10 Questions For (5): Karen Bryan of the Europe A La Carte Blog

Ehm Sorry for this. I just upgraded this blog to WordPress 2.1.6 and because I didn’t know exactly how to handle the interface, accidentally deleted this post and probably the comments as well. I reposted as soon as possible. The lay out may differ a bit now.

Happy to introduce Karen to you.


Karen Bryan practicing Meet the Blogger when I showed her The Hague

1) Who Are you?
I’m the founder and editor of the UK based Europe a la Carte, which focuses on authentic travel in Europe on a modest budget. I started the site in 2002 in response to the growing number of travellers putting together their own trips by booking low cost airlines and their own accommodation online.
In October 2006 I started the Europe a la Carte blog and in June 2008 I took on a team of bloggers to transform Europe a la Carte to a multi author blog.

In July 2008 I created the Euravelers travel social network so members could exchange tips and advice to revel in their travels discovering the real Europe.

But that’s only part of who I am. i work part time as a freelance social research interviewer. I met my beloved husband more than 30 years ago and we have 21 year old twin sons. I’m a Scot living in Berwick upon Tweed in the north east of England.

2) What do you like about what you do?
I love travelling in Europe, especially to places that are not so well know to tourists, so running site on this topic is so interesting for me. Of course there’s never enough time and money to see all of Europe. Running a travel site and blog may sound glamourous but the vast majority of my time is spent sitting at the computer.

I’ve made friends and contacts from all the world that I would have never been able to meet without the internet like the Happy Hotelier whom I’ve met twice, firstly at the Travel Bloggers Summit at the ITB in Berlin in March 2008 and more recently at the citizemM launch in Amsterdam in June 2008.


Two Great Bloggers: Karen (R) and me (L)

3) What don’t you like about what you do?
I’m a non techie person, fortunately one of our sons in a computing student so he’s my IT consultant. It’s very frustrating not being able to do all things techie yourself or taking ages to do a simple thing.
I’m hopeless at proof reading and never notice my own errors, even after reading a piece several times. It’s very hard to get noticed as an independent travel blog. It’s always said that if you have good, unique content you’ll succeed but that’s really isn’t enough. This was highlighted to me when I started writing for Wandalust which is part of the Creative Weblogging network of more than 130 blogs, so it has 130 links before any content is added. It’s similar story for travel blogs which are an extension of a newspaper or print magazine which already has an established readership. I also think part of the problem lies with the blog label, which I believe alienates many potential readers, sometimes I think that I should rename the blog an “interactive online travel magazine.

Europe a la Carte takes up so much of my time, that I don’t have enough time for family and friends.

4) Please tell us all about your blog and your aims with it
I started the Europe a la Carte blog after receiving an email from a Tourism student writing her dissertation about travel business blogs. I was intrigued by the notion of a business blog as until then, I’d thought of blogs as online personal diaries. I did some reading and it was all so positive that I thought I’d start a blog on my site. Well it was the right decision as the blog now accounts for more than 80% of site traffic. Blogs are great from bringing traffic even if you’re not a Search Engine Optimisation expert.

As I want my blog to be the best resource for travelling off the beaten track in Europe I made the decision in June 2008 to transform it to a multi author blog and recruited a team of bloggers. I realized that I couldn’t write a wide enough variety and volume of content myself.  In some ways it was hard to relinquish control of the blog. But it was more than that, I thought that the blog might become impersonal and lacking in coherence having several writers. However so far it’s all gone very well and I’m not feeling put out that some of the content from the blogging team outshines my own efforts.  I’ve never really considered myself as a travel writer. Although it sounds very mundane, in some ways, I think of myself more of a collator of travel information rather than a travel writer.

5) Your top 3 destination experiences you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
We had a three week family holiday to California in 2001. It was pretty hard to find a destination which we’d all enjoy as our sons were 14 at the time. We spent one week in San Francisco and we all loved it. One of our sons was into to skateboarding, so he was in skateboard heaven. I was a big fan of “The Streets of San Francisco” starring Michael Douglas as a youngster and it was great to finally make it to the city, there I was riding a cable car and walking across the Golden Gate Bridge. I thought that the the variety and quality of the food in restaurants in San Francisco was amazing, great Mexican, Chinese and Vegetarian restaurants. The whole Bay area was very beautiful.

