Hitting the Ground Running in Yangon

My travel destinations are often inspired by literature, with its descriptions of majestic landscapes, fascinating people, and unusual sites. Great stories that make me feel like I was “there” motivate me to visit their locations. Isak Dinesen’s stories about her life in ”Out of Africa”, EM Foster’s tales of Florence in “Room with the View”, and Tama Janowitz’s detailed chronicles of Manhattan’s art scene, each planted in my mind a seed that later grew into a real trip.

In my final year of school, I read George Orwell’s “Burmese Days”. Orwell spent five years, from 1922 to 1927, as a police officer in the Indian Imperial Police force in Burma (Myanmar). Burma had become part of the British Empire during the 19th century as an adjunct of British India. The British colonized Burma in stages, finally capturing the royal capital of Mandalay in 1885 so that Burma could be declared part of the British Empire.

Although Burma was one of the wealthiest countries in Southeast Asia, as a colony under British rule it was viewed as a backwater. Orwell’s Burmese Days is a sad tale of a disillusioned life, lost love and missed chances. Orwell’s description of the daily life in Myanmar stuck with me. Ever since then I have wanted to see how much of Orwell’s experiences would still be visible. I finally got my chance, and not a moment too soon, because at the rate Myanmar is changing it won’t be too long until the architectural traces of its colonial past are gone.

Yangon Overview

Although I travel a lot, jet lag is always a difficult hurdle to get over whenever I arrive at a new place. Knowing this I try to organize an activity for soon after I arrive, that has some built-in guidance. A guided walking, bike or vehicle tour to start a trip gets me out and about while I adjust to a new place and time zone.

Scheduling a tour at the beginning of a trip is also a terrific way to get an overview of the place you will spend the next few days exploring. You can take note of interesting things you come across and return later to explore further. Doing one of these tours early in a trip has always served me well.

Arriving in Yangon, Myanmar, it was jet lag times three! With two flight changes and a seven-hour layover in Hong Kong. Knowing that Day One was going to be a challenge I contacted Backyard Travel in advance and set up a city tour for the morning after we arrived. Bangkok based Backyard Travel specializes in all things Asia with great local experts in all major cities. They offer many kinds of packaged tours, ranging from one-day to multi-day excursions. If you have a particular interest, they will make a custom program just for you! For Yangon, they offer a great one-day outing, called “Eat, Learn, Love”.

The “Eat, Learn, Love” tour is perfect for culture hounds and foodies. It touches on the city’s fascinating traditions by looking at art, crafts, antiques, architecture, religion and local foods. Discover old colonial buildings and visit the country’s most revered sacred sites, popping into Yangon’s foremost antique shops and art galleries along the way. You’ll eat like a local at bustling markets, rub shoulders with Yangon locals and try some of the country’s tastiest specialties.

Indian Market

Our guide was Nge Nge, a local expert, born and raised in Yangon. She greeted us at our hotel first thing in the morning with a big smile and driver in tow. Having a car for the day was a real treat with the beginning of the hot season just getting going — even early in the morning, it was already a whopping 90 degrees!

Our first stop was the Indian Market. Indians immigrated in large numbers to Myanmar during the period of British rule, to fill the empire’s insatiable need for administrators and laborers. After the British moved on the Indians stayed and have built a thriving community in Yangon.

It was Saturday morning, locals were going about their shopping and the market was swarming with people. With so much to see we were quickly overwhelmed but Nge Nge kept us moving, guiding us towards interesting stalls and feeding us street food samples from vendors where she knows the food is safe. As we sampled foods, Nge Nge explained how each dish was made, what local ingredients were used, and how each dish fit into the local food culture. My favorites were the small pancakes made of rice flour … delicious!

For the food alone, having Nge Nge with us was worth it. Without her, we simply could not have partaken (without considerable worry) and would have missed a lot of the experience! Myanmar’s food safety standards are somewhat lacking, so indiscriminate eating can quickly get you into trouble.

We zipped in and out of dark and dusty warehouses, through quiet halls stacked to the rafters with all manner of supplies, only to emerge again onto busy thoroughfares where fisherman, butchers, and farmers were preparing the day’s offering and keeping the flies at bay. After navigating many blocks of what seemed to us like a maze, we emerged at the other end of the market to find our car waiting.

It was time for lunch so Nge Nge instructed our driver to take us to a popular lunch spot on Yangon’s east side. Being Saturday, families were out in full force lining up for their weekly meal out. Nge Nge ordered a lovely cross-section of local dishes for us to try, describing the ingredients and history of each dish, with a liberal sprinkling of humorous anecdotes.

After lunch, we took in some local art galleries and checked out some old fading colonial buildings before heading to our next stop, the reclining Buddha at Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple.

Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple

The Reclining Buddha at Chauk-htat-gyi Buddha Temple is an awe-inspiring 217 feet long: one of the largest Buddha likenesses in Burma. This is not the original Buddha at this temple. The original was sponsored by a wealthy Burmese Buddhist, Sir Po Tha, in 1899, completed in 1907. But once complete, everyone found the new Buddha unsettling. His proportions were odd, and he had an aggressive facial expression.

So, in the 1950s, the original Buddha image was demolished, and temple trustees began work on replacing him, under the supervision of U Thaung, a well-known master craftsman. From head to toe, the Buddha is an awesome sight to behold. Its huge size may not be fully appreciated until you see one of the monks on dusting duty, scaling the Buddha on ropes, with the monk dwarfed by the Buddha’s immense body parts. The life-like eyes make the Buddha appear more compelling than many other older Buddha’s. Their life-like appearance is due to their being perfectly cast as a single piece of glass, a feat that made local glass factory Naga famous.

Shwedagon Pagoda

With the sun getting low, Nge Nge suggested it was a perfect time to visit the golden Shwedagon Pagoda, the crown jewel of cultural sights in Yangon and the most sacred Buddhist pagoda in Myanmar. Legend tells that the Stupa contains important Buddhist relics including eight of Buddha’s own hairs!

Historians maintain that the pagoda was built by the Mon people between the 6th and 10th centuries AD. However, according to legend, the pagoda was constructed much earlier, more than 2,600 years ago, which would make it the oldest Buddhist stupa in the world.

We arrive at a busy scene full of tour groups, families, monks and worshipers making their way into the long passage of steps that leads up to the plateau on which the pagoda rests.

Arriving on the plateau, we take our time wandering around the Stupa observing the varied ceremonies going on around us. Between the evening light, rituals, the smell of incense, and the ancient architecture, it was a curiously overwhelming experience. As the sun set, we made our way back down to the bustling city of Yangon.


Over the next few days, while we struck out on our own to further explore the city, we eavesdropped on some other guides and noticed there was a huge difference in quality compared to our wonderful experience with our new friend Nge Nge. Her insight, attention to historical detail and insight into present-day culture were wonderful. She made an enormous difference in our experience exploring the city of Yangon.

In a city like Yangon, where the streets are a bit of a maze, traffic and traffic lights are tricky to negotiate, with no street lights in many areas, and open drains that are hard to see at night, having some guidance can make for a far richer, less stressful, and safer experience.

And one final note about the fragile state of Yangon’s Colonial infrastructure. On arrival, we were amazed at the chaotic traffic throughout the city. We asked Nge Nge about it and she replied that it’s a recent phenomenon. Just a few years ago cars were so expensive in Myanmar that they were a rarity. Most transportation was via horse and cart. I wish I had visited a few years earlier; George Orwell would have felt quite at home. But wait much longer and there may not be much left to see! The time for Myanmar is now.


To book the Eat, Learn, Love tour with Back Yard Travel, go to; www.backyardtravel.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Amber Butchart’s Fashionable Old London

London arrived fashionably late to the world of couture as a place that inspires fresh ideas for designers’ seasonal collections. The capital city has operated mainly as a resource conduit, exporting primary or unfinished products like wool and metal, and procuring luxury items like fur and embroidery for use elsewhere.

Where it has built a great reputation is in the traditional handcrafts of clothiers: tailoring, shirt making, hat making and shoemaking, trades essential to the trappings of proper English gentlemen.

But there are exceptions. The UK is legendary for its eccentric characters and some have used fashion as a means of expression. To mention a few of the most famous: Beau Brummell invented the “Dandy”, Mary Quant invented the miniskirt, Katherine Hammett gave us the political T-Shirt, and Vivienne Westwood, the mother of punk fashion, defined an era of rock and roll. And let’s not forget Thomas Burberry, who, in 1850, experimented with waterproofing a raincoat. It was probably an effort that was more engineering than fashion, but it was bound to happen, considering London’s perpetual mists and rains. It was a true London inspiration.

To dig a bit deeper into London’s relationship with fashion we arranged to meet Amber Butchart, a born-and-raised Londoner, and herself fabulously fashionable. Amber is a rising star on BBC’s presenter roster, a fashion historian, and a wealth of knowledge on textiles and all things related to the art of fashion. She currently shares her insights on BBC4’s, “A Stitch in Time”, a six-part series exploring the lives of historic characters through fashion.

Amber Butchart

With Amber’s unique take on fashion and history, we were curious to know what her London haunts are and where she gets her fashion inspiration locally. Her insider suggestions sent us on a totally new route around London.

Dennis Severs House

The Dennis Severs House, is located on Folgate Street in London’s East End. It was created by Mr Severs who uses his visitors’ imaginations as his canvas to paint an intimate portrait of the lives of a Huguenot silk weaver’s family.

Amber Butchart

Severs lived in the house in much the same way as its original occupants might have done in the early 18th Century, without electricity or running water. This he did for his own personal enjoyment as well as to construct an atmosphere that would create a seamless passageway into the past.

A visit is a fascinating look into London of another age.

Beyond Retro

This vintage clothing retailer with shops in the UK and Sweden is Amber’s original stomping ground and where she long ago trained buyers in all things vintage. One can find items of every era of the 20th century.

All the clothing and accessories found at Beyond Retro started out as donations to charities. The sale of these donations generates revenue for charities all over the world. Beyond Retro buys directly from charities or through recycling companies.

Amber Butchart

Designer Alexa Chung and singer-songwriters Paloma Faith and Kate Nash are just a few of the many regulars that can be found combing the racks at Beyond Retro. Join them to assemble your own look curated from the backs of Briton’s closets and its attics.

Fan Museum

Over to Greenwich, we visit a beautiful Grade II listed building dating back to 1721. It’s now a small museum dedicated to the fading art of fans and the process of making them.

Aside from their obvious artistic merits, in their time fans played a critical role as a means of subtle communication when social norms discouraged banter between the unacquainted.

Amber Butchart

The master craftsman of the fan age was Felix Alexandre. In the late 1800s, having one of his creations was the ultimate luxury. The Queen of the Netherlands, Empress Eugenie, and later Queen Victoria were both customers of his Parisian studio.

If you plan your visit for Tuesday, Friday, Saturday, or Sunday you can also enjoy afternoon tea in the old town house’s lovely Orangery.

Davenports Magic Shop

Davenports is not just any magic shop, it is the oldest family run magic shop in the world! The business started five generations ago when Queen Victoria was the one living in nearby Buckingham Palace.

Its collection spans back to the enterprise’s beginning and each object tells a story. The business started in the East End in 1898, with later locations on New Oxford Street and across from the British Museum. Now Davenports is tucked away in the tunnels of the Charing Cross tube station near Trafalgar Square.

Amber Butchart

Offering workshops for aspiring magicians as well as consulting with professional magicians, Davenports is magic’s link to its Victorian heyday.

Come home from your London trip with a new trick up your sleeve.

The Armory Room at the Wallace Collection

The Wallace Collection is a wonderful art museum covering all manner of art and crafts. The collection was amassed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. In 1897, Lady Wallace, Sir Richard’s widow, bequeathed it to the British nation.

Amber Butchart

The collection is immense. One visit is just not enough to cover it. So, Amber’s idea of singling out just the armory collection is brilliant.

The European and Oriental Armory Collections alone contain nearly two-and-a-half thousand objects. The spectacular array of Oriental arms, armor and related works of art, chosen specifically for their fine craftsmanship, Eastern opulence, and exotic beauty, were acquired mainly in Paris in the late 1800s. Collecting objects like these was all the rage for the well-heeled aristocrat of the day.

Amber Butchart

For artisan and fashion enthusiasts, to marvel at the fine craftsmanship and richness in design in this collection is a rare treat.

Cordings of Piccadilly

To my great shame, I’ve walked by Cordings of Piccadilly countless times and never knew that what lay behind these beautiful old wooden doors was a treasure trove of British outfitter history. So,thanks to Amber for encouraging us to look deeper!

Waterproofing was the business of the original Cordings, and John Charles Cording opened his first shop as a waterproofer and gentleman’s outfitter in 1839. Queen Victoria had been on the throne for three years before she paid her first official visit to the City of London in 1839 and on that day her grand procession passed right by Cordings’ first shop.

Amber Butchart

Over the years the Cordings name became synonymous with outdoor living. In 1871 the explorer, Sir Henry Morton Stanley, made it his first stop to gear up for his Central African quest to find the long-lost Dr. Livingstone. On finding him and proclaiming, “Dr. Livingstone I presume”, he was likely wearing Cordings boots.

Since 1839, Cordings has seen many ups and downs. In 2003, during a particularly low period, a long-time customer took an interest, financial and otherwise. It was none other than Eric Clapton, who couldn’t bear to see the brand disappear, cutting off his source of much-loved country attire. Soon after, his wife also got involved and brought a full collection of women’s clothing to the brand. It had only taken some 165 years. Better late … I’d say

Amber Butchart

Innovation has been the driving force behind all of Cordings’ product introductions. Its waterproofing business led to the Macintosh. It invented the classic Covert coat, and with the Prince of Wales’ influence, made the Tattersall a pattern that in Britain came to symbolize rural life. The practicality and quality of each invention turned them into British classics.

No need to visit a museum to see the history of British country attire. At Cordings you can still gear up for your own outdoor expedition just like a modern-day Sir Henry Morton Stanley.

Wilton’s Music Hall

Located off Cable Street in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, Wilton’s is the world’s oldest surviving Music Hall and one of those hidden gems that make London such a culturally rich city.

Over a span of 300 years this building evolved from Victorian Sailors’ pub to music hall to Methodist mission to rag warehouse. Eventually falling derelict, it was restored and reopened in 2004 in its pub and music hall incarnation. Restored might not be the correct word though. More accurately, the additions since its music hall and pub days have been peeled back to reveal its exact earlier state. You get to tap the very same floorboards and belly up to the mahogany bar as earlier generations did.

Amber Butchart

The music hall program covers a wide spectrum, including opera, puppetry, classical music, cabaret, dance, and magic. Monday nights at Wilton’s Mahogany bar you can even enjoy a free concert and hang with locals.


There you have it! Amber Butchart’s London destination suggestions all put fashion and history to the fore. Give it a try and you will see London in a whole different light. Many thanks to Amber for sharing her unique perspective and great advice.

By the way, since we were talking to a London fashion expert we couldn’t resist asking Amber’s advice on what to wear in London. “A raincoat and a pair of colored tights” was her answer. With that as your foundation, add to it what suits! Gentlemen, you may substitute socks for tights … if you like. With that, you are sure to blend in nicely with the locals.


To watch Amber Butcharts new series, a “Stitch in Time”, follow the link; www.bbc.co.uk. And to find out more about the fabulous Amber Butchart? go to; www.amberbutchart.com

Dennis Severs House: www.dennissevershouse.co.uk
Beyond Retro: www.beyondretro.com
The Fan Museum: www.thefanmuseum.org.uk
Davenports Magic Shop: www.davenportsmagic.co.uk
The Wallace Collection: www.wallacecollection.org
Cordings of Piccadilly: www.cordings.co.uk
Wiltons Music Hall: www.wiltons.org.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

The Tough Luxury of an Alpine Hay Bath

What would the modern spa be without treatments that seem implausible, absurd even? Mud baths, hot stone treatments, even leeches offer therapeutic relief to those seeking relaxation and rejuvenation. Judging by the relatively limited menu of treatments on offer at spas, it is clear that discoveries of good new treatments are rare. So, when we heard tales of an obscure century-old spa tradition in a remote village in the Italian Alps we had to check it out.

The story goes like this: Like in many of the alpine regions of Europe, hay is cultivated during the summer months on the high meadows of “Seiser Alm” or “Alpe di Siusi”. This is a region that has at various times been German and Italian speaking, so it is customary to name places in both languages (far be it for us to break the rules). The hay is harvested and stored to keep the livestock fed and bedded for the winter.

It was the job of the “Senner” (shepherd) to take care of the animals on the meadows and to keep watch over the hay stores. A hut built on the meadow made do for both hay storage and accommodation for the Senner — before serving as feed for the cattle the hay served as a bed for the Senner. Senners were a notoriously healthy bunch and while the rest of the village was prone to normal winter sniffles, Senners seemed immune to them. At some point the connection was made between health and hay and an enterprising innkeeper set about recreating the hay-rich environment of the high-meadow hay hut in his inn. He called the new treatment a “Heu Bad”, which sounds just like the English translation, “Hay Bath”.

Soon those partaking of the Heu Bad reported some relief from ailments such as arthritis and rheumatism which they attributed to their time in the hay. Word spread of the medicinal effects and around 1890 a local physician, Dr. Josef Clara, spread word about the treatment around the town of Bolzano, in the valley below. The commercial endeavor took off as Bolzano’s elite headed up the Alps to take advantage of the hay bath’s therapeutic benefits.

Initially arranged in an ad-hoc manner, a Guesthouse (inn) would empty a room in their Gaststube (restaurant), fill it with fermenting hay, and arrange guests in the hay. An attendant kept watch, wiping the sweat away, waving the flies off, and keeping guests hydrated with their choice of white or red.

Even though the effects on one’s health were generally beneficial, the hygiene of the whole affair was not optimal. Over time the hay, shall we say, tended to develop a life of its own. So, around the 1960s and ’70s, the Hay Bath culture declined. Local government started to regulate the treatments. They could not be advertised as “medical” anymore, only “therapeutic” and people turned to more trendy ways of relaxing after a day of hiking.

Hay Bath

The hay bath in Voels am Schlern is an original and traces its history back to the origins of the concept. Today it is overseen by fifth generation hay bath purveyor, David Kompatscher. It was David’s mom who really brought the hay bath treatments into the modern era by creating a system of temperature-controlled single-use fermented hay prepared fresh for each individual treatment. Her solution was ingenious, combining a temperature controlled water bed overlaid with heated and perfectly steeped hay into which the spa goer is submerged.

The kind of hay and where it is grown is critical to an effective treatment. To produce the best effect David has his grown literally on highest point of the high meadows, well free of pollution and pesticides. This is how he gets what’s referred to as “fat” hay. That means the natural diversity of grasses, herbs, and flowers is very high in oils. And it’s the oils that act as a carrier for all the hay’s natural goodness into your skin as you lie steeping in a hay bath.

We accompanied David on his obscure commute to the high meadows of the Alps where his hay field is located. It’s a half day journey each way, requiring a funicular ride, a long hike (we could also have taken a bus for that part), a second funicular and then a steep climb up to David’s field. The field’s owner/caretaker also operates a tiny restaurant at the site, in summer, for hikers passing by, so it’s an excellent reward for your effort.

Back down at Hotel Heubad we finish our day in the hay. Wrapped up in the 40 degree (Celsius) hay we lay steeping for an hour followed by another 30 minutes wrapped in linen sheets to help let the essential oils, natural fragrances, and tannins work their magic. It is a truly amazing feeling that leaves you completely spent. David suggests a seven- to ten-day program of treatments and sleep to gain the full relaxing benefit of the treatment. On our next trip through northern Italy we will definitely keep a few extra days open for a stay in Voels at Hotel Heubad.

Speaking of all things hay, Hotel Heubad also served hay soup (a dish we were also served at another hotel with a Michelin-starred restaurant, in an adjacent valley). We will be telling that story at a later date, but it was interesting to learn that hay is therapeutic in many forms!

With the treatment so heavily dependent on a local source of hay it is unlikely that you will find hay baths showing up at your local spa anytime soon. But being in the Alpine environment is part of the experience, so you really should go there for the full effect. If it is total relaxation you seek, this might be one of the best places on earth for you to find it.


For reservation and details about Hay bath treatments, or book a few nights at the hotel go to: www.hotelheubad.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

At The Chatwal Hotel, Experience Turn of the Century Manhattan Today

Off Manhattan’s 44th Street, a few steps from the hustle and bustle of Times Square, is The Chatwal Hotel. A few years ago this amazing property got a new lease on life. From what used to be the exclusive haunt of The Lambs Club, Midtown hangout for the theatrical set, The Chatwal Hotel now brings the Lambs’ vibe to all comers in need of a meal, a drink, and a room.

The prestigious Lambs was America’s first professional theatrical club. It originated in London before making its way to this side of the Atlantic. John Barrymore, Red Barber, George Michael Cohan, John Wayne, Douglas Fairbanks, and Fred Astaire were just a few of the impressive list of over 6000 Lambs members.

In 1905, the club hired celebrity architect Stanford White to design their club in Midtown. For the Lambs Club, White’s work reflected the spirit of the age — a turn of the century period of confidence and optimism in the United States that inspired the feeling that America might be the embodiment of no less than Greek Democracy, Roman Law, and Renaissance Humanism. The architecture of the day reflected this, notable examples being the homes of the Vanderbilts, the Washington Square arch, and the original Madison Square Garden, where White used to live in a grand apartment on the second floor.

“Now occupying White’s Lambs Club building, The Chatwal Hotel has opened a new chapter of this iconic building’s history.”

The extroverted White, who had a penchant for glamour and beautiful young women, was known for hosting frisky parties where the entertainment was rumored to feature a red velvet swing occupied by scandalously clad women. One of the performers, Evelyn Nesbit, became White’s downfall as her millionaire husband, Harry Kendall Thaw, shot White one night in a jealous rage. Thaw was found not guilty by reason of “temporary insanity”, a landmark case in American jurisprudence because of the novel plea.

