31 December 2011

A "Dog's gone" World

Hi. It’s me, CARIB.

Who am I? I am the four-legged member of this family. I get mentioned in the subtitle—the “ opinionated” dog. And yet, I have been reading this here blog and I've not seen any mention of me to date. I have therefore decided to take matters into my own paws. Besides, I have a few things to get off my coat- namely my life PBO (Post Baby Ouisie).

I think before I start though, I need to share a bit of background on me.


January 2004, Nevis, West Indies, Caribbean
I am born a bastard pup and left to fend for myself just days old. Full of fleas and worms the odds were not in my favour until a gal rescued our litter determined to find us all good homes.

I’ll never forget the day I first met dad. He smelt delicious! A perfect combination of steak tartare, grilled lobster and mango relish. I did not want to seem too eager so ignored his first advances to scratch my ears. Turns out, my arrogance is what won him over. Next thing I knew, I was riding in the back of his  Jeep snuggled in a box that was lined with the most beautifully scented white jackets.

Mom and dad were newlyweds. Dad worked long hours at the Resort and mom was in need of a pal. That’s where I stepped in. Paradise lost was soon found. Life on the island was great—daily beach walks, chasing lizards and monkeys and eating fresh coconuts right off the tree.

As dog food was scarce and very expensive for the crap you found in the tin, dad starting making me a weekly stew. Pigs feet were a regular gastro treat. Yum! I can still taste those chubby toes even now... 

Dad is still making my food. Any leftovers- in the pot. The table scraps at home ain't too shabby either. In my nearly eight years, I have eaten some culinary delights that other hounds only dream of: Côte de Boeuf,  lamb shank, Osso Bucco,  fine French cheeses... oh—and foie gras.

Life in England has been even better.  Cooler temps, miles of forest floor to sniff and explore, squirrels to tree, rabbits to chase into their warrens,  grazing cattle to harass in the back fields and a private garden all to myself.

During the warmer months you will find me out relaxing under my favorite Oak  tree. In the winter, I am nestled inside our cottage beside the chimney.  If mom is in the right mood, I manage to get permission to snuggle up on the leather couch.  I am a pretty good judge of her character. But even some days, I get that wrong.


January 2011, Hampshire, England
I had been suspecting for several months that something was changing with mom. For starters, she was clearing her plate at every meal. My treasured treat at the end of their meals ended. 

The second clue was that mom’s sense of smell was better than mine. Unfortunately for me, my odour was not one that she fancied which often lead to two baths a week.  I may be an island dog, but I hate the water. Hate being wet. Just mention the word “bath” and my tail will snake between my hind legs. 

Then one day, mom came home after being away for several days with a flatter tummy and Ouisie in her arms. 

The first 10-months with Ouisie were great. She stayed put. Then last month, she started to move. Since then, there has been no stopping her. Her designated play area expands daily. Mine diminishes hourly. My favourite sleeping nook by the radiator-- gone. My bed is now in the doorway with a biting draft. The other day, mom moved my bed completely out of the family room. An hour of barking and whining finally got me moved back in as the doorstop.
I do not understand Ouisie’s fascination with my tail. Personally, I do not know why I have it myself.  But let it be known, it hurts when yanked. For that matter, the pulling of my fur, my ears and any other part of me needs to stop. She has a basket full of stuffed animals-- pull on their ears for a change! As for the whiskers around my nose... having those pulled can bring even the strongest of us canines to our knees and elbows.


Snack time! Sitting underneath Ouisie’s high chair is a shower of treats--- Cheerios! Chicken! Spaghetti!  Snack time three times a day! Of late though, mom has been kicking me out of the kitchen during feeding  as I am “distracting”- 

I do not know what that means other than it results in the kitchen door being shut on my snout. I am not sure what the fuss is about as Ouisie just wants to share- and I am happy to oblige. 

When mom is in the right mood and I get to stay in the kitchen during meal time; I am made to sit and stay at the far end of the room until Ouisie has finished. Feedings take forever. 

I do not understand time- but some days in Nevis, mom kept saying how the days felt like eternity. I think I finally understand eternity. Watching Ouisie's unsteady fingers trying to pick up one rice grain at a time takes an  ETERNITY! I try desperately to keep my mind focused on other things to avoid a puddle of drool gathering at my paws. And just when I am at the brink of moving, the command arrives-- "Clean up." All dogs do go to heaven! Off I go to do my little part in helping keep mom's floors clean. 
I would like to set the records straight. I really do not like to play. Never have. My parents have tried over the years with countless toys, sticks, balls, empty plastic bottles—you name it. It boils down to the simple fact that I really hate to fetch. What a pointless game! From time to time I will chase a ball or a fallen apple from the tree around the garden a couple of times just to bemuse my owners. But after two goes- I’m bored.

I have never understood those dogs at the park that run for miles chasing a tennis ball or dragging a mile long branch along on their walks.  Why run around with a rubber ball or piece of bark in your mouth when instead you could enjoy smelling the base of a beautiful tree, chasing a squirrel or chewing on some fresh grass sprinkled in morning dew?