We spent our 20th wedding anniversary in Rome.  I call Rome a living museum that because wherever you turn there are amphitheatres, temples, medieval streets, squares and Renaissance palaces. Rome is one of these evocative places I’d pictured in my mind whilst reading about the Roman Empire during history lessons and seen in various films. I was totally overawed by Rome.

I have to say that I’ve only truly appreciated parts of my own country, Scotland, whilst doing research for Scottish destination guides for my site. There were areas that I thought I knew but realised that I didn’t when I spent more time there. A couple of years ago I decided that I was neglecting Scotland, partly blinded by my love of Italy. I also believed that more UK residents would take holidays on home shores due to concerns about the environment and the hassle and expense of flying abroad so it would be a good thing for the site to have more content about the UK.


The view from The Knock, Crieff, Perthshire. Scotland

6) Your top 3 accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
The Masseria San Domenico in Puglia, Italy has to be the most beautiful hotel in which I’ve ever stayed. The Masseria has been restored and extended. The outdoor pool is filled with filtered sea water is large and alluring, our room was low key but beautifully furnished and there was a terrace outside. I love Lake Iseo in Lombardy in northern Italy. I’ve stayed in a few different hotels and apartments there but overall for location by the lakeside with wonderful views and value for money I’d nominate the four star Ulivi
Hotel
in Paratico on the south western shore of Lake Iseo. There is a good selection of restaurants and cafes within easy walking distance.  Double rooms cost as little as 60 euro including an excellent buffet breakfast.


Hotel Ulivi pool with views of Lake Iseo

I often stay in Travelodges in the UK and if you book at least 21 days in advance you can find family rooms for as little as £19. Not all Travelodges are at service stations in the middle of nowhere, there are some in city centres.

7) Your top 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?
We spent three nights on half board at the Wide Mouthed Frog, a seafood restaurant with rooms near Oban in the north west of Scotland. The fresh seafood was so good.

The Grange Restaurant in North Berwick, east of Edinburgh has freshly prepared dishes using local produce.  The three course lunch menu costs £9.95. Then you can have a walk along the beach and enjoy views over to the Bass Rock.


North Berwick beach with a view to the Bass Rock

When I’m in France and Spain I”ll generally have the “Menu of the Day” which costs around 15 euros for three courses and I don’t think I’ve ever had an awful meal.

8) Your 3 worst destination/ accommodation /food experiences to date and why?
The Hotel Villa Maya near Pisa in Italy which I christened the Boot Camp because of all the rules, regulations and extra charges.  What upset me is that it was the most expensive overnight stay on our one week tour of Tuscany and Umbria in May 2008 and I choose it because of it’s alleged charm and atmosphere

The Lodge Hotel in Hunstanton in Norfolk, the reviews were good and the hotel looks very attractive on the exterior. It is a listed building, a former Dower House which has retained some period features. However when we entered our room it was as though we were in a different building. Our room was small, totally lacking in charm or character, with bland white furniture, a ripped sheet and patches of mould growing on the shower tiles. The breakfast was not great, no fresh fruit, warm fruit juice and rubbery fried eggs. It cost £65 a night and the £15 Travelodge room in which we stayed on our way home was far superior.

My worst experience was on the overnight ferry returning from Netherlands to Newcastle during very rough weather.  I was so sea sick and it was awful to know that I was stuck on the boat for the whole night.

9) Can you offer the readers 3 travel/ food / accommodation / things to do tips about the city you are currently living in?
I’ve lived in the town of Berwick upon Tweed in the far north eastern corner of England for two years. It is rather confusing as there’s a North Berwick on the east coast of Scotland, around 45 miles north of Berwick upon Tweed.   Berwick upon Tweed lies three miles from the border with Scotland, on the estuary of the River Tweed. It’s a beautiful town with intact Elizabethan town walls and a beach at Spittal.