Now occupying White’s Lambs Club building, The Chatwal Hotel has opened a new chapter of this iconic building’s history. Under the direction of Master Architect and Designer Thierry Despont, the circa-1905 building has been meticulously restored and modernized as a 76-room hotel of traditional glamour and contemporary luxury. And with a nod to one of the famous American personalities that roamed its halls, Drew Barrymore lent her name to the penthouse suite, paying homage to her legendary grandfather, a Lambs member.

One of our visits was during a steamy New York summer, when The Chatwal Hotel provided a cool, serene getaway to relax from the madness of the Big Apple, just a few steps away. Between sights we scheduled a few cool-down minutes in the lobby to sit, sip a drink,  and catch up on the news before heading back into the hubbub.

In contrast, we made another visit just before the Christmas holiday season and were amazed at how the place had transformed into a cozy winter wonderland. What was cool and quiet in the summer was now warm and festive, seemingly the perfect place for a New York stay during any season, especially for Broadway fans where all on offer is at your doorstep.

chatwal hotel

You might think that biking in Midtown would be a challenge, but it is actually an easy way to get around. Once on one of The Chatwal’s custom bikes, you realize that the crowded feeling you get while navigating Manhattan is mostly about the sidewalk. Once freed from its confines you can glide through Manhattan’s canyons with ease.

The bikes come with a handy map to help you find your way, and a classy Chatwal Hotel helmet to keep you safe. We took a quick spin up to Central Park which took no time at all, and spent a few hours exploring the park. Nothing like spending a hot day in New York with a cool breeze blowing on your face.

chatwal hotel

If you time it right, another fun thing to do during the summer months is to take in a free classic movie in Bryant Park. It’s a quintesential New York thing to do on a balmy summer night, less than a five minute walk from The Chatwal Hotel. And on a Chatwal bike, it takes only a minute!

chatwal hotel

Experiencing New York is very much about searching out the latest, the newest, things that can’t be found anywhere else. But what makes it unique is that all that new stuff is in a setting of tradition and history. The Chatwal Hotel is a great place to enjoy all the Big Apple still has to offer while experiencing a piece of old New York glamour.


To find out more and to make a booking at The Chatwel, go to; www.thechatwalny.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

A Passage on the Cutty Sark

Even before the Cutty Sark, speed was the name of the game in the 19th-century English tea trade. The country was mad for the delicate Chinese leaves and great wealth and public adoration went to the ship that was first in retrieving each season’s first shipment. This was the age of the great three-mast clipper ships, designed to make this blazingly fast run from China to London in about 100 days.

The Cutty Sark, always fasionably late.

In 1896, the shrewd businessman John Wills inherited a shipping fleet from his father. Driven by a keen sense of competition, and not satisfied to merely participate in the tea trade, Wills wanted to take advantage of the great wealth due to only the fastest of the clippers. So he sought out a young ship designer with little experience but a reputation for innovation, Hercules Linton. Linton had just opened his own shipyard but was yet to gain any clients so when Wills showed up he was anxious to get his first commission.

A bit too anxious as it turned out. Wills, knowing he had the advantage in negations with the brand new concern, extracted an onerous contract from Linton which later was to be Linton’s undoing. But for Wills, whether lucky or calculated, his bet on the untested ship designer was spot on.

Linton quickly got to work rewriting the rules of clipper design to produce something revolutionary for the day. Clippers were fast but that speed came at a cost. Streamlined wooden hulls with great rigidity made for a speedy ship but rigidity required massive timber structures that greatly reduced the cargo space and, therefore, a ships profitability.

Bearleader No.70 Passage on the Cutty Sark | 04

Linton’s out-of-the-box thinking resulted in a hybrid hull composed of a rigid wrought iron structure sheathed with flexible wood planks. And for the real stroke of genius, Linton used for the first time on a ship’s hull a newly developed alloy called Muntz metal. This golden material resulted from the combination of copper, zinc, and iron and had the unique property of leaching copper when in contact with salt water. That made it repellent to any living thing that typically attaches itself to a ship’s hull as it sales along. With the reduction in drag from limpets, seaweed and various other sea creatures that like to hitch a ride, Linton’s new design was sure to be the quickest thing on the high seas.

In the local paper for November 23, 1869, a small announcement indicated that the previous day the Cutty Sark was launched. In that very same paper it is also announced that celebrations had just taken place to celebrate the opening of the Suez Canal. Ironically, the fastest clipper in the world launched on the same day clipper ships, in general, became obsolete because, with the new shipping route through the Suez Canal to China, Steamships not clippers could make the trip faster and with much greater cargos. But it would take several years for the change over to steam and in the meantime, the Cutty Sark would come prove Linton’s genius in designing the ultimate clipper ship.

Bearleader No.70 Passage on the Cutty Sark | 05

Soon after its launch the Cutty Sark had an opportunity to show its true colors. Loaded with a full cargo of tea it left China on the same tide as the Thermopylae. As the two ships headed into open waters the Cutty Sark showed her brilliance easily pulling away from the Thermopylae and eventually disappearing in the distance leaving the Thermopylae in the preverbal dust. Rounding the Cape of Africa through the Cutty Sark found herself buffeted by unprecedented storms, so much so that her rudder was ripped clean off and disappeared. Faced with the choice of either heading into port for repairs or attempting a risky repair in rough seas, the captain chose the latter which cost less time but extracted a heavy human toll. The captain’s own son was one of the crew members most critically injured by the collapse of the makeshift forge set up on deck as it was several times overturned by the rough seas.

So the Cutty Sark, while the undisputed fastest clipper on the seas, never succeeded in being first to London with the new season’s tea. But even as the looser, the Cutty Sark, captain and crew became popular heroes of the day for their daring repair and good old English determination and sacrifice.

Bearleader No.70 Passage on the Cutty Sark | 08

With steamships now dominating the tea trade, the Cutty Sark eventually shifted its attention to the transportation of wool from Australia, where for a brief time clippers were still faster in navigating the route between Australia and London.

Falling on hard times for a time and disappearing from notoriety, the Cutty Sark eventually showed up in Cornwall, was fully restored to its former glory and in 1954 made its way to Greenwich to become a museum ship and part of the National Historic fleet.

The Cutty Sark comes home.

With its grade one listed monument status and on the building-at-risk register, the Cutty Sark became an instant visitor success. That was until in 2007 when a fire broke out during some renovations. The culprit, a faulty hoover. But once again, luck won out in the end for the Cutty Sark. Most of the precious original floorboards and cabins had been moved off-site for restoration so the ship was salvageable.

Bearleader No.70 Passage on the Cutty Sark | 15

By 2010 the Cutty Sark was like new again and proudly suspended 3 meters above its new and final resting place, a glass enclosed “dry dock” designed by the British architecture firm, Grimshaw.

A new slip for the Cutty Sark.

Upon entering the dry dock you pass through the gift shop making your way along a ramp into the main body of the ship. Here you see how the ship was so efficiently loaded and a timeline is on display to lead you through the history of tea and England’s long affinity for it.

Bearleader No.70 Passage on the Cutty Sark | 13

If you have kids in tow for your visit, the interactive displays offer an engaging educational experience with listening stations where old crew members voices are represented tell tales about life on the Cutty Sark. One, in particular, tells the story of the Cutty Sark’s naming. It was suggested by Linton and Based on the epic poem “Tam o’ Shanter” by Scottish writer Robert Burns, telling the tale of a farmer named Tam who is chased by a scantily clad witch named nanny, dressed in a “cutty sark”, an archaic Scottish name for a short nightgown. An odd name for him to select for his new clipper as witches cannot cross water.

Hands-on interaction is encouraged with many installations containing drawers and interactive visuals which make the history lesson very entertaining. I especially enjoyed the moving benches which rock back and forth simulating the movement of the ship, as did several kids jumping on and off them next to me.

Bearleader No.70 Passage on the Cutty Sark | 09

Winding your way up through a small staircase to the deck of the ship you can imagine the hustle and bustle of the crew navigating the tiny spaces. Looking up you get dizzy just imagining that sails had to be set by hand climbing up and down the rigging in strong winds with the ship constantly swaying. It is not for the faint of heart.

Making your way underneath the belly of the ship is a great place to enjoy a cuppa while contemplating the true genius of Linton’s hull design and golden “high-tech” protective cladding. A short climb out of the dry dock you find yourself conveniently where you entered, in the shop.

Inspired by my maritime excursion I decide to take the boat back up the Thames to central London. A fitting end to my imaginary journey on this very real legendary clipper of high seas.


For opening hours and ticket prices go to: www.rmg.co.uk/cutty-sark

Getting to the museum from central London is quick and easy on the Thames Clipper. For instrucitons click here.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Palm Springs

Long before movie stars and midcentury design aficionados discovered this bit of scorched desert southeast of Los Angeles the Agua Caliente Band of Cahuilla Indians made this their home for more than 500 years. To casual visitors, evidence of the first inhabitance of the area is not always obvious. The only encounter most will experience is walking by an obscure statue on Canyon Drive depicting two native women. But just a short trip to the foot of the mountains towering over downtown you will find yourself in another world, one of lush green palms, cool breezes, and bubbling brooks. This is where Palm Springs really began.

Think of Palm Springs today though and it is modern architecture and movie stars that first comes to mind. But why did this piece of remote sun-parched sand turn into a 1920s mecca for movie stars and their architects? Well, it’s really due to a quirk of geography, and the weather surely had something to do with it as well.

Back when actors were under the control of the Hollywood movie studios, their contracts always included the “two-hour” clause. This required them to show up on set within two hours notice no matter what. It just so happens that Palm Springs is as remote a place as you can get from Hollywood and still make it back in time to satisfy the studio bosses. So the stars made this their hideaway and hired a crop of young modernist architects anxious to experiment with their wealthy clients money.

For a time, Palm Springs languished. The stars abandoned their midcentury masterpieces and the place just gathered dust. But now the legacy of those early architects is hot and the sun is shining on Palm Springs again.

“Modernism Week” is when it all happens these days in Palm Springs. It’s a great event for lovers of midcentury design. But as with most popular spots, sometimes a more relaxed time can be had by visiting just a little off the peak. So we showed up just before the banners went up on Canyon Drive announcing the big event. We had the run of the place and here are some of the best things we found.

1 Ernest Coffee


Don’t miss it. Ernest serves ever-popular Stumptown coffee as well as a variety of local patisserie delicacies. A great place to hit when your stomach is rumbling and you need a little get-up-and-go. www.ernestcoffee.com

2 Dish Creative Cuisine


Jane Garcia-Colson is a former lawyer turned chef de cuisine. Hailing from New York, Jane’s fresh modern American menu focuses on seasonal and local ingredients. A real standout on North Palm Canyon Drive. www.dishcreativecuisine.com

3 Mr. Lyons Steakhouse


Evocative of old Hollywood glamor, Mr. Lyons it is one of the most beautiful dining rooms in Palm Springs. A staple in Palm Springs for over 70 years, it underwent a total makeover in 2015. Very Hollywood. Ironically it’s brand-new interiors feel more like the Palm Springs of old than they used to. With mirrored ceiling, black and white marble floors, brass fittings, leather and green velvet banquettes, a classic dining environment that harkens back to Palm Springs circa 1940.

The menu features an array of classic steak dishes. And the bar next door is a lovely place to meet with friends and enjoy one of Mr. Lyons signature cocktails. www.mrlyonsps.com

4 Bootlegger Tiki


Coinciding with Palm Spring’s midcentury period of major growth was the 1959 addition of America’s 50th state, Hawaii. With this exotic addition to the other 49, came a national fascination with all things Polynesian. One of the more famous midcentury buildings built in Palm springs which perfectly represents this age was the Hawaiian Estates, a strange mashup of stark midcentury architecture and Polynesian Tiki-laden pastiche by the architects Donald Wexler and Richard Harrison.

This housing development was the pinnacle of “Tiki” culture writ large. But alongside this were a myriad of other Polynesian expressions, most commonly in the form of bars. I guess the cocktail is the perfect vessel in which to express the Polynesian ethos, at least in the way midcentury Palm Springs understood it.

So we were thrilled to come across Bootlegger Tiki, a dimly-lit little bar that is often referred to as the “Tikeasy”. It’s a favorite with the locals in the know. With a wonderfully kitschy and nostalgic interior, you definitely feel the Tiki influence of old Palm Springs.

Try one of their signature craft cocktails like the Pod Thai or Jaspers Jamaican. www.bootleggertiki.com

5 Moorten Botanical Gardens


This one-acre private botanical garden was established in 1938 by Chester Moorten, a former silent movie star, and his wife Patrica. The couple spent many years collecting plant specimens from Baja to Mexico to Guatemala. Now it’s run by the Moorten’s son who still lives in the Mediterranean style house on the premises. The garden is open to the public.

Be sure to check out the exotic plants for sale. If your climate at home is suitable, What a great souvenir from your Palm Springs sojourn. www.moortenbotanicalgarden.com

6 The Palm Springs Air Museum


This was one of the real standout finds from our visit. Situated right next to the city’s Airport, the museum is divided into three hangars. Two are themed, one focusing on the European theater, the other on the Pacific.

Most of the planes on display are kept flight-ready and the volunteers on hand to answer questions are real veterans so they likely have first-hand stories to share about the aircraft on display. You can climb into many of the planes making it a very hands-on experience. A surprisingly pleasant way to spend a few hours. www.palmspringsairmuseum.org

7 Scoot Palm Springs


One of the frustrations of visiting Palm Springs is you constantly find yourself stuck in a car. For you Angelenos I am sure it is par for the course. But for those of us much more accustomed to legging it, it can lead to some considerable aggravation! So here’s a workaround, get out of your car and rent a scooter.

Proprietors John Allred and David Womack caught the Scooter bug while they still lived in Atlanta and upon moving to Palm Springs decided to assemble a small fleet and treat visitors to a wind-in-your-hair Palm Springs experience. Along with your scooter, John has prepared detailed maps complete with various routes you can explore. It really is the best way to see the city.

Pick up your scooter just outside of the Ace Hotel lobby. If you think you would like to give this a go it’s a good idea to get in touch with John in advance. Especially if you are a California resident. There are some odd regulations that apply depending on where you hail from. www.scootpalmsprings.com

8 Hedge


On the periphery of Palm Springs is a district known as Cathedral City. Now this is not an area you would normally seek out but there is one destination there that’s a must-see for anyone interested in modern art and design. So for those of you like myself who are passionate about art, design and whatever falls in-between, make room in your schedule for a visit to Hedge.

The brainchild of Thomas Sharkey and Charles Pearson, Hedge originally started as a collection of furniture, art, and various objects and then, when just the right thing could not be found, Thomas and Charles started designing them. Their keen eye for curation is unique.

Between them, Thomas and Charles can sort most of your homes’ furniture, art and design needs. Thomas takes care of customers and focuses on the interiors while Charles’ specialty is garden design. An interesting side note, in a previous life Thomas was Shirley McClaine’s personal assistant so you know he comes by his relentlessly positive demeanor honestly. Seriously, from the moment we walked in Thomas made us totally feel at home. It was an absolute delight to spend some time with both him and Charles.

Charles let us peek into his office next door which is a treasure trove of works in progress and objects “not necessarily” for sale. And it is in this room that you get a sense for what a great eye and sense of design Thomas and Charles have. This space is the creative warehouse and you can feel the dynamism of various artworks and objects starting to be drawn together into collections or asserting their individuality. Their not-for-sale status makes these pieces all the more alluring. A quick warning, you are sure to fall in love with something at Hedge so be prepared to spend. www.hedgepalmsprings.com

9 The Fine Art of Design


A project of long time friends Nicholas Delgado and Marielle Luisa Ortega, this vintage clothing boutique in Palm Desert is a rare find.

Palm Springs’ period of glamor coincided with Hollywood’s golden age so closets of the day filled up with the most spectacular formal and leisure wear. And a lot of those closets are still sitting there waiting for their long-forgotten contents to be revealed once more.

Nicholas tells me that many of their consignments are “first hand” as the women who purchased and wore the outfits, for whatever reason, now choose to part with them. Says Nicholas, “They know exactly when and where they bought each of the items. Our pink sofa is often occupied with people sharing stories of the items they bring in.”

A favorite with fashionista far and wide, this not-so-secret Palm Springs gem has quite a following. www.thefineartofdesign.com

10 The Amado


A self-catered boutique hotel with five units and a great pool, it’s the perfect getaway for you, or you and all your friends!

There is a building typology that developed in Palm Springs from the ’50s onward consisting of a group of small apartments all oriented towards a central common pool area. One of the units is usually larger and real-estate sales literature of the time marketed these small multi-family complexes as a way to earning an income by living in the large unit and renting out the others as holiday accommodation.

By about the ‘70s many of these had become cheap rental apartments and had fallen into disrepair. The folks at the Amado recognized the modern potential of this great midcentury typology and picked up one, lovingly restoring it to its former glory. It is truly an authentic ’50s experience. You can live like they did when Palm Springs was in its infancy.

Since the Amado is sort of a cross between a house and a hotel, it is a great place to book for a week or more and work remotely. A working holiday of sorts to give you a fresh perspective on whatever projects you have going on. The perfect antidote to writers block or whatever other professions call a temporary loss of inspiration. It worked for us! www.theamado.com


Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Sailing in the Cyclades Islands

The first time I saw the Aegean Sea, in 2012, it was from the deck of a Blue Star ferry heading from Pireaus, the port of Athens, to Paros, one of the Cyclades Islands. I had spent many happy hours of my childhood sailing and swimming in rivers and bays on the east coast of the U.S., but I had never seen water that color — pure blue. From that moment, I knew I would someday go sailing in the Greek Islands.

In June 2015, I made my wish come true. I spent a week on the Rafaella, a 40-foot Oceanis sailboat, with my sister and Rafaella’s owner and skipper, Antonis Biskentzis, sailing from Paroikia, the main port of Paros.

Cyclades Islands

Our first stop was the main port on Naxos, the largest of the Cyclades islands. The Paros-Naxos leg of our journey was the only time we had to contend with rough seas. We had to motor into a strong north wind, with the mainsail set for some stability. Nancy and I both got queasy, but we knew that soon things would calm down and we would get our sea-legs. And indeed, after that afternoon, we felt perfectly comfortable on board.

In Naxos Town, we visited the Venetian Museum and the Folk Art Museum, explored the alleyways and shops, and had dinner in a tavern by the marina. The next morning, Antonis took us to a bakery where we bought bread hot from a wood-fired oven.

From there, we sailed south along the coast of Naxos, and began our real adventures. Antonis offered us several possible itineraries (always subject to the weather, of course). We opted to explore the wild places and tiny ports of the Small Cyclades. We spent our days sailing, swimming, and walking on shore. We ate on board, or at wonderful tavernas that Antonis recommended. The best meal we had — and one of the best Greek meals I have had anywhere — was at the Taverna Venetsanos on Kato Koufonisi, an uninhabited island with the taverna, a little church and a lot of sheep.


Often, when we stopped for our morning or afternoon swim, we were the only people in sight, anchored in a cove of emerald and turquoise water surrounded by rocky slopes. It was a feast for the senses: the slowly changing play of light and color; the buzz of cicadas in the brush, the clank of goat-bells in the hills, the lapping of water and humming of wind around the boat; the smell of salt sea and wild thyme in bloom.


We spent our fifth night on board at the port of Irakleia, which has a little harbor, complete with sandy beach. When we arrived, we had a swim, then set off to walk along the coast road to the other village on the island. We ended up exploring the hilltop ruins of a Venetian castle instead. For our final night, after a beautiful sail from Irakleia, we anchored between Antiparos, the small island next to Paros, and Despotiko, an uninhabited island that is the site of an active archeological dig. In the morning, Antonis offered us the chance to visit the main port of Antiparos, a charming town that I had seen several times before. We chose instead to have one final swim from the boat. Even within sight of the “big city” of Paroikia, Antonis was able to take us to a deserted cove where we could enjoy our last hours of meditative solitude.


For a few days after the trip was over, we still felt the movement of the boat. Even now, when I have long since regained my land legs, I can bring back a sense of deep calm and happiness remembering our week on the Rafaella.


About the author: Karen G. Krueger practiced law in New York City for 25 years. She now teaches the Alexander Technique, a mind-body method for achieving greater poise and efficiency of movement and dealing with chronic pain and stress.

Here are some tips from Karen for your excursion to the Cyclades Islands:

Hiring a Boat: Many companies offer bare-boat and skippered charters in the Greek islands. Our skipper, whom I highly recommend, has his own small company, Greek Water Yachts, based in Paroikia, Paros (www.greekislandssailing.com). Look for discounts for early booking.

Getting There: Olympic Airlines (now part of Aegean Airlines) has regular flights from Athens to Paros, and Blue Star Ferries, Aegean Speed Lines, Sea Jets and Hellenic Seaways run ferries between Pireaus and Paros.

Our Favorite Taverna: Taverna Venetsanos, Kato Koufonisi: www.koufonisia.gr

Keep in Mind: Life on a small sailboat is like camping in a van: the boat has water and electricity, but in limited supply outside of ports. Your showers will be short. When you use the head (the toilet), you have to pump it out afterwards. And forget about checking your e-mails every five minutes: you may not have wifi or even 4G, and in any case, you shouldn’t be looking at a screen when you are surrounded by such beauty!

Take care in choosing your traveling companions. You will be together in close quarters most of the time. And don’t hesitate to get to know your possible skipper before committing. Make sure you discuss your desires for the trip, how you want to spend your time, and what the skipper has to offer. Are you interested in wild places, solitude and quiet, as we were? Or do you want shopping, night life and beaches with umbrellas, drinks and water sports? It pays to make sure your group and your skipper are all in agreement, or are prepared for compromise.

Also, you should get clear on what your role is on the boat. Antonis was able to handle Rafaella by himself, but we also did some crewing at our own request.

Finally, be realistic in your expectations. Sailing is dependent on weather and wind. The itinerary you hope for may turn out to be impossible. Sometimes, to get where you want to go, you may have to motor or motor-sail. When you do sail, it may be calm, exhilarating or anything in between.

With the right preparation and mindset, you can have the trip of a lifetime.

