Friday, October 31, 2014

Happy Birthday Hubby!

Last year, you had the joy of having a wisdom tooth
yanked out..wide awake. This year, I hope your
six hour bus trip is much more enjoyable!
October 31…a day many know as Halloween, but the one I have come to know and celebrate as Nicky's birthday! In honor of the day, I'm going to go ahead and share some of my favorite (and shareable!) pictures of my terrific husband!

As a Vikings fan, tickets to Lambeau field for the game? Amazing!
Even got you into the football spirit!
Sorry, sweetheart..the one piece had to be shown!
taking selfies with our crazy kitty!
Pond Hockey Tournament 2013
Playing hockey (and watching!) with you is always
my favorite activity
and now, my hubby!
Giant Prawns the size of your head in Thailand
new home in Västerås
visiting Stockholm
Nick, you've made me happy all over the world- from back home in Minnesota and everywhere we have gone in the US, to our first married home in Karlskrona and now this year in Västerås. To a wonderful honeymoon in Thailand, and travels throughout Europe during the seasons. You've made me such a happy person, so today on your birthday I wish you the best birthday ever! 

birthday kisses :)

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Wednesday Wine 101: Italian Wines

3 Italian wines I have yet to try! Stay tuned for a review of them!

Welcome to another week of Wine Wednesday! This week, I'm going to introduce you to some of my favorite wines in the world- Italian wines. Similar to French wines, Italian wines can be difficult to learn about and understand because of a slightly confusing labeling system. In Italy, there are 20 wine regions, over 330 DOCs (similar to the French wine appellations), and over 350 common grape varieties. With all of this, Italian wines can certainly be confusing!

image source

As always, when looking at a map like this you can think about the climate of various areas and how grapes would be grown in order to think about the flavors you will taste in red or white wines. However, to break it down simply, the 3 major regions that produce high quality wines are Veneto, Tuscany, and Piedmont.

Veneto Wines: When trying Veneto wines, look for red wines and a rich white called Soave. Red wines will be rich and medium to full bodied with darker flavors. Red blends and merlot-based wines are popular in Veneto. White wines, especially Soave, will be full-bodied and similar to a chardonnay.

Tuscany: Tuscany is home to the Chianti region which is most famous for Sangiovese wines. Conversely, Tuscany is also home to 'Super Tuscan' wines, which are made from cabernet and merlot grapes grown in the area. For white wines, Tuscany is most known for a sweet wine called Vin Santo, or Trebbiano which may be similar to a sauvignon blanc.

Piedmont: Red wines from Piedmont such as Nebbiolo will have high tannins and bright colors. Nebbiolo grapes also produce big, full-bodied wines such as Barolo and Barbaresco (named for the towns the grape is grown near). For white wines, try Moscato d'Asti, a sparkling white often made with champagne standards.

If you are looking at an Italian wine list and trying to decide which to order, it is important to know several things. The first item listed will be the producer of the wine (who makes it). The second item listed will be the wine type, which can be what type of grape variety, regional style, or a blend. The third item listed will be the region of where the wine is from, and the fourth and final item listed will be the vintage, or what year the wine was produced in.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Hiking in Bergen, Norway

A few weeks ago, my family and I spent some time in Bergen, Norway. We chose Bergen as a destination because we knew we would be able to see beautiful sights on a fjord tour, and Bergen is supposed to offer some terrific hiking. Well, that it does!

We got incredibly lucky on our visit to Bergen and had terrific weather. We arrived on a Monday, and spent all day Tuesday & Wednesday in Bergen before coming back to Sweden on Thursday. Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday it didn't rain at all, and even Wednesday was only slightly drizzly- incredible for Bergen, a city where it is always raining! 

Once we arrived on Monday, we immediately decided to take advantage of the terrific weather and head for a quick hike. We planned on a longer hike for Wednesday, so decided to do the shorter hike. On our way into the city, we had passed the Fløibanen Funicular (a tram that goes straight up the mountain to the views). We decided that for our hike, we would go up Mount Fløyen towards the Fløibanen's upper station.
hiking in Bergen
About halfway up the hike!
Bergen, Norway hiking
Views of the city below
Mount Fløyen hiking
Hiking up a mountain is pretty good exercise! 
watch out for the invisible witch
"Watch Out For the Invisible Witch"
Throughout the entire hike, it seemed as though each new turning point offered spectacular views of the  city, islands surrounding it, and the North Sea. When we were about halfway up we took a break to enjoy the views, catch our breath, and of course- watch out for the invisible witch! Once we had caught our breath, it was back to the trails to finish our hike up Mount Fløyen! The entire hike zigzags up the mountain, never too steep at any point, but certainly a great workout.

