Ten Iconic European Dishes

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Ten Iconic European Dishes

“Who eats will be strong.” Estonian Proverb

If you have fantasized about eating your way through Europe or at the moment even traveling through Europe, I am with you. Each country has their own delicious food but also has one dish that people think of when they think of this country. These traditional foods are not only delectable, but they also tell the story of the country’s history,  I picked ones that I have eaten in no particular order  because I miss traveling and they remind me of countries I have visited, 

Pretzels, Germany

It takes about two hours by train to get to Schwangau from Munich. We are on our way to Neuschwanstein Castle. It was commissioned by Ludwig the Second and is the inspiration for Walt Disney’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. I buy a thick, salty, hot pretzel for the journey to add to what we have already taken from the breakfast buffet at the hotel. Train rides make me hungry.  I need carbs. I learned in Germany that pretzel (German word is bretzel) is a shape and laugen is the pretzel bread. Laugen comes in other shapes as well. I call them pretzel rolls.They are available in every bakery as sandwiches.

 Fondue, Switzerland

When I was sixteen, I took my first  European ski trip. The Alps, the majestic mountain chain that spans across France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany, are a paradise to visit and to  ski. We stayed in Cervinia on the Italian side and one morning we skied to Zermatt, Switzerland. It was very exciting carrying our passports across the mountains. We went to lunch and I ate fondue for the first time. Fondue means melted in French and this one was made with fresh cheese from the mountain cows. i sat with my friends around a hot pot of melted cheese and dipped pieces of bread. The challenge was not to drop the bread in the pot. One of the customs in the Alps is to finish the fondue with an egg. The egg is dropped in the remaining cheese, mixed until cooked, and then you mix in the remaining chunks of bread. The fondue meal is usually served with sides of salad and charcuterie. It’s the perfect rich warm dish to have when you are skiing.

Stroopwaful, Netherlands 

I stopped in Amsterdam on the way to my daughter’s wedding in Africa. Noordemarkt on Saturday is part antiques market and part famers market. i watched as one of the vendors made stroopwafuls. He took a freshly baked, thin waffle, and coated it with a dark, sugary syrup.  Then he took  another thin waffle, and place it on top of the syrup. I had a momentary thought of  not getting one to make sure I fit into my dress. Amsterdam is one giant stair master and it is never just one flight of stairs so I would probably walk it off on the way back to the hotel. Fresh, hot stroopwafuls are delicious.

 Goulash, Hungary

There was something not warm and fuzzy about being in the former Soviet Union in the early 2000’s. The first thing I noticed in Budapest was that people did not smile.  Older people did not speak English so if you needed to ask a question, “ask young” I was told. They were still trying to find their way between the vestiges of communism and the new capitalism. They had missed the sixties, seventies and eighties.  The results were sometimes odd. I’m sure it is much different now.The national Hungarian dish goulash (stew with beef and vegetables)  and the lighter goulash soup were everywhere. My favorite sign was the restaurant that served sushi and goulash. I’m sure it’s not there anymore  Goulash is comfort food- a thick hearty stew. My friend ate it a lot. You have to eat goulash in Hungary at least once but try the other food as well. I personally liked chimney cake, langos (fried flatbread covered with sour cream, cheese and garlic), stuffed cabbage, sausages  and chicken paprikesh better. 

.Pastel De Nata, Portugal

You can have  pastel de nata everywhere in Portugal. Every single pasteleria (pastry shop) offered pastéis de nata (plural). The famous custard tarts made of egg, puff pastry, milk , sugar, lemon and cinnamon are the most popular sweets in the country.  After visiting the the Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, in Belem. I went to the famous bakery, Pasteis de Belem. There is always a line.  The person in front of me said that the bakery began making the original Pastéis de Belém, following an ancient recipe from the Mosteiro dos Jerónimo in 1837. The recipe is a secret and so only the ones bought here are called Pasteis de Belem. The rest are Pasteis de Nata. IF you are in Lisbon, I think it’s good to try the one that is unique in the world and nothing could be more Lisbon than that. 

