance. I love the way they look and appreciate the hardiness of the style but it is tough on the butt!!

Rocky Flat: Rocky Flat’s rocks are larger than gravel rocks. There are usually more of them but not as many as on a rocky beach. The effect is the same though – the tires must ‘swim’ through the rocks as they don’t actually ride over them but sink just a little. It’s tough to navigate and stay upright and, thankfully, we have so far only seen very short sections.

So, as you can see, the absolute best flat you could find would be downhill trending, smoooooth, and with a tailwind. That would be heaven!!


Stay in touch by checking out the OneGiantStep Facebook Page! I may not post here as often as I’d like but I’m managing to post pictures and updates there more often.

10 May

Cycle Tour Europe: Let’s Get Started!

Holy cow!! We’ve been on the road for more than two weeks already. Never mind Let’s Get Started…let’s get caught up!!



We set off from NorthWood in northwest London on a somewhat dull day. We were undeterred by the weather though; excited to finally be on our bikes and on our way.

Our plan was to take the train into the centre of London and start pedalling from the iconic Tower Bridge. The first leg however (and indeed the whole first day) did not go according to plan. The trains were running late, very late, and we became unsure if we would be able to take the train into town at all which would mean tacking on another couple of hours to our already uncertain 60KM of planned riding for the first day. Luckily our persistence paid off and we managed to ride the train close to our hoped-for starting point.

There’s so much caught up in that first day. Our brave smiles on the bridge don’t show the nervousness we felt in not knowing what the hell we were doing. Would we be able to cycle as far as we thought? Would we be able to find our way? Would we like it? What the heck had we gotten ourselves into?

Excitement carried us through the small lane-ways and river paths that led us along the Thames to Greenwich where we stopped for lunch. Not knowing what was ahead of us helped push us forward toward Chatham where we had a bed booked for the night.

And then came The Hill. It started out innocently enough; a gentle grade challenging us to take it on, mocking us with its green boulevards and civilized sidewalks. It was, in fact, pure evil. Six kilometres of uphill, never steep enough to warrant getting off the bike and yet pure torture for my poor legs which had already pushed for fifty-some-odd kilometres on the very first day.

I stopped. A lot. And at the top I lay down and willed the blood to return to my legs while at the same time dreading it as it would also mean I would feel them again and it was bound to be pure agony.

We, of course, stopped for a beer for we were still not at the very top and still had a ways to go.

I’m not ashamed to tell you I walked the final kilometre to our guest house. I could no longer ride, my legs were jelly, and tears stung my eyes. We were hours later than expected, sweaty, tired, and spent.

Our hosts (bless them!) took one look at us and rushed to put the kettle on for a much needed cup of tea. We tried our best to make conversation as we gulped back the tea and inhaled the sugar cookies that became our dinner as we had absolutely no energy to find anything else. After a quick, soothing, hot shower we sank into bed without even enough taking time to consider how we were going to manage the coming days.

We reviewed our plans over one of the best breakfasts I’ve ever had the next morning.

Re-evaluating our abilities (or lack thereof) we decided to scrap our scheduled routing for the next few days and instead took the advice of our host, Pauline. We quickly booked train tickets to Canterbury and spent the day wandering around the old town and cathedral, resting our riding legs and gaining back some confidence.

The following day we followed a much less trafficked route on our way to Dover. More fields, more cows, less kilometres, and a better riding day. We arrived at the beach feeling back on track and ready to tackle ‘the continent’.

Crossing over to northern France things became much quieter. We cycled through small villages and historic towns, through many fields, and often didn’t see cars for miles and miles and miles.

The countryside was beautiful and peaceful. Our legs were adjusting to the riding and no longer protested every revolution and, while it wasn’t flat, the hills were manageable and usually were followed by much welcomed downhill.

We snacked by the side of the road soaking up what little sunshine was offered. The weather has been cool but not too wet – we have, so far, avoided getting drenched but surely it’s only a matter of time!

