Travel Treasures: Portugal, Singapore, Italy and Vietnam

It was a typical “June Gloom” morning here in Southern California yesterday, and I decided to bake some muffins for breakfast to help brighten my day.

I served the muffins on a small plate I recently purchased when I was in Portugal, and I used a placemat that I brought back from Singapore.

IMG_7608I love using items from my travels at home – it reminds me of my trip to a different part of the world, the people I met, the food I ate, and then shop or market where I purchased the item.

The plate I purchased in a gift shop in Fatima, Portugal, outside of the town center. We stopped there before visiting Fatima and the site of the apparitions of three local children in 1917. I love the blue and white colors of this small plate. It is the perfect size for small snacks, a sandwich, or in this case, muffins.

The placemats I purchased along with other printed fabrics in the Little India section of Singapore. I do not remember much other than I bought different sets of placemats and napkins for friends and family.

This morning, the sun was shining, and I used a bowl from Sorrento, Italy, and a ceramic juice glass from Vietnam for my breakfast.

IMG_7616The bowl I found in a ceramic shop run by the artist, on one of the streets in Sorrento. His work had a pale blue color to it, and most of the items had an ocean theme. You can see some of the fish swimming at the top of the bowl.

The ceramic juice cup I purchased in Can Tho, Vietnam, at the Victoria Can Tho resort. When our group arrived to check-in, we were greeted with hand towels and fruit juice in these ceramic cups. I have bowls at home in a similar style – a matte brown glaze on the outside, and the inside muted colors. The cups are the perfect size for a small juice, and they are dishwasher safe. When I have juice for breakfast, I fondly remember my time at this lovely colonial hotel.

What are your favorite treasures from your travels? Do you bring back dishware to use at home?


A Visit to Black Friars Distillery and the Home of Plymouth Gin

Today, June 13th, is World Gin Day. I had no idea about this important date until I saw my friend Ana’s picture of a Gin and Tonic on Instagram (Ana is also known as Mrs. O Around the World). While traveling in the UK, Spain and Portugal this spring, I tried many different gins and thoroughly enjoyed it. Given that today is a special day for gin, I thought I would highlight one of my recent gin experiences.

While on a tour of Britain in April (Insight Vacations’ “Best of Britain”), our group took a half day trip to Plymouth. Most of the morning was spent on a boat tour of the harbor to provide us a visual history of the importance of this port city. After the harbor tour, we had about an hour to walk around and explore on our own. I stumbled upon the Plymouth Gin distillery and decided to step inside.

Here is a brief history of the Black Friars Distillery, where Plymouth Gin is made, from their website:

The building dates back to the early 1400s, with the most intact part of the distillery, the Refectory Room – a medieval hall with a fine hull-shaped timber roof built in 1431, being one of the oldest buildings in Plymouth. It is thus protected as a national monument and is one of the city’s most precious heritages. The Distillery buildings were formerly a monastery inhabited by the Black Friars. In 1536, at the time of the Reformation and dissolution of the monasteries, the former home of the Black Friars was put to a variety of other uses including being the town’s Marshalsea or debtor’s prison. It was also the first Non-Conformist meeting place and a billet for Huguenot refugees who fled France for Plymouth. The Pilgrim Fathers even spent their last night in England here in 1620. It was from the distillery they made the short walk down to the harbour to set sail on the Mayflower on their epic voyage to start a new life in America, where they founded a new Plymouth. The Mayflower ship forms Plymouth Gin’s trademark label today. Black Friars is indisputably the oldest working gin distillery with records of a ‘mault-house’ on the premises going back to 1697. However, it was in 1793 that Mr Coates joined the established distilling business of Fox & Williamson and the distilling of Plymouth Gin began. Soon the business was to become known as Coates & Co, which it remained until March 2004.

How interesting to learn that the Pilgrims spent their last night here before departing for America! Unfortunately, there was not enough time for me to take a tour; but if you have the time, there are several options offered, including a Master Distiller’s tour in which you can create and distill your own gin recipe!

The Black Friars Distillery, where Plymouth Gin is made, in Plymouth, England.

The Black Friars Distillery, where Plymouth Gin is made, in Plymouth, England.

When I stepped inside the distillery, I bumped into fellow travelers Laurie and Linda. I convinced them we needed to try some Plymouth Gin, since we were at the source after all! We went upstairs to The Refectory – the bar was beautifully lit, and well stocked with other fine liquors besides Plymouth Gin.

The Refectory bar at Plymouth's Black Friars Distillery

The Refectory bar at Plymouth’s Black Friars Distillery

I decided to try the Plymouth Sloe Gin, as I saw that downstairs in the shop, and it looked interesting – and different from the gin I have previously tried. If you can not read the photo below, this is what it says, “Made to a unique recipe that was discovered in notes made by our Head Distiller in 1883. Traditionally enjoyed as a winter warmer when pursuing country sports, now widely used in cocktails, long drinks and as a great accompaniment to cheese. Try it with… Sharphams Brie Style, Quickes Cheddar, Vulscombe Goats Cheese, Devon Blue.” That sounds right up my alley to try this with cheese!