Pirogi, Poland

I’m not a huge fan of Eastern European food.  But I do feel a country’s food is part of the experience so you have to try it. I walked into a restaurant in Krakow where you can see the food and pointed to something and said in English, “I’ll take that.” The older woman who was waiting on me shook her head no. She did not speak English as most older Eastern Europeans do not. I shrugged and mimed that i was hungry. She laughed and gave me a plate of small dumplings called pierogi.They were filled with meat and were surprisingly tasty. You can get pierogi all over Poland with different fillings like cabbage, mushrooms, cheese, fruit and meat. They are the most affordable dish you can eat in Poland. A teenager came over to me and asked how I liked his grandmother’s pierogi. He said no one makes them as good as she does. I finished the plate and gave her a thumbs up and she laughed. 

 Apfel Strudel, Austria

I think the Viennese coffee house defines Vienna. You can sit for hours with one cup of coffee. In the old city you will find architecturally beautiful coffee houses many originally owned by pre WWll Jews. It is completely normal to sit for hours alone reading the complimentary newspapers or chatting with friends. The word is gemutlichkeit. (coziness, comfortable unhurried).  We went to Café Central home to great philosophers, poets and leaders (such as Leo Trotzky, and Sigmund Freud). We wanted to try the apfel strudel. This is one of Austria’s most popular and traditional desserts. It is thin layers of dough (philo dough-like Baklava), filled with a flavorful apple filling, served warm and accompanied by a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s the perfect dessert in the perfect place to linger for one more coffee and one more story before continuing your city touring.

Paella, Spain

One of my first assignments in my high school Spanish class, was to go to a Spanish restaurant and eat something. My friends and I went to a restaurant in Greenwich Village and ate paella. We learned that traditional paella is rice, beans, rabbit, chicken, sometimes duck, and seasonal green vegetables. Seafood Paella is just seafood and rice. Paella Mixta (mixed paella) combines meat from livestock, seafood, vegetables, and sometimes beans, with the traditional rice. it was a dish meant for sharing. Every family in Spain has its own paella recipe and because of the time it takes to make, it is served on Sundays but for some some unknown reason, you can always find paella in restaurants  on Thursday.  Paella originated in Valencia but since i was not going there on my first trip to Spain, I ate paella as soon as I arrived in Barcelona. It is a good dish to eat for lunch.  Don’t eat paella near the Sagrada Familia, or where they have a photo of paella outside or where a man is standing outside telling you they have paella. They know it is the only Spanish food Americans have heard of. I was lucky enough to find a family owned restaurant in Barceloneta to try this delicious iconic dish and then I walked on the beach back to my hotel.

Baklava, Greece

The first time I ate baklava, I was in my teens in Greece. I knew then that I could eat baklava every day. I have spent a few summers in Greece and sometimes I did.  It is the best known dessert in Greece, Turkey and rest of the Middle East. It is just as delicious and a bit different in all these countries.  The ingredients in Greece are phylo pastry, walnuts and sugar syrup or honey.  I like to have it with a cup of Greek coffee.  Afterwards a friend, a friend of a friend, the waiter or a relative will tell your fortune from the coffee grounds. Once the coffee is drunk, you turn the cup a few times around, while you’re making a wish. Then cover the cup with a saucer, and turn it upside down. It takes about 10 minutes to settle on the cup walls and form shapes, essential for the coffee reading revealing events of the near future but also secrets of the past.

 Pizza, Italy

My dream is to go to Sicily and eat pizza. I have not been lucky enough to do that but I have eaten pizza in other Italian cities. My daughter was doing a two week ballet program in Florence. It was a few months after 9/11 and  my first time entertaining myself in a foreign city. There was a bomb threat at the Duomo set for Easter Sunday. (There are no holidays for dancers.)  I decided to avoid the main streets and headed to Dante’s house which is a museum. Florence with its medieval buildings doesn’t look very different  from the time of Dante. Police were everywhere. To calm my nerves, I needed pizza. I walked into a pizza restaurant and heard a lot of Italian which is always a good sign in a tourist area. The availability of good pizza in Italy is impressive. I always feel that to try a pizza you need to order the Margherita. Florence doesn’t disappoint. The pizza was really good and no one set off a bomb that day. 

