Friday, September 28, 2018



Hungary, Romania and Bulgarian – July/August 2018
The train from Vienna arrived in Budapest about 12:30 p.m.  I walked to the Hotel Star Inn where our Intrepid group would meet that evening, dropped off my luggage and headed to the center of town.  Stopped in a nice square and had a slice of the delicious walnut filled Ezterhazy cake and then walked across the stone bridge to the buda side past the Matthias church but it was closed.  We all met at 6 p.m. for our orientation meeting and then I walked back to October 6 and SAS Street for a delicious salmon salad with arugula and peppers at Café Kor.

Met the group in the morning for our orientation walk around Budapest.  I had been there before but it is always nice to get another point of view.  Our guide, Claudia, is from Romania and really nice.  Afterwards I walked across the yellow bridge to Margaret’s Island and enjoyed the beautiful fountains, Japanese gardens, the open woods, etc.  It was really lovely.  Stopped by Szazeves, the 100 year old restaurant to see its charming interior and then stopped again for another delicious piece of 7 layer Ezterhazy cake before heading to the Jewish quarter.  Peeked into a few “ruin pubs”, i.e. fuge Udvar in the historical Ghetto area.  They are part of Budapest’s lively nightlife and most started out in condemned buildings, old warehouses, etc. and are filled with flea market furniture, etc.  Great fun for the young!

Was able to get the last tour of the great synagogue, the largest Jewish house of worship in the world outside of NYC.  On the patio, there is a holocaust tree of life memorial which presides over the mass graves of those murdered by the Nazis.   Had a few minutes to see the museum of lamps, torahs, etc.  Very moving…

Enjoyed a delicious dinner outside at Menza near the hotel, i.e. warm goat cheese salad with walnut bread croutons and warm chocolate torte with ice cream.

After breakfast we took the train to Eger and had an orientation walk around the town.  Stopped for lunch at Macok with a few others and had delicious dishes.  I had perch-pike with cauliflower puree and a couple others had rabbit with sweet potato puree.  All beautifully presented.  Wandered up to the castle and around the little streets, had an ice cream and then returned to the hotel.  Later we all went wine tasting as the area is very well known for its unique wines.

Took the bus in the morning to Debrecen where we stopped for a couple hours to explore Deri Square with its fountains, colorful buildings and golden great church.  Stopped at a café for apple strudel and coffee before continuing by train and then private mini van across the central plains into the Maramures region of Romania.  It was a very long drive.  We stayed the night at Ramona’s guesthouse where she fixed us a delicious dinner of pork chops, mashed potatoes, cucumber/tomato/feta salad and nut cake for dessert!

After a nice breakfast a mini van picked us up and we were off to see the countryside.   First stopped to visit a number of wooden churches of quite unique design.  Also visited the sighet prison, located in the town of Sighetu, which was used by Romania to hold criminals, POWs and political prisons. You can look at the former prison cells which housed some of Romania’s foremost intellectuals; some of the cells have turned into exhibits on the history of the prison and communism.  A very worthwhile experience.  Stopped for an apple strudel and espresso before continuing on to visit an old grain mill, textile mill and place where they make plain and blueberry liquor which we sampled while our guide played the fiddle and our host the drums.  It was lovely.

Last stop was the Merry cemetery in Sapanta.  It is famous for its colorful tombstones with naïve painting describing, in original and poetic manner, the people who are buried there as well as scenes from their lives. 

Ramona’s dinner that night was mushroom fritters, soup with dumplings, cabbage rolls stuffed with meat and chocolate cake with coconut.  Not quite as wonderful as last night’s meal but good all the same. 

After breakfast we headed to Transylvania, stopping for a couple hours in Bistrita situated on the bistrita river.  I visited the Evangelical church tower and wandered around the town a bit before stopping at a little café for apple strudel and coffee.  Walked up to the synagogue but it was closed…On to medieval Sighisoara, a world heritage site famed as the birthplace of Vlad Dracul III, better known as Vlad the Impaler, whose name was the inspiration for Bram Stoker’s iconic Count Dracula.  Took an orientation walk around the old town, surrounded on all sides by fortified walls.  Afterwards I walked down to the village below to see the unique houses.

Dinner at Casa Georgius Kraus in the downstairs “cave” was delicious, i.e. duck breast salad with arugula and sundried tomatoes and apple pie with custard sauce.

Delicious breakfast with watermelon for a change.  Walked to the clock tower and enjoyed the museum of unique furniture, etc. on each floor as you climbed to the top.  Walked up through a tunnel to the church on top of the hill and then we all met at the hotel and drove to the small village of Viscri originally inhabited by Saxons.  An idyllic little village of red tiled roofs, it is a world heritage site, virtually unchanged for 900 years.  Homestay in a nice little guesthouse.

Once settled we visited an old church and museum nearby and then took a horse cart to the home of the brick maker to learn how bricks are made.  Delicious dinner, all of us eating at one big table outside on the patio, i.e. bean soup, potatoes with mushroom sauce, cabbage salad and peach cake for dessert.

After a simple breakfast we drove to the 13th century Saxon city of Brasov once a major medieval trading center.  Orientation walk and then free time to wander along the pedestrian street, etc.  Found a lovely café for cheesecake and espresso and then spent some time in the folk art museum and the art museum next door.  Walked up to the first Romanian school house and was enchanted with its old benches, chalkboard and even the first printing press where the school books were printed. 