Ouisie loves toys. She has toys spread from one end of the room to the next that sing, light up, spin and get thrown in every direction. I have two toys. They are my bears. They aren’t really toys- they never leave my bed.  Despite Ouisie having toys in every room of the house, she insists on crawling to my bed to take my bears. I really wish Ouisie would not touch my bears. After all, they are not toys. 

The truth be said, life PBO (Post Baby Ouisie) is not worse. In truth, it is better. Sure, I get pinched and tugged- but it is kinda nice to have the extra attention. And now, I have three owners to love. I just need to train Ouisie to understand that my tail is not a toy, my bears are to be left on my bed, and to continue throwing food over the table of her highchair.

I think I hear mom coming back downstairs. Gotta wrap this up and get off the couch before being caught.  Better yet... perhaps tonight I will press my luck to see if I can catch some zzz’s from this comfy spot...



29 December 2011

Four Seasons Hotel Prague: Prah(a)-cise Care

This holiday season, my husband and I exchanged traditional turkey and gravy for pork and pickled cabbage in Prague. For years, we had been wanting to visit some of Europe's festive Christmas markets, and decided what better time than now-- with our 10-month old daughter in tow.

Our daughter has already established that she is a born traveller. This is a good thing as both mom and dad ensure above all else, our passports never pass their expiry date and that the wheels of our suitcases are well oiled and ready to roll when the travel bug starts to itch.

While mapping out our European Christmas Market tour we ensured Prague, and for that matter, Four Seasons Hotel Prague, was on the list. We began in Prague with four nights at Four Seasons Hotel Prague.

An on-time departure from London's Heathrow airport was met by a prolonged and tedious queue at Prague's immigration. My husband and I took turns singing songs and bribing our daughter with cheerios through the seemingly endless and disorganised lines.

Immediately after exiting customs we were welcomed to Praha by our driver, arranged in advance with Concierge, who relieved us of all our luggage. A warmed Mercedes 'S' Class fitted with a secured car seat for our daughter soothed our frazzled nerves and offered a most comfortable transfer to the Hotel. As I fastened her in the seat, I whispered "happy holidays baby girl."

The Hotel staff greeted us by name and extended a satellite check-in allowing us to take our wearied infant directly to our room to relax and play while we registered in the comfort of our private space.

While we did not have a car to valet, the bellmen whisked our 4-wheel pram away to be carefully stored and available upon on request. This service removed the hassle of shuffling the buggy to and from the room and kept the street mud and muck out of our guest room.

A corner of our beautiful Renaissance room was converted into a mini nursery for our daughter complete with changing amenities, musical mobile, nappy bin, play mat, duvet and non-slip mat for the bath tub. 

Local cartoon celebrity, Krteček (little mole), welcomed our sweet pea who found its big eyes and floppy arms all to funny and amusing. Renowned for their comfortable beds, I can also now rate Four Seasons' baby beds as our restless sleeper peacefully snoozed straight through the night. (Note to reader: Baby is refusing to sleep as I write this blog and its now 11pm). 

Aside from catching the sights of the city, our daughter caught a nasty cold that climaxed over our weekend stay. Concierge kindly phoned the Hotel doctor for suitable medication we could purchase without prescription. While most pharmacies were closed, the Staff located one open and offered to collect the medicine on our behalf. When we declined this offer, they insisted to call in advance to ensure the medicine was available. Once the medicine was in her system, our little traveller was back on track.

We were in Prague for the opening of the Christmas Market. What better way to get into the Christmas spirit than with the lighting of the square's Christmas tree and the scent of Svařák (mulled wine) in the air?

Four Seasons Hotel Prague is perfectly positioned with the Charles Bridge just a stone's throw away and the Old City on your doorstep. We left Prague full of Christmas cheer and with our new Czech friend, Krteček in tow for the rest of our Christmas market tour. 

20 December 2011

Marches de Noel

For years, I have been hounding my husband about taking a holiday to some of Europe's wonderful Christmas markets..  This year, the pretty pleases paid off.

Early on in life, my mother and aunt took me under their wings and introduced me to the wonderful world of collecting and decorating. I thereby hold them responsible for my infatuation with antiquing, Christopher Radko,  textiles and arts n' crafts. 

It is with good reason why Cyrille was (and should be) leery of accompanying me to the markets while possessed by the spirit of the Season and engulfed by tempting treasures at every turn. The hook  finally came this year by an invitation to meet up with his great uncle and other family members in Colmar, France for their annual Christmas market spree. 

I was finally booked on my Polar Express,

Prague, Czech Republic

Ah, Prague...What a stunning city. The Paris of Eastern Europe. And once you've been there- you see why. Cafes, beautiful architecture, castles, cathedrals and the infamous Charles Bridge which crosses over the Vltava River. That bridge has supported passengers on it since 1357.  Until the early 19th century, this bridge was the only means of crossing over from Prague Castle to the Old City. 