Fly safe,

JAZ

Picking The Right Country

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Picking The Right Country

“When you move from one country to another you have to accept that there are some things that are better and some things that are worse, and there is nothing you can do about it.”Bill Bryson

If you are planning to live abroad by choice and not by a job posting, it can be an overwhelming decision where to live. When I fall in love with a place, I often ask myself if I can live there.  A lot of times the answer is no. It’s beautiful but it gets cold in the winter and I am way too used to California weather. I love hot tropical climates – but would  I want that all the time? They are usually accompanied by rainy seasons.  Beautiful places can be too isolated, too crowded or too many  tourists in the summer. While it’s fun to use hand motions, in an emergency wouldn’t I want someone to speak English? I’m getting older so I do not want to be a day’s drive from the nearest hospital. Will not having a support system in place be too hard? 

We will definitely rent something big enough to have guests so our friends and family can come visit. Making friends in a new country without work or school will be hard.  Quarantine has prepared us for that. 

There are some places I can rule out right away. I’m allergic to smoke and pollution so Southeast Asia and China are out. 

I would definitely like to live somewhere where the cost of living is less, not more than Los Angeles. Most of the countries on that list have cold winters so they were already out. Switzerland, Norway, Denmark, France, Iceland and Japan were not a consideration. Unfortunately. Australia, New Zealand, Israel and the Bahamas are taken off here as well. 

I do need access to a city. One of the things quarantine has taught me is that I don’t have to be busy all the time. Living  in a beach town could work now. I can’t live my life without access to culture – museums, theatre, good restaurants but I don’t need so much of it now. 

It’s going to be hard to pick the right place. The “grass  is always greener” mentality plays in here. Running away from home rarely ends well so we have to research and try to make the right choice for us. Luckily, I have plenty of time now, to do this.

Stay safe,

JAZ

Countries With the Most Travel Friendly Passports

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Countries With The Most Travel Friendly Passports

I’d rather have a passport full of stamps than a house full of stuff.” Anonymous

I used to think that the USA had the best passport. We could go almost anywhere but we do need an awful lot of visas. The Henley Passport Index periodically measures the access each country’s travel document affords. The ranking is determined on the number of destinations their holders can access without a prior visa. It is based on the exclusive data from the International Air Transport Association, which maintains the world’s largest and most accurate database of travel information. Here are the top countries starting with the best passports to have. We are not number one. 

Japan retained its top spot as the world’s most powerful passport in 2019 for the second time in a row with access to 190 countries.They believe it is due to strong security regulations, economic security and international reliability. They are good guests.

 Singapore is in second place with 189 countries. People from Singapore are welcome almost everywhere.

South Korea is in third place with 188 countries.The Asian countries are dominating this category.

Germany and Finland are in fourth place with 187 countries. Germany has given up its  previous first place ranking. (Finland)

Denmark, Italy and Luxernbourg rank fifth with 186. No one expects trouble from this group.  (Italy)

France, Spain and Sweden are next with 185. They are independent, they don’t usually break anything and they are quiet. (Spain)

Austria, Netherlands, Switzerland and Portugal are behind them with 184. I feel very welcome in these countries so I understand why counties like them.(Portugal)

Belgium, UK, Greece, Ireland, Norway, Canada and USA rank eighth  with 183. Brexit has not yet impacted the UK score -nor has our President changed ours. (Greece)

Malta has a  score of 182. This tiny independent,European Union country has a very attractive passport to many people.Wealthy individuals seeking secondary citizenship for security, have their eye on Malta, which doesn’t impose taxes on their worldwide income and assets and applies only a flat 15 per cent tax on money brought into the country. 