The best things to do in Berwick are the walks:

a – You can walk around the town walls and along the pier encountering very little traffic.


Berwick upon Tweed pier

b – Walk along the riverside and spot many birds such as herons, cormorants and the large colony of mute swans. Sometimes the seals come quite far up the river.

c- Walk along Spittal Beach with views of Bamburgh Castle and Holy Island to the south.

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?

Happy Hotelier I think I’ve been interrogated sufficiently.

Thanks a lot, Karen. This must be the longest post I’ve ever seen you writing. I do believe the multi author policy is rocketing your Blog!

Last edited by Happy Hotelier on Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Hague Revealed – A Local’s Perspective (10 Questions For (2): Happy Hotelier)

Gudrun of Uptake gave this example and asked Claude of Les Explorers, Erica of Travel Blissful and me to do the same for our own cities.

The-Hague-Mauritshuis-and-Houses-of-Parliament-IMG_7783
The Hague: Hofvijver with Mauritshuis (left) and Houses of Parliament.

1. Give 5 adjectives that you would use to describe the “feel” of The Hague and its residents:
Historic, Stylish, Green, Multicultural City by the Sea.

2. What are your favorite neighborhoods?
Defenitely the Lange Voorhout for its stately mansions. The Denneweg and Noordeinde for their antique and fashion shops, and De Passage shopping mall, over 100 years ago built after a Milanese example.

I live on an outskirt, but love the “Statenkwartier” for its stylish mid 19th beginning 20th century architecture. Uniform in building height – so you won’t get the rain from under your skirt like around high rises – though diversified.

The Beach in whatever weather type. The weather is not always good.

3. Which cuisine do you think The Hague does best? What is the runner-up?(feel free to share your favorite restaurant(s))
I would say Fish. If I say “City by the Sea” I am actually referring to Scheveningen. Scheveningen is a part of The Hague, but the residents still consider it as their own town. It has some fine fish restaurants. My two favorites there are Seinpost and Mero

Then I would say: Indonesian food. In the Hague live many people who were born in Indonesia or had worked there and hence some of the finest indonesian food can be found in The Hague. My favorite is Keraton Damai.

There is no restaurant that serves typical Dutch food. Almost any type of food has its own restaurant (The Hague area counts over 600). For a fine Dim Sum we use to frequent Mandarin Palace.

For more European food we tend to recommend the restaurants: Calla’s (named after the flower) in a hidden small street in the Center, and restaurants Spijs (translated as Food) and Restaurant Water Proef (which has multiple meanings: Water Taste, Taste (it) at the Water front or Waterproof) at Scheveningen Harbour.

4. What is the best free thing to do?
A stroll along the Boulevard (the Beach) or in the dunes. A visit to the Westbroek Park, especially when the roses are blooming, or a picnic in the Westbroek Park, weather permitting…

Scheveningen-Beach-IMG_4594
A Stroll along the beach

5. What is your favorite type of entertainment?
Driving along the beach by car or by bike (I hate to walk). Having dinner in one of our favorite restaurants.

6. List the best family friendly activity:
Visit Madurodam, a miniature city featuring almost all buildings of The Netherlands that are of Interest. And don’t forget to visit the Omniversum and the Panorama Mesdag. Go to the beach, weather permitting.

7. What spot would you send a couple, looking for a romantic weekend?
Stay in one of our suites in Haagsche Suites (oops, I couldn’t leave out a bit of self promotion).

8. Describe a perfect day – one that captures what your area/city is all about. In 3 sentences or less.
Go to Madurodam early in the morning before the buses arrive. Have a picnic in the Westbroek Park and stroll along the sea and fetch one of them famous Italian Ice creams.

9. Tell us about a place that you love to go, whether it is in the guidebooks or not.
Potter along the sea coast in my own motorboat, or go to Rotterdam with same for a lunch or dinner and then back. The Rotterdam Port is always amazing!