Later that night we heard an organ concert in the black church, Romania’s largest gothic church.  I was so taken by the music that I forgot to look around at the rich collection of Anatolian carpets!!!  Dinner together at a nearby beer hall which was rather uninspiring…

Delicious breakfast of crepes with jam and warm mini croissants before taking the train to Bucharest.  After an orientation walk around this very cosmopolitan city visiting many of the ancient churches, the old part of town, etc. we picked up pastries for lunch and then returned to the hotel.  Later in the afternoon a few of us took a fabulous guided tour of the Palace of Parliament, the second largest building in the world (after the Pentagon) with its 3,000 rooms and 4,500 chandeliers covering 330,000 square metres.  Incredible carpets, staircases, etc.  WOW!!!

Had a lovely dinner at Kane Restaurant, i.e. duck sous vide with cherries and roasted beets, chocolate mousse cake and a glass of wine.  Had thought about taking the metro but as it was raining I just took a taxi back which was sooo much easier!

Delicious breakfast of mini croissants and mini pains au chocolat and then said good-bye to a couple people who were leaving this part of the tour.  Will have a room to myself for the rest of the trip!!! 

Took a long walk up to Muzeul Saturlut (Villge Museum), an
open-air ethnographic museum located in the Herastrau Park, showcasing traditional Romanian village live.  It contains 272 authentic peasant farms and houses from all over Romania.  Unfortunately, it was closed for the day but there was a camp going on so I was able to talk my way in and spent a couple hours seeing the houses from the outside and peeking in the windows!!! 

Stopped by a little French bistro for chocolate mousse cake with cherries and espresso and then walked to the Synagogue which was closed but I will be able to visit tomorrow before we leave.

Took a taxi to Fishhouse and had a lovely dinner, i.e. grilled octopus with potatoes and chicory and cheesecake with berries outside on the patio.  Started to rain just as I finished so returned by taxi.

Took a walk in the morning to the great synagogue with its beautiful chandelier – so glad it was open.  Wandered around the Armenian quarter, unique to Bucharest.  Took a train to Veliko Tarnovo, a very quaint little town with its cobbled stone streets, etc.  Only had time for a quick look around before meeting for dinner at Restaurant Shtastliveca overlooking the water.  We sat upstairs and everyone seemed to enjoy their meal.  I ordered duck which was very disappointing but everything else looked pretty good!!!

Picked up an apple pastry and coffee for breakfast and then had our orientation walk.  First stop was the Tsarevets Fortress, the former seat of the medieval tsars which boasts the remains of more than 400 houses.  We wandered around the ancient ruins, walked along the fortress walls and up past the palace ruins to the top of the hill where we visited the church of the Ascension with its very stark modern interior and dramatic murals painted by Teofan Sokerov in 1985 (not to everyone’s taste…). 

At 11:00 a.m. I joined a walking tour which told of the history of Bulgaria as we walked though the old city, stopping at interesting old Renaissance houses, handicraft workshops, etc.  Stopped for lunch at Ego and had a Greek salad and some warm pita bread and then wandered down to the Sarafkinata kashta house-museum, an example of Bulgarian architectural masterpieces from the period revival.  In the museum are displayed costumes, handmade cloths, jewelry as well as objects relating to everyday life.

Later I walked down to the tourist information office and across the bridge to the Asenevtsi monument representing the four kings of Bulgaria who have ruled while Veliko Tarnovo used to be the capital.  There is also a little park nearby.   On my way back I stopped for dinner nearby, i.e. grilled trout, grilled vegetables and chocolate tart for dessert.  Delicious!!

Took a local mini bus in the morning to Plovdiv, an ancient city.  Had some free time before our orientation walk so I walked to Kapana and then the old town to get a feeling for the city.  Orientation walk was really good highlighting some of the old parts of the city, etc.  Dinner at Memory where we sat outside.  I had a roasted eggplant salad with tomatoes and tapenade and a warm chocolate soufflé cake.

In the morning I walked to the Kapana area to visit the mosque and one of the great churches on the way up to the amphitheatre where we would see a performance later that evening.  On to the old town to visit some of the museums starting with the Ethnographic Museum, a national revival building filled with lots of interesting things used in the 19th century, folk costumes, musical instruments, etc.  Walked down the street of crafts to the balabanov house containing a lot of nice contemporary art as well as being a beautiful mansion on its own. 

Wandered through the stone gate to the small basilica, built in the second half of the 5th century, with its colorful mosaic floors.  Walked back to Kapana to Atlas where I enjoyed a great lunch, i.e. roasted pumpkin salad with cheese and pumpkin seeds and chocolate tart.  Strolled through the lovely park nearby with its beautiful fountains, lakes and statues and then we all met at the hotel to walk to the amphitheatre for the folk dancing show where several countries, i.e. France, Georgia, Slovenia, etc., were performing.  It was really good. 