Czech Republic follows with 181. It is doing very well for an ex Communist country.

Lithuania,

Australia, Iceland, New Zealand and Lithuania jointly share the eleventh position with access to 180 nations. (Iceland)

 The findings suggest that visa free access is improving in the world. The last time I went to Brazil I needed one. This time I do not.

Fly safe,
JAZ

Ten Of The Least Corrupt Countries In The World

Ten Of The Least Corrupt Countries In The  World

“I will not let anyone walk through my mind with their dirty feet.” Mahatma Gandhi

Corruption is one of the biggest problems in the world. The threat of corruption is always prevalent. Here is the list of the 10 least corrupt countries in the world in order as published by Transparency International.

Denmark almost always ranks first as the country least prone to corruption. Is it that the Danes have a higher moral fiber than other people? Is it something in their genes? Perhaps it is that the Danes have a high degree of trust in other people and in the system. Fair working conditions, social security, health arrangements, decent salaries and pension schemes are among the things that contribute to giving the Danes reasonable living conditions. Anti corruptions strategy is part of the corporate business structure. They aren’t immune to bribery but they have a tradition of  high ethical and moral views of the world.

New Zealand is not categorized by political corruption scandals.   No country has a perfect score and New Zealand has slipped down from first place over the last few years. New Zealand’s reputation for honesty, transparency and justice is a great advantage in conducting international trade and other dealings. It is still the least corrupt country in Asia-Pacific.

Corruption is very low in Finland. Finland consistently ranks in the top four of the Corruption Perception Index. There is a strong anti corruption commitment from their government. The country’s focus on human rights issues and literacy have a high correlation to lower rates of corruption.

Sweden ranks fourth in the World Corruptions Perception Index.  Government agencies have a high degree of transparency, integrity and accountability. The legal system is effective in fighting corruption issues that arise.  According to Forbes magazine it is the best country in the world to do business with. The low-level of corruption is one of the reasons.

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Norway falls behind Sweden and Denmark in corruption but all the Scandinavian countries still rate as the least corrupt countries in the world. Business is conducted with a high level of transparency. Administration corruption and petty bribery are almost non-existent. Bribery, fraud, extortion and money laundering carry a penalty of up to ten years imprisonment. Anti-corruption laws are strongly enforced.

Switzerland has very strong anti-bribery enforcement activities and controls of corruption. The Swiss economy is one of the most competitive and innovative in the world. One of the reasons is because they have a sound regulatory environment.

Singapore has consistently placed well ahead of the other Asian countries in terms of corruption. Singaporeans expect and demand a clean system, and will not give or accept bribery to get things done, unlike in other countries.  The city-state does have an aggressive Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau; professional courts and a ruthless, relentless emphasis on efficiency and results.There’s an old saying in Asia that the real money is in government. Not the paychecks, but the kickbacks. Singapore  pays its government well so that does not happen.

The Netherlands is always in the top ten. When economic freedom exists, it comes with  very little corruption.  The country has established strong pillars—an independent judiciary, effective anti-corruption mechanisms and a culture of trust—that all combine to create a society where corruption is not considered a serious problem.

Corruption does not constitute a problem for businesses in Luxembourg. The country has a strong legal framework to curb corruption, and anti-corruption laws are effectively enforced. It is not perfect but still better than most of the world.

Canada ranks tenth  this year and is still one of the least corrupt countries. It is the least corrupt country in the Americas which includes the United States. It does not mean that there is no corruption, only less than other countries.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Ten Of The Richest Countries In The World

  Ten Of The Richest Countries In The World

“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.” Jim Carrey

It is confusing to rate the wealthiest countries these days.  It is usually rated by the GDP – gross domestic product. But there are other categories which change the list – third world rankings, most money, most growth etc., country size etc.  I’m going to go with the  original criteria which always puts the small Arab Oil Countries ahead of the big countries like the United States, Russia and China. Lists are different and I compiled a few.