Photography and story by Karen Krueger

Eat Amsterdam

Wandering through the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam around lunch time, I can’t help dwelling on the Old Masters’ ample record of Dutch cuisine in their brilliant still life paintings. The compositions appear so rich in the bounty of the day, and often with prepared dishes that clearly reflect a high degree of culinary accomplishment, surely rivaling what was coming out of kitchens in the other capitals of Europe at the time.

Today when we think of French or Italian cuisine, there is an almost immediate understanding of what those broad national categories entail. But what about Dutch cuisine? We are in Amsterdam and clearly there is such a thing. But nothing immediately comes to mind. Why do I draw a blank on a whole nation’s cuisine?

One theory put forward by Dutch Food Critic Karin Engelbrecht is that as the colonial might of the Dutch declined and the population growth of the Golden Age tapered off, frugality took hold in Holland. Girls in “Huishoudschools” – a kind of domestic science school which was widely promoted – were encouraged to cook simple and economical dishes with few spices, which were costly: an odd turn of events since the Dutch were major traders of spice at the time. Thus the distinctive dishes that might have developed were presumably suppressed for generations.

But no longer. we have heard great things about the chefs of Amsterdam building on Holland’s culinary traditions, so we are excited to get out and educate ourselves on the current food happenings in Amsterdam.

1 Wilde Zwijne

Hopping on a streetcar towards the Oost district of Amsterdam, we are headed for the restaurant “Wilde Zwijne” or Wild Boar. Restaurant owner Julia Bachrach meets us at the door and introduces us to her partners, Faysel van Thiel, and Frenk van Dinther, who is in charge of the kitchen.

The dishes at Wilde Zwijne are all rooted in Dutch tradition, but each is remade with a new idea or special twist.


To start with, Bitterballen. It’s such a classic local delicacy so ripe for reinterpretation. Frank serves his with duck and red cabbage making for a great dish with obvious Dutch origins. Or is it duck with bitterballen? Either way the combination tastes as good as it looks.

The menu changes daily with what Wilde Zwijne’s small local food purveyors can supply. As Frank says it, his suppliers are really in charge of his daily menu.

I appreciate that Wilde Zwijne knows when to just let the food speak for its self. Frank composes a plate of fabulous cheeses from an island in the north of Holland, called Texel. A selection of tough, full-bodied Gouda-like cheeses, the tastes of which harken back to the terrain and flora of Texel. I like the idea of using food to take a virtual trip.


The decor at Wilde Zwijne reflects its attitude of letting the natural flavors of the ingredients come to the fore. Wood that is reclaimed and other salvaged materials highlight the character of materials rather than the highly finished version that we usually see. Quirky objects and taxidermy add to the story. It’s eclectic and industrial but altogether warm and comfortable

Julia says that before starting the restaurant she, Frank and Faysel spent a summer running a food cart together to see if they could all get along in close quarters. A wise move I think and the experiment seems to have resulted in an affirmative “yes”. There is a tangible team spirit that works, all the way down to the food on the plate.

Looking forward to our next visit to Wilde Zwijne and also to Julia, Frank and Faysel’s new venture, “Eetbar”, a Spanish inspired Bar/Restaurant next door.

2 My Little Patisserie

The De Pijp, is a popular neighborhood with working-class roots just outside the Amsterdam’s center. It is an area of popular street markets with a diverse multicultural population, which has become a popular destination for the young and creative to live and hang out.

We have come here to meet Aubrey Kriel, a French transplant who arrived in Amsterdam by way of Australia and New Zealand after a career in marketing. After giving up her desk job she enrolled at the Ecole de Boulangerie in Paris and apprenticed at several Patisseries in Paris and Amsterdam. Having opened the aptly named “My Little Patisserie” in early 2015, Aubrey now serves her treats to the inhabitants of De Pijp.


Aubrey’s passion is cream-filled pastries and her Eclairs have a loyal following. She bakes on-site every day in small batches. Pastries fill the display cases throughout the day from a small glassed production area behind the counter.

Along with a coffee, freshly brewed by Aubrey’s chosen local roaster, Lot Sixty-One, take a break and have one of My Little Patisserie’s treats to keep yourself nourished while exploring the neighborhood.


3 Rijsel

Heading back to the Oost area of Amsterdam, we meet Pieter Smits and chef Iwan Driessen, owners of the restaurant Rijsel. Rijsel is a Flemish slang term for the city of Lille, capital of the region of Flanders. And it is the classic cuisine of Flanders that is Rijsel’s specialty.

The menu at Rijsel is compact and changes often, except Rijsel’s very popular Rotisserie chicken, which is often on the menu, due to popular demand. We suggest a glass of Cremant before digging into your Rotisserie chicken meal. And the rest of the wine list is well curated and a great value, so expect to choose from some good options.


A Dutch journalist coined the phrase “Nouveau Ruig” or New Rough to describe the new crop of restaurants, opened by men with beards in plaid shirts in shadowy alleys at the edge of towns where space is cheap. The typical character of these places is industrial and cozy with no frills.


In most regards Rijsel fits the “Nouveau Ruig” characterization to a T. Housed in a former domestic science school, the space has co-opted the school’s ‘60s-era kitchen and dining room with minimal changes. Even the furniture and various pieces of old equipment scattered about are reminders of the room’s earlier educational use.

A cozy place with great food, a perfect place for a leisurely dinner with good friends.

4 Holtkamp

A staple on the Amsterdam food scene since the 1960s, this small wood-paneled patisserie shop is legendary. Speak to anyone that spent any length of time living in Amsterdam and they will regale you with fond memories of Holtkamp cakes for birthday and holiday celebrations. So as the Amsterdamers do … we hop on our bikes and make the short ride to Vijzelgracht 15.


The line is already out the door and cake pickups for weekend celebrations are in full swing. We join the line, jostling for space as we gradually move closer to the counter to order. Our appetite increases by the minute while we peek through the window at all the yummy items on offer.

It is early, so when we order croquettes we get some funny looks. Croquettes are more an afternoon treat so I am afraid we have just outed ourselves as tourists. Seeing the confusion in our eyes, the busy lady at the counter suggest we try one of each of the varieties available – I think she’s trying to head off any time-wasting indecision on our part. Soon our salesperson reappears with cheese, veal and shrimp croquettes carefully wrapped to go.


Back on our bikes, we find a nice picturesque spot overlooking the canals to enjoy our warm little treats. The only disappointment, we didn’t order enough! Next time we will know better and order some cake, too.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


Amsterdam is a great city for English speakers; everybody speaks it, websites are mostly bilingual, you will feel right at home.

Wilde Zwijnen: Reservations are recommended. You can email for reservations directly or call +31 20 463 3043. Credit cards are accepted with 2% surcharge. American Express is not accepted.

My little Patisserie: Just drop in. Audrey is there most of the time and she is a delight to talk to.

Rijsel: Reservations are recommended and can only be made by phone Monday through Friday after 2pm local time. Tel. +31 20 463 2142

Holtkamp: Saturday mornings are very busy so for a more leisurely experience browsing the cakes try visiting on a weekday.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

The Spanish Riding School

Like many cities in Europe, much of Vienna’s intoxicating character is due to its well-preserved architecture and the long-held traditions contained within. Beautiful old buildings bear testament to a city that steadfastly clings to its past.

About a century ago, Adolf Loos, a Vienna resident and one of the world’s first “modern” architects, wrote a series of cultural critiques which ran in one of the local Vienna newspapers, The Neue Freie Presse. In one of his articles he decried the resistance of the Viennese to embrace the “modern” world. In his article Loos mocked the residents of Vienna for their curious habit of dressing in the traditional style of country folk, pointing out that in London, people had quite appropriately adapted to the practicalities of their modern urban environment and found a way to dress accordingly.

Walking the streets of Vienna today, you will still come across lots of people who would not look out of place one, two, or three hundred years ago. There is truly a stalwart resistance to change in this beautiful city and we can be thankful for its stubbornness, as it enables us to step back in time.

To take this to the extreme and really delve into the oldest of Vienna’s unchanged institutions you should not miss a visit to the Spanish Riding School (Spanische Hofreitschule). Here you can put the modern world behind you and immerse yourself in the past. Everything about the school is steeped in tradition: The daily routine, the uniforms, the architecture, all have remained essentially unchanged for hundreds of years.

The Spanish Riding School

The Spanish Riding School is located right in the heart of the first district, next to the Hofburg, former residence of the Emperor, and coincidentally, just a few steps from one of Adolf Loos’ most famous buildings. The white stallions or “Lipizzaner” of the Riding School have made this their home since the complex was completed in 1735.

Spanish Riding School Visits & Tours

Now, I find that the Spanish Riding School is very much taken at face value in Vienna, meaning that while it has remained unchanged, the institutions to which it was connected and the practical use it provided the country disappeared long ago. So while it is a fabulous and uniquely Austrian spectacle, whenever I visit I have the feeling that there is more to the story than what is on display. So today I want to find out more about how the Riding School came to be and get a closer look at those fabulous Lipizzaner horses. And to do that we are going to take a Behind-the-scenes tour.

For the first few times I visited, I just showed up and bought a ticket assuming there was just one show to see, and I ended up at one of the practice sessions. This is the daily training session in front of an audience, and you will see the distinctive moves and tricks of the Lipizzaners, but some of the horses and riders may be less experienced. And because there is a training aspect to the show, it is less formal. What’s great is that you get to see some of the junior horses in their evolution, and surprising things can happen.

The Spanish Riding School

Once a week there is a gala performance. This is where the best, most experienced horses and riders show their stuff. If you want to see the highest expression of equestrian skill and harmony between horse and rider, you should go to this show.

Finally, there is a tour that explores the architecture of the school and performance arena and takes you into some amazing hidden spaces inaccessible to the general public. That tour we are covering in a future issue, so stay tuned.

The History

The First thing you should know about the Spanish Riding School is that there is no institution like it anywhere in the world. Nowhere else have equestrian skills been preserved and practiced in their original form continuously for over 400 years. So it was only fitting that UNESCO recently declared the Spanish Riding School’s horsemanship a cultural heritage to be protected at all costs for generations to come.

The first mention of the Spanish Riding School was during the Habsburg reign in 1572. This “Haute Ecole” or High School of classical dressage movements evolved from the cavalry and the process of training horses for battle. In the heat of a crowded battlefield a cavalry man often needed to clear some space in order to break away from an enemy. This was accomplished by having your horse jump up vertically with all four legs to distract the enemy, allowing you to then charge off to safety. This being the state of the art in military maneuvering, accomplished riders were often called upon in peace time to perform these difficult maneuvers for guests of the royal court.

The Spanish Riding School

In 1729, Emperor Charles V decided to formalize the event and create a fit-for-the-purpose venue to maximize the political effect of the shows. He commissioned famed baroque architect Fischer von Erlach to build the Winter Riding Hall, which is where the Lipizzaners perform today.

And it is not only the physical structure that harkens back to the building’s origins. What happens in the building is also virtually unchanged. When you attend a practice session or gala show you will notice the riders always stop and tip their hats when they first enter the arena. What they are doing is saluting Emperor Charles V. And since Charles cannot be with us, his painting at the end of the arena stands in for the traditional show of respect.

One question you might ask while attending a performance of the Spanish Riding School is, why is it called the “Spanish” Riding School and not the Austrian one? The Spanish designation comes from the original horses that formed the basis of the Lipizzaner breed.

Back in the 16th century, when the Habsburg dynasty included all of Spain, Archduke Charles II established a stud farm in the village of Lipizza, now in modern-day Slovenia. Here he crossbred Spanish, Barb and Arabian horses producing the foundation of the eight lines of Lipizzaner horses. The horses are now bred at Piber, in Styria, the Spanish Riding School’s stud farm. Since the 1920s Piber has taken care that only stallions which have proven themselves in the arena at Vienna, and specially chosen mares, will parent future generations of the Lipizzaner breed.

It is easy to determine each horse’s lineage while walking through the stables. Above each stall you will notice the horse’s name displayed with its lineage coded right into it. Stallions are given two names, the first referring to the line of the sire and the second the name of the dam.

Arriving early at the stable’s impressive Renaissance courtyard, the morning routine is in full swing. Caretakers are pushing around wheelbarrows loaded with hay, stables are being cleaned, and the horses are getting their special formulated muesli for breakfast while undergoing their morning grooming.

The Spanish Riding School

Stalls around the courtyard are paired up in sets of two. Like rooms with a view they overlook all the action as an endless stream of tourist passes by the glass windows on the opposite side of the courtyard. Each group peers at the other, the horses just as curious as their human onlookers.

The stable has a kind of college dorm feel to it. Each horse and its roommate are usually quite engaged. We run into Stable Master, Mr. Hamminger, and he tells us that he learns each horse’s temperament from a very young age. He gets a feel for who gets along with whom and conversely, which horses cannot stand each other. “If you get the combinations wrong”, says Mr. Hamminger, “it can be a mad house!” He obviously has an innate sense for each horse’s temperament because as you walk along the stalls the atmosphere is positively serene.

The Spanish Riding School

Keeping 62 horses, fed, groomed and trained is quite a job and a small army of helpers and junior apprentice riders are on duty this morning to take care of the prized residents. We chat with one of the caretakers who is grooming the long white mane of a young stallion, getting him ready for his morning turn in the arena. Another caretaker applies a special oil on his hooves for conditioning. The horse is fidgety but is enjoying the attention. “He’s young”, says the caretaker. “He doesn’t yet understand all the hard work he’ll have to do to keep getting the attention”.

Horses are usually sent to Vienna at about the age of four. Training horses to this level is long hard work. It can easily take five or more years to get them ready to publicly perform the signature Lipizzaner moves like the Levade, Courbette, Capriole, and Piaffe. For riders it takes even longer. A rider in training is referred to as an “Eleve” and for them to become accomplished it can take as long as 12 years.

The Spanish Riding School

For almost all the institution’s 400 years the riders have been exclusively men. But in 2008, in a move that could only be called modernization, women were finally invited to enter the training program for riders. Now, after working her way up the ranks, 26-year-old Hanna Zeitlhofer has joined her male colleagues in the performances. With an additional three women “Eleven” currently in the program, it will soon be possible for there to be equal representation of male and female riders in the daily performances.

The Spanish Riding School is by no means an action-packed riding extravaganza. It is a living museum where you can observe the successors of soldiers past, carrying on centuries-old traditions. It is a performance that shows at the highest level the synergy possible between horse and man: a mutual trust displayed between two living beings that enables the two together to accomplish great feats.

Though no longer training for a life-and-death struggle on a battlefield, the beauty and simplicity of white horses flowing through the arena like magical creatures in partnership with their skilled riders is a sight to behold.

The Spanish Riding School

On my first visit to the arena, I enjoyed the show, but knew little of the history and traditions of the institution. My next visit was so much more interesting, having learned about the Spanish Riding School’s fascinating past and having seen the inner workings that maintain this important tradition in the beautiful city of Vienna.


Guided tours are available from May to December. To book a tour, go to; www.srs.at. Morning exercise sessions usually occur Monday through Friday. For times and tickets, go to; www.srs.at. Gala Performances occur on weekends but the schedule is not regular. For dates, times and tickets, go to; www.srs.at.

One note on photography; During the guided tours, photographs, videos or any kind of recording is forbidden. Bearleader received special permission to produce our story.

If your schedule does not permit any of the performances or tours, you can still get a glimpse of the famous horses through the windows along the alleyway between the stables and the arena. If you are lucky you might just see the horses lining up for the show!

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Hotel V Nesplein

The Hotel V Nesplein is a recently opened, four star, 43 room hotel carved out of a former office building. The building has been lovingly restored and given new life by hoteliers and eleventh generation Amsterdamers Tom and Mirjam Espinosa. With the benefit of coming from a family who have been working in the hospitality business since the 1960s, Tom and Mirjam show their experience and passion in every detail in this their latest Amsterdam venture.

V is for Vacation

To give Hotel V its unique character, Tom and Mirjam have seamlessly mixed old world charm, quirky Dutch design, theatrical touches and a generous dose of comfort. This, along with the friendly and knowledgeable staff, makes Hotel V the perfect home base for your Amsterdam adventure.

Centrally located on the Nes, a quiet street just steps from the beautiful Dam Square, the hotel is a stones throw away from many popular landmarks and local sights. Whether traveling by bike, tram or on foot, exploring the city from here is a breeze.

Hotel V Amsterdam | Bearleader Stay No.10

Make sure you try the aptly named “The Lobby” restaurant. There is a particularly good breakfast menu available to get you charged up for a day of sightseeing. After returning from a full day, we also enjoyed tucking into the “Flammkuchen”, a kind of pizza with a paper thin crust.

Hotel V Amsterdam | Bearleader Stay No.10

The rooms are spacious with a distinctly Dutch modern decor; an easy blend of industrial chic with warm, comfortable colors and textures, along with some very smart details to temporarily accommodate your belongings. In our room we liked the worn leather chairs, bright yellow walls and especially the spacious bathroom, a rarity in many “boutique” hotels these days.

Hotel V Amsterdam | Bearleader Stay No.10

For a quick euro-city getaway to Amsterdam, Hotel V Nesplein is just the place to organize your itinerary around. And with it being lovingly created, run and frequented by locals, your stay will be all the more immersive and enjoyable.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


For detailed information and reservations, go to; www.hotelvnesplein.nl

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Norton and Sons

Our story begins in the Valley of the Kings, a short distance from Luxor, on the other side of the Nile. The year is 1922. George Herbert, 5th Earl of Carnarvon, and Howard Carter have just made the discovery of a lifetime, the 3,000 year old tomb of Tutankhamun. George Herbert is wearing a bespoke suite by Savile Row tailor, Norton and Sons.

To imagine the period, George Herbert’s family home, Highclere Castle is the fictitious home of the Crowley family. Recall Season 3 of Downton Abby which depicts Highclere around 1920. Can you picture it?

But let’s go back even further. In 1922 Norton and Sons had already been in operation for over 100 years. James Norton started the company in 1821, making it one of the oldest bespoke menswear establishments on London’s famed Savile Row. Norton and Sons’ longevity has much to do with its concentrated focus on fit and function. Whether it be formal, working, military, pleasure, hunting or safari attire, Norton and Sons has from the start been uncompromising in achieving a perfect fit for its patrons.

And as the world modernized, placing a variety of new functional requirements and constraints on clothing, Norton and Sons has been legendary in coming up with sartorial innovations to meet the evolving needs of its customers. So it is no surprise that George Herbert in the 1920s would have sought out Norton and Sons to manufacture his “high performance” outerwear to meet the challenges of the Egyptian climate.

Standing in front of Savile Row number 16, very little has changed since the business opened back in the reign of George IV. Current proprietor Patrick Grant welcomes us into the showroom, site of countless fittings over the past 200 years. Patrick took on the famous brand back in 2005 after happening upon a small “for sale” advert in the Financial Times. Having first studied engineering in Leeds and then gone on to complete an MBA at Oxford’s Said Business School, at the time bespoke suits were not high on Patrick’s list of potential business pursuits. But with this unexpected opportunity at hand, he decided to take the leap and make bespoke tailoring his business.

Norton and Sons

As it turned out though, this chance meeting of Patrick Grant and Norton and Sons was sort of destined. For any business pursuit, truly sustainable success only comes with genuine passion. And this is where Patrick proved the perfect steward for Norton and Sons’ tradition of excellence. From his early school days Patrick’s obsession for well made, good fitting clothes stood out amongst his sometime less kempt class mates. And in the context of Norton and Sons, his natural curiosity about quality, tradition, fit and style was critical in setting the direction for Norton and Sons’ third century.

For the perfect bespoke suit, go to Savile Row in London. For the best tailors on Savile Row, go to Norton and Sons.

Even though Norton and Sons is a pretty exclusive institution, when Patrick talks about the quality and longevity of clothing he never sounds elitist. For him it’s a simple argument of economy that adds the element of time when calculating the value of what we wear. To have the absolute best quality and fit for a long time is not too much more costly than buying a cheaper ill-fitting similar item year after year. This is a concept we have simply lost track of. The world needs an ambassador like Patrick to help bring us back to our senses.

Norton and Sons

To further his agenda Patrick launched a few years ago a ready-to-wear line under the name E.Tautz. The new label leverages all the knowledge of craft built up over the years at Norton and Sons to create a range of new modern classics at quite affordable prices. The E.Tautz collection covers all the standards: casual wear, suits, shirts, as well as, curiously, some men’s shirts sized for women. A great idea I think for a classic brand steeped in the traditions of men’s tailoring.

One really special thing about buying a suit at E.Tautz in London: If you need alterations to get the fit just right, it will be tailored at Norton and Sons so you get a fantastic suit with an “almost” bespoke fit. That is an amazing value!

When we meet, Patrick is not wearing a suit so I had to ask how often he dons the more formal attire. He laughs. Now that he has more visibility with his part as a judge in the BBC show “The Great British Sewing Bee”, people mistakenly assume that he wears suits all the time. Well, he does not, but even in his E.Tautz jeans and sweater, Patrick wears his clothes with such panache that it’s just as stylish as any suit. “I basically have two uniforms,” says Patrick. “A suit and tie uniform and the wide pants with a polo or simple sweater.” Practical and stylish, just what you would expect from these classic labels.

Norton and Sons

What I appreciate about Patrick’s take on being well dressed is he’s really casual about it. He has a healthy “wear what you like, clothes don’t make you interesting” attitude. He does not think people should worry too much about it. He is not about dictating rules but advocates having a good time with your chosen apparel, whatever that might be.

The only guidelines he advocates are: buy things that are not disposable, that you can wear for many years, and take care of your clothes so they last as long as possible. Maintain them, air them out, don’t dry clean them too much and choose your dry cleaner carefully. According to Patrick a bad dry cleaner can absolutely ruin a bespoke suite.

Norton and Sons

Norton and Sons produces about 200 suits a year, each one takes a minimum of 60 hours to craft. In case you ever want get one of those 200, plan on at least two fittings over several months’ time, and budget a minimum of $5,800, possibly more depending on the fabric you select. Or if you are not quite ready for that … check out one of the great ready-to-wear suits at E.Tautz for around $1,200.