Walked into town in the morning and then we took a mini bus to the bear sanctuary, home to rescued dancing bears.  On to Bkansko set at the base of the majestic Pirin mountains and a ski resort in the winter.  Orientation walk down the cobbled streets, passing the stone houses to the Church of Sveta Troitsa to see its famous frescoes.  Stopped by the big, wooden “washing machine” and then listened to a pre concert on the outside stage.
Had a delicious meal at Matsurevhan out on the patio, i.e. grilled trout, grilled eggplant/zucchini/onions/pepper and a unique biscuit dessert famous in the city.

After breakfast we took a gondola up to the Pirin mountains and spent a couple hours hiking which was really lovely.  Visited Pavel Rekznicek’s (a famous poet) house with murals of the revolution and pictures of him as a young man.  He was shot for political reasons…The house has three rooms where he lived with his mother.  Stopped for a delicious lemon tart across from Matsurevhan before heading to the little village of Gorno Draglishte where we stayed at a guesthouse.  Orientation walk around the town and then a delicious home cooked dinner, i.e. vegetable soup with homemade bread, potato/cabbage phyllo pie, zucchini with cheese and yogurt sauce, cabbage/cucumber salad and carrot “cake”.  Afterwards we all dressed in traditional Bulgarian costumes and danced outside together to music.  Great fun!!

Early breakfast, arriving at the Rila Monestery, the largest and most famous Eastern Orthodox monastery in Bulgaria, about 11 a.m.  The main church has five domes, three altars ad two side chapels.  On of the of the most precious items inside is the gold-plated iconostasis, famous for its wood-carving.  There are frescoes on all walls and the church is also the home of many icons.  Also visited the museum nearby with its beautiful breast crosses, small silver ones and a wood carved cross with miniatures carved out of wood.  Took a walk down to the cemetery and than had a piece of chocolate cake at the little outdoor café overlooking the stream.

On to Sofia.  Orientation walk gave us a good feel of this enormous city and a good idea of what to see on our own.  Our last dinner together at Hadijidraganov’s.  I had the chicken shish kebab with tomato/cucumber/feta/olive salad and it was really good.  Will now have a few days on my own…

Delicious croissant in the morning with honey and then walked to the covered market across from the mosque.  Met a group near the square for the walking tour and the guide was very informative about the city.  Went into the Aleksander Nevski Cathedral built between 1882 and 1912 in memory of the 200,000 Russian soldiers who died fighting for Bulgaria’s independence during the russo-turkish war.  Also visited the Sveta Sofia church, one of the capital’s oldest.  Went down into the subterranean museum housing an ancient nectropolis with 56 tombs and the remains of four other churches.  Very interesting!!

Stopped by the nearby Café Wien and had a lovely chocolate pistachio torte with pistachio sauce and an espresso, listening to Viennese music.  A nice break.  Returned to the hotel to pick up my bags and walked to my airbnb about 30 minutes away.  Met my hostess at the door and we walked upstairs and into an absolutely lovely flat.  One of the nicest airbnb I have ever stayed in.  She explained what was nearby, where I could get delicious pastries in the morning, etc. and had even picked up a delicious leek and onion baguette for me!  Then I was on my own.  Took a nice hot shower, add my delicious baguette and “regrouped” for a bit…Later that evening I walked to “Made in Home” for a delicious dinner.  A cute little house with tables in every room.  It was delightful!!  I had a warm goat cheese salad with quinoa, crackers, dried cranberries, walnuts and pepper pieces followed by a chocolate caramel tart.

Found the Furna Café nearby in the morning and had a delicious leek and onion baguette like I had yesterday with espresso for breakfast.  Walked to the open-air market nearby and to the synagogue and then spent a few hours in the Ethnographical museum with its regional costumes, crafts, etc.  Stopped by Made in Blue for a chocolate tart and espresso before heading back to the airbnb.

Later that evening I took the metro to Chefs restaurant and it was about a 10 minute walk from the metro stop.  Had such a wonderful meal, i.e. octopus with carrot puree and cheesecake with apricot sauce.  Very peaceful atmosphere. 

Furna for a chocolate croissant and then wandered around the ladies market filled with great fruits and vegetables.  Stopped by the Sveta Nedetya church, an Eastern Orthodox medieval church that suffered destruction through the ages and has been reconstructed many times.  On to the National Gallery of Art, occupying most of the historic and imposing edifice of the former royal palace of Bulgarian and filled with interesting Bulgarian art.  Stopped again at the Café Wien for chocolate cake and espresso and then walked to the doll museum but unfortunately it was closed…It is on ul.Tsar Samuli which is filled with art galleries so I wandered along enjoying what I could. 

Had dinner At Made in Blue which was a bit disappointing, i.e. strange sunflower nectarine salad, sweet potato wedges with blue cheese and figs and blueberry cheese cake for dessert.  Walked up to the Delta Blues Bar and listened to some great blues for about an hour…

Furna for a fig and cheese pastry and then walked to the 500 Bulgarian Art Museum and spent a couple hours there.  There are some 1,700 artworks from the gallery’s rich fund of over 42,000 museum pieces by Bulgarian and foreign artists exhibited in 28 halls on four levels.  The Bulgarian collection dates back to the 1890s, while the greater part of the foreign collection was formed in the 1980s.