Bergen hiking sunset
we made it up Mount Fløyen right before sunset!
hiking Mount Fløyen, Norway
view of Bergen & the North Sea
sunset in Bergen, Norway
sunset over Bergen

Mom & I in our matching hats!
panorama view of Bergen, Norway
Panorama view of Bergen, Norway from the top of Mount Fløyen
hiking in Bergen, Norway
the four of us at the top of Mount Fløyen! 
trolls in Bergen, Norway
Trolls, trolls everywhere!
We reached the top of Mount Fløyen at a perfect time, just before sunset! At the top of the mountain, there is a great lookout spot over the city, a gift shop, a restaurant, and an entire park full of troll-like wooden statues. We took a few pictures, and then decided to check out the gift shop while waiting for the sun to set a little bit further. The gift shop had your typical tourist souvenirs, but also hats & jackets- perfect for hikers coming up the mountain! I found a hat I liked with a small Norwegian flag and decided to purchase, which my Mom then had to copy and get one of her own. From there, we decided to grab a beer at the restaurant while watching the sunset- only, unfortunately, the restaurant closes at 5 PM! We wished we would have known that prior to our hike.

As you can see from the pictures, our hike was absolutely gorgeous! We had planned on hiking up the mountain and seeing how we felt and if we wanted to take the Fløibanen Funicular down the mountain. After our hike, we felt in good shape and decided to hike down instead of taking the Funicular. It took us about an hour each way, and was a great walk. On it, we saw tons of Norwegians- likely enjoying the great weather for a chance- and even some families pushing strollers up the mountain, so if you are going with a family you can certainly do this! We were very lucky to have such great, sunny weather for our hike up Mount Fløyen, but I am confident that even if the sun is not shining the views would still be beautiful!

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Wednesday Wine 101: France!

Welcome back to another week of Wednesday Wine! After exploring wines from Germany, Norway, and South Africa over the last few weeks, today I will teach you more about wines from France, the world's largest wine producer (in terms of volume). Each year, France produces around 7-8 billion bottles of wine. French wines tend to be popular among those who know them, and quite confusing to those who don't. This is because French wines are labelled according to appellation- where the wine comes from. Popular appellations you have likely heard of include Burgundy and Bordeaux. Yes, Burgundy and Bordeaux are not types of grapes or wine- it is the origin of where the wine is from! As an introduction to French wines, we will look at some of the most common French wine appellations and characteristics of wines that come from there!

Champagne while in Paris, France!
Bordeaux: Bordeaux is by far one of the largest and most famous wine regions in the world. Bordeaux is best known for producing fruity, tannic red wines. The most common grapes are Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with most red wines produced here being a blend.

Rhône: Rhône is another region very popular for producing rich, full-bodied red wines- if you like California reds, Rhône Valley wines may be a great place to start your French wine adventure. The most common wines produced in Rhône are Syrah and Grenache blends. Northern Rhône is known as the birthplace for Syrah, so if you are first trying out Syrah choose a Rhône bottle. You will find it to be full-bodied, savory, and smooth throughout.

Alsace: Alsace is located in Northern France, close to Germany. Partially because of this, Alsace is best known for producing Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer wines. If you are looking for a dry Riesling, Alsace will produce for you. Additionally, Alsace is interesting and different from other French wines in that they are allowed to place the grape varietal on the label, so you can easily tell what you are drinking.

Loire: Loire has a length of 600 miles, and produces nearly every type of wine you can imagine. However, Loire is most famous for producing Sauvignon Blanc and Chenin Blancs.

Burgundy: Burgundy is another one of the world's most famous wine producing regions, located in Eastern France. If somebody says red burgundy, they are referring to Pinot Noir, while white burgundy is Chardonnay. Burgundy wines will be aromatic, complex, and flavorful.

Champagne: Champagne, of course, is best known for producing champagne. Read all about champagne here!

In short, with wines from France, the wine will tend to be less fruity and have more earthy flavors- think slight flavors of dirt or chalk, not raspberries or cherries. "Vin de Table" is important to remember as well- these wines are not claimed to be from a certain region or appellation. My best advice for French wine is to pick a grape you typically like, and grab a bottle from the region known for that grape! For example, I would personally choose a bottle from Burgundy, while I have many friends who love Rieslings and could easily try out a bottle from Alsace!

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Wednesday Wine 101: South Africa

Welcome to another week of Wednesday Wine 101! Today we are going to travel much further South than the last few weeks, where we studied German wines and Norwegian wines. For this week, we are going to look at wines from South Africa!

Before delving into specific information about South African wines, lets talk about the climate of South Africa. South Africa is in the Southern hemisphere, meaning the seasons are opposite from us in Europe and North America- summer is October-February. During the summer, much of South Africa has hot, sunny weather with a few scattered thunderstorms. The winter will see cooler, sunny weather with little rain. Overall, South Africa is characterized by warm & sunny weather with cooler nights.