My Motorboat
My Motorboat, yep mighty fast!

In springtime don’t forget to visit

10. What question did we not ask that we should have (and answer it, of course!)?

Why I live in The Hague?

I was born here and went to college here. I’ve lived many years elsewhere in The Netherlands, but am glad to be back.
I like the sea the dunes and the city. I always say “you should live in The Hague and party in Amsterdam”. Amsterdam airport Schiphol is only 45 minutes away by public transport and by car, as are Amsterdam and Utrecht. I can go by bike to two small cities with a rich history: Leiden or Delft. Rotterdam and Gouda only take 30 minutes by public transport or by car. I could go on: Paris is only 4 hours driving away, London 5 hours through the Chunnel and Berlin 6 hours…

The Hague is a relatively small city. Its lay out is much more spacious and green than many other cities.

Its residents are a bit reserved. The positive side is that they respect your privacy. I don’t know many cities where the queen (or princes and princesses or president) of the country can go shopping themselves rather “incognito”, only with a small security detail, without hordes of voyeurs looking and gaping on: The Hague residents do notice and see them, but tend to behave as if they don’t see them. I Like that kind of behavior.

Sun-Setting-over-The-Hague-(Scheveningen-)-HarborIMG_4630
Sun Setting over The Hague (Scheveningen) Harbor

Finally
Well I see that the Uptake Blog has gone on with this meme so I will leave it to Gudrun to dare other bloggers. In addition this has been too long on my back burner. I’ll post it anyway as another WIP as a reminder to flesh it out with links and photos.

Update
It inspired my Iceland based blogging friend Hjortur to follow up wit a post Reykjavik: Travel Tips from a Local
Spring 2009
This post inspired me to start a series “10 Questions For:” I would have titled this one 10 Questions (0) for if I had anticipated it. Now I added it as number 2…

Last edited by GJE on May 5, 2010 at 10:29 pm

10 Questions For (1): Jennifer Knoepfle of Better Living through Travel

I would like to introduce a new 10 Questions for: category as a sort of variant of “My Interview with”, because:

  1. I’m always insatiable curious who is behind a certain blog or website. Their “About” page or category is one of the first I use to hit
  2. It is an excellent tool for community building in the Travel Bloggers scene (Don’t forget to visit the newly started Nerd’s Eye View Travel Blogger Forum | A New Travel Community. It has over 70 members by now! [Ed: It has since the post date replaced by the Ning Based TBex or Travel Blog eXchange)
  3. It is an excellent way of introducing new Travel related Bloggers on the block to my readers.

The questions are more or less modeled after my first (and thus far only) interview by Paul Johnson who was among the fellow Travel Bloggers who inspired me to go on with what I did here at Happy Hotelier. If you’re interested scroll down on my About page. The questions also cover more or less the main areas of focus of Happy Hotelier.

Thus far I have sent out only a handful of invitations, and the response was overwhelming. So the start is promising.

Here is the first edition:A new Blogger on the block who concentrates on sharing hotel and dinner tips

Jennifer Knoepfle

10 Questions for: Jennifer Knoepfle of Better Living through Travel

1) Who Are you?
My name is Jennifer Knoepfle, I am 31 and I live in Los Angeles, CA. Although I was born In Houston, TX, I have lived in California since I was ten and very much consider myself a Californian, much to my Mother’s chagrin. By day (and most nights) I work in the music business as the Director of Membership for a non-profit organization called ASCAP. I’m no travel writer by profession but certainly a loyal enthusiast, considering travel to be my most dedicated hobby.

2) What do you like about what you do?
Not surprisingly, the number one thing I love about what I do is the traveling. My job requires me to travel on a monthly basis so I am able to incorporate my passion into my everyday life.

3) What don’t You like about what you do?
I am really lucky, there really isn’t anything I don’t like about my job.