1. Every list is in agreement that Qatar is the world’s richest country. It is full of five star hotels and has a five star airline.  Qatar wants to be the Arab world’s next super power.The streets are not paved with gold but consistently being dug up for new electrical cables and drainage getting ready for World Cup 2022. There are questions about bribery for the games. In fifty years it has gone from a poor fishing country to a rich oil-producing country. Qatari are the world’s richest people with an average income of 400,000 dollars per year. They are also rapidly becoming the world’s fattest. Since they don’t need to work and everything is done for them, they sit around smoking and eating junk food. The country’s traditional culture makes it difficult to go on a diet. You never leave someone’s house without eating.

2. Tiny Luxembourg is rich. It pays the highest wages in Europe so people from surrounding countries often work there. It is great for financial companies, banking and tax breaks. The reason it is rich is for stability, financial and investment reasons that I can not really explain. Luxembourg is on all lists in the top three every year.

3. Singapore has more millionaires per capita than anywhere else in the world. It is a city-state with about five million people so the scale isn’t comparable to the challenges of a country. Singapore is not fueled by natural resources. It is perfectly positioned to take advantage of the rise of Chinese and Southeast Asian wealth in coming years. Singapore has also pushed into electronics and tech.  Singapore made itself an internationally oriented economy and that has  paid off for its people.

4. Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates is the richest city in the world. The city of  Dubai is well-known as a playground for the rich. There is no sales tax or income tax. They have tried to cut their dependency on oil by diverting their economy, creating new businesses and increasing tourism.

5. Brunei is a tiny country on the island of Borneo in the South China Sea.  I do know that it is ruled by a Sultan and he is very rich. He owns the Beverly Hills Hotel among many other things. It is one of the smaller countries in the world so I don’t know how fair that is. The Sultan of Brunei presides over an absolute monarchy, and the government has just delayed its decision to reintroduce stoning, severing limbs and flogging for theft, adultery and homosexuality under the code of Sharia law. The UN has expressed concerns. But as long as the oil doesn’t run out, they are good.

6. Norway is prosperous, happy and free. Its towns and cities are orderly and comfortable. The people are educated, speak many languages and trade comfortably with the European Union. The nation is the largest producer of oil on the continent, and that advantage has helped the country put together a sovereign wealth fund of $860 billion dollars.  Norway sets itself apart from many oil-producing countries, particularly in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East in the way that the wealth is distributed. Instead of  oil generating revenues that make the governing elites fabulously wealthy, while the rest of the citizens depend on their leaders’ handouts or upon trickle-down economics for their share of what is left, Norway puts the money back into the country funding many government programs. 

7. Kuwait is an oil rich country in the Middle East. They say there are no poor people in Kuwait but that is usually said by the very rich who don’t know them. The provision of social services to Kuwaiti citizens, compared with most Western countries, is extensive. The state welfare system  cares for the needy, and aids families in need because of divorce, old age, disability, parental death, illness, or financial difficulty. Educational and marital status are taken into account in granting aid. Long standing tribal families and Sunni Muslims receive preferential treatment in Kuwait. They are an economically backward and politically unstable country compared to other oil-producing  countries.

8. Long-term monetary security and political stability has made Switzerland a safe haven for investors, creating an economy that is increasingly dependent on a steady tide of foreign investment  They aren’t picky about who invests money there – blood stained dictators, mafia, embezzlers, Nazis are among the many investors throughout the years.  The country’s small size and high labor specialization make industry and trade the keys to Switzerland‘s economic livelihood. They are rich, happy  and have great chocolate.

9. The United States has a lot of rich people. We have the largest amount of private wealth in the world. We also have one of the largest wealth inequality gaps making the uneven distribution of wealth a persistent issue. Yes even with all our problems, we are still considered lucky and rich.

10, With its vast oil wealth, Saudi Arabia has one of the highest concentrations of super rich households in the world. They are so rich that they have been able to hide the poverty in the country from sight. Saudi Arabia  had the largest oil reserves in the world. They are the biggest international exporter in crude oil and the amount of revenue they make from it is huge . Mecca helps – bringing in a lot of tourists. for the annual pilgrimage But unless Tesla really takes off, Saudi Arabia will continue to be one of the richest countries in the world.