South African wine has been dated back to 1659, when Constantia- debated to be one of the world's greatest wines- began producing wine. Currently, South Africa ranks as the 9th highest producer of wine worldwide. With the varied climate, South Africa produces both red and white wines. One key thing to note in South Africa is because of the lack of precipitation, irrigation is necessary for the majority of the grapes produced.

The most widely planted grapes in South Africa are Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc. Chenin Blanc grapes in South Africa have tended to go towards brandy production, but recently South African Chenin Blancs have become much more popular worldwide. Chenin Blancs from South Africa tend to be dry, slightly floral, and peachy in flavor. Cabernet Sauvignons from South Africa are more full-bodied in flavor with darker, more earthy tones than traditional fruit-forward flavors. You can expect a Cabernet Sauvignon from South Africa to have flavors such as black pepper and blackberry. Another grape widely planted in South Africa is colombard- we will talk about this grape another day!

Other popular grapes and wines produced in South Africa include shiraz, sauvignon blanc, and chardonnays. Personally, of the South African wines I have tried, I enjoy cabernet sauvignons the best, followed by sauvignon blanc. My advice to you? Go out, pick up a bottle today, and let me know what you think about this wonderful wine producer! Have you ever tried wine from South Africa before?

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Family Visit!

Well, it has certainly been a couple of crazy weeks around here! Today, I woke up bright and early- let's just say not even a rooster would have beaten me up- to drop my family off at the airport. I was fortunate enough to have my Mom, brother, and aunt make the trip over to Europe to come visit me! Our trip was jam-packed with action, smiles, and laughter. Today I have time for just a brief overview before catching up finally on some homework, cleaning, and other chores- I may or may not have completely avoided real life for the past two weeks- with much more information about our travels in future posts!

Oktoberfest Munich 2014
family at Oktoberfest in Munich!
First, we were off to Munich for Oktoberfest! My brother and I attended Oktoberfest last year with a couple of friends, and made it a priority to make it back this year. Once we started planning the trip, my Mom and aunt decided to join, purchasing their dirndls and we were off! As always, Munich as an absolute blast. Beyond enjoying Oktoberfest, we were able to stroll around the city, catching a farmers market, churches, and other sights, as well as making a day trip to Füssen to check out the castles! 

showing my family Västerås!
After Oktoberfest, it was off to Västerås for a few days to show my family where Nick and I are living and to check out a hockey game! We spent a few relaxing days here in town before taking off on our next adventure to Bergen, Norway!

In Flåm, Norway before checking out the fjords!
We headed to Bergen, Norway to spend a few days hiking about the town and taking a tour of the fjords. Our time in Norway was breathtaking, especially as we had perfect weather while we were there! For a town that rains around 300 days a year, the fact that we had two sunny days was a miracle. We spent our first sunny day hiking around the town, then headed for the fjord tour on our second day. Our last full day in Bergen was a little rainy, but we made the most of it nonetheless and continued to explore the town!

Following Bergen, it was back home to Västerås for another relaxing day and a half before checking out Stockholm for my family's last day in Sweden and Europe. I truthfully cannot describe how amazing it is to have had my family be able to come and visit me both last year and this year. It is wonderful to show people we know our new home and where we are living. Stay tuned over the next several weeks for many more posts about our travels! What do you want to know about first?

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Wednesday Wine: Norway!

my Aunt and I exploring Norway on the fjords
Welcome to another week of Wednesday Wine! I've been busy for the last week or so, traveling in Germany, Sweden, and now Norway with my family. Because I wrote about German wines last week while in Germany, today I will talk about Norwegian wines! Of course, that will also make for a fairly quick post.

When most people think of Norway, they think of cold, snow, the Vikings, and perhaps the fjords. However, you'd be surprised to learn that even with the cool climate, Norway can still grow and produce wine! Of course, just because it is produced doesn't attest to the quality of it- yet, nonetheless, wine is produced. For those back in the US, an interesting fact may be that wine is grown and produced in all 50 states.

Now, when you think about producing wine and growing grapes, you may think of the sunlight and warm weather needed to ripen grapes. In this, you are absolutely correct- sun and heat is what helps grapes to grow and produce the flavors that they do. Because of this, when you are thinking about regions of the world, their climates, and how the wines that are produced there will taste- keep the climate in mind and how ripe the grapes are likely to get. For example, in cooler climates that have a  shorter growing season, such as Norway, it may be more difficult to produce ripened grapes- whereas warmer, desert-like climates may end up producing overripe grapes, or darker flavored fruits. When purchasing or trying new wines, a great tip is to look at where the grapes are grown and think about the climate- cooler climates will produce lighter, sweeter flavors, whereas hotter climates will produce darker, more earthy flavors. White grapes will often perform better than red grapes in these cooler climates, and vice versa with warm climates.