4) You’re a Blogger at Better Living through Travel, please tell us all about the blog and your aims with it.
I decided to start Better Living through Travel as a way of sharing my experiences with my friends and family. As they knew I dedicated a large portion of my life to seeking out the best hotels in any given place, they would come to me for advice and suggestions. The blog was a way for me to organize all my experiences in a way that could be accessed by other people. Lo and behold, once I started the blog, I quickly discovered that there were many people out there (not just my friends) that found my suggestions useful. I hope to use the blog as a way to share experiences and hopefully help people discover a hotel that might be really special to them. In my humble opinion, the cornerstone of any great vacation is a suburb hotel.

5) What are the 3 best destinations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
1. El Calafate, Argentina:
El Calafate is home to some of the most spectacular glaciers in the world. I am so thrilled that I was able to see them in person, as they are disappearing and someday may no longer exist.

2. Gordes in Provence, France:
I spent two weeks driving around Provence last year and it was a incredibly memorable experience. The south of France has such an amazing feel, so different than the rest of the country. The people are great, the landscape is beautiful and the food is delicious.

3.Chianti, Italy:
Any place that you can start drinking wine at mid-day is okay in my book. I loved Tuscany for several reasons, but the biggest attraction for me is the Italian obsession with the preparation of great food! I’ve never eaten as well as I did in those two weeks. In fact, there are even dishes from that trip that I still crave all the time.

6) What are the 3 best accommodations you’ve ever stayed to date and why?
1. The Home Hotel – Buenos Aires, Argentina:
I just did a post about why I love this place so much. Instead of boring you with the answer twice, you can read about it here: Home is Where My Heart is

2. The Hotel Healdsburg- Healdsburg, CA:
This hotel just has a really great vibe. The rooms are ridiculously comfortable, the beds are like marshmallows and the soaking tubs are enormous. The set-up and the decor is really inviting and relaxing and all the rooms are suites, so you really get great value for the price.

3. Borgo Argenina -Chianti, Italy:
Staying at Borgo Argenina is about as close as you can get to experiencing Tuscany in the same way as the locals do. The Innkeeper is a former fashion designer from Milan who restored an old Tuscan farmhouse into a beautiful Inn. The decor is very much in tune with the region and it feels like as if you were staying in a home rather than a hotel. The owner was more than happy to give us great suggestions on places to see and restaurants to eat. She was a great guide and I am certain my trip was a success largely due to her suggestions.

7) What are your 3 most memorable food experiences to date and why?
1. The Pappa e Pomodoro at Malbhorgetta in Chianti:
Quite simply, the best tomato soup I have ever had. I must have eaten it five times on my trip. You see, when I like something, I can be rather habitual about eating it.

2. The Rib Eye Steak at La Cabrera Norte in Buenos Aires, Argentina:
Argentina is a place for steak and this is among some of the finest, maybe even the best, I’ve ever had.

3. The Lentils w/ Sausage at Pura Vida in El Calafate, Argentina:
It’s been two years and I still think about this dish all the time. I’ve tried to make it at home but have never been able to duplicate this special combination of flavors. Pura Vida is a wonderful little hole where they specialize in soups and stews. It is also one of the few places that offers a great variety of vegetarian options.

8) What are your 3 worst destination/accommodation/food experiences to date and why?
Worst Accommodation:
Ojai Retreat in Ojai, California. I had never been to Ojai before and the retreat was recommended to me. It would probably be great for some people (yoga enthusiasts or people who loved absolute seclusion) but for me, it was the seclusion that scared the crap out of me. The house is isolated at the top of a hill, very dark with hardly anyone around. Also, there were giant spiders crawling everywhere!

Worst Destination:
Cancun, Mexico is like vacationing in the worst parts of Middle America. The city has become a total tourist trap and the majority of the restaurants are chains like Tony Romas, Chilis and Pizza Hut. It was very disappointing.

Worst dining Experience:
The First Class cabin of Continental Airlines. I was on a ten hour flight to Europe and I somehow managed to get the upgrade. I know it is airline food, but I thought that the food in First Class might actually taste good. I was soooo wrong, I guess airline food is just disgusting no matter what class you are in.