Walked down Levski Boulevard and through the park to “little things”, a cute little restaurant I had thought to have lunch at; however, due to water problems it was closed…So walked over to Made in Home and had a delicious grilled peach and burrata salad with maple syrup glaze.  Back to Made in Home for dinner again, my last meal in Sofia.  Had the excellent goat cheese salad again along with the chocolate tart.  It was awesome!

My last pastry at Furna in the morning and then walked to the metro and took it to the airport and boarded my flight to LAX.  Watched “Wrinkle in Time” and “Downsizing” on board to pass the time!  What a great trip!!

Monday, September 10, 2018



Slovenia and Vienna, July, 2018
Flew from Albania to Ljubljana and picked up my Sekt rental car across from the airport.  Really nice people even throwing in a GPS for free!!!  Drove easily into the city and found my cute little studio with free parking out front.  Host was there to greet me and show me around and then I took a beautiful walk along the river and over the bridge to the old town.  I loved Ljubljana immediately with its many bridges, cafes and its old town feel.  Another plus, i.e. almost everyone spoke English!!!

Found TaBar off on a side street where I had dinner outside overlooking the river, i.e. grilled octopus with tomatoes and sturgeon with leeks.  Really nice to be on my own for a few days…

Slept well in my quiet little airbnb.  Had delicious strong coffee and chocolate croissant at Cafetino on Stari Trg where I went everyone morning to start my day.  Walked to Joze Plecnik’s house, the famous architect who designed most of the bridges, to learn about his life.  Wandered around the old fruit and vegetable market and then to Preserven Square, across the cobbler’s bridge, butcher’s bridge, triple Bridge and dragon bridge – all so very beautiful!  Walked to the National Library which Plecnik designed but only peeked inside.

Stopped at an outdoor café for a lemon tart with lemon sauce and then walked up to the castle.  Not much of the castle per se to see but there are many great museums inside, i.e. Museum of Puppetry which was my favorite and an interesting photo fashion exhibit.  There were some old prison rooms as well as an exhibit on the importance of the dragon when Jason looked for the golden fleece and slayed the dragon.  It started to rain so I headed back, returning later for dinner at Julija.  I had Slovenian cheese dumplings with mushroom sauce and apple strudel with cream which were both heavenly, sitting outside…so very nice indeed.

The following morning after my delicious chocolate croissant I wandered around the open market and then drove out to Idrija, home of the famous bobbin lace and stopped to visit the school of lace.  I got a nice guided tour of the different patterns and techniques of lace making and then continued on to Kobarid for a delicious lunch at one of the 50 best restaurants in the world, Hisa Franko.

My choice was the 6 course lunch, i.e. pickled sardines with tomato water, goat cheese ravioli with corn and hazelnuts, trout with beets in tonka vinegar, octopus with potato polenta and smoked yoghurt, bear with honey and berries and summer pear with nasturtium.  It was one of the most delicious meals I have every eaten.  Ana, the chef was there as well and it was she who suggested I drive through the Vrsic pass, a high mountain pass which goes through the Julian Alps and the highest road pass in Slovenia.  I snaked my way through 50 hairpin turns (each marked!!), stopping occasionally to see the beauty and the Russian chapel at switchback #8.

Walked into town later that evening and sat by the river enjoying an ice cream cone for dinner.

In the morning I drove to Predjama Castle built on a cliff within a cave just to see it.  Had read it was nothing special inside.  Decided to visit to Skocjan caves instead of the more well known Postojna caves and really glad I did.  It is an exceptional system of limestone caves with some 6 kilometers of underground passages.  The guided tour took about two hours and the walk along the cave system was amazing!!!  Had a traditional Slovenia cake with apples, poppyseeds and cheese for lunch and then on to the Lupica Stud Farm nearby. 

I took a tour where I learned a great deal about the famous Lipazanner horses and we stopped by some stalls to see them up close.  Stayed for the fabulous performance at 3 p.m. where the horses galloped and danced to the music of Strauss.  Afterwards I spend about an hour in the museum which explained the history and bloodline of the horses, etc.  It was really an incredible day.

Dinner later that night in town at Marley & Me sitting outside, i.e. grilled salmon salad and a delicious cream cake.  Wandered around a bit afterwards to enjoy the evening.

In the morning I drove to lake Bled, a beautiful turquoise lake surrounded by mountains and forests.  Walked up to the Medieval castle and enjoyed the various museums, especially the printing press.  Walked around the lake a bit and stopped at a nice hotel and sat on the terrace to enjoy a slice of cream cake before driving to Vintgar Gorge which was the highlight of the day.

The gorge carves its way through the vertical rocks of the Hom and Borst hills and the trail leads you over wooden bridges with amazing views to the mighty Sum waterfall.  Made a quick stop of lake Bohinj, the largest permanent lake in Slovenia, which was also very beautiful.  Dinner later again at Julija, i.e. arugula salad with crisp polenta and cheese and apple strudel with ice cream – delicious!

Up early to return the car and fly to Vienna, Austria.  Arrived about 8:00 a.m. and stopped for a chocolate croissant and coffee before taking the train into the center and the U4 to Margaratgurdel near my airbnb.

Erwin let me check in early and it was an awesome studio, modern, bright and even had a great coffee machine!  Started out towards the center passing through the Nachtmarkt with all its great food and vegetables, arriving at the Opera House in time for the 1:00 p.m. tour which provided lots of interesting information about the history, architecture, etc. of the Opera House.  Built in 1869 and again in 1955 following the devastation of the war, it is one of the most prestigious opera houses in the world. 