Fly safe,

JAZ

Safest Countries To Visit Now

Safest Countries To Visit Now

“These are all I have.I do not have the wide,bright beacon of some solid old lighthouse, guiding ships safely home, past the jagged rocks. I only have these little glimmers that flicker and then go out.”  Rebecca Wells, Divine Secrets Of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood

“A person isn’t safe anywhere these days.” How often have I heard that lately – terrorism, zika, gun violence. Before that it was the fear of aids, dengue, swine flu and malaria. So for those of you who would like to lessen the odds,  these are some of the safest countries to travel to.

Slovenia is a relatively safe country to visit. They have a strong economy and a stable democracy. The days of being part of communist Yugoslavia ended when they established their independence in 1991. They are members of both NATO and the EU. You should probably use tick repellent in the beautiful national parks.

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Japan is safer than most countries. It is definitely safer then the countries we come from. They have a very low crime rate and Japanese don’t worry about locking their doors or walking home late at night alone which is a nice way to live. Is it 100 per cent safe ?- no.

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Americans believe that Canada is a crime free oasis. Violent crime is very low but purses and wallets do often go missing. Don’t leave your things unattended,

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There is very little crime in Switzerland but most of it is geared to tourists. Car theft, pick pocketing and purse snatching are common in tourist areas. Sometimes football games get a little rowdy and you might see police in riot gear.

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I’m surprised that the Czech Republic has such a high safety rating. I’ve been to Prague a few times and I didn’t feel that safe. Then again, nothing happened to me. Don’t exchange money on the street. Petty theft is very common in tourist areas and taxi drivers are known to cheat you. It’s always best to get a taxi in front of a hotel. If you have a problem, the police station is open 24 hours a day and has English translators.

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Portugal is one of the safest countries to visit. That is good for me to know because I am going there soon. If you get very drunk and it is late at night, you could become a target for thieves. Violent crime is rare but they do have a few gangs that hang out on the beach late at night. A late night beach walk toward a group of people who look like they might be trouble is probably not a good idea. Also if anyone approaches you to buy drugs or anything on the street like sunglasses, which could turn out to be drugs, just say no.

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New Zealand is a very safe place to travel with few diseases, a great healthcare system and a low crime rate. The terrain can be challenging outside of the main city. You need to be reasonably fit to enjoy the new Zealand bush. New Zealand’s clear, unpolluted atmosphere and relatively low latitudes produce sunlight stronger than much of Europe or North America, so if you don’t wear sunblock, be ready for a major sunburn.

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There is no travel advisory in effect for Austria and it is one of the safest countries in the world. You might get a stomach ache from eating all that schnitzel, sacher torte and strudel. There are very few violent crimes but bicycle theft is becoming a problem. Also don’t walk in the bike lanes. As in the Netherlands, you could easily be hit by a cyclist. I just read that racism is a problem (not a violent one) especially in villages where there are no non-white people. What exactly is considered non-white to an Austrian anyway? Could be anything. I think I have to disagree with this one though all the lists say it is very safe.

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Travelers do not worry about their safety in Denmark. Denmark is the second most peaceful country in the world according to the Global Index. it score very well in the level of violent crime and likelihood of violent demonstrations, political stability, freedom of the press, hostility to foreigners and respect for human rights. This makes it a great place to live and travel.

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Iceland is beyond safe to travel to when it comes to crime .However you should pay attention to natural dangers. Signs like Do Not Drive Up The Glacier Without A 4×4 or Do Not Go Here – mean it. There is no cell service in many places so you may experience a bit of technology withdrawal but the beautiful scenery will easily fill up the time.

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Other safe countries include Norway, Sweden, Finland, Ireland and Bhutan. So if you’re feeling nervous, you still have many great options to travel.

Fly safe,JAZ