Plymouth Sloe Gin, according to the bartender, it is only available at the distillery.

Plymouth Sloe Gin, according to the bartender, it is only available at the distillery.

The Plymouth Sloe Gin is made by steeping sloe berries with the gin. It has a reddish-pink color. I asked for Fever Tree Tonic, another recommendation from Ana, and the bartender said that is the only tonic they serve!

My Plymouth Sloe Gin before adding tonic.

My Plymouth Sloe Gin before adding tonic.

I tried the gin on its own at first, before adding the tonic. It had a lovely fruity taste, and I enjoyed it so much I decided to purchase a bottle to bring home – especially since our bartender said she thought it was only available at the distillery! She mentioned that she had been in New York City recently, and she found Plymouth Original Gin regularly available. I have since seen it here in stores in Los Angeles, but not the Sloe Gin.

Enjoying a lunch-time gin and tonic.

Enjoying a lunch-time gin and tonic.

We all enjoyed our drinks, and then rushed back to the coach for our next stop.

Tonight, in honor of World Gin Day, I will make some cocktails before dinner. I think a Sloe Gin Fizz with my Plymouth Sloe Gin, straight from the source, sounds just about right on this chilly, June Gloom day in Southern California.


Let me know your favorite gin drink or if there are other sloe gins I should try!

Morning Walk: Salamanca

It is hard to believe that a month ago today, my Insights Vacations tour of Amazing Spain and Portugal was coming to an end. Our group arrived in the late afternoon to Salamanca and checked in to the beautiful Hotel Alameda Palace. We all went on a treasure-hunt type walk of the city, looking for figures on some of the city’s buildings and were then on our own for dinner.

Hotel Alameda Palace in Salamanca.

Hotel Alameda Palace in Salamanca seen in the early morning.

When I woke the next day, I could see the early morning light casting a beautiful glow on some of the buildings from my hotel room window. I decided to quickly pack my bags and head out for a walk through the city before breakfast and our departure shortly thereafter.

The pedestrian streets were empty – it seemed that no one except for the street cleaners and trash collectors were out, so I was able to walk quickly through the streets trying to capture some golden light on the buildings and churches.

Golden morning light makes the top of this Salamanca church glow.

Golden morning light makes the top of this Salamanca church glow.

I probably needed to be outside the old city boundary in order to see the sun encasing the buildings in light, as walking within the old town, only the very tops of the structures were lit. It was still fun to walk around on my own and see the buildings with no crowds in front of them, unlike our walk the day before when it seemed like everyone was out enjoying the beautiful night.

The Church of San Juan de Sahagun was just down Calle Toro and could be seen from my hotel, with its spire brilliantly lit by the morning sun.

Salamanca church full

Church of San Juan de Sahagun in Salamanca, Spain.

After walking through the empty Plaza Mayor, I came to this street with two prominent buildings that made you look up to the sky to see their detail – the Iglesia de la Clerecia and the Casa de las Conchas, both had a beautiful orange glow thanks to the morning sun.

Salamanca churches red

On the left is Iglesia de la Clerecia and on the right you see the Casa de las Conchas.

The new cathedral in Salamanca is a massive late Gothic and Baroque structure completed between the 16th and 18th centuries. It took forever to walk around the perimeter of the building to see if it was open this early in the morning. Sadly, it was closed until 10:00 am, well after our bus would be departing. The previous night, we arrived shortly after it closed but we saw people walking along the top of the building – it must be a beautiful vantage point to see the entire city.

Salamanca cathedralI saw some beautiful street art on some of the walls covering work being done on the buildings. I am not sure of the style but I saw it repeated in several places.

Salamanca street artSalamanca street art closeLooking up, I thought I saw some nests up above.

I think these storks have the best "condo" in the city!

I think these storks have the best “condo” in the city!

Using my camera, I zoomed to catch a glimpse of this stork couple with one of the best views in the city.

Salamanca storks close upI thought the shadows on this building created by the iron balconies was pretty.

Salamanca shadowsWalking back towards the hotel, I looked back on San Juan de Sahagun, and it was still bathed in sunlight, but it lost the earlier golden glow I saw.Salamanca bright lightI enjoyed walking around the city, and would have liked to learn more about the University of Salamanca and other sights, but we had only a few hours the night before, and then the early morning when I took this walk to explore. I heard the Art-Deco museum, Casa Lis, is interesting too. Hopefully I can return to wander the streets of Salamanca again.

Have you visited Salamanca? Please share your thoughts below!