Walked up to the Central Café  (which seems to be the place to go for Vienna pastries!) and had a delicious mille feuille with custard.  Walked down to the Albertine Museum and spent a couple hours viewing the current exhibition of Picassos, Monets, Derains, etc.  I was also able to wander through the old apartments where the king lived which I really enjoyed.

Walked to St. Stephens Cathedral on Kartnerstrasse, the symbol of Vienna and one of the most important Gothic structures in Austria.  Walked back to my airbnb which took about 30 minutes and had dinner at Mini nearby, i.e. smoked tuna carpaccio with diced melon and croutons and an apricot chocolate torta.

In the morning I found a nice pastry shop nearby and had a delicious almond croissant in my cosy airbnb along with two shots of espresso and some fresh raspberries I had picked up on my way back the previous evening.  Walked to the Kunst Historische Museum and spent about 3 hours viewing the Kunstkammer exhibit of all the beautiful things collected by the Hapsburgs, i.e. gorgeous gold ships, ivory and agate pieces, clocks, etc. etc.  There were books in each room describing each item and even little videos of how some of the clocks, etc. moved.  Really fascinating.  Walked back to shower and change for my Michelin star dinner at Loca near the Stadtpark.

Sat outside and enjoyed a delicious 6 course meal with a glass of wine, i.e. burrata cheese with pesto and tomato pieces, salmon trout with avocado puree, cold cucumber cream soup with shrimp, char fish with squid and green bean cream, beef with mushrooms and cheese with berries and sorbet.  A great finale to my last evening in Vienna!!

Pastry and coffee in the morning and then took the tram to the train station and a train to the airport.  Arrived in Budapest, Hungary about 12:30 p.m. where I would start my next adventure with Intrepid that very evening.  It was great having a bit of time on my own…

Friday, August 24, 2018



Eastern Europe – Albania, Kosovo, Macedonia – June/July 2018
Last year I met many travelers heading to Albania so decided to go there as well!  Had a bad experience with prime time shuttle that called 20 minutes before they were to shuttle me to LAX and cancelled!!!  Luckily my dear friend drove me to LAX and I was in time for my flight.  With a quick stopover in Munich for a smoked salmon sandwich and coffee I arrived in Tirana, Albania about 7 p.m.

Taxi driver got lost so after many stops to ask directions I arrived at my very spacious airbnb and was warmly greeted by my host.  He showed me the area, the green market nearby and how to get to the center.  He finally dropped me off at one of his favorite restaurants nearby called Oda, where I had a wonderful dinner.  Cute little house with cozy rooms, Oda was the perfect place to start my trip.  I had a slice of spinach phyllo “pie”, a cottage cheese and peppers dish which I was to see often and a  slice of honey nut cake…

In the morning I walked to the green market to pick up some oranges and had a delicious chocolate croissant and double espresso at Mulliri Vjeter.  Walked into the center and then to the south bus station to see about buses to Berat which seemed to leave every 30 minutes.  Visited the House of Leaves, an old house once a medical office but during the war with Russia turned into a spy center where many people were falsely accused of political crimes.

Walked into the Blloku area with its cafes and little shops and had a piece of cheesecake on the patio of E Jona where I would dine tomorrow night.  Took the bus to Bunk Art 1 and spent a couple hours in the 3,000 square meter underground bunker spread over several floors.  In every room there was history of Albania being taken over by Italy, Germany and Russia.  What a saga!!!

In the evening even though it was raining pretty hard I took a taxi to Uka Farm, an organic farm and restaurant a bit far from town.  Sat in the large patio where chairs and tables were set up and had antipasta platter with cheeses, grilled peppers and eggplant, spinach pie, etc., followed by grilled lamb chops and some of their locally made wine.  Would have been a better experience with more people…

Breakfast again at Mulliri Vjeter and then I took a local bus to the south bus station and a bus to Berat, a Unesco world heritage site because of its collection of white ottoman houses climbing up the hill to the castle.  Took a bus to the castle/fortress and while wandering around joined an Italian group who were very welcoming and enjoyed a little tour with them.

Visited the Ethnographic Museum to see traditional clothes, tools, etc. which I really enjoyed and then walked along the river to the stone bridge so I could see the 1000 windows.  Crossed the river and stopped at a little hotel where I sat outside and had some baklava before taking the bus back to Tirana.

Later that evening I walked to E Jona and had a lovely dinner, i.e. a salad with “frico”, raisins, spinach, nuts and tomatoes followed by a rich brownie with ice cream as I sat outside on the patio…

After breakfast at Mulliri Vjeter I left my nice airbnb to check into Hotel Kruja where the Intrepid trip would start and then took a local bus to Kruja to see the old fortress and visit the very extensive Ethnographic Museum in an old house with interesting nicely restored rooms where people originally lived. 

Walked down a tunnel to the old mosque, interesting as it had no minaret and finally wandered into the street bazaar the town is famous for.  Back in Tirane, I walked down to the “Pyramid”, originally the Enver Hoxha Museum about the legacy of this long-time leader of communist Albania, it is now closed and possibly will be demolished…

Met our Intrepid group of 10 and then walked to Era for dinner, i.e. arugula salad with parmesan and cheese stuffed peppers in a very cute little place.  Walked to Sky tower and up to revolving bar where I enjoyed the view and a crème brulee.