The first tire flat came on Day 11 and was quickly followed by four (!) more on Day 14. Needless to say we have become quite proficient at changing tires. All the flats were in the original tubes in exactly the same place (on a seam) of the ‘Made In Thailand’ pieces of rubbish. We’ve now managed to replace them all and hope they are a little more hardy. Enough is enough already!

Accommodations have varied and have often determined our route and/or the length of a day. There are not a lot of towns or larger centres in northern France so we look at the map, figure out the elevation change in the direction we want to go, determine how far we can ride within the topography and try to find a destination within that range. Then we have to find a place to stay.

Some places are so small that there is only one option so that’s where we end up – luckily they often also serve dinner and breakfast. It is these places that are the most interesting. Usually historic buildings (some more than one hundred years old!!) and often family-run; we muddle through with a smattering of high-school French, enjoy their generous hospitality, and are on our way again in the morning.

(I have to say that France is a bazillion times more welcoming than I was expecting. We had originally planned on spending minimal time here after hearing stories of snobbery and misfortune but have found people to be super kind and extremely patient with us. Many people speak a teeny bit of English and will slow down to help us understand them. They are proud of their establishments and are happy to have us visit. I’m glad we’ve spent more time here and have thoroughly enjoyed it.)

As we crossed into Luxembourg the other day we realized the downside of entering into larger cities…more expensive accommodations…and so we tried out our first dorm room in a hostel. It turned out to be a beautiful, modern, hostel with small 6-bed dorm where we met a nice couple and enjoyed chatting and sharing stories for the evening.

Our trip is evolving into exactly the experience we were hoping for; we’re seeing great swaths of countryside, meeting more people than we ever have before, and are enjoying being well off the beaten track. I’m amazed at what we can ask our bodies to do each day. We take things as they come and don’t get caught up in what we ‘should’ be seeing or doing – it all just presents itself and we take it all in stride.

KM Ridden: 598

# of Riding Days: 13

# of Rest Days: 6

Flats so far: 5

Injuries so far: 1, although not riding related. Jason walked into a door and cut his head. Bummer.


Stay in touch by checking out the OneGiantStep Facebook Page! I may not post here as often as I’d like but I’m managing to post pictures and updates there more often.



17 Apr

Eating Well in the East End of London

You’ve all heard how bad the food is here in England. Soggy fish and chips, boiled vegetables, and grey meat with insipid gravy.

You’d think the only saving grace here was the beer. Believe me the beer is THAT good but the food is also very good. We have not had a bad meal in the week we’ve been here. I’ll admit that most of our experience is with pub meals – we have spent an inordinate amount of time (but not TOO much time) in pubs – but the fish and chips, hamburgers, and even Thai food we’ve sampled have all been above board.

Wanting to sample a little further afield than our local we signed up for an Eating London: East End Food Tour.

We met our guide Emily in the courtyard of a coffee shop. She was bubbly and kind right from the start; her background in theatre and her love of her own East End neighbourhood showing through immediately.

Eating London Food Tour

We set to the task at hand right away making our way to St.John Bread & Wine for the mother of all breakfast sandwiches…a bacon butty!

Eating London Food Tour

Besides cutting their own back bacon and curing it in salt, maple, and sugar, they also bake all their own bread in the tiny in-house bakery.

Eating London Food Tour

I wish I could show you the salty, bacon-y, buttery, toasted creation but Jason snapped it up quicker than a pig can roll in a mud hole. Gone.

Eating London Food Tour

What goes best right after breakfast? That’s right, pudding! We rolled up to the innocuously named The English Restaurant which looks suspiciously like a pub both outside and in. No beer for us yet though.

Eating London Food Tour

Bread and butter pudding. Smooth and custardy, bready and sweet.

Eating London Food Tour

Cheese. Who doesn’t love cheese?  Our next stop was the Androuet Cheese Shop. I’ll admit I was a little hesitant about this one. I love cheese but I know that Europe does cheese on such a grander scale than we’re used to in Canada. I worried that I would be faced with a stinky-feet, over-powering, mouthful and not know where to turn.