It was an inspiring morning talking to Patrick about the history of British menswear and getting his viewpoint on the value of the clothes. Seeing his philosophies in action at Norton and Sons and E.Tautz was a revelation. These are truly great British companies and Patrick seems the perfect leader to guide them in developing what is sure to be British classics of the future.


For more information about Norton and Sons Bespoke Tailor, go to; www.nortonandsons.co.uk

Or check out Patrick Grants work at E.Tautz; www.etautz.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Murals of Brotherly Love

I recently took a trip to Philadelphia. It was a bit of a leap of faith because much of what I know about the city does not really merit taking a trip to see, or see again as the case may be. Yes, I know, it’s the birthplace of America and then later … Sylvester Stallone made a movie which caught the world’s attention, and then he made five more. And sometime in between someone chopped up a steak, covered it with Cheese Whiz and onions, put it in a bun and called it a Philly Cheese Steak. All great stuff, but surely there’s more to Philadelphia than these old stereotypes.

At Bearleader, like a bear to honey, we specialize in sniffing out a destination’s hidden delights and revealing them to our readers. So, confident that Philadelphia had secrets to be revealed, we hit the road to discover its little-known treasures.

Mural: Art for the People

Here is a great thing we found that you have to visit Philadelphia to see. Did you know that aside from being the “city of brotherly love”, Philadelphia is also known as the “world’s largest outdoor art gallery”? It all started back in 1984 when the then Mayor, Wilson Goode, was trying to find a way to combat graffiti, which was blanketing the city. He proposed an anti-graffiti program as a way to channel the energy of young offenders into more productive endeavors.

Mayor Goode enlisted the help of Tim Spencer and artist Jane Golden to create what came to be known as the Murals Art Program, with a modest goal of enticing kids to participate in organized art projects, and away from producing illegal “graffiti”. Giving young graffiti offenders the option of applying their talents to a designated area with the input of the community as opposed to going to jail was an easy choice for the early participants.


Many years later, the Mural Arts Program has exceeded everyone’s expectations. Still under the guidance of Jane Golden, the Mural Arts Program is now the largest employer of artists in the country, with around 300 individuals working on projects throughout the year.

Since 1984, about 3,600 murals have been painted and about 2,000 can be found today in and around Philadelphia, with new ones going up all the time. On our tour we swung by to see one being painted, a large mural on a bare, south-facing wall in the Old City district, and had a chat with the trio of painters.

Taking advantage of one of the last warm autumn days before the season’s end, artist and lead painter Jon Laidackaer was high above the ground marking out a tiny section of the enormous wall he and his fellow artists were slowly working their way across.


Originally from Pittsburgh, Jon moved to Philadelphia ten years ago to participate in the Mural Arts Program. He was also the lead artist on the largest mural produced to date, 85,000 square feet in size and covering a parking garage close to the Philadelphia airport – just for reference, a football field is 57,600 square feet – that’s big!

In many communities the Mural Arts Program murals are treasured and beloved by their residents. This is in large part due to Jane’s early emphasis on engaging with communities to solicit participation in determining the content and, in many cases, actually painting the murals. Community buy-in on projects means that they can easily move forward, having heard and accommodated dissenting voices early in the process.


With a structure of community communication built into the Mural Arts Program’s working process, a side benefit quickly became apparent to Jane’s team. They were on the city’s front lines as de facto government representatives. So when meeting with communities to offer funding for a neighborhood mural, they often would hear about other local issues of concern to the residents. In fact, even within communities there was sometimes little communication, so bringing people together to discuss a mural also became a forum in which to discuss other issues of local concern. In this way the the Mural Arts Program became both a facilitator of change, and a conduit for communication with city government.

With its great success, the Mural Arts Program’s repertoire of production techniques has developed rapidly to accommodate a more inclusive community-based process. Early murals from the ‘80s were produced with conventional acrylic-based paints on surfaces sometimes not conducive to long-term exposure to the elements.


Learning from the past, new murals are produced with much more durability via a variety or innovative techniques. First there is the old-school method of painting directly on a wall, but not with pealing and fade-prone acrylic paint. In its place, a permanent masonry-based paint imported from a Germany is the new standard. This is what Jon and his team were using. Jon says that even the sun-drenched south-facing wall they are currently working on could easily last 30 years without much noticeable fading or damage.

Another technique utilizes a substrate of durable parachute cloth so murals can be produced off site on a horizontal surface and later installed at the designated location. This is great because, as you might imagine, having volunteer artists working high up on scaffolds may not be the best idea. Painting on the ground, everyone can get involved and it can happen year round – another important benefit.

The parachute-cloth technique led to other possibilities. One, the Mural Arts Program program goes into prisons and engages inmates in mural projects. When the murals are later installed around the city they form a point of contact between the incarcerated and their families: a tangible memento of a loved one, inaccessible by any other means.


Which brings me to one of the Mural Arts Program’s most recent projects. The location chosen for this artwork is the Friends Center, headquarters of the Quaker Society in Philadelphia. The Quaker Society has a particular interest in prison reform. Famed artist Shepard Fairey, of Obama-poster fame, was commissioned to do the work. To contextualize his work in the vein of the Quakers’ ethos, Shepard produced a work called “The stamp of incarceration” showing a young woman, Amira Mohamed, who, after being incarcerated for seven years, is now part of a rehabilitation program, and studying to become an architect.

Formally incarcerated individuals often have limited visibility within society so Shepard’s artwork places Amira in the context of a stamp, a representation reserved for those of high achievement in our society. Celebrating individuals like Amira in this format gives voice to their great achievement in turning their lives around, adding weight to the Quakers’ emphasis on restorative justice.


I sometimes think about the 1929 WPA Federal Art Project, which hired hundreds of artists and resulted in over 120,000 paintings, murals and sculptures over its 14 year span. Some of the 20th century’s greatest artists came out of the program and the public benefited greatly from their creative vision. Why, I wonder, couldn’t something like this be done today? Well, in Philadelphia the Murals Art Program is, and to tremendous positive effect. In Jane Golden’s words “Art ignites change”.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To get more information about the work of the Mural Arts program or to make a donation, go to; www.muralarts.org

We recommend you take one of the Mural Arts Program’s tours when you visit Philadelphia. The educators are very knowledgeable and what you pay goes right back into funding more Mural Arts Program Program. Tours run from Aril to late November. www.muralarts.org/tour

In case you want to check out the murals on your own there are a couple of different routes to consider. Check out these walks you can do all year round. www.muralarts.org/mural-mile-walking-tour

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Eat the Catskills

There are two ways you can go if you want to escape New York City. The most popular one follows a route east along the coast and ends up in an area general known as the Hamptons. Geographically the Hamptons is a relatively small area and with its popularity ever growing the ratio of visitors per square mile at the busiest time can reach epic proportions. If your reason for removing yourself from the city is peace, quiet and introspection, this might not be the right direction for you.

The other option is to head north up the Hudson Valley and then veer left into an area known as the Catskills. If you are inclined more towards mountains, the country and wide open spaces, head north my friend because here you can clear your head, fill your lungs with fresh air and your belly with the fresh picked bounty of some of New York State’s best small farms. Taking advantage of the rich and ready produce of the area’s local farms and a steady stream of road-tripping New Yorkers, a new generation of chefs and entrepreneurs has taken up residence in the area’s tiny towns.

Rumors of happenings in the Catskills were reaching us with such regularity that we could no longer resist the urge to take our own road trip and taste for ourselves. So here we go on our next installment of Eat a City. This month—the Catskills.

1 Table on Ten, Bloomville

For our first stop we are visiting Table on Ten and its proprietor, chef and innkeeper, Inez Valk.

After buying a lot near the small town of Bloomville a few years back and building herself a weekend cabin, Inez was looking for a way to live and work full-time in the Catskills.


Inez grew up in Holland and upon moving to New York became interested in cooking. She set about finding a way to build a business around her interests. After working for a time with Emily and Melissa Eisen of the famous Brooklyn pie company, Four and Twenty Blackbirds, she was inspired to try her hand at starting her own food and hospitality business.

For some time, while coming and going to her cabin near Bloomville she would pass a tired old boarding house where Highway 10 runs through town. It finally occurred to her that this might be a great location for her enterprise, and she investigated further. It was for sale! So Inez snapped it up and Table on Ten was born.


It has become a real meeting place for locals and New York transplants spending their weekends away from the city. In the morning, while enjoying our coffee, a procession of local farmers was coming through, dropping off their fresh produce and lingering for a quick coffee and a chat. We were quickly drawn into the conversation, hearing about the season, the weather and what was coming out of the ground this week. There are not too many places where you can so easily be drawn into local society.

Friday and Saturday nights Inez serves classic brick oven pizza, with her own sourdough base and locally famous four-hour marinara sauce. Luckily we timed our visit on Friday just right. In the afternoon everybody was busily preparing for the night’s meal. It was a hive of activity. The layout of the space is not too far removed from what you might think of as a house so that, combined with Inez’s team’s obvious dedication to getting every detail just right, it has the feel of a family preparing for a party, rather than a restaurant.


Looking around, Table on Ten is a simple place: a quirky old building brought back to life, made modern where it needs to be, but for the most part left alone. So why does it feel so special? Talking to Inez it all makes sense. Her warm, calm, confident temperament steers Table on Ten like a ship and everybody, from staff to out-of-town visitors to locals, wants to get on board.

2 Lucky Dog Farm Cafe, Hamden

A bit north of Bloomville is the town of Hamden, where we are going next to check local eatery and general store, Lucky Dog Cafe.

Holley Giles and her husband Richard purchased a 160 acre farm and moved to Hamden in 2000. While Richard has his hands full with the farm, Holley runs the cafe, store and the nearby Hamden Inn where legend holds that Teddy Roosevelt once stayed. She also has a hand in the production of several local cheeses. I guess the real question is what does Holley NOT do?


Lucky Dog Cafe serves Holley’s homemade pies, fresh sandwiches and salads. In the front of the cafe is an authentic circa 1800 general store, stocked with vintage dish towels, candies and fresh produce from the Giles’ farm and other food producers in the area.

After lunch at the Lucky Dog, visit the cheese counter and pick up some of the local Ouleout cheese from Vulto Creamery. It’s an upstate New York version of Tallegio. Very good.


3 Brushland Eating House, Bovina

A short drive south over rolling hills and farm land and we arrive in Bovina to visit with Chef Sohail Zandi and Sara Elbert of Brushland Eating house.

After toiling in the high stakes New York food scene for many years Sohail and Sara were ready for a big change. “Big” meaning goodbye Big Apple. Says Sara, “Our friends were all shaking their heads, they thought we were both nuts”. Undeterred by their friends’ short-sighted derision, they pulled up stakes and moved to the picturesque farm town of Bovina.


A nice two-story building on Bovina’s only thoroughfare was available. And conveniently, the previous tenant also served food, so at least they did not have to start their renovation from scratch. With Sara’s impeccable eye for interiors, Brushland’s unique character started to take shape.

The floor-to-ceiling cabinets are painted glossy black and populated with an eclectic mix of local, vintage objects. A long, shared banquet table runs the length of the room and the use of old Thonet style chairs gives the room a real 1920 Eating House feel. The creaking screen door really adds to its authenticity. Brushland is old and new, comforting and challenging, the perfect setting for Sohail’s new take on local cuisine.


The night’s menu, handwritten on a chalkboard, is simple and direct – the kind of dishes I look for in New York but rarely find. Great ingredients, no fuss, and each dish with an interesting flavor twist.

Selfishly I wish Sohail and Sara had not left the city so I could experience Sohail’s exceptional talent for food more often. His pork schnitzel, paying homage to the area’s German heritage, with homemade breadcrumbs, was delish. A salad with fresh zucchini and radishes in a yoghurt sauce was a perfect accompaniment.


The wine list is compact with a great selection from France and Italy, all at a reasonable price. On a funny note, Bovina is a dry town so Brushland is only able to serve wine by virtue of its three rental rooms upstairs. So drink up! If you get into trouble you can spend the night.

Fortunately we have a designated driver in our party so although we would have liked to stay longer, there is more Catskills to eat and we have to move on. Next stop, Phoenicia.

4 Phoenicia Diner, Phoenicia

Making our way from the farmlands of Delaware County we now follow New York Route 28 back into the forests of the Catskills.

The Phoenicia Diner has been a fixture on Route 28 for ages although for most of that time it has not been known for its excellent food. That was until in 2012, when longtime Catskills visitor Mike Cioffi purchased the Diner and breathed new life into the place. Fortunately he kept the “bones” of the place intact and focused all attention on the food.


Gone is the tired old greasy menu, and in its place they now serve traditional diner favorites with the best locally sourced ingredients available. They even make their own Corned Beef! That’s a real throwback to when diners made real home-cooked food: way before my time.

The Phoenicia Diner is super popular with locals and travelers alike. I have driven by at all hours day and night and there is always a full parking lot. We visited mid-week just as the summer season was waning and the place was still buzzing.


I asked the waitress for a recommendation and she suggested that the Skillets were a particular favorite. I can see why.

The placemats are conveniently printed with all the local highlights so you can plan what to do next as you enjoy your meal gazing across Route 28 at the majestic Mount Temper. Arriving or leaving the Catskills, the Phoenicia Diner is the place to stop for some great grub.


5 Brunette Wine Bar, Kingston

Our final stop is well on the way back to the city. We have driven as far east as we can, all the way to the banks of the Hudson River. Here we meet Tracy and Jamie Kennard in their recently opened wine bar, Brunette.

Working in graphic design and the fashion industry in Manhattan for many years, Tracy and Jamie picked Kingston as a good place to get away from the city. Now, looking for a new challenge, they have taken over a former barbershop in the gradually gentrifying Rondout district in Kingston and remade it as the neighborhood’s only wine bar.


The remade space is all Parisian bistro—if that bistro was in New York. Vintage lamps, pastel wallpaper and white marble surfaces give the space a feminine air, offset by the rough plumbing-derived shelving system that grounds the space firmly in this traditionally gritty Kingston neighborhood. There’s a nice touch in the bathroom: an eclectic collection of photographs of cool Brunettes. Tracy and Jamie have a great eye for detail.


Brunette’s wine selection is unique. Many of their offerings are unavailable anywhere else in the area, so you can be sure of some tasty surprises to challenge the palette. Tracy’s homemade cakes and delightful savory sandwiches are a perfect companion to Brunette’s wine list.

Going to or coming home from the Catskills, Brunette is a great stop along the way.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


Table on Ten: For opening hours and to make a reservation for Friday and Saturday Pizza nights, go to; www.tableonten.com Table on Ten has three guest rooms for rent available from Thursday to Sunday. The Cafe is open 8am to 3pm for breakfast, cakes and Table on 10’s own coffee roast blend, created locally at Irving Farm.

Brushland Eating House: For opening hours and reservations, go to; www.brushlandeatinghouse.com. To stay the night in one of Brushland’s guest rooms, book here.

Lucky Dog cafe: For opening hours and more, go to www.luckydogorganic.com. To stay at the Hamden Inn across the road from Lucky Dog Cafe, you can book a room here.

Phoenicia Diner: For opening hours and directions, go to; www.phoeniciadiner.com

Brunette: For hours and todays wine selection, go to; www.brunettewinebar.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Ham House

On the bank of the Thames in Richmond, a short distance from Central London is Ham House, one of the most unique and atmospheric houses in England. This rare gem is widely recognized as the most intact and “original” 17th century building in Europe. And as is the case with buildings left to their own devices for hundreds of years, some think this house has fallen under the spell of some previous inhabitants, that it is haunted. But lets not veer off into lore, let’s look at the history.

Ham House was built in 1610 by Sir Thomas Vavsour, Knight Marshal to James I. For those uninitiated, James I succeeded Elizabeth I, the last of the Tudor rulers, and star of the movie “Elizabeth”. And we also know of James I through his “King James Bible” fame.

After King James’ passing the house went to his son Charles I, who leased it to his good friend and former whipping boy, William Murray, 1st Earl of Dysart.

And what, pray tell, is a whipping boy? Because kings were understood to be appointed by God and therefore divine, no one other than the king was worthy to administer punishment to a prince. And since kings played no role in a prince’s upbringing, dealing with any wayward behavior fell to a prince’s tutor for whom it could be potentially perilous to deal out punishment.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

So, the ever-practical monarchy developed a workaround. A young lad of high rank was picked to grow up with a prince, to be his playmate and confidant, and to take his punishment. Having forged a strong emotional bond with his playmate, a prince would have found it hard to endure his best friend taking his punishment, and, hopefully, would behave well in order to avoid the emotional trauma.

Charles and William were so close that Ham House was given to William and his descendants for life, a rare event, as after death, property given by a king is supposed to revert back to the Crown.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

Later during the Civil War, William, in a shrewd move, transferred the house’s title to his wife Catherine in order to save it from being later sequestrated by Cromwell’s new government. After spending some time locked up in the Tower of London, William joined the court in Exile in Paris. Catherine, however stayed in London, and being quite the political operator herself, managed to maintain ownership of the house.

After Catherine’s death, the beheading of Charles I, and Cromwell taking power, the house was claimed by Parliament and sold. It seemed that Ham House’s luck had finally run out.

Catherine and William’s eldest daughter Elizabeth was, like her mother, a shrewd and independent woman. At the insistence of her father, she received the best of educations in mathematics, languages and science. Education for a woman at the time was extremely uncommon and learning of this caliber unheard of. But this allowed Elizabeth to hold her own in the tumultuous political landscape of the day. Not willing to let Ham House go she secretly commissioned a third party to act on her behalf, and thus managed to buy the house from Parliament and move back in.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

In an extraordinary display of her brilliant political maneuvering, Elizabeth entertained Cromwell at Ham House while she was secretly advancing the Royalist cause of Cromwell’s enemies with her husband, Lionel Tollemache. They were members of a secret society plotting to restore Britain’s monarchy, called the Sealed Knot. And it eventually happened. Monarchy was restored and Charles II became king. For Elizabeth’s loyal service Charles bestowed her with a lifetime pension.

So you can see that it’s a miracle the house stands today essentially unchanged. Without all these small quirks in history and the individuals who drove them, Ham House would certainly be an empty shell or worse, and not the special looking glass reflecting back to 17th century Britain that it is today.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

There are several magnificent aspects to the house.

Upon entering the Great Hall check out the distinctive black and white checkered marble floor. But don’t linger there. Head up the grand wooden staircase which was commissioned by Catherine and William when they took ownership. Here from the upper floor gallery you will see the Great Hall to best effect.

Without all these small quirks in history and the individuals who drove them, Ham House would certainly be an empty shell or worse …

On the second floor don’t miss the miniature collection in the “Green closet”. The green closet is actually a small room wrapped in green fabric off the “Long hall”. The miniature collection is the largest accumulation of miniatures of one family, and is largely intact. Usually you will find a volunteer on duty in the room so have your questions ready. They really know their stuff.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

Stroll leisurely through the upper rooms and then make your way downstairs again. In a small cozy room at the far end of the house there is a lovely small white crackled teapot on display. A fine example of Chinese Dongkhe ware and it is thought to have belonged to the Duchess.

The kitchen and Still House below stairs are especially interesting. Elizabeth was a talented and knowledgeable herbalist producing many ointments for herself and family members, remedies which might have contributed to her unusually old age of 72. She also brewed her own ale, which she supplied to staff, heading off sickness due to water-borne bacteria common in the day.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

Also downstairs you will find one of the oldest purpose-built bathrooms in England.

Once outside, look for the wall containing a gallery of busts of Roman emperors, and just around the corner from that you will find the entrance to the Duchess’ private Cherry Garden. Here amongst the domes of lavender and santolina focusing on a statue of Bacchus, the god of wine, the Duchess and her private guests would have “taken the air” away from the bustling activities of the house.

Near the house are the “working” gardens where the estate grew its own produce. The National Trust, which has maintained the house since the 1950s, has restored the original beds with plants dating back to the 17th century. The day of our visit I met one of the several gardeners who told me that they use seed from a few select purveyors who specialize in heritage seeds, and are diligent in maintaining the gardens in their original state.

No.62 | Visiting Ham House, The Oldest In-tact House in London

The Orangery boarders the working gardens and Ham House has converted this building into a cafe serving a great selection of soup, sandwiches and cakes all made on the premises and using produce from the gardens. Of all the National Trust food establishments I have visited this was by far the best, so count on enjoying a great lunch at Ham House.

On the way out we were saying goodbye to one of the volunteers. It was about closing time and just before we left she said “let me show you something”. She produced a large ornate key. Amazingly, it’s the original key and there is only one copy. This is a fitting wrap up for our great day at Ham House. Seldom will you find a place so complete in its architecture and all the bits and pieces that fill a space when it is lived in, right down to the key that has locked the door every night since 1610.


For details on how to visit Ham House in Richmond, go to; www.nationaltrust.org.uk

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Corine’s Menagerie

Wandering the halls of great museums I often wonder what it must have been like to visit the studio of an Old Master and talk to them about their work. Maybe even buy a piece to bequeath to my descendants.

Well, old masters may be off the table, but new masters are well within the realm of possibility. And what better place than Paris to track down great and inspiring artists. Today I am heading to the 15th Arrondissement to meet artist Corine Perier at her studio and home. I came across Corine’s work online and loved seeing her regular updates. So I contacted her and arranged a studio visit.

She suggested we meet at a small corner cafe close to her house. The 15th is the largest Arrondissement and not traditionally on the tourist route. But there is some great stuff here. We arrived early so we could check out is the Parc Andre Citroen, built on the site of the former Citroen Automobile manufacturing plant. It encompasses about 35 acres and is built around a large rectangular lawn with a modern Greenhouse on either side. Definitely a fun side trip if you are looking for something new to do in Paris

Corine arrives and we set off to her studio through the small winding streets of the 15th. We learn that she was born in the 15th and has lived here her whole life. Her most recent residence is a modern flat in a building run by the Parisian municipality where she lives with her husband and two kids. A few years ago when she started painting full time she converted part of the flat into her studio.


Corine studied Art History and after graduation began a career as an art restorer where she had an opportunity to learn close up the painting techniques of the old masters. I guess Corine has done me one better in my fantasy of visiting old masters in their studios. At least in terms of technique, Corine has really gotten to know some of the greatest painters close up.