Nice hearty breakfast at the hotel with delicious espresso and then an orientation walk of Tirana where I saw many things I had missed so far.  Stopped for coffee at Kommiti, a cozy little coffee bar and they went to the sky bar and I walked along the river.  Had an arugula salad and brownie outside on the patio of E Jona and then we met at the hotel to take the bus to Shkodra.  Walked up to the Rozafa Castle founded by the Illyrians in antiquity and rebuilt.

Walking tour at 7 p.m. to see the town followed by dinner at President, i.e. grilled vegetable platter with arugula, sitting outside on the terrace. 

Early morning transfer to Lake Koman where we boarded a ferry and spent about 3 hours enjoying the beauty.  Arrived at a guesthouse in Fierza where we took a walk to the lake and then later had a lovely dinner at the guesthouse nearby, i.e. special cheeses, peppers, olives, beets, salad with olives and oranges, trout and potato pancakes.  Quite nice. 

After a simple breakfast of homemade bread, jam and Turkish coffee we took a lovely walk through the valley, stopping once for coffee and again for lunch, i.e. spinach phyllo pie and shepherd’s salad (tomatoes, feta, peppers and cucumber). 

In the afternoon we walked over to one of the uncle’s homes and he talked about life under communisim.  Later in the evening we drove to a local restaurant where we had a fabulous dinner, i.e. potato/carrot soup with local bread, mixed greens with tomatoes, etc., fried cheese and peppers with eggplant in a casserole, corn and creamed cheese, crisp potato slices, yogurt with peppers, lamb and delicious nut cake with a creamy topping for dessert. 

In the morning, we crossed the border into Kosovo, Europe’s newest (official) country.  Stopped at the Decani Monastery, built in 1327, and known as the final resting place of Serbian King Stefan Unos III Decanski.  It is a place of stunning art heritage where monks still live.  On into Peja, the gateway to the Rugova Muntains. 

Had a quick look around before our orientation walk en route stopping at the folk museum which was very interesting.  Free time to visit the old bazaar, mosque, blood houses where the northern Albanians took refuge, etc.  Dinner at Kulla e Zenel Beut recommended by Trip Advisor, i.e. grilled fresh trout and Greek salad.  A peaceful atmosphere and delicious food.  Stopped for a baklava on my way back to the hotel…

Nice breakfast in the morning, pastries, cheese, honey, fruit and espresso.  Drove to Relaj, a village deep in the Rugova valley.  The Rugova mountains are nicknamed the cursed mountains and were declared a national park in 2013.  Stopped at the Monastery of Patriarchate in Pec, this complex of churches is the spiritual seat and mausoleum of Serbian archbishops and patriarchs.

Took a very pleasant 3 hour hike, stopping for lunch at a local family home, i.e. spinach pie, 3 layer pie, cornmeal pie, stuffed peppers, potatoes, vegetables and the ever present tomato/cucumber/feta salad.  We sat outside and it was lovely. 
Went to Prince in the square for chocolate cake and coffee later in the evening.

On our way to Prizren we stopped in Gjokove and wandered through the street bazaar on our way to the Hadum Mosque which was quite lovely.  Arrived in  Prizren at the foot of the Sar mountains and spent a couple hours in the house of Albanian League of Prizren where a monumental document was signed.   Orientation walk along the Bistrica river, over the stone bridge and around the cobbled Shadervan square and then free time to explore on our own.

It was a great city to walk around in and had the most delicious tres leches cake I have every tasted with a caramelized topping.  Dinner at Marashi by the river was grilled trout, nice but not worth the #1 Trip Advisor gave it!

Walked up to the Prizren Fortress in the morning built by the Byzantines in the 12th century and it was the seat of power for the Ottoman rulers until their expulsion in 1912.  It started to rain so we headed down.  Went by van to the winery with an elephant on the label and tasted some of their wines along with a simple lunch.
Walked around the vineyards before heading back to town.  I walked up to the fortress again to really see it well and had another delicious tres leches cake before calling it a day…

Spent the day in the capital city of Pristina first heading to the Field of Blackbirds, which the country is named after and where the 1389 battle of Kosovo took place.  Visited the tomb of Sultan Murat, leader of the Ottoman Empire in the 14th century and finally the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Gracanica, a Serbian orthodox monastery filled with paintings and frescoes painted in the 14th century.  There are 24 nuns residing there who are active in icon painting, etc.

Enjoyed a delicious lunch at Liburnia, a lovely restaurant with nice atmosphere and had fresh grilled trout with eggplant, peppers and mushrooms.  Stopped by a bear sanctuary where dancing bears had been rescued.  Back into town for the evening.

In the morning we crossed into Macedonia and arrived in Skopje about 2 p.m.  Had lunch and an orientation walk into the center of this very large city, stopping by Mother Teresa’s house, church on the square and through the large marble statues, fountains, etc. associated with very large cities.  Walked across the beautiful stone bridge to the bazaar and up to the fortress and later that night had a lovely dinner at House Restaurant near the center, i.e. delicious “tava”, stew with veal, chicken, eggplant, etc. and a kadaif dessert with nuts, honey and syrup – divine!