Eating London Food Tour

The super-cute, and super-kind, owner (with an oh-so-sexy French accent) described the evolution of English cheese and introduced us to the three we would be sampling. I don’t remember anything he said really (remember…cute and a french accent…) but I did try all the samples, including the scary blue cheese on the last platter (which was surprisingly mild and pleasant).

Eating London Food Tour

One of my favourite things about the tour (okay, two things) was Emily’s enthusiasm, knowledge, and interest in each of the places we visited and the glimpses into East End London history and culture.

Emily not only introduced each restaurant and it’s story within the neighbourhood but also delved into the historical and cultural significance of each dish. We learned how bread and butter pudding came to be during the war, why there are so many Indian restaurants in England, and how bagels came to find their way here.

More than that, though, we learned about the inhabitants over the years; how international events shaped the demographic of this area leaving a lasting mark on the cuisine, the architecture, and the feel of this diverse neighbourhood.

The food was good but it was Emily who made the tour for me.

Eating London Food Tour

What’s an English food tour without fish and chips? Poppies is an institution in these parts and are not just resting on their years and years of success; they were voted best fish and chips in all of London just this year…again.

Eating London Food Tour

Light and fresh isn’t something you say often about a deep fried meal but this one was just that. I also loved the mushy peas.

Eating London Food Tour

A really, truly, English ‘local’, The Pride of Spitafields is the first ‘free house’ we’ve visited here in London. Meaning it is run by the resident owner, a free house isn’t beholden to any one brewery. They can pour what they want for whatever price they choose. This one is truly local; like stepping into someones living room almost.

Eating London Food Tour

My only complaint of the whole tour…who pours beer into a glass this small?! Tasty but definitely wanting for more!

Eating London Food Tour

Did you know that curry is the #1 dish in all of England? The most restaurants, the most take-away, the most ready made at home than any other. And Brick Lane seems to be the epi-center of it all with 50+ curry houses in a few short blocks all claiming to be the ‘world’s best’, ‘England’s #1’, or ‘voted #1 again’.

Eating London Food Tour

Aladin was a great choice. We sampled a vegetarian and a chicken curry but it is this lamb dish that stole the show. Sweet and spicy, soft and tasty….it almost makes me want to return to India…but why, when I can have all I want right here?!

Eating London Food Tour

There are two bagel shops on one block of Brick Lane; choose carefully for once you patronize one you are forever beholden to never step foot in the other. Hint: choose Beigel Bake.

Eating London Food Tour

All they do is hot salted beef on chewy warm bagels with hot mustard. The line up snaked inside all the way to the counter. We were lucky to visit during the day – the evenings see the line extend out the door and down the block.

Eating London Food Tour

I can’t think of a better after drinking snack. Hot dog? Pfft! Try this first.

Eating London Food Tour

Our last stop was, for me, a little disappointing. Not because the food wasn’t good. Oh, no; the salted caramel, chocolate tart with a perfect cuppa tea was a great way to finish but the venue was larger, and more corporate, than all the other intimate little neighbourhood spots we had visited. Pizza East was beautiful – in an old converted warehouse with rustic finishing, a hipster clientele, and wood fired pizzas on the menu – but I can’t show you because the head-office-type-folk wouldn’t let us take pictures. Boo.

Eating London Food Tour

Looks good though, doesn’t it?

Eating London Food Tour

The tour officially finished with the tart but, after waving good-bye to all our new friends, we popped around the corner to a pub recommended by Emily. A pint at The Owl and the Pussycat really was the perfect way to end the tour – I recommend you all do the same!

Eating London Food Tour

The Eating London: East End Food Tour runs six days a week (not Sundays – poor Emily needs a day off!). I’ll admit that the cost put me off at first; at 59GBP it is an investment and I wondered if it would be worth it.

After enjoying the four hour tour, eating 7 great dishes and learning about their historical and cultural backgrounds, I can say that it is totally worth it. In fact I even tried costing it out a bit – once I added up what all the dishes would have cost us (if we could have even found them, never mind the entertainment factor) and I looked at the cost of other tours in London (street art tours, bus tours, etc) I found that the cost of this one is more than reasonable.

In fact I would say that if you didn’t take the tour you’d be missing out. I enjoyed it that much.