There you have it with Norwegian wine! It exists, and even I am unsure of the flavors and taste of it- after being here for the past 2.5 days, I have yet to see or be able to sample Norwegian wine! However, I hope that today we were able to give a good lesson in how climates affect wine growing. To leave off, I will share a picture of my family and I enjoying the Norwegian fjords!

The whole family exploring the Norwegian fjords!

Friday, October 3, 2014

Oktoberfest History

Oktoberfest Munich 2013
Oktoberfest 2013
Prost! Cheers! Skål!

As I mentioned on Wednesday, I am currently in Munich celebrating Oktoberfest with my family. Because of this, I thought today was a perfect time to go over some of the history and fun facts of Oktoberfest!

The first Oktoberfest was in 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese on October 12. In addition to the wedding celebrations, horse races were held: when those races were decided to be an annual event, Oktoberfest was born. At the beginning of Oktoberfest, horse races and an agricultural fair was held. As time passed, beer vendors set up beer carts in the streets to quench festival-goer's thirst. These carts became tents in 1896, located in the same place in Munich as today! Now, Oktoberfest is the largest festival in the world, welcoming over 6 million visitors to Munich annually, as well as countless smaller celebrations throughout the world. Oktoberfest celebrates the coming of the month of October, and is typically held in the 16 days prior to the first Sunday of October.

This year will be the 181st year of Oktoberfest. For math nerds (like myself) out there wondering how it is only the 181st celebration, Oktoberfest has been cancelled 24 times due to wars and cholera epidemics.

Only beer brewed within Munich city limits and conforming to Reinheitsgebot (various regulations) is allowed to be served at Munich Oktoberfest. In general, each different vendor's tent will serve their specialty beer- typically in 1-liter sizes!

From my personal experience last year, Oktoberfest is a wonderful life experience and something everyone should experience. The festive atmosphere, with most people wearing traditional dirndls and lederhosen, as well as traditional music in the tents is something that cannot be topped!

To stay tuned with all of my Oktoberfest posts, follow me on instagram and check back here for my experiences at Oktoberfest 2014!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Wednesday Wine 101: German Wines!

Oktoberfest 2013
Oktoberfest 2013!
Hello friends! Another Wednesday, so time for a little more wine education! As I am currently jet-setting off to Munich to celebrate Oktoberfest with my family and friends, I thought a great post for today would be all about German wines! Now, when you think about Germany- as I do- I instinctively think about beer! However, Germany has many great wines, as well as a long history in the wine-making business. Today I will impart some of that knowledge onto you!

German Wine Information

Personally, when I think of German wines I automatically think of Riesling. As you can recall from learning about the 9 Noble White Grapes, Riesling is one of the Noble White grapes. Rieslings are tart wines that can be either dry or sweet, and (in my opinion!) very delicious! I'm going to give some quick information on German wines, and then I will come back to Rieslings!

In Germany, most wine is produced in Western Germany near the Rhine river. Germany is the 8th largest wine producer in the world, despite producing around 1.2 billion bottles of wine annually. Just goes to tell you how large the wine industry really is! Almost 2/3 of the wine produced in Germany is white wine, and 22% of all wine produced is made from Riesling grapes.

Because Germany is further North and has a cooler climate than many other 'traditional' wine producers such as Italy or France, the wines produced tend to be slightly tart because of the less-ripe grapes. Think about it this way- with a cooler climate, it is difficult for grapes to fully ripen. This "lack" of ripening causes more acidic or tart grapes, and in red wines light fruit flavors, such as cherries or raspberries, versus blackberries.

Of course, the most popular variety of German wine to try is Riesling. If you are looking to branch out, try a German Pinot Noir or a Gewürtraminer- these are excellent options for German wines! When it comes to German Rieslings, one identifying factor is the light taste, as well as a typically lower alcohol content- 7-11%- than other wines. German Rieslings will also be very flavorful and dimensional, offering many different tastes and flavors.

Now, one last fun fact for the day! The world's steepest vineyard is located in Germany in the Mosel region, along the Mosel river. The area has vineyards with gradients as high as 60%, with the Bremmer Calmont Vineyard clocking in at a 65% gradient and over 950 feet high. With vineyards being this steep, using machinery is impossible, meaning all work is done by hand. The slopes and river in this area are very beneficial to the vineyards, allowing for sunlight to reflect off the river and radiate upwards, helping to ripen grapes in an otherwise cool climate.

With that, I am off to enjoy a nice cold beer at Oktoberfest! Are there any questions you have about German wine, or wine in general? I'm looking forward to hearing your opinions- stay tuned next week for more wine information, as well as posts about my time at Oktoberfest! In the meanwhile, make sure to follow me on Instagram to keep updated with my pictures!
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