In the morning we drove to Canyon Matka, a beautiful spot along the river in the mountains where a couple of us took a ferry across the river and climbed up to the little church on top of the hill.  It was small but filled with beautiful frescos.  Free time in the afternoon so I visited the bazaar and the great fruit and vegetable market, contemporary art museum up on the hill and the national art gallery which I enjoyed very much.  There was an exhibit of Amen Kastrati on Albania life.

Stopped for an ice cream before visiting the memorial house relating to Mother Teresa who was born in Skopje in 1910.  We all met at 8:00 p.m. and walked to the Debar Maalo quarter for dinner which was very lively. I shared a mezzo platter with a few others, i.e. fried cheese, eggplant, chicken kebabs, etc. as we listened to some live music which was a great way to end our stay in Skopje.

After breakfast drove to Ohrid situated on Europe’s oldest lake and one of the oldest human settlements in the world.  After an orientation walk of the city we stopped at Potpie overlooking the lake and shared some delicious fried sardines, pizza and a couple salads.  Free afternoon.

Visited the church of St. Sophia, originally a Synod church and subsequently converted into a mosque during the Ottoman empire.  Today the interior of the church has been preserved with beautiful frescoes from the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries.  Its superb acoustics make it very useful for concerts.  Walked up to the Tast Samoil’s Foress on top of Ohrid Hill and down to the 2,000 year old Roman theatre used for concerts in the summer.  Had a chocolate ice cream as I wandered back to the hotel along the lake.

Took a lovely walk along the lake in the morning and then we took two boats out to see the lake, stopping along the way for a nice swim.  Stopped by the Museum on the water, i.e. the bay of the bones which sheds some light on the life of prehistoric peoples living near the lake with its 24 prehistoric houses on a wooden platform placed above the lake. 

Visited the Sveti Naum monastery, an imposing sight on a bluff near the Albanian border.  There are some very impressive icons and frescoes inside.  Later in the evening we took a ferry to our restaurant and ate grilled trout outside on the patio listening to live music playing downstairs.  So very lovely…

Drove back to Tirana in the morning, confirmed my morning flight and then to E Jona for another delicious brownie and ice cream.   Stopped by Bunk Art 2 which was very similar to bunk Art 1 except a bit smaller and then walked to the artificial lake where I would have dinner later.  Returned to the hotel and met our group in the lobby to say good-bye.  They were dining together but I felt that our last night in Ohrid was really our last night…

Walked to Mullixhiu and had a lovely dinner outside on the patio, i.e. the six course metamorphosis menu with some variations.  Chef Bledar Kola makes wonderful dishes inspired by Albanian organic products.  He joined me while I was having dessert and it was delightful talking with him.

In the morning I walked to a nearby Mulliri Vjeter for a chocolate croissant and coffee before taking the bus to the airport where I caught a flight to Slovenia where I would spend some time before picking up another Intrepid trip in Budapest.  So far Eastern Europe has been a very pleasant surprise!


Saturday, August 18, 2018



Arugula, Pear and Green Lentil Salad
1/2C French green lentils
1 bay leaf
½ small onion, halved
parsley stems
2 – 3C arugula
½ fennel bulb, thinly sliced
1 Bartlett pear, cored and thinly sliced
1/2C ricotta salata or manchego cheese, shaved
1/3C toasted pistachios or almonds
Vinaigrette
2 Tbsp. white balsamic vinegar
2 Tbsp. raspberry vinegar
2 tsp. honey mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
6 Tbsp. olive oil

Put lentils in a pan, add plenty of water and bring to a boil.  Simmer for a minute only.  Drain.  Return to the pan, add water to cover.  Add bay leaf, onion and parsley stems and simmer until tender but not mushy.  Drain and toss with 2 Tbsp. vinaigrette while warm.  Shake vinaigrette ingredients together in a jar.  Toss arugula, fennel and pear with vinaigrette to coat.  Add half the lentils and toss.  Add the pistachios and cheese and toss again.  Finally add the remaining lentils and toss again.  Divide among plates.
MAKES:  6 servings

Friday, June 8, 2018



Kauai – May 2018
Decided to visit my friend in Kauai as she planned to be around in May and is usually out travelling!!  Got a great fare on Alaska Airlines nonstop from San Diego, parked my car at Wally Parking and took a free shuttle to the airport.   Plane left about 7:05 a.m. and arrived at 10:45 a.m.  My friend met me at the airport and we stopped by Costco to get some fruit and cranberry walnut bread and then I settled in.  She has a lovely home near Anahola and I stayed in a little cabin behind her house.

Weather was balmy with some rain the whole time I was there which was to be expected on a tropical island.  We had a nice lunch together outside on the patio and then I took a walk to the beach nearby.  In the evening we sat out by the fire pit and had some delicious lentil soup which she had made and caught up with our lives…

Took a walk every morning and then fixed breakfast for us which we ate outside on the patio overlooking a field of goats and beautiful tropical plants.  So much great fruit to be had!!  She has papaya and mango trees and we found some great blueberries and pineapple along the way.  My first morning I headed to the sleeping giant trail, stopping at the Opaekaa Falls on my way.  The trail was very muddy which made the going difficult but it was a beautiful trail and took about 2 hours just to get to the 2 mile mark.  Stopped in coconut plaza for a delicious mung bean, cucumber, etc. salad with grilled ahi at the sleeping giant grill, a bit hard to find but well worth it!!!