9) Can you offer the readers 3 tips about the city you are currently living in?
1. Rent a hybrid from Fox rentals if you come here. You will drive A LOT.
2. Take an architectural tour when you are here. Los Angeles is home to many fantastic buildings that are worth seeing.
3. In the summer, see a concert at The Hollywood Bowl. In the winter, see a concert at The Disney Concert Hall.

10) Any Question(s) you’d expected me to ask that you would like to answer?
Nope..these were great!

Great answers Jennifer. Thanks a lot and good luck with your blog! I love what I have seen from it. Promise me not to abandon it!

Interesting you mention the Home Hotel. I mentioned it earlier and it got mentioned recently in the New Cool Hotel Rooms book of The Cool Hunter. I made a note to self to check it out whenever my travels will bring me to BA.

Finally on a personal note: You would be a great Agent at Vibe Agent 🙂 (and no I don’t get paid whatever to plug them).

Last edited by GJE on May 5, 2010 at 10:16 pm

Chubby Hubby

El Bulli Starter

Clearing up and posting old drafts:
I came across Chubby Hubby a long time ago, wanted to feature it and then it landed on my back burner. The photo is one of his while he reviews El Bulli. Wow do I envy him:-)

This blog started as an experiment. Then it became an addiction.

In early 2005, I found myself on the steering committee for a Writers Festival. We wanted to both engage bloggers to help publicize our festival and feature some of the more popular ones on various panels. Because many of us were unfamiliar with the world of blogs, one of our fellow committee-members suggested that we start our own blogs, in order to get a better sense of what they were all about.

It wasn’t until much later did I realize that I was the only one who took the suggestion seriously and actually started one.

I’ve always loved food. I believe it comes from growing up in a family of foodies, who not only placed importance in what we were eating but in the act of eating together. As I grew up and moved out, the friends I made were also food-lovers. As was the woman I eventually married. My darling wife S is, in many ways, a much bigger foodie than I am. Not only does she love food, she knows a helluva lot about it. She also happens to work professionally as a food writer, editor, and consultant.

It was only natural then that the subject of my first (and only) blog was food. Through this blog, I try to share the joy of eating well and eating with people you love. I never imagined that Chubby Hubby would be as well-received or as well-read as it is. I am eternally grateful to readers for their comments and for returning day after day or week after week to read about what S and I have been up to in the kitchen, where we’ve been dining, or other inanities that I or my darlin’ wife S might feel like posting.

This was on my back burner almost a year. Now trying to go ahead with the food part of this Blog as well……

The Breakfast Blog

Yummy Eggs

An interesting find:
The Breakfast Blog
in search of the best eggs in town

Why eggs?
“All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast” – John Gunther

This is a blog about breakfast. More specifically, it’s about my ongoing search for great eggs.

Rather than just annoy a close circle of friends with my views on who does the best benedict in town, or whose scrambles rule the roost, I’ve decided to share these views with anyone silly enough to listen (or read, in this case). I figure there’s at least a handful of breakfast nuts out there who, like me, will welcome some tips on where to find the best breakfast spots in town.

So, why eggs? Why not pancakes, or toast? Why not porridge? Because eggs, for me, are the best test of a good hot brekky. They’re quick to cook, easy to compare, widely available, and, in most cases, a pleasure to eat. Although eggs will be the focus, I won’t totally ignore non-egg subject matter, like muesli, fruit salad, and the like. No point alienating the health freaks. But who’s ever craved a nice-healthy-bowl-of-muesli the morning after a big night out?

My plan is to blog my way through breakfast at two levels. First, I’ll do reviews of breakfast venues – good and bad – and rate them according to the eggs, the extras (sides, seasonings, sauces), the coffee, the rest (other food), the help, the price, and the buzz (crowd, venue, atmosphere, etc). Second, I’ll dish out my own set of gongs for “best whatever”..

I’m not a breakfast man myself. Usually I confine myself to a cigarette and a cup of cappuccino. However occasionally I fancy a nice Egg Benedict. And the ones Breakfast Blog offers us are really yummy.