Today it is one of the main attractions in the city. During the winter months you can actually see the bridge and surrounding views that are missed during the peak summer tourism. Cyrille and I enjoyed a gorgeous first walk across the bridge at dusk. Just enough light left in the sky to capture some stunning shots like the one above.

We enjoyed four-nights in Prague. A great amount of time to explore the city, sample the local beers and cuisine-- pork, pork, pork! --- and hit the Christmas market! 

We were in the city the night the Christmas market officially opened. The square was packed with people. It was like being at Rockefeller Center--- well, not quite. But the streets were heaving. 

I had my treasure nose switched on, but try as I might, I could not find any local craft that appealed. The Czech make some stunning glassware- but, personally, I could not be bothered with travelling the next ten days with fragile glassware along with  a 10-month old baby.

What I did discover though is the sensational trdelník. The magic behind the dough is the open fire over which it is slowly cooked. Similar to a perfectly roasted smore, you want your trdelnik to be slightly scorched. Rolled in sugar and crushed walnuts, you are handed the warm pastry in a napkin ready to be pealed and enjoyed layer by layer. A warm cup of   Svařák (mulled wine) is the perfect complement to this sweetie. 

Nuremberg, Germany

Standards are set by this queen of markets. On the whole, Germany is alive with the festive spirit with Christmas markets in most cities on, and off, the beaten tourist path. Nuremberg is one of the more recognised markets attracting eager shoppers and admirers from around the globe. 

You cannot imagine my husband's incredible trepidation when I suggested we should go to Nuremberg. Two things he does not do well with--- big crowds and Christmas. I negotiated two nights out of him...and hoped the market would live up to its expectation.

And did it ever! I glowed when Cyrille thanked me after our first walk through the stands for bringing him to Nuremberg. Before allowing a chance for him to change his mind, I quickly refilled his  glühwein  and handed him another sausage roll. 

What makes Nuremberg stand out are two things: the beautiful Germanic wood craft and the gorgeous stall displays.  The show stopper stand for me was found in Nuremberg at a sweet stand decorated with the most delightful collection of tins and antique toys. Two of my favourite things under one roof. Sugar and tin. Hands down: I award this stand the overall best in show, blue ribbon winner of 2011. 

One thing we loved at the Christmas Markets in both Germany and France was their green initiatives for the parched shoppers. On purchasing your first glass of  glühwein or vin chaud you pay a deposit for mugs. These mugs are yours to be filled and refilled with mulled wine until your heart's content. 

At the end of your visit, you decide: keep the mug as a souvenir or return back to any stand and get your deposit back. Brillant! Mulled wine taste better in a mug and you feel you are doing your part to naturally keep warm and save space in the landfill. 

Second love- adults, kids and babies can enjoy the magic of Christmas at the markets. 

Ouisie could not have asked for more stimulation! Lights, smells, sights and doggies everywhere! Both Nuremberg and Colmar had delightful markets designated for children with rides, toy stands, petting zoos and tempting treats. 

We,too, loved being kids again ourselves with rides on the carousel and gawking over the live nativities. Admit it--- we all have that repressed inner child begging to be released.

Colmar, France

Just when you think France could not possibly have another beautiful region, you arrive in Alsace. We rented a car in Nuremberg and drove four hours to Colmar.

Once part of Germany, we were not sure when we actually crossed the border as towns and streets still bear their Germanic namesakes.  Even the food is more German than French. But one heavenly thing that is different...the regional beverage. We two wine-os were very happy to trade in our steins for stemware. 

The landscape is rolling hills and mountains blanketed in vineyards. Beautiful in winter and must be breathtaking at the hight of the harvest season. The part that stood out the most in Alsace were all the beautiful surrounding villages. It was refreshing to find their high streets alive and thriving. So many of the quaint villages in the UK are diminishing as store owners can no longer afford the high street rental fees and consumers are shopping at the commercial brands. 

All of Alsace was decorated for Christmas and each village took great pride in decorating their high street and store fronts for the season. The village of Ribeauvillé and Kaysersberg are both classified as " la plus belle ville du monde" and for sound reason.  They look as though they have been cut right out of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale! 

Colmar's market rivals Nuremberg in size and splendour. The upside of Colmar's market is that its five markets are dispersed allowing you to explore and meander the whole city rather than just one central location. Take the market away and Colmar, on its own, is a delight. Listed buildings from the 14th and 15th century are still in use today by boutiques and restaurants.  The contrast of modern and old architecture live side by side and evolve together. If anyone needs another reason to love France.... go to Alsace. 

While I did not find the local craft as appealing as that in Nuremberg, the local savouries and sweets made up for the lack of knicknacks. Here I rediscovered my affection for pain d’épices. 

Alsace is definitely a place we would go back to again and again. It is quaint, timeless, and delicious.

Ouisie was a star traveller. Not even a nasty cold held her back from having fun and taking in the sites. Planes, trains and automobiles.... four countries.... in eleven days.... all at ten months of age. Not bad for a first Christmas, I'd say? Alas, every girl has her limit. And ours definitely shopped 'til she dropped.

Merry Christmas!

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