Painting on wood panels and applying the oil paint in many thin layers in the style of the Flemish old masters, Corine’s fanciful creatures have a dimensionality that makes them stand apart from their environments. As with the Flemish masters, Corine finishes each work with a glossy smooth layer which brightens the colors and brings her curious subjects to life.


We make ourselves at home in the studio and have a coffee as we look around. Corine’s fantastical little creatures keep a watchful eye on us from their perches. Their expressions are so animated, you feel like they want to be part of the conversation. My favorite piece was a portrait of strong-willed, serious-looking ram who travels in the clouds with a cheeky bird catching a ride on his head, an hourglass in his beak. A menagerie of birds, wildcats, and goat are just a few of Corine’s conjured friends that share the studio and home with the Perier family.


Corine’s imaginative work is truly unique and she is one of my favorite Parisian artists. On your next trip to Paris plan on bringing home one of Corine’s masterpieces for your collection.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To schedule an appointment with Corine and her fantastic friends, go to; www.corineperier.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Dennis Severs’ House

Peter Ackroyd, the British writer and critic, said of the Dennis Severs House, “The journey through the house becomes a journey through time; with its small rooms and hidden corridors, its whispered asides and sudden revelations, it resembles a pilgrimage through life itself”. The journey Ackroyd describes aptly represents the mysterious path each visitor takes through 18 Folgate Street in the East End of London.

The house is a veritable puzzle of real and constructed stories lain over one another so that the edge of one melts into another, blurring the boundaries of reality and imagination. You become implicated just by entering into Dennis’ world. To enter is to become, in some magical way, part of another story that is uniquely your own. The conspicuous absence of Dennis and the inhabitants he so carefully nurtured has created a vacuum which you are easily drawn into.

Dennis Severs

First there is the story of Dennis Severs himself. Born in Southern California in the small town of Escondido, Dennis became fascinated by all things English, especially the London light, or as some may say the lack thereof. He saved up money and in 1965, right after graduating from high school, he set out for London, where he remained until his death in 1999.

Intending to study law, Dennis enrolled in University only to change his mind shortly after and pursue a series of odd jobs. One of them, which was surely formative, saw Dennis driving horse and carriage tours through London while taking up residence in the carriage house.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

It wasn’t until 1979 that he bought the house at 18 Folgate Street. And he was not alone in staking out territory in this area. Gilbert and George, famed British artists, became his neighbors and for a long time they were the only pioneers in that part of London. The area was run down and neglected, but, in large part because of neglect, the properties in the neighborhood maintained their original details.

One would typically set about renovating a house like this to bring it up to modern standards – at least install electricity and plumbing, as the house had none. But Dennis had other plans. He moved in immediately without any conveniences and started living like the fictitious Huguenot Jervis family who purportedly built the house in 1724.

The Jervises

Here is where the second story starts to emerge. The Jervis family were French protestant silk weavers who came to London and made it their home. Upon arrival they changed their name from the French “Gervais” to the easier and more English sounding “Jervis”.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

Dennis conjured up the family to tell the story of the house through their lives and times. Over the years he added layer on layer to each of the ten rooms of the house, creating representations of the time and tastes of the Jervis family. With meticulous attention to detail, Dennis built up the everyday lives of the family, even down to the food they ate.

When Dennis started giving his famous nighttime tours, visitors would be dazzled by the succession of candlelit rooms, the smell of the Jervis’ meal still half consumed on the table, the fireplace crackling, and Mr Jervis’ pipe, quickly set aside as if he had to attend to something elsewhere and left the room moments before guests had arrived. He created a script for the house where each room was a scene in his own movie. Dennis coined the term “still-life drama” to describe his creation. His goal was to provide visitors with a rare opportunity to become lost in another time.

Initially, highbrow academics frowned on Dennis’ constructed fantasies as they were not factual, but reflected emotional connections to the past. But nowadays Dennis’ ideas have come into vogue through a general recognition that a certain amount of theatrics is important, or necessary, to engage the public in history by bringing the past back to life.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

On the day we arrived at 18 Folgate Street to meet the Jervises, our host David Milne had already woken up the house in preparation for our visit. A fire was crackling in the kitchen, candles lit, and even though it was a sunny day outside the house was blanketed in a kind of twilight haze. Shutters were partially opened for the light, but not too wide as it was a cold day and too much window exposure lets the heat from the fireplace escape.

The Jervises had apparently entertained in the parlor the night before and had made a late night of it. The remnants of the evening’s food and libations littered the parlor table. It looked like great fun. I wish we had come earlier.

Walking through the dim candlelit rooms on a bright sunny London morning, I better understood the character of Hogarth’s London society scenes and realized that there was not much artistic license taken in those paintings. They were true-to-life in their depiction of London domestic interiors of the day.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

Dennis’ house now is operated by a trust, with David Milne continuing Dennis’ life work. It’s wonderful to watch David lovingly arranging little bits here and there; a bowl with rose petals sitting on a dresser, a half finished meal on a table with a few mussels left on the plate, and playing cards left on a table in mid-game. The smoky fireplace in the top floor has left a haze in the room and the bed is still unmade. It is a very intimate scene but you never feel like an intruder. You are always part of the story as it continues along.

The Marvels

A third story surrounding the house is now just starting to take root. Brian Selznick, illustrator and author of the bestsellers, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, was so taken in by his visit to the Dennis Severs House that he made it a character in his new book, “The Marvels”. We got an advanced copy at our office in New York and were thrilled to read Selznick’s tale woven around such an intriguing place. Being advocates of experience-based travel, it is great to see a travel destination inspire such a fascinating piece of literature.

Selznick’s story takes place in the 1990s and chronicles the experiences of Joseph, who runs away from school, finding himself in the puzzling house of his estranged uncle in London. The book captures the nature of family, not necessary the one we are born with but the wider one we acquire during our lifetime. If you don’t have an opportunity to travel for a while, The Marvels takes you on a great trip from the comfort of your home. We recommend it.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

Selznick’s and Severs’ stories are woven throughout the book. After reading The Marvels it’s clear that Selznick and Severs are kindred spirits with Selznick acting as an ambassador for Dennis’ story. Although the two storytellers never had the opportunity to meet, they have both come to share the same house through the tales they have spun.

On my way out I catch a glimpse of two well-worn New York Yankees baseball caps in the hallway, notable because they are the only modern thing I have seen on my three hour tour. I chuckled at the visual disjuncture and David responded, “Dennis wore one of those every day. We keep them there where he left them”.

The Marvels at Dennis Severs' House | Bearleader Chronicle No.58

Stepping out onto the front steps David sends me on my way. It was now lunch time in the busy Spitalfields district with people rushing through the old cobblestone streets. The modern world was a bit shocking and I wished I could retreat back to Dennis and David’s 18th century for just a little while longer.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To book a tour of Dennis Severs House, go to; www.dennissevershouse.co.uk. Plan ahead, the house cannot take many visitors and tours tend to book up fast. With the “the Marvels” now on sale it will soon be an even more popular destination.

Pick up a copy of “The Marvels” Here.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Farm to Table at De Kas

On a recent visit to Amsterdam, high on my list of places to visit was the restaurant De Kas. I have followed the career of De Kas chef and food pioneer Gerd Jan Hageman, one of the driving forces behind farm-to-table cooking and sustainable produce management, and was excited to taste the fruits of his efforts. I made arrangements to meet some of the team members at De Kas, and on our first morning in Amsterdam we set out to Frankendaal Park in the East of Amsterdam to have a look.

Gerd Jan started out at Vermeer, a well-known restaurant in Amsterdam, eventually winning them a Michelin star. While Gerd Jan excelled in his approach to cuisine, the stressful environment typical of a high-powered Michelin-starred kitchen was not his favorite working environment. Without any good examples to follow and no idea of how to achieve the environment conducive to his food alchemy, Gerd Jan took a sabbatical to see if he could figure out a better way.

Gerd Jan Hageman’s Farm to Table Experiment at De Kas is Still Going Strong

Jumping forward a few years, Gerd Jan was at a friend’s farm one summer day and they happened to be cooking on an open fire in the garden. Taking vegetables right from the garden and onto the fire sparked an idea for Gerd Jan of how the connection between farm and table in a restaurant setting could be dramatically altered. Why not integrate these two types of business to create better products and a more efficient flow of activity between the two?

With this general concept in mind things gradually began to fall into place. As luck would have it, the old municipal greenhouses in Frankendaal Park that had lain unused for years were made available for development. With the help of the municipality, family, friends, and famed Dutch architect Piet Boon, the greenhouse complex was brought back from the brink of destruction and put towards a new purpose. This would be the site of Gerd Jan’s experiment, a greenhouse in the city where food could be grown, prepared and served.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

It’s almost inevitable that this idea would have taken root in Holland in that greenhouses are quite a big deal here. Holland is where the world’s biggest greenhouses are found and they have a long history. It was the French botanist Charles Lucien Bonaparte who, in the 1800s, built the first practical greenhouses, for the production of medicinal plants, near the town of Leiden just a short distance from Amsterdam.

Today a total of 40 square miles, some .25% of Dutch land, are occupied by greenhouses. The number of people employed in the greenhouse industry totals 150,000. Approximately 4,000 greenhouses produce around 8 billion dollars’ worth of fruit, vegetable, plants and flowers, 80% of which are exported. A staggering number for such a small country.

We arrived at De Kas on a fairly dreary and cool day. Stepping inside you understand immediately why everything grows well in a greenhouse. It is light, airy, and warm, with the sweet smell of earth and produce lingering in the air. Before reaching the restaurant you must literally traverse a greenhouse, which nicely illustrates Jan’s idea that the quality of the food prepared flows directly from the healthy beds of fresh of citrus trees vegetables and salad greens surrounding the kitchen and dining room.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

Arriving at the main dining room, the bright ceiling is dramatically lifted to 8 meters. The architecture and interior are modern with a strong sense of practicality, as you would expect of a building with industrial intentions. Down at table level, all around the room, settings with simple, colorful glasses are offset with plants, fully integrating diners into the greenhouse environment.

Accenting the glass-covered iron roof structure, large sculptural-glass chandeliers hang like floating flowers, giving the room a lovely glow at night. Which brings to mind an interesting aspect of De Kas: The restaurant has two distinct faces, depending on the time of day – a light and airy one at lunch time, while at night, the dark sky covers the restaurant giving the low night-time lighting a theatrical-romantic feel. And at night, the outdoor reflecting pool spanning the length of the dining room is especially lovely as it reflects the light of the restaurant.

The kitchen is central to the complex of rooms and provides almost a performative function for the dining room. When we showed up at the door the crew was in full lunch-prep mode. We were greeted by Sous Chef Tommy Corns who hails from Coventry, England and now calls Amsterdam home. Tommy related that he dined at De Kas on a visit to Amsterdam and right there and then decided that this is the place he wanted to pursue his career. “Ask and you shall receive” they say, and it certainly must be worth a try because Tommy is now part of the De Kas team.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

Tommy took us through each of De Kas’ rooms. Next to the main dining room is the spacious Garden Room, complete with generous plantings and low seating areas, which give the space a kind of lounge feel. In contrast, just off the Garden Room, the “Business Table” is a quiet, private space, great if you come with a larger group of friends. Next to this is the “Bar Table” which provides a great view onto the dining room (the wait staff was just sitting down for communal lunch when we passed by). Beyond this are extensive out-door patios that greatly increase De Kas’ capacity in the summer months, or for a chilly aperitif at other times. Not for us though. The rain had started to come down at quite a clip so it was nice to stay warm and dry by the fireplace and listen to the soft patter of rain on the roof and watch the patterns of the water reflected on the floor.

Onto the kitchen proper and I found my favorite table. Adjacent to the kitchen prep area, Gerd Jan has made accommodations for two to four food aficionados like me. Book ahead for this table and the chefs will create a meal just for you and a few friends as you watch the night’s food performance unfold.

From the kitchen I catch a glimpse of someone harvesting from the lemon trees in the next room. It makes you realize what it takes to get fresh produce to a kitchen every day and the luxury of having much of your resources in-house.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

Fresh produce is really the key at De Kas and the thing that grounds the whole proposition. The De Kas greenhouses are supplemented by a larger off-site complex that is needed to keep the kitchen constantly supplied with fresh vegetables. Gerd Jan heads up the operation: working the soil, planting, weeding, and harvesting herbs and vegetables for the kitchen every day. Rushing in, crates of vegetables in hand, Gerd Jan stops for a quick hello before dashing into a meeting. The kitchen staff gather round the crates discussing what might be constructed from the day’s harvest.

There are only a few things Gerd Jan’s greenhouses cannot provide, mainly the meat and fish. But Gerd Jan has trusted local sources for these things to guarantee that whatever is served meets his high standard for freshness.

Next we get to the best part of our visit, Tommy has prepared some dishes for us to taste. As it’s winter, we start with a salad of root vegetables with a fresh vinaigrette. This salad is a lovely mix of pickled and fresh flavors. Tommy tells us they do a lot of pickling in the kitchen to extend their harvests through the year.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

The second dish is an earthy broth-based soup. The broth is poured over an ensemble of ingredients from a lovely glass tea pot. A really simple dish at first taste, but fragrance and flavors evolve as you eat. Fish and cabbage blend nicely and fresh herbs combine for a tasty zing at the end.

After 13 years, De Kas is still quite a unique proposition. The greenhouse/restaurant combination shows up in various configurations around the world but it is pretty rare. The success of De Kas is revealed in the numbers. Every year over 50,000 guests are served: quite a lot for a relatively small operation.

Farm to Table at De Kas| Bearleader Chronicle No.59

We are already planning our next visit for the summer months. That’s the time when you can tour the full complex of De Kas’ nurseries. Take a tip from the Bearleader, put De Kas on your to do list for you next visit to Holland.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


For reservation, go to; www.restaurantdekas.nl. We highly recommend booking the Chef’s table for 2-4 people. De Kas is happy to accommodate vegetarians, an attitude that is sometimes hard to find in Amsterdam.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Ripping the Eisbach

If you are planning a visit to the upcoming Octoberfest in Munich you might be surprised to see the occasional surfboard-toting person on a bike or streetcar or just walking down the street. It happened to me and after doing a few double takes I found myself standing next to a woman on a tram with surfboard in tow. “Are you surfing somewhere around here?” “Ya, of course” she replied with bewilderment at my ignorance. To me it was not obvious at all. Munich, being hundreds of miles from the nearest ocean, does not naturally shout out “surf capital”.

I guess one needs to fully understand the Bavarian spirit of innovation and propensity to enjoy the outdoors at all costs in order to comprehend how a small river in the heart of Munich would become the river surfing capital of the world. Intrigued and wanting to find out more, I asked around and was able to find a few of the people who pioneered this sport. Now in their late 40s many of them are still surfing, now with kids in tow.

The Unlikely Story of How River Surfing Started in Munich

The story goes like this: One day years ago where Prinzregentenstraße passes over the Eisbach River it occurred to someone that it might be a good idea to throw a beer table into the river, tie it to the bridge and climb on board. Sounds ridiculous right? And dangerous. But there is no dissuading a Münchner with a plan, no matter how ludicrous.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

As it turned out the beer table was great fun and worked okay as a flotation device. Soon beer tables gave way to surfboards with riders holding the rope. Then one day the rope momentarily went slack. The rider suddenly realized they were actually surfing and voila “river surfing” was born.

Without easy access to commercial surfboards, people started making their own and a local industry was born. Today that industry generates over 500 boards a year, and there’s a thriving business in racks to carry the boards around.

The Eisbach is a small man-made river which runs only about a mile long. It flows underground until bursting out on the north side of Prinzregentenstraße at the edge of Munich’s English Garden. The convergence of the high velocity water and a sudden rise in the river bed creates the wave. The bridge offers a unique vantage point for observers and for this reason it can be quite crowded, as people can gather at all hours of the day.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

Even though the first beer tables were thrown in the river early in the 1970s the activity was officially forbidden by the city until 2010, but the city turned a blind eye as the sport continued on. The sport is now legally maintained by a group of surfers, helped by the fact that a few of those early surfers became lawyers and kept the case moving through the bureaucracy.

Along with official sanction came the opportunity for improvements, and the wave today is much improved over its earlier natural state. Submerged planks attached to the bridge by ropes, allow waves to be tuned – taller or flattened as desired.

As opposed to ocean surfing, a river wave is stationary. Instead of “catching” a moving wave, you stand facing upstream and jump onto the face of the wave. You have the feeling of traveling fast over water while not actually moving, but it is not for the faint of heart. Imagine 20,000 tons of water per second shooting towards you with a temperature, even in summer, never rising above 60 degrees. Frightening.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

The next day I met up with Andreas, one of the locals who owns a surf and snowboard store not far from the wave. Over a hot coffee he fills me in on the river scene before taking his turn on the wave.

I was fascinated by the orderly behavior of the surfers. They form lines on both sides of the river taking turns on the wave. Andreas says they call it the zip line. Each surfer waits their turn, board in hand. And then when the time comes, with a swift jump while dropping the board in at the same time, they land on the wave and they’re off. The experienced surfers make it look so easy gliding from side to side of the river. To the observer it is mesmerizing and appears quite impossible.

Some surfers are more experienced than others but don’t be fooled, you have to be very accomplished to stand up on this wave. And, as Andreas tells me, some of the locals don’t take well to beginners wasting time on “their” wave. It’s strange bedfellows seeing an orderly German mindset applied to a freewheeling sport like surfing.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

Sports that occur more naturally in Munich are snowboarding and windsurfing and many of the surfers, like Andreas, also are devotees of these sports. But for those who work in Munich, the Eisbach offers a convenient way keep active year round. Lunch time is especially busy with local professionals taking lunch on the wave.

This probably explains the incredible number of local surfers. The scene has about 1,000 active surfers and 10,000 that have tried it at least once. On average 100 surfers show up each day all year long. That was what surprised me most. On a Sunday afternoon lines on each side of the river will get quite long. When good surfers ride the wave too long those in the line will bang on their boards giving the sign to move on. Andreas tells me there are a lot of unspoken rules and signs like that that you need to learn in order to make it into that circle of 1,000.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

But there is a way in for those of us just starting out. There is a smaller second wave further down the river that is slower and easier learn on. Once you get the hang of the slow wave you can try your hand up river with the pros.

Fraeulein Grueneis

After hanging out at the bridge for some time I was getting chilly so I headed over to the nearby restaurant / café, Fraeulein Grueneis, to chat with owners Sandra and Henning Duerr. Henning was born and raised in Munich and an early observer of the scene. One of his young staff, Margo, just shy of 17, surfs daily after school and helps in the kitchen at Fraeulein Grueneis to make extra money. Both have very different viewpoints on the Eisbach scene.

Henning thinks that in the past the scene was quite aggressive and standoffish to outsiders. He surmises that it might be because it was illegal for so long and took on a territorial character. These days it’s much more multigenerational and inclusive. That’s Margo’s experience, who, by the way, arrived at work on a bike, board in hand, a balancing act in itself. She tells me she’s surfing on Eisbach year round as her high school is conveniently close by.

River Surfing on the Eisbach| Bearleader Chronicle No.60

Having had our fill of Fraeulein Grueneis coffee and cake we made our way back out of the English Gardens and back over the bridge. A kid of about 10 years is tearing up the wave and then he is followed by someone 60+ who was no slouch himself. The line was old and young, men and women, all types and sizes. From strange beginnings, it has become a very inclusive and totally unique sport.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


For the best vantage point to watch the surfing check out the map below.

Feeling peckish stop by the nearby Fraeulein Grueneis. It’s a great place for a meal, a snack or a drink. For More information, go to; www.fraeulein-grueneis.de

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Artist Residence

We checked in at the Artist Residence hotel on a chilly Sunday night just a few months after they opened. This is the third in a series of small but well-established boutique hotels in England – the first in Brighton and the second located in Penzance.

Partners Justin Salisbury, 27, and Charlotte (Charlie) Newey, 28, have a great sense of style. Both having backgrounds in art, they built their new hotel concept around a network of prolific artists that provide a steady stream of new work to AR’s rooms and hallways.

The ten room hotel with street-level restaurant and basement bar dates back to1852 and was designed by architect Thomas Cubitt as a public house. Cubitt was the architect for many of the grand buildings around nearby Belgravia square.

Entering the hotel is a lot like visiting a friend’s apartment. No lobby, per se, just a simple check-in desk, and up you go to one of AR’s ten rooms. The rooms all differ in size and style, but all are spacious and well-appointed. We especially like the bathroom details; a quirky mix of old and new, with contrasting distressed and smooth materials for walls, counters and floors.

Need a quiet space to hang out or get some work done? The lounge area on the garden level with large leather sofas and an adjacent coffee bar will fit the bill.

Opposite the lounge is a windowless dimly lit bar with lots of cozy seating. If you want a taste of what a secret Prohibition-era bar might have been like, this must come close. Prohibition never quite made it to the UK. The closest they came was when Parliament passed the 1854 Sale of Beer Act, restricting alcohol sales on Sundays. It was quickly repealed after widespread rioting. The lesson here, don’t get between an Englishman and his pint. I guess the Americans were not as committed to their refreshments, allowing Prohibition to continue for 13 years.

While roaming the AR’s gallery-like corridors we meet owner Charlie and barkeep Max Curzon-Price, designer of the bar’s interesting mix of cocktails. Chatting with Charlie and her all-under-30 crew, you are taken in with their enthusiasm for the hotel business and their unique vision for art-inspired hospitality.

The restaurant, Cambridge Cafe, serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and is open to both hotel guests and the public. In charge of the kitchen is head chef Radek Nitkowski who previously worked at Dean Street Townhouse, another of our favorite London accommodations.

Artist Residence is a great value. The accommodations are roomy and comfortable and you are a stone’s throw from Victoria Station for connections to overland trains, the tube and buses. To extend your art-themed stay, you are easy walking distance from the Tate Britain and the Thames where you can take the boat down to the Tate Modern and the south bank theater district.

Pimlico has long been the place of small tattered hotels and B&B’s for a pretty penny. Well those days are over, there is a new kid in town. Artists Residence is a lovely and inspiring place to stay, produced and run by lovely people with a passion for their customers’ comfort. What’s not to like?