The next morning after breakfast we drove to Kapa’a and rented bikes.  Rode a couple hours along the ocean which was so beautiful.  I felt like I could ride forever.  Met a friend of hers for lunch, i.e. shrimp pad thai noodles at a little Vietnamese café and later that evening we had dinner in Kapa’a at JO2, a little bistro in a shopping center I had read good things about.  She had the three course menu, i.e. wild mushroom pasta, mahi mahi with fresh vegetables and chocolate croissant bread pudding and I had a dish with poke and avocados on a tortilla underneath which was ceviche, a kale salad with duck confit and pistachios and a chocolate crème brulee.  Really nice meal.

Stopped by the Farmer’s Market in the morning and it was filled with great fruits, vegetables and all sorts of great things cooking.  We tasted some interesting macadamia nuts, cheeses, etc. before picking up some fresh kale and Swiss chard for later.  She dropped me off at the Kilohana sugar plantation and I visited the manor built in 1935 by Gaylord Parke Wilcox and learned all about sugar cane.  There is also a train you can take around the grounds and even have lunch at Gaylord’s Restaurant if you like.

Afterwards we spent a couple hours in the Kauai Museum which told the history of King Kamehameha and his dynasty as well as the history of old Hawaii – how the islands came to be and how they were ruled until Captain Cook discovered them.   Also listened to some ukulele music in the courtyard.  Drove back “home” and made a nice salad with the fresh kale we had bought and later we had lentil soup with the Swiss chard outside under the stars.

Even though it rained all night we got up early and headed to Waimea Canyon, stopping at Starbucks on the way for coffee and banana bread.  Entered the Koke’e State Park and stopped at some viewing points along the way but it was too foggy to see anything.  I hiked a beautiful trail down to Waipo Falls which took about 2 hours and there were some lovely views along the way.

Stopped at the Kauai Coffee Plantation to learn about the 4 million trees on the plantation that produce 60% of the state’s entire crop and then drove to Keoki’s Paradise near Poipu Beach for lunch on the veranda.  We shared a couple ono tacos which were delicious and so enjoyed the beautiful view of the palm trees, etc.

Got back just in time to change for dinner at Hukilau Restaurant in Kapa’a.  It was a five course menu, i.e. Sweet potato ravioli, Island gazpacho with basil sorbet, ono with quinoa pilaf, sesame linguini with crisp Kauai shrimp taro balls and vanilla crème brulee.  We sat outside and it was so beautiful…

In the morning I drove up to the Hindu Temple Monastery where I walked along the path to the temple, stopping at the giant banyan tree.  Inside the temple the swami was conducting a shiava pooja which was very interesting to see.  The grounds are lovely…A very peaceful place.

Drove down to the cute little historic town of Koloa and then stopped for lunch again at Keoki’s Paradise and enjoyed a local greens salad with macadamia nuts, goat cheese and grilled spicy shrimp followed by their famous hula pie, i.e. chocolate cookie crust, topped with macadamia nut ice cream and chocolate sauce with whipped cream on the side – decadent!!!

Drove to Poipu Beach and parked near the Grand Hyatt and then walked down to the beach to follow the Maha’ulepu heritage trail along the coast.  It was a challenging hike but very beautiful and took about 2 hours to complete.  Drove back and my friend made us a delicious pizza for dinner which we ate outside enjoying the sounds of the night.

Made a 9:30 a.m. reservation at Na’Aina Kai botanical gardens about 15 minutes away and chose the walk and ride tour which took about 3 hours.  We walked some and rode in a little cart through the beautiful unique gardens and trees and our guide pointed out the different flowers and plants.  There were also some lovely bronze sculptures throughout the gardens which made it unique.  We even saw a couple albatross!!!

Stopped at the Kilauea Lighthouse and wildlife refuge, an impressive 52 foot structure situated on a rocky peninsula 180 feet above the pacific ocean.  You can observe some red footed booby birds as well as wedge-tailed shearwaters through binoculars if you are lucky.  There is a lot of information about the wild life in the little museum/gift shop as well.

Took a nice walk in the afternoon and then we returned to JO2 for another nice dinner that evening.  We shared the seafood sampler, scallops in phyllo, salmon with butter sauce and caviar and ahi with linguini, the tempura vegetables and the warm chocolate cake.  A nice final meal and my flight leaves tomorrow…

Drove up to Princeville in the morning and saw a few albatross which seem to like to nest there.  On to Hanalei Bay to the pier where we parked and walked along the beach to see the flood damage.  So many houses were lost and even the land underneath was washed away…Stopped for breakfast at a cute little café and then drove back.  I took one last walk along the beach and then she drove me to the airport.  Lihue is such a small little airport that I was through security quickly so had enough time to have a couple delicious fish tacos at a little café near my gate. 

Called Wally Parking as soon as I landed and the shuttle came in minutes and drove me directly to my car.  A bit of a drive home, i.e. almost 1-1/2 hours but it went by fast.  It was a great trip and much too short!!!