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


For room rates and directions go to; www.artistresidence.co.uk

And to eat at the Cambridge Street Cafe; www.cambridgestreetcafe.co.uk

Many thanks to Artist Residence for inviting us to come visit.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Eat London

“The art of cooking as practiced by Englishmen does not extend much beyond roast beef and plum pudding”, said Swedish explorer Pehr Kalm in 1748 on the occasion of his visit to the English capital. And I am sure that Pehr was absolutely correct in his estimation of English cuisine, as this was the general takeaway of visitors until just a few years ago. But the cliché of bad and tasteless food in England no longer applies. To the surprise of many around the world who have not passed through the British capital lately, London has been for a few years now a must stop destination for foodies worldwide.

With a bevy of famous British television chefs leading the charge, the Brits are cooking up a storm. And although one of the first things you hear when striking up a conversation about London is “it’s so expensive”, don’t believe a word of it when it comes to food. Sure you can easily spend a fortune on food in London, but good food doesn’t necessarily equate with a rich budget. There are plenty of outstanding places to dine that won’t break the bank.

For the latest installment of our regular feature, “Eat a city” we are heading to London with a list of establishments offering diverse food at great prices in sometimes unexpected locations.

1 Carousel

With a short trip on the tube, we arrive at Baker Street station and walk a few blocks into the London neighborhood of Marylebone. Arriving at the restaurant Carousel we meet the young cousins of the Templeton family who are well on their way to establishing themselves as food innovators on the London food scene.

Olli, Anna, Will, and Ed tell me they caught the family business bug early following the example of their two dads who were also in business together. It is immediately evident that the cousins complement each other. As we chat they talk in a kind of shorthand, finishing each other’s sentences, and are quick to point out their partners’ strengths over their own. It’s the kind of relationship that could only be found in a family. And the same respectful deference is given when talking about the visiting chefs that they invite in every few weeks to take control of the kitchen and menu.


Carousel’s concept is as refreshing as it is unique. Instead of sticking to one genre of cooking they have made variety their mainstay. Tapping young and up-and-coming chefs from all parts of the globe, they invite them to take over the kitchen for a few weeks at a time to bring their diverse ideas to the hungry London foodie scene. Carousel then works together with the guest chef to source the best British produce to complement the chef’s cuisine. Olli tells me that many of their guest chefs are really excited to have access to the renowned British local produce for their dishes which, in turn, inspires their varied creations.

And the range of cooking styles on display at Carousel is something to behold. Browsing the upcoming schedule on their website, you can find something for every taste, currently available or coming soon.

Located in a former ‘60s office building, Carousel’s space is split into three levels. The upper floor functions as a gallery with the same curatorial spirit as the kitchen, bringing in a different artist each month and exposing their work to the London scene. It’s also a great event space which is available for private hire, as is the basement.


On the ground level is the dining area, where guests gather together Tuesday to Saturday around two long communal tables. There is a small bar for drinks before the meal and an open kitchen where the full theater of the day’s culinary performance is on display. When I arrive the pre-show is in full swing. The atmosphere is relaxed and warm. Staffers are friendly and clearly enthusiastic about the food as they get detailed descriptions of each of the dishes that they will be serving.

The innovative thinking at Carousel does not stop with its curatorial chef program. They are also forging a revolutionary system of food management that enables them to greatly increase their efficiency in making sure almost every delicious morsel of food purchased is served to diners.

This is accomplished by expanding their online reservations system to include your seat selection, your choice of meal and payment in advance: Once you book a meal at Carousel all you have to do focus on food and conversation. All the necessary but less enjoyable parts of dining out will already have been taken care of well in advance, and the team knows exactly how much food is required each night. The Templetons hope the idea will catch on and that the vast amount of food wasted each day by restaurants can be avoided


On the day of my visit the culinary team “Cooking in Motion” was in residency. Cooking in motion is the brainchild of Chef Sebastian Mazzola and his partner, sommelier Sussie Villarico. They travel the world to promote their passion for Peruvian Japanese cooking.

Mazzola has quite the resume. Starting at the famed El Buli restaurant in Spain, he then went on to run Pacta in Barcelona, another of the Ferian restaurant group.

His plates are pure perfection with a delicate balance of craft, creativity and flavor. The food looks amazing and tastes even better. Cooking in Motion may not be there when you visit but you can be sure that whatever chef Carousel has invited, they will be just as interesting.

For a completely unique dining experience you must check Carousel out on your next London visit. You will more than likely be experiencing the work from a future star chef. You can tell your friends, “Yea I know that chef. I discovered him/her years ago at Carousel in London”.

2 Regency Cafe

Next we head where the Westminster and Pimlico districts of London meet. Arriving at the Regency Cafe on the corner of Regency and Page Streets, you will feel like you have stepped back in time for a visit to post-war London. In fact the Cafe opened its doors in 1946, just a year after WWII. And since then it has changed very little, having been owned by only two families since.


Almost untouched, the tiled walls, gingham style curtains, green painted wood-paneled walls, and Tottenham Hot Spur football players’ photographs on the walls, all speak of a London long gone.

It is so authentic it feels like a movie set. Several movies in fact have been filmed here: Layer Cake, Brighton Rock, and Pride just to name a few, plus numerous fashion shoots and a load of British TV shows.

Voted the fifth best restaurant in London by Yelp, Regency Cafe is where, according to Harry Wallop, famed writer for the Daily Telegraph, you can still get a proper cup of builder’s tea. What’s builder’s tea? It’s a mug of pure liquid copper. The stuff that once fueled the docks, factories, coal mines, and steelworks of Britain, and kept the nation ticking.


The manner of service is old style. You order, pay, then pick a table and your plate is brought to you. You will most likely be addressed as “love”, an endearing and fast disappearing term more often heard on English TV shows like Coronation Street and the East Enders than in any real place.

Serving a diverse crowd, the Regency caters to a wide cross section of London’s inhabitants: Builders, pensioners, students, fashion aficionados, and tourists, all find something to please on the classic menu of British staples.

For great food and a taste of what the great British Empire was like, Regency Cafe is a must visit.

3 Street Kitchen

Day Three we are eating al fresco at Street Kitchen in the heart of London. Monday to Friday on Broadgate Circle you will find Street Kitchen’s classic shiny Airstream outfitted to serve breakfast and lunch to the hungry hoards working in the surrounding office buildings. The City of London, approximately one square mile in the center of London, is the financial hub of the city. All of the major financial institutions have headquarters here. So every day thousands of people stream in and out of train and tube stations on their way to work, making this the perfect place to locate a mobile restaurant.


When I arrive, the breakfast crowd is tapering off and the crew is taking a breather before the wave of lunch orders hit. Mark Jankel, the leader of the operation, shows up to say hello and immediately we start to chat.

Mark tells me that he is actually an environmental scientist but worked for 15 years in kitchens throughout London. He has a passion for English produce and had a particular interest in how food impacts the environment. He opened Street Kitchen in 2010 with the dream of developing a sustainable food van serving simple, locally-sourced, seasonal food at a great price to the workers of London.

Now five years on, Street Kitchen has grown to two vans and a fixed location prep kitchen where he has opened a small serving kiosk, and on Broadgate is a Street Kitchen sandwich shop.


Some of the classic dishes on the menu are the hot smoked salmon with cabbage, the kale salad, and the spice lamb meat balls. Mark credits his wife for the recipes and I can attest that they are amazing. Everyday there is a new special dish, and you can choose that or one of the standard main dished for under nine pounds. It’s a great price for organic, locally sourced, lovingly prepared food.

This is prime tourist territory so if you are visiting London you may very well be wandering by here. Just plan it so you are in the area around breakfast or lunch to partake of one of Street Kitchen’s yummy meals.

Now it’s time for a loo stop. But not the kind you might expect

4 Attendant

Turning the corner onto Foley Street you will see the black wrought iron structure of the former Victorian era subterranean gents’ loo. Built in 1890, it eventually fell into disrepair and was finally sealed up in the ‘60s. It lay dormant until 2011 when some enterprising coffee aficionados recognized the space’s potential, and after a two year renovation, reopened it to an entirely different purpose. Attendant is now a fixture for the java loving London crowd.


Heading down a few flights of stairs you enter the small original tiled space. There is seating in the old attendant’s nook and the former urinals have been turned into a bar with bright green seating. As you can imagine, it is hard to resist all manner of toilet puns while enjoying a fabulous cup of coffee and a lovely piece of cake while standing at a urinal. Rest assured you are not alone in that.

By the way, where is the loo?

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


Carousel: Subscribe to the Carousel’s newsletter to stay in touch what is happening. And to check for upcoming chefs in residence and to make a booking go to: www.carousel-london.com

Regency Cafe: 17-19 Regency Street, London SW1 4BY, United Kingdom, Phone: +44 20 7821 6596 / Hours: Monday to Friday 7:00am-2:30pm 4:00pm-7:15pm, Saturday: 7:00am- 12:00pm, Sunday: Closed

Street Kitchen: To find one of Street Kitchen’s two Airstreams and opening hours and the daily menu, goto; streetkitchen.co.uk / Or to see on Twitter whats happening live, goto; twitter.com/Streetkitchen

Attendant: For location and opening hours goto; the-attendant.com. Great photo op during the summer months sit outside along the two wooden benches upstairs.

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

The New French Roast

Opened in 2011 by Australian Tom Clarke and his French partner Antoine Netien, Cafe Coutume has become a well-established fixture on the Parisian coffee scene.

One would think that Paris, with its long traditions of local wine and cheese production, all based on highly nuanced subtleties of flavor and texture, would be first in line to embrace a new understanding of coffee along the same lines. Perhaps the attention lavished on these local products has much to do with their direct connection to French soil, so coffee, not being a product of the French terroir, is not favored by a similar obsession.

Café Revolution

In any case, while cafes are a mainstay of Parisian culture, the chief offering of these wonderful establishments has often been, shall we say, a little bitter. The French like their coffee well done. Or as some would say “burnt” and this has become the de-facto standard for the country. And that is not easy to change. I found a similar situation in Vienna and Italy where the classic coffee houses tend to serve very bitter traditional roasts, rejecting the products of younger roasting companies in favor of the status quo.


It has taken some time, and an enormous effort by people like Tom, to start grinding down the resistance of Parisians to new kinds of coffee roasts and techniques. Now a small but dedicated community of coffee aficionados is taking hold. The realization is sinking in that coffee is like wine in its subtleties, reflecting the conditions and regions in which the coffee bean is grown, and in the way flavors can be manipulated in the preparation process to bring out the best from this delicious little green bean.

The day we visited Tom to chat about coffee, Coutume was buzzing with locals, with a few foreigners mixed in. Tom tells us that when he came from Australia to study in Paris he really longed for the vibrant fresh coffee culture he was fond of back home. Coffee culture came to Australia early, brought by Italian immigrants. And somehow the combination of the Australian give-it-a-go attitude with the traditions and techniques of Italy kicked off a dynamic and innovative coffee culture that is gradually spreading around the world.

To an Australian palette the local French roast was simply not a drink one could enjoy. So Tom began to develop an idea for how a third-wave coffee movement could be started in Paris. The end result is his café cum laboratory cum coffee education center, Coutume.


Now just four years later, all the hard work Tom and his team have put in is paying off. Coutume is quickly increasing in popularity, there is now a Coutume in Tokyo and a new roasting facility in Paris supplying restaurants and hotels all over Paris and beyond. As a result, there is now great coffee on offer in Paris, which was Tom’s original mission.

Coincidentally Paris’ first coffee house was opened by an Italian named Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli in 1686. A former lemonade vendor, he opened Cafe de Le Procope not far from where Coutume is today. The coffee was probably pretty awful to taste but the caffeine would have been a revelation.


Coutume’s laboratory/cafe/school is situated in a typical old Parisian storefront space partly excavated to reveal its history and partly renovated to accommodate the coffee technology. Walls are scraped back to their original plaster surfaces and old wood floors exposed, in contrast to a gleaming white tiled counter and stainless steel laboratory area for coffee education. The laboratory does double duty as extra counter seating and is accessorized with live lush coffee plants; a reminder that your daily fix of caffeine comes from a little fruit tree far away.

If you are hungry Coutume offers a small, fresh breakfast and lunch menu, and on Sundays brunch is served. The place is usually occupied by locals chatting, working on their computers or having meetings. It’s a dynamic atmosphere.


Now it’s time for some tasting. Tom and Nikkos, one of Coutume’s barrister crew, prepare a cold brew coffee with the Hairo Syphon, a science-like procedure with equal parts technique and theater. The taste is unlike anything you have tasted from a coffee bean. You realize that coffee beans are actually part of a fruit and what we are drinking is a kind of fruit juice. This kind of coffee tasting is an eye-opening experience. Fascinating and delicious. I highly recommend you give it a try.

Coutume is located in the 7th Arrondissement close to the Rodin Museum and Bon Marche. So it’s a perfect side trip for your next Paris adventure. Now we are off to see Napoleon’s Tomb just around the corner.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


For more information about Cafe Coutume, go to; coutumecafe.com

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Surprising Nuremberg

How many of you have Nuremberg on your list of must-visit holiday spots? For me it is way up there on my Christmas holiday list with its world renowned Christmas market and great holiday events. Actually, there is probably no better place to be at Christmas. But I must confess that outside of the holiday season it was not in my top 10. So when I got an invitation to visit from the local tourism board, I jumped at the chance to see what’s going on in Nuremberg the rest of the year. And what a surprise!

Two Days in Nuremberg

At Christmas time the market on the main square is such a draw that you really don’t have much time left to look elsewhere. And that’s too bad because, as we discovered, Nuremberg has way more to offer.

I am a studier, so the first thing I do when preparing to visit a place to check out the stats. It is usually not for sharing, just a method to find my way into a place. But Nuremberg has fascinating stats, so it seems worthwhile sharing:

– The city of Nuremberg has just shy of a half million inhabitants, and another 3.5 million in the larger metropolitan area. That’s a good sized city. In addition, the city is large area-wise, and to cover all that ground, Nuremberg has a great transportation system. It is easy and inexpensive to get around.

– Nuremberg is today the biggest exporter of ginger bread, and way back in the 13th century this delicious treat was being baked in the city by specialized guilds. Nuremberg is a crossroads city and trade routes from the east found their first trading opportunity in Europe when they arrived there. So spices were readily available in Nuremberg, but remained rare in most other places.

– In the 15th century Erhard Etzlaub, a compass maker by trade, came up with a great marketing idea. He developed the first “Romweg” or “The Way to Rome” map. This is the first European road map and the thing that eventually led to the Google map you may use to get around today. Etzlaub’s map was used by pilgrims heading to the Christian capital and included information on accommodations and places to eat along the way. He got his data from the traders that traveled to and from Rome regularly. And just like Google, Etzlaub updated his map regularly.


– Around the 17th century the first clarinet was developed in Nuremberg in the small workshop of Christoph Denner. Today Nuremberg has an impressive classical music program which is especially active in the summer months.

– In 1875 Nuremberg was one of the first major European cities to get electrical street lighting. All that trading going on in the city made lots of money which enabled investment in the latest technology.

– The cough drop was invented in Nuremberg, the first one being made in 1923 by Dr. Carl Soldan. The drops were branded as Em-Eukal and are still on sale today. They were likely used by Henry Kissinger who was born in the adjacent town of Fuerth, where he lived until 1938 when he fled the Nazis for American shores.

– In 1924, 16 years after the American company Converse invented the modern sports shoe, two bothers from the adjacent town of Herzogenaurach got on the bandwagon and started their own sports shoe company. It did not go well and the brothers started feuding. The company broke up and each started their own company. The competition that followed between Adidas and Puma has fueled constant innovation ever since.


– In 1927 all the things that had made Nuremberg such a successful and vibrant city became its downfall. Hitler loved the city and chose it as the centre of his Third German Reich. When Hitler was voted into office in 1933, Nuremberg became the centre of all Aryan ideas and the Nuremberg laws, stripping Jewish citizens of their German citizenship, were initiated. In the end, because all the strife started in Nuremberg, the allied forces chose Nuremberg as the location to put the Nazi leadership on trial. The place of the Third Reich’s origin became the location of its end.

One of the first things that caught my attention when we arrived on the train was a postcard, half in black and white showing a heavily bombed Nuremberg, and on the bottom was the beautiful vibrant Nuremberg you see today. It made me think how far the community has come in order to look beyond that dark period and rebuild with the vibrant open energy you experience today.

We picked a hotel a bit above the main square so we could explore the old town without too much hill climbing. Parts of Nuremberg are pretty steep! We stayed at a lovely, newly-opened boutique hotel called Hotel Elch. The building has been in the lodging business since 1342, so staying at Elch you are walking in the steps of traders and pilgrims from many centuries past. You will not, however, suffer any of the inconveniences they likely faced. The rooms are completely modern and equipped with all the amenities.

1 Kaiser Burg

A short walk up from Hotel Elch is the Kaiser Burg, the imperial castle of Nuremberg. Early records indicate that the first parts of the building were constructed around 1050. Major building works did not start until a century later during the reign of King Conrad III in 1140.

In the 13th century Nuremberg became an Imperial free zone, a major turn of events because free cities at that time enjoyed more autonomy and had only the emperor to report to. That made trading, tax collection and administration a lot easier and more lucrative.


Along with the new freedom came responsibility for the castle’s building works and maintenance. And during this period the castle grew substantially in size with many out-buildings, towers and moats being added. The castle today, quite literally, towers over the city. The large “Luginsland” or the “look into the land” tower was, when built, the largest structure anyone had seen.

During WWII the castle was mostly destroyed leaving only the Roman Chapel and the Sinwell Tower intact. But like much of Nuremberg, the castle was reconstructed to appear as if nothing happened. Without the benefit of the numerous before-after postcards in souvenir shops around town you would never know that it was ever destroyed.


We roamed the castle for several hours navigating the maze of hallways with hordes of happy school children. Clearly this is a popular field trip destination.

Feeling a bit peckish after our castle wanderings we hop on a bus and head to our next destination just a few stops away.

2 Cafe Wohlleben

In Germany there is a kind of cafe known as a Konditorei. Traditionally it was the place you would go to for coffee and cake, or as the locals say “Kaffee und Kuchen”. As convenience and chain stores take over more and more space on city streets, the traditional Konditorei is not as prevalent as it used to be.


Cafe Wohlleben owner Alexander Hilderbrandt is putting a new spin on the tradition, bringing it up to date with an extraordinary emphasis on the “Kuchen” part of the business. His beautiful and delectable creations make an afternoon break a real special event. And heading up the “cafe” part of the experience is barista Sarah Schweizer. Her coffee brews are just as special as the sweets they accompany. And the two together are a dream. Quite an upgrade from the old filter coffee and Bundt cake which is standard Konditorei fare.

With an eclectic mix of antiques and modern elements, Cafe Wohlleben has been assembled with an eye towards the Konditorei tradition. During our visit patrons streamed in: elegant German ladies, young students, a group of office colleagues, a real diverse crowd all joined by their common interest in coffee cake and sweets.

Now well-nourished and with plenty of calories to burn, we hop on a streetcar and head for the centre of town.

3 The Lorenz District

We head through town on the Königstraße, the old road that carves a path from the train station up to the main square. Not far from the station we head off into a small courtyard called “Handwerkerhof“, or the Craftsman centre. Here you can find an array of quaint old shops reminiscent of the medieval village that Nuremberg used to be. Most of the stores specialize in local arts and crafts so it is a great place to find small handmade gifts authentic to Nuremberg.

Along with the local crafts you can also experience the local cuisine here. In the middle of all the shops there’s a “Bratwursthaeusle” or “sausage house” called Bratwurst Gloecklein. It is a lovely old-style setting and often less busy than the other Bratwursthaeusle up next to the main square. It is almost obligatory to try the famous “Sechs auf Kraut” (six Nuernberger Sausages with cabbage salad). Aside from the fact that they do not serve much else other than the six sausage dish, they are really good.


Fun food fact: The “Nuernberger” sausage is a trademarked object for its size, shape and ingredients, and can only be served in even numbers. Those Nuernbergers are very serious about their sausages.

Just beyond the courtyard the scene changes from medieval to futuristic. Nuremberg’s New Museum opened in 2000, designed by Berlin Architect Volker Staab. It is nestled in-between older buildings and its striking modernism makes it eye-catching by contrast. In its 33,000 square feet of space it houses contemporary art, sculpture, video and design.


The side of the museum opens to a courtyard and the vast glass wall reflects the old buildings across the way. This makes it fit right in with the surrounding medieval buildings in an odd-modern-gleaming kind of way.

Now we make our way through the city towards Hauptmarkt, the main square. Crossing the Pegnitz River we avoid the main bridge and take the pedestrian bridges that cross the western tip of Trodelmarkt Island. This is a great place to see the river from a lower vantage point. And as a bonus you walk right by the Henkersturm, “The house of the hangman”. I guess no one wanted to live next to this guy so he was stuck out in the river on an island.

At the Hauptmarkt there is a market every day and of course this is the site of the famous Christmas market. Walking through the square there is an abundance of food carts and we taste our way from one side of the market to the other, trying all sorts of foods from cheeses to crepes to gingerbreads.

If you are lucky to be at Hauptmark at the stroke of noon go over to the main church on the square, the Frauenkirche. There you will witness the famous “Maennleinlauf” or “men running”. When the clock strikes noon, look up at the clock tower to see seven life-sized Archdukes shuttle pass Kaiser Karl.

4 Hausbrauerei

Reinhard Engel is the owner and brewmaster of Hausbrauerei Altstadthof. In 1984 Reinhard decided that he wanted to create a new kind of small-scale brewery using only the purest local ingredients. Nowadays we hear a lot about organic, sustainable micro brewing, but in the 1980s this was nearly unheard of. Reinhard was a pioneer and had his microbrewery running years before it occurred to anyone else that this might be a good idea. Now whenever a microbrewery starts somewhere in the world, it is likely that the brewers call Reinhard first to learn how it’s done.

Reinhard took us down into the heart of the operation. It’s just a few steps from his pub so when you drink at Hausbrauerei it really could not be any fresher. The traditional copper kettles he uses are really old school. From the brewing room he took us down into the tunnels underneath the city where Reinhard stores his barrels taking advantage of the constant temperature.


I would not call myself an expert on beer. It is not really my drink of choice, but when in Rome… Reinhard offered me one of his specialty brews, the Rotbier (red beer). I definitely could taste the difference. It is very smooth with a delicate touch of hops and a dark copper color.

Before our departure Reinhard made a quick detour to give us a peek into his latest venture, a micro whiskey distillery. Apparently it is not a drastically different process to distill whiskey than it is to brew beer, so a few years ago Reinhard decide to give it a try. And now the first barrels are just about ready to go.

There are regular tours of the operation so you learn all about micro brewing. And next door is a great little shop with nice gifts and treats to buy for all your beer loving friends and family members.

5 Docu Centre

The next morning we walk down to the train station, board a street car and journey out of the center to the Southern district of Nuremberg. Today we are visiting the infamous Documentation Centre and Nazi Party Rally Ground. The Museum, or Docu Centre as it is called, is located in the North wing of the former congress hall designed by the National Socialists party to house 50,000 spectators. Its unfinished state gives it an eerie ominous feeling.


Inaugurated in 1994 The Docu Centre was designed by Austrian Architect Guenther Domenig who himself had a family connection with the institution’s subject matter. His father was a judge during the Nazi regime.

At around 45,000 square feet, the permanent exhibition is titled “Fascination and Terror”. The exhibition takes you step by step through the complex social events that led up the creation of the Nazi party, its brutal exploitation of the population, the war, and the final reckoning at the Nuremberg trials.

The presentation is dense with detailed information and illustrated with artifacts and the copious documentation generated by the Nazis themselves. What I found interesting, and at the same time chilling, is that by looking at events that occurred in Nuremberg step-by-step, you can better understand how small actions accumulating over time can easily lead to such a horrific result. Each step in itself can seem relatively benign but they have a momentum that builds up and becomes unstoppable.

I would recommend everyone make to visit the Docu Centre to get perspective on these horrendous events. The retelling of this story is applicable to current events and is worth pondering to better recognize the danger signs when events are carrying us along.

Take advantage of the headsets on offer which will really help to navigate the dense and sometimes difficult subject matter.

Although ending on a somber note, this was a great trip and Nuremberg really surprised us in the variety and breadth of experiences it offered. We did not have time to see all that we wanted but we will certainly be back for another visit soon to take in more.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


We suggest a visit to the tourist office when you arrive in Nuremberg. You can get lots of useful tips and find out about their latest special offers. It is located close to the train station and the staff is very helpful. For more information go to; tourismus.nuernberg.de

Many thanks to the lovely Hotel Elch for hosting our stay. To arrange accommodation at Hotel Elch, go to; hotel-elch.eu

For more information about the Imperial Castle, go to: kaiserburg-nuernberg.de

For more information about Cafe Wohlleben, visit their FaceBook page:

For more information about Neues Museum, go to; nmn.de

For more information about Handwerkerhof Nuremberg, go to; handwerkerhof.de

For more information about Hausbrauerei, go to; hausbrauerei-altstadthof.de

For more information about Bratwurst Glöcknern im Handwerkerhof, go to; die-nuernberger-bratwurst.de

Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

Tribeca and its 10 Best

Tribeca, one of the original “acronym” neighborhoods, has come a long way since its more generic pre-70s designation of Lower West Side. Although the name “Lower East Side” has been distinct enough to support that neighborhood’s unique character and ever-growing reputation, the designation “Tribeca” apparently came into being quick on the heels of the Soho Artists Association’s successful application to rezone their area. The artists living down below Soho on Lispenard Street were similarly ambitious to rezone their area and started a group under the name “Triangle Below Canal Block Association”. As with Soho before, the name soon was shortened to the much simpler “Tribeca” and the area has been on the rise ever since.

Tribeca has long been one of my favorite areas in New York. The architecture is a bit less amenable to shops and more sympathetic to restaurants. So the shops that do appear tend not to bow to the status quo. And the restaurants? Tribeca has some of the best.

A well-known resident and fellow admirer of the area is my long time colleague Erik Torkells. Erik’s obsession with keeping abreast of the area’s comings and goings has resulted in a popular blog called Tribeca Citizen that documents the neighborhood’s ever unfolding story.

I have been exploring other parts of the world of late, so on returning to New York recently I asked Erik to give me the skinny on what’s new around the triangle. I followed Erik’s advice and here is what I found.

1 Arcade Bakery

It’s early so breakfast seems like a good place to start. Hidden in the entry arcade of a beautiful Art Deco office building at 220 Church Street you find the aptly named Arcade Bakery, opened one year ago by pastry chef Roger Gural. Roger originally started on a very different career path with a job in television. But luckily for us he discovered a passion for pastry and instead of spending his days in dark video production rooms, he developed his talents in the kitchens of the famed chefs Thomas Keller and David Bouley. In David Bouley’s kitchen he was lucky to fall under the tutelage of a master French baker who apprenticed him in the fine art of Viennoiserie. Now Roger is the master and you can experience the full expression of his baking greatness.

Our breakfast consisted of a slice of poppy seed babka and an almond croissant. Both were excellent, as expected.


As we enjoyed out treats we struck up a conversation with two ladies at a table across the arcade. They were visiting from Palm Springs and had read about the Arcade Bakery in a magazine. Both were self-proclaimed babka experts and verified that Roger’s is the best.

And, for authentic French baguettes and the best croissants in town, this is the place.

2 The Poster Museum

Navigating Tribeca is quite easy, as it covers only about a square mile (two and a half sq. Kilometers) of Manhattan. So it was just a few steps south to reach Erik’s next recommendation. The Poster Museum was established in 1973 by collector Philip Williams. The Tribeca storefront only houses a fraction of the 500,000 artifacts that Philip acquired over the last 40 years. Actually we should say “storefronts” because the Poster Museum spans the whole block between Chambers Street and Warren Street, with entrances on both sides.


The store is a time capsule in that it’s a space unchanged since Tribeca’s origins in the 70s. The old posters harken back to much earlier times, with old memos of events and lifestyles from around the world. I love the classic travel posters from the 50s. If only I had more wall space! I quickly came across several things that would be perfect in my house.

For shopping or just to have a look, this is a great place to see the real Tribeca. For a virtual tour, check out The Poster Museum’s Twitter account. They regularly post interesting pieces from their collection.

3 The Mysterious Bookshop

Tribeca is one of the safest neighborhoods in New York. In fact, the only place you are likely to encounter crime is at our next stop. Right next to The Poster Museum on Warren Street you will find the Mysterious Bookshop. Serving amateur sleuths for the last 36 years, it lays claim to being one of the oldest mystery book stores in the country.


And it’s more than just a place to buy books. Live readings by well-known mystery authors are regularly hosted in the shop so check their schedule online to see if there is something on when you are in the area. Or just come in to find some new whodunit material. The knowledgeable staff will fix you up with just the right literature to keep you guessing.

4 Tribeca Synagogue

Heading a few blocks north now, up to White Street, you will find one of the most distinctive buildings in New York. The Tribeca synagogue was designed by architect William N. Breger. Breger was born and raised in the Bronx and studied at Harvard. Afterwards he became chairman of the architectural and design departments at Pratt University in Brooklyn. In 1967 he won the commission to design the new synagogue with his concept depicting an abstract representation of an eternal flame. As well as being a totally unique take on urban street facades, Breger’s design incorporated great performance space, making it popular place with early artist residents in the area


This is a great place to visit in the evening because the eternal flame analogy is conveyed in more than just the building’s shape. The facade lights up from the inside giving that part of White Street a warm glow.

5 Property

As Soho has been taken over by big brand outlets, some of the more interesting shops have migrated south into Tribeca. Next we are visiting two of those recent migrants that have taken up residence on Walker Street. For many years, Sabrina Schilcher’s store Property has been a mainstay in Manhattan for everything related to modern design. Her nose for great design and well-curated selection of modern classics and experimental designs makes her Tribeca studio a must visit.


She also carries several collections of small design objects that are just the right size to bring home for that friend who had to stay behind. If I were that friend, I would be thrilled to get one of the colorful ceramic coaster sets by designer Jason Paulson. If you are an enthusiast, Property is the place to see the best and latest in design

6 Artist, Robert Janz

Aside from the many places to visit, shop and eat, it’s really the streets that give Tribeca its distinctive character. The combination of architecture, people, and the gradually evolving ephemera never gets old. And speaking of ephemera, there is one resident artist has made the city his canvas. As you walk around, be in the lookout for the work of Robert Janz.


Robert is now in his 80s but still out most days adding his unique touch to the urban landscape. His work is subtle so you have to pay close attention. But once you’ve noticed it, you can’t miss it. His territory ranges from Tribeca to midtown. One of my favorites was a tongue-in-cheek changing of the ubiquitous “post no bills” sign to “post snow balls”. It being a particularly hot day, the art work was all the more poignant. Keep your eyes peeled for Roberts subtle editing of Tribeca’s streetscape.

7 Mmuseumm

Above all, Tribeca is a neighborhood that has developed as a result of its earliest artist residents. Other industries may be slowly encroaching on its territory from further downtown, but the heart and soul of the place is still its creative endeavors. To see some of Tribeca’s creative output on display we are heading west across Broadway to visit Cortland Alley. The architecture of the alley is unique in itself, but there are a couple of installations there that make it definitely worth the trip. Inside some defunct freight elevators opening onto the alley, two small private museums have been installed.


One, a micro modern natural history museum, displays modern artifacts, telling the story of simple modern objects that are obscured from our notice by their ubiquity. My favorite display was the evolution of coffee cup lids. And next door is the museum, Sara Berman’s Closet. Artist Maira Kalman has painstakingly recreated her mother’s closet which, in the artist words, “was both ordinary and extraordinary”. In order to take it all in, two matching blue chairs are provided across the street.

8 Smith & Mills

Continuing on our exploration of the Tribeca streets, we are now wandering over to Staples street to check out some of the original old manufacturing and warehouse buildings with their distinctive shutters. If you meander a bit uptown, at Greenwich and North Moore you will come across our next destination, Smith & Mills. This is a great place to take a break and get some refreshments.


Housed in a converted horse carriage house, this is the kind of establishment you would probably expect to find in Paris or London. Its well-worn interior keeps the spirit of old Tribeca alive. In summer months the charge doors are flung open extending tables out into the open air. If it is not too hot, it’s a great place to while away the afternoon.

9 Grand Banks

For most of Manhattan’s history it has been a place of manufacturing and trade. The infrastructure at the edges of the island were driven by shipping to support the coming and going of goods and people. When all that business disappeared the waterfront fell into disrepair and was ignored for many years. But in recent years that has all changed with Tribeca being one of the beneficiaries of development of the west side waterfront. Now just west of Tribeca a vast park system offers a plethora of activities to New Yorkers and visitors.

Emerging from Tribeca’s western edge, we leave the city behind and head out over the water on the Hudson River Pier. Our destination is the Grand Banks, a 142’ schooner moored at the end of the pier.

Formally a fishing vessel dating back to 1942, for most of her life she worked the waters of the turbulent North Atlantic. That is until lifelong sailors Miles and Alex Pincus in collaboration with Adrian Gallo and Mark Frith decided to refit her to navigate the choppy waters of the New York bar scene. The deck has been outfitted as a beautiful bar that is now open from May to October each year.


It is quite a unique experience leaving solid ground for the gentle rocking of the boat’s deck. And so great that you can spend some time out on a boat without ever heading out to sea. The big advantage: you can board whenever you want and when you are ready to go, it’s up to you. Oh, and no life jackets.

Chef Kerry Heffernan came up from the galley briefly to tell us about his menu and share his fabulous Ceviche, made from sustainable Montauk sea Bream with avocado, habanero, kaffir lime and mint. Chef Heffernan maintains a small herb garden on board which makes his seasonings very local, but also very much in the tradition of ship-bound fresh cuisine which, by necessity, had to be raised or grown onboard.

At Grand Banks’ stern, occupying the wheelhouse, you will find the tiny New York outpost of Mate Gallery, with their characteristically eclectic mix of vintage oil paintings and textiles, nautical objects, out-of-prints books and swimming apparel. Mate Gallery was started by Ron Brand and Matt Albiani in Santa Barbara, California. A great surprise to find out on a boat on the Hudson.

10 Evening Bar

With the sun setting over the Hudson, we disembark from the Grand Banks and head back into Tribeca for our final stop.

At the Smyth hotel, if you go all the way to the back of the lobby area you will find the Evening Bar, a quiet off-the-beaten-track place that is perfect for an evening conversation and drink. The wrap-around mural created by Brooklyn artist Matthew Benedict encompasses the whole room with early quasi 1940s imagery. An impressive back-lit mahogany cocktail bar along with an interesting mix of vintage Scandinavian and American mid-century furniture round out the interior. It’s a great space that reminds me of the classic King Cole Bar at the St. Regis in Mid-town. Sort of a younger, downtown version of that.


The drink menu is divided into four cocktail sections; Sparkling, Shaken, Stirred and Classic. I tried the Second Marriage, a brilliant cocktail particularly memorable for its mesmerizing color, heavy glass and perfectly square ice cube. They get all the details right at the Evening Bar.


Many thanks to Erik Torkells for sharing his Tribeca favorites with the Bearleader. We hope Erik’s tips will make your next Tribeca visit a memorable one.

< More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


To keep abreast of what’s happening in Tribeca, goto; tribecacitizen.com

  • Arcade Bakery: www.arcadebakery.com
  • The Poster Museum: www.postermuseum.com
  • The Mysterious Bookshop: www.mysteriousbookshop.com
  • The Tribeca Synagogue: www.tribecasynagogue.org
  • Smith and Mills: www.smithandmills.com
  • Property: www.propertyfurniture.com
  • Mmuseumm: www.mmuseumm.com
  • Grand Banks: www.grandbanks.org
  • Mate Gallery: www.mategallery.com
  • To learn more about Robert Janz, read Erik’s story at Tribeca Citizen
  • Evening Bar: www.eveningbar.com

  • Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

    Nelson’s Last Walk

    J.M. Barrie, famed dreamer and creator of Peter Pan, once said, “Make your feet your friend”. As we zoomed along in-between the lush summer hedgerows of western Britain in our Fiat Mini rental, I thought about Barrie’s wise words. We were on the way to walk in one of those magic English places where leisure and history have come to co-exist in perfect harmony: the Stackpole Estate in Wales.

    The Estate, owned and maintained by the National Trust, is situated within the Pembrokeshire National Park located between the villages of Stackpole and Bosherton in Pembrokeshire. Stackpole is both a listed “designed landscape” and an important nature reserve, with the famous Bosherton Lakes or “Lily Ponds” at its centre.

    A Walk in Stackpole

    This land began its occupation by the Stackpoles during the Norman Age (1188) when one of the fortresses the Normans used to establish their rule over England was constructed here. Over the years the estate has passed through three families, the de Stackpoles, the Vernons and the Stanleys, before being finally purchased by the Stanleys’ stewards, The Lorts family, in the 17th century, while the Stanleys were away fighting the civil war.


    Today’s Stackpole is the result of the works of Sir John Campbell. When he inherited the estate in 1777 he began landscaping on a grand scale. In a painting of 1758 you see a meadow of grazing cows in the valley below the house. Campbell flooded the meadow to create a vast lake over which he constructed eight carefully placed arched bridges. This formed the focal point for his constructed-picturesque landscape.

    He then surrounded the lake with “a thousand” trees. Sir Joseph Banks, the botanist who founded the famous Kew Gardens in London, recorded sending many exotic plants to Stackpole. This insured that the original plantings would be of the highest caliber and very much in line with the fashion of the day for impressing guests with things collected from all parts of the globe.

    In a photograph taken around 1850 you can see the house overlooking the lake with its series of bridges extending into the distance. The trees are a little shorter, but this view is quite similar to what you can see today.


    Sadly, today you can enjoy only the landscape and nature in the estate, as the architecture fell into disrepair to the point that it was demolished in 1963. However, you can still enjoy Sir John Campbell’s walled garden and buy some of the produce gown there during the summer months. There is also a lovely Cafe on the grounds where you can sit and imagine what the estate might have felt like in its heyday.

    To add to your imaginings, here is a racy anecdote. Sir William Hamilton, his wife Emma Hamilton and Emma’s lover, Lord Nelson, all visited Stackpole in 1805, just before Nelson left for the Battle of Trafalgar. After I came upon this story I researched further only to find out that Sir William, Emma and Lord Nelson lived openly together, which provided much fodder for gossip magazines of the day.


    We parked the car and set off on our walk. The trail is well marked so you don’t need a map. Signs at the trail head clearly outline a variety routes to the beach of varying distances.

    You first walk downhill through a heavily treed area (this must be where many of those “thousand” trees ended up) until you come upon the first bridge.

    The bridge is only wide enough for one so we were lucky that it was near the end of the day with hardly anyone around. We lingered in the middle of the lake to look for otters, and to watch the birds and dragon flies. On cue, an otter poked up its head to welcome us.


    What’s great about this walk is that within a short distance you cover so many different terrains. There are cool wooded valleys, romantic lily ponds and magnificent coast lines interspersed with the occasional sandy beach. The path leads you on a loop which eventually leads you back to the narrow bridge and up to where you parked.

    The terrain is moderate and the path not so long – you can easily navigate it in sneakers. A sun hat would not go amiss, especially when you get out to the coast where there is no shade except on the beach near the rocky cliffs.


    There is something about walking that invites the mind to wander, and in a location so steeped in history, this is a walk that is full of surprises, both current and from the distant past. Follow the trail that may have been Nelson’s last country walk before entering the annals of British history at the battle of Trafalgar.

    Highly recommend.

    < More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


    For more information about visiting the Stackpole Estate, go to; www.nationaltrust.org

    Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

    Schloss Bernstein

    Some of the best sleep-over experiences happen when the place you stay is also what you have gone to see. Taking this to the extreme, the other day I got a chance to spend the night in an art exhibit. That brought visiting a gallery to a whole new dimension! But that is a story for another time.

    Better examples are historic homes, or places where a famous person stayed. These are places where the mists of time are so thick that you can easily lose yourself in the story of the place. Reports of ghosts are not uncommon in such places, and in certain ways the accumulation of things and experiences from past occupants do amount to something tangible that continues to affect visitors.

    But this alchemy of experience is not easy to achieve. It requires a delicate balance between “leaving things alone” and some proper care-taking and maintenance, and it usually involves someone with a passion for the place and an enthusiasm to share it with the world. Where this is achieved, magic can happen.

    On the other hand, certain comforts that we expect from normal accommodations work against us in these places. How often have you booked a room advertised as historic, only to find all the “old” is completely obscured by layers of “modern” amenities? All the magic has been cleaned out, leaving a place which, may in fact be old, but the fabric of its history is ripped beyond repair.

    Schloss Bernstein

    For those who seek out these rare history-packed places, we have a good one to share with you.

    Schloss Bernstein is a medieval castle dating back to the 12th century. It’s located in the town of Bernstein in the Burgenland region of Austria bordering Hungary, not too far from Vienna.

    Actually, Burgenland was part of Hungary until the end of WWII when it became Austria’s youngest county. The fortress, sitting on a solid rock outcropping, overlooks Styria to the south and the Hungarian Lowlands to the east, perfectly positioned to see enemies approaching from any direction.

    Schloss Bernstein

    For the last century Schloss Bernstein has been the home of the Almasy family. And today it is Andrea and Alexander Almasy, along with their son Erasmus, who are in residence and welcome guests into their fortress from May till October each year.

    Count Laslzo Almasy … was indeed a real Count, and Schloss Bernstein was his home until he set out to explore the Middle East.

    Why just May till October? Well, castles have no central heat. And if it were heated, the constant variation of temperature and humidity would eventually degrade the castle’s ancient wooden furniture and paneling, not to mention the destruction created by running modern utilities through the ancient walls. So, as it has for hundreds of years, the house slowly cools each winter and reawakens in the spring, ready for visitors. And that is why the Schloss Bernstein of today is very much the same as it was 200 years ago.

    Schloss Bernstein

    If the name Almasy has a familiar ring to it, you might recall in Michael Ondaatje’s 1992 Booker Prize winning novel, The English Patient, a character by the name of Count Laslzo Almasy, played by Ralph Fiennes in the movie version. And there was indeed a real Count Almasy, and Schloss Bernstein was his home until he set out to explore the Middle East.

    The real Count Almasy’s story is no less exciting than the one written about in the book and you can see some of the memorabilia from his expeditions on display in the long corridors of the castle. Some of the objects are referred to in the book. I was fascinated to see the Count’s pilot license, wrist watch and his saber hanging over the daybed where he used to read, as well as some oil paintings he made as a young boy. It’s a strange mix of fact and fiction.

    Around the castle you can also see vintage toys that Erasmus and his two siblings played with, and the tricycles they raced up and down the maze of castle hallways, suggesting additional layers of stories of the castle’s history.

    Schloss Bernstein

    When we arrived, Erasmus and his mother Andrea rushed out and greeted us warmly. They have a quiet, down-to-earth charm about them and you immediately feel that you are amongst friends.

    Andrea refers to herself as restorer, gardener, cook, antique dealer, and, most importantly, the current custodian of the place. Erasmus returned home from Vienna after completing a degree in physics to help with the family business, and will eventually take over responsibility for the place. Unfortunately, we did not get to meet Andrea’s husband Alexander, who in true Almasy tradition, had taken advantage of some down time to set out on a month-long motorcycle trip.

    Andrea who was born and raised in the castle tells us that in the 1950s, her mother, in order to keep the house maintained, rented out a few rooms in south wing to students wanting to learn German. Over time the castle’s southern rooms were outfitted with bathrooms, some en suite and some shared, and thus began the new Almasy tradition of hospitality.

    Schloss Bernstein

    You will not find any internet, TVs, minibars or even telephones here. It really is authentic. However, you will find a large selection of well-worn books in your room and all around the castle. Erasmus and Andrea are always ready with suggestions for something to read that matches your interests.

    Rooms do not have numbers but rather names. The Vinzenz and Tantalus rooms have a resident ghost, “the white lady” who frequents this part of the castle. Ghosts not your thing? Maybe you would rather stay in Tanten, Kisebb, Lori, or Oklahoma. The Oklahoma room however comes with the responsibility of defending the castle in case of attack. It is outfitted with the armory ready for action.

    Each room is unique, and for the most part, still contains the original furniture. As you walk around, old floors creak as they have under the feet of visitors coming and going for hundreds of years. I found the writing desks in each room particularly poignant. They must have seen their fair share of joy and sorrow, carefully written down in long hand. Large heating stoves sit prominently in each room giving a glimpse into amazing craftsmanship of days past.

    Schloss Bernstein

    The views out the windows are stunning. Over the green rolling hills you can see all the way to the Alps on a sunny day. It is easy to see why Schloss Bernstein has had its fair share of return guests seeking a slow, quiet respite from modern life.

    Of all the stories Andrea told me during our stay, my favorite was of a guest who has been coming regularly for many years, always staying in the same room. At some point, on the wall in her room, a double-sided photo was put up. A portrait facing forward on one side and one from behind on the other. When she is in residence the forward facing portrait is on display. When she leaves the photo is turned around with her back turned to the room. It’s a perfect anecdote to describe the Almasys’ wonderfully eccentric approach to their castle.


    After several hours of navigating our way through the castle’s maze of hallways and corridors, we took a little break on the terrace next to the castle tower, where Andrea surprised us with coffee and some amazing homemade cake. Andrea is a fantastic cook specializing in classic local cuisines. You will experience her talents every morning with the included breakfast, and if you like, at dinner in the castle’s “Knights Hall”. The hall is one of the most famous parts of the castle. It features a gorgeous moulded ceiling depicting scenes of Greek mythology by Italian Renaissance architect Bartholomew Bianco. Dinner in the hall features classic Austrian dishes and a great wine selection from nearby vineyards.

    Looking for a quiet retreat, away from the world, and all your demanding electronic devices? This is your dream hideaway. The perfect place to let the day slowly go by.

    < More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


    Schloss Bernstein is open from May till October. Prices include Breakfast. Dinner is served Thursday through Sunday. For more information, go to; www.burgbernstein.at

    Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

    Post Socialism in a Blue Skoda

    Having recently ventured as far east as Vienna, it seemed a shame not to take the opportunity to go all the way “east” to Bratislava, and cross the borders that really divided east from west for much of the 20th century in this part of Europe. Time for some good old Soviet nostalgia.

    The last time I was in Bratislava was just after the fall of the Iron Curtain, so I expected the city of today would be much changed from the exuberant city I last saw freshly opened up to the west.

    One Day in Bratislava

    From Vienna it’s a surprisingly short trip down the Danube to Bratislava. Near the center of Vienna you can board a catamaran that will ferry you directly to the center of Bratislava in just a little over an hour.

    Planning my itinerary, I wanted to stay away from the fake trolley cars that take hordes of tourists through the old part of town. I was looking for a way to meet locals and find out how their world has changed since the fall of communism.

    I came across a great company called Authentic Slovakia that specializes in off-the-beaten-track tours in and around Bratislava, showing the city’s past and its more recent developments.

    I emailed them and quickly got a message back from Brano, one of the two brothers who own the company, suggesting that we meet him at SNP Square. We would recognize him by the blue vintage Skoda he drives.

    SNP Square is the biggest public space in the city. The plaza was built to commemorate the 1944 Uprising by the people of Slovakia against the Slovak government and its collaboration with Germany in World War II.

    Traditionally, when a large crowd gathers for political rallies or celebrations of local sporting victories, SNP Square is the place. But the last sporting victory was the ice hockey championship in 2002 so these days it is usually pretty low key.


    While we waited, we wandered around the grouping of looming-dark statues at the center of the square which symbolize the people of the uprising. But soon we caught sight of the bright blue Skoda with Brano behind the wheel.

    Brano greeted us in perfect English. In fact most of the young people we met spoke perfect English and usually several other languages, too. Brano gave us a bit of an introduction for what to expect during our four hour “Post Socialism” tour, and we were off!

    Brano’s Skoda is completely authentic with all its original details. The perfect vehicle to set the scene for the tour. The sound and smell of the car immediately takes you back, the characteristic put-put-put-put sound is classic. The car belonged to Brano’s grandfather who took great care of it, as having a car during communism was a real luxury.


    We quickly zig-zagged up through hilly neighborhoods rising above downtown and into the more posh areas. Here modern architecture is mixed in with wonderful turn of the century and Art Deco villas.

    Brano pulled over in front of an ‘80s era apartment building with a large fancy sign over the entrance saying “Bonaparte”. He began to explain that a lot of politicians live around here … and then all of a sudden we hear a “tap-tap-tap” on the window. An imposing plainclothes security guy wants to know what we’re doing here.

    Unaccustomed to being questioned on public streets I first thought “this must be part of the tour” to demonstrate the way the state made its presence felt in everyday life. Then I thought, “No, this is too real. Are we going to end up in some secret security office never to be seen again?” I think I have read one too many John Le Carre spy novels. In truth, we really had attracted the attention of some local security personnel and it felt very “Soviet”, adding a nice ominous tone to Brano’s descriptions of Bratislava’s past.


    With a bit of back and forth Brano seemed to put the guard at ease, he retreated and we were on our way again. Brano joked, “We are famous. We were on TV the other day and he remembers us”. Thank goodness for the power of TV.

    Next we arrived at Slavin, a large memorial and military cemetery overlooking the city. The site is awkwardly located atop an area of expensive real estate, adjacent to several international embassies including the American one. It’s the burial ground for over 6,000 Russian Soldiers that fell during World War II. Built in the late ‘50s by the Russians in a classic Stalinist style, it is monumental, complete with looming statues posted around the square. Quite chilling even on a sunny afternoon.

    It was deserted except for some kids playing in the far corner. But a great place to survey the city. Brano pointed out how the city has changed over the last 60 years and had with him historic photos taken from the same spot to illustrate.


    Back in the car we sped off to our next stop, Gottka Square, named after the first communist president of Czechoslovakia, Clement Gottwald. It was officially renamed Namestie Slobody (Freedom Square) in 1989, but the new name never caught on. Everyone still calls it “Gottka”.

    The 200 by 200 meter square has at its center a huge defunct fountain, a 9 meter tall representation of a linden flower. Slightly unkempt and overgrown with weeds and grass, people were still enjoying the sunny fall day occupying some of the old benches, obviously original to the square’s rigid design. We hopped back into the little Skoda and Brano headed off to our next destination.

    Just over the Danube is an area called Petržalka. Also known as the Bronx of Bratislava, is famous as the largest public housing project of its time, the location of the oldest theatre in the country, and has a notoriously high crime rate and the highest suicide rate in Slovakia. Sounds depressing but to drive through it is amazingly monumental in its monotony.


    Construction began in the ’70s and for a long time it was its own town. Eventually it merged with the city of Bratislava and is now connected by five bridges. Over 100,000 people live in the development and in the last few years things have greatly improved, with the crime rate now about on par with rest of the country.

    Built in a classic Eastern Bloc style of pre-cast concrete panels, different buildings have been color coded so people can better find their way around the endless procession of virtually identical buildings. The place felt like a set for a ’70s Sci-fi movie. “Surreal” is how I would describe the feeling you get while you drive through the area.

    Then abruptly, it all ends and you are at the edge of no-man’s land at the border with Austria. We stopped next to an old guard bunker just as a group of Austrian senior citizens zoomed across the border on their bicycles.


    The juxtaposition really brought home what a different world it is now. We drove along the country roads that used to be lined with fences, barbed wire and guard towers, and soldiers on both sides with guns pointing east and west. Now it’s all gone or in ruins. The only thing left are two small stones set in the ground marking where Slovakia ends and Austria begins. All those years of intrigue and misery reduced to two stones in the ground.

    On our way back across the Danube to the old part of town, the sun was setting. Brano dropped us off with a parting gift of some authentic ’70s Slovakian waffle candies called “Horalky”. A great end to our drive through the recent history of Bratislava.


    We only had a day in Bratislava and saw a lot, but there is much more there to discover. We will definitely be back. Maybe next time to try one of Authentic Slovakia’s popular Wine and Hiking tours.

    < More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


    To book a tour with Authentic Slovakia, go to; www.authenticslovakia.com. In the summer months they are very busy so make sure you book well ahead of time. If you have a larger group, they can drive you in the Skoda van. We didn’t get to try out the van but it looked like a fun ride.

    If you have some time left after your tour, swing by the Bratislava Transport Museum. It is housed in an old train station and you can see tons of Skoda motorcycles and cars. The staff is a bit off-putting and not a lot of people are around, but that just adds to the obscure feel of the place. www.slovakia.travel

    If you are traveling from Vienna, we recommend taking the Twin City Liner. It leaves Vienna from the dock near Schwedenplatz. book ahead of time as tickets are cheaper purchased in advance. We were graciously invited by the Twin City Liner for our cruse down the Danube to Bratislava. Book your tickets here; www.twincityliner.com

    Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger

    Amsterdam Recommended

    We are off to see what’s new in Amsterdam. I love this city, the people are open and friendly, the food is great, it has some of the best art in the world, everyone rides a bike … I could go on and on. So when the City of Amsterdam invited Bearleader to come up and see what’s currently going on, we jumped at the chance.

    We firmly believe that the character of a place is mostly down to its people, so what better way to convey what’s going on than to talk to locals. With a bit of research and some recommendations from our friends, we arranged a few meet-ups with some movers and shakers to talk to them about what makes Amsterdam special.

    Tijdmakers &
    Eau d’Amsterdam

    Business partners Saskia Hoogendoorn and Lieuwe Martijn Wijnands are the creative force behind the design agency Tijdmakers (Time makers). They are kind of a local think tank that explores creative ways to influence the public’s experience of the environment through art and installation.

    We arranged to meet at de Koffie Salon on Utrechtsestraat, a great little place where locals hang out, meet friends and colleagues and sip coffee while tapping away on their computers. The pastries on offer are lovely and they serve a great cup of coffee. At the time we arranged to meet it was raining, and in true Amsterdamer rain-or-shine fashion, Saskia and Martijn arrived on their bikes.

    Many of their projects are internally generated so Saskia and Martijn have become quite adept at not only coming up with great ideas, but also the more daunting job of organizing the logistics that make their projects come to life. Dreaming is one thing, but what is great about Tijdmakers is that they know how to make their dreams come to fruition. And being somewhat of a creative instigator myself, I admire Saskia and Martijn for their ability to drive their dreams into reality.

    One of their latest ideas was to create the first ever municipal scent. Thus was born “Eau d’Amsterdam” the official perfume of Amsterdam. And what is the smell of Amsterdam? Ask any Amsterdamer and you will likely get a blank stare. But there is a familiar scent in the air and it took Tijdmakers to track it down.


    As it turns out, it’s the trees, or the Elm trees to be exact. Lots of cities have a particular tree that has been chosen to adorn the streets for practical and aesthetic reasons. There is the “Berlin unter den Linden”, Paris has its “Plane” tree and Amsterdam has the Elm. In fact the old trees of Amsterdam are designated a Unesco World Heritage.

    Amsterdam has about 75,000 Elms, some of them as old as 100 years. The first Elms were planted around 1662 and they were held in high regard from the start. The punishment for damaging them could be your right hand.

    Saskia tells us the perfume was created by famed Amsterdam “nose” Tanja Deurloo from Annindriya, in cooperation with IFF. They carefully studied the wood, leaves and blossoms to create an interpretation of the city’s Elm-derived essence. The moment Eau Amsterdam hits your nose there’s an “Ah-ha! That IS the smell of the Elms!” Strong and earthy with a flowery feel, the scent ages well on your skin.

    The original idea behind the project was to raise awareness of the city’s trees and their importance to Amsterdam life. It also supports another of Sakia and Martijn’s projects, the Amsterdam Spring Snow Festival started three years ago.

    The Spring Snow Festival takes place when the 75,000 Elms are in bloom, April 21 – May 21. The blossoms are so prevalent that they blanket Amsterdam’s streets. If it weren’t so warm you would definitely think it was snowing.

    The perfume comes in a wonderful dark green glass bottle with an antique style bulb atomizer. I was especially intrigued by the packaging. Saskia tells me the image on the box is a painting by 18th century Haarlem painter Hendrik Keun, and shows a large elm tree on Keizersgracht at Molenpad. The painting was produced around 1775.

    To see some of the oldest Elm trees in Amsterdam like the ones in Hendrik Keun’s painting, make your way to Oude Schans, across from houses 72, 58 and 29.

    Until meeting Saskia and Martijn I must confess I had not really paid much attention to the trees lining the canals. But for the rest of our trip I could not stop thinking about them. Well done Tijdmakers! Mission accomplished.

    Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen & Cottoncake

    The De Oude Pijp (The Pipe) district of Amsterdam, sometimes referred to as Amsterdam’s “Quartier Latin”, was the traditional home of poor artists and students. Now it’s a popular area to live, full of interesting restaurants and concept stores alongside a great market and “moeder & pop” shops that continue to do a good trade. This is also the neighborhood of Israeli-born artist Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen, and her studio called Happy Red Fish.

    After walking the local De Oude Pijp street market on Albert Cuypstraatwe, we headed over to the concept store Cottoncake Cafe on van der Helststraat where Hagar recommended we meet. This white-box concept store is an eclectic mix of clothing, cake, jewelry and coffee. An odd mix that has attracted a loyal following of locals and it’s one of Hagar’s favorite places hang out.

    After marrying a Dutchman, Hagar and her husband moved to Amsterdam, which she now calls home. The medium for her creative work is common sewing thread, but her work is anything but common. She transforms existing photographs using layer after layer of colored thread adding depth and texture and expanding the context of the original image.


    Clearing away our coffee and cake we made room for Hagar’s books which she uses to protect the work. I could not help thinking of how I used to press flowers in books and the excitement I had each time I would check back to see how the flattened botanicals were developing. Hagar’s works have a kind of flattened dimensionality that seems at home pressed into large tomes repurposed for the storage of art.

    After a few more coffees and a good chat, Hagar had to get back to work. We kept talking as she walked us to the tram where we set off to meet our next “insider”.

    Michelle van der Vliet &
    De Plantage

    Amsterdam is a relatively small city. You can get most places on a bicycle in less than an hour. So you might imagine that the food scene, while interesting, is relatively tame and slow moving. How many new restaurants and food related happenings could possibly be happening in this compact city? Well, my assumptions here were completely wrong. It is unbelievable how much is going on with food in this city. So much so that someone needed to take on the job of keeping track of all the epicurean comings and goings to keep the rest of us up to date.

    In 2012 Amsterdam native Michelle van der Vliet took up the challenge and started blogging about everything food-related in the City. Since then she has gathered a dedicated following of like-minded locals, and occasional visitors like us, who like to keep track of interesting things happening in our favorite cities. Michelle really knows the food scene and if you want to eat well in Amsterdam you should definitely follow her at story154.com.

    We met Michelle on the bridge at the corner of Prinsengracht and Brouwersgracht, a super picturesque spot which is worth a visit, if just for the photo opportunity. This is close to the Noordermarkt where the food scene is quite dynamic. We took a walk with Michelle to one of her favorite coffee roasters nearby, Headfirst. True to form, Michelle’s recommendation was spot on. The best coffee we had on our trip was here.


    As we left Michelle we asked for a great lunch spot that’s not in the guide books, to feature on Bearleader. Without hesitation Michelle said “I have just such a place”.

    Overlooking the city’s Artis Zoo in the beautifully restored Artis building is the restaurant De Plantage occupying the space of the building’s 19th century orangery. It, along with the Artis Zoo, are important fixtures in Amsterdam life today. Michelle is the expert so I will let her fill you in on the restaurant’s particulars. Here is her review.

    After a quick lunch we dropped in at the Micropsia Museum, also in the Artis building, and one of the newest museums in Amsterdam. It is the world’s first museum dedicated entirely to the smallest forms of life: microbes. Very interesting exhibit and definitely something you won’t see anywhere else.

    Nicemakers, SLA & Noordermarkt

    Next we are visiting design studio Nicemakers to talk with designers Joyce Urbanus and Dax Roll about their work, and get their Amsterdam-insiders’ tips. We had only been in Amsterdam for a few days and Nicemakers had come up in conversation several times, so we were sure Joyce and Dax would have some great ideas about what to do around town.

    Unbeknownst to us, we had already visited some of the local restaurants designed by Nicemakers and seen some of their impressive work. But we did not realize any of this until we sat down in their studio for a chat.

    Long before there was a Nicemakers, there was just Joyce and Dax and even early in their relationship the seeds of Nicemakers were already growing. Dax regaled us with stories of weekends he and Joyce spent stalking antique markets for anything that caught their fancy: early modern furniture, mid-century lamps and peculiar objects and ephemera. They knew all the good spots to find the best stuff.


    Buying on desire rather than need was not unusual so a collection naturally began to develop. Over time, some of their objects found their way into design projects they were working on, and by anchoring their modern design work with objects curated from their eclectic collections a modus-operandi developed. Now they have honed their process into a fine art which has proven phenomenally successful in their rapidly growing practice.

    Walking around Nicemakers’ small, sleek studio you can see the continuity in their creative partnership. The clean lines of the fresh white space are offset by their carefully curated collections and meticulously arranged material samples that Joyce and Dax are mulling over for current and future projects. I comment on the great variety of ceramic tile samples carefully arranged in groupings of color and texture. Joyce laughs and says, “we love tiles”.

    And now I recall one of Nicemakers’ recent projects for a new local healthy fast food company, SLA. Food blogger Michelle van der Vliet had pointed out the new interior to us on our walk a few days ago. And indeed, SLA’s interior is a symphony of tiles, so I see where Joyce is coming from.

    It’s time to go, but as we leave I ask Joyce and Dax the all-important question: What should we visit in Amsterdam? True to form, Joyce gives us a great tip on a local market, “Saturday mornings on the Noordermarkt are a definite must”.

    The following morning we check it out. At Noordermarkt the stalls offer everything from fresh fruits, vegetables and cheese to antique collectibles, locally woven linens and a variety of prepared foods. And, being full of locals, it’s a very authentic Amsterdam experience. With lunch just around the corner at SLA we had a full-on Nicemakers experience.

    Good tips Joyce and Dax, thanks!

    Bearleader & Vivian Hann

    Even though this story is about local recommendations, while wandering around on my own I found something great to share.

    A short walk down Haarlemmerdijk, just west of Central Station, I did a double-take walking by the display window of a small ceramic and cutlery shop called Vivian Hann. Brilliantly colored objects, simple shapes, wonderful hand-crafted textures, I went in for a look. At the counter I introduced myself. And, as it turned out, it was Vivian Hann on duty in the shop that day!

    Vivian originally hails from California but Amsterdam has been her home for many years now. Back in 1998 when she opened the store, Haarlemmerdijk was nowhere near the bustling picturesque street you see today. It was gritty, and walk-in customers were far less frequent. But Vivian persevered and now her shop is in a great location, convenient for locals and in just the right spot for the considerable tourist traffic flowing daily from the nearby train station.

    Passionate about design, Vivian has put together an irresistible collection of everyday objects that is sure to strike a chord with visitors. Her enthusiasm for form, function and craftsmanship is on display with a great collection of ceramics, glassware and cutlery. In fact, Vivian’s is one of the few shops in Amsterdam that specializes in functional homeware with an emphasis on the work of Northern European designers.


    With pride of place, and well protected under glass, Vivian has on display her collection of Hugo Pott cutlery. Cutlery is really Vivian’s main interest and Hugo Pott’s designs have all the attributes of simplicity, beauty and functionality that Vivian admires.

    I have similar interests to Vivian so I recognized some of the pieces in her cutlery collections, but I did not know much about Hugo Pott. And Vivian was all too happy to bring me up to speed on his life and work. And this is what makes Vivian’s tiny shop such a great place to visit. More than what’s on display, it’s Vivian’s encyclopedic knowledge of design and function that make a visit so interesting. Whether you are looking for a small souvenir or need to find flatware for a crowd, Vivian can lead you to just the right solution and fill you in on the story behind your newly acquired objects.

    I say skip the run-of-the-mill souvenir shops and go straight to Vivian Hann for a great memento of your Amsterdam trip. Rather than buying something that will quickly end up disused in the attic, you will have something destined to become your next family heirloom, used and talked about for years to come. A forever reminder of you fantastic trip to the charming city of Amsterdam.

    < More fascinating vacation destinations await. Let’s go.


    To get around Amsterdam, I am/sterdam city card offers a wonderful all-included ticket for public transport, a canal tour and entry to all museums (15% off the Rijksmuseum). It’s the one essential ticket for a great Amsterdam visit. www.iamsterdam.com

    To purchase Eau d’Amsterdam go to; www.eaudamsterdam.com. And check out de Koffie Salon Where we met Saskia and Martijn, at; www.dekoffiesalon.nl

    If you’re planning a trip in spring, try to schedule it so you can take in the Spring Snow Festival when 75,000 Elm trees come into bloom and the city is covered in white blossoms. It happens between April 21st and May 21st. You will find more information here; www.springsnow.nl

    To find out more about Hagar Vardimon-van Heummen’s studio Happy Red Fish go to; www.happy-red-fish.com, and here’s a link to Cottoncake; www.cottoncake.nl

    For great new places to eat in Amsterdam visit Michelle van der Vliet’s blog at; www.story154.com

    For one of the best coffees in Amsterdam try Head First Coffee Roasters at; www.headfirstcoffeeroasters.com

    And for a visit La Plantage you can book online at; www.caferestaurantdeplantage.nl. Don’t forget to check out the Micropia Museum next door: www.micropia.nl

    To see more of Joyce Urbanus and Dax Roll’s work at Nicemakers, go to; www.nicemakers.com. Or to visit one of their project in person, have lunch at one of the SLA locations. www.ilovesla.com

    To meet Vivian at her store Vivian Hann, go to; www.vivianhann.com Keep in mind that she is closed Sundays and Mondays.

    Photography and story by Daniela Stallinger