Thursday, December 13, 2018

Rolled leg of lamb with herb garlic sauce
3 - 4 lb. boneless leg of lamb, boneless, butterflied

herb garlic sauce
1 Tbsp. cumin seeds, toasted and ground
1-1/2C (lightly packed) Italian parsley leaves
1/2C (lightly packed) mint leaves
1/2C (lightly packed) cilantro leaves
2 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 Tbsp. smoked paprika
1 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper
6 Tbsp. olive oil (4 Tbsp., 2 Tbsp.)
2 Tbsp. Sherry wine vinegar

1/4C white wine
1/4C chicken stock

For the herb garlic sauce:  Place all ingredients in a food processor except the oil and process until coarse paste forms.  With the machine running, add 4 tablespoons oil.  Transfer 1/4C sauce to a bowl and add vinegar and remaining olive oil.  Set aside.

Lay the meat flat and pat dry with paper towels.  Trim any excess fat.  If there are portions that are much thicker than others, butterfly the thicker portions of the lamb to make it evenly thick.  Lightly pound the lamb with meat mallet, if necessary.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spread the lamb with ¾ of the remaining sauce.  Starting at the short end, roll the lamb up tightly.  Tie and rub with remaining sauce.  Wrap well in plastic wrap and chill at least 8 and up to 24 hours.  Let stand at room temperature about one hour before roasting. 

Preheat oven to 350F.  Unwrap the lamb and transfer to a roasting pan.  Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the meat reads 125 – 135F, about 45 minutes to 1-1/4 hours for medium rare.  Begin checking early.  Transfer to a cutting board, tent with foil and let rest for 20 minutes.
 Meanwhile, add wine and chicken stock to the roasting pan and simmer until slightly reduced.  Add the sauce that was set aside.  Cut lamb into ½-inch thick slices, snipping away the twine as you go and transfer to a platter.  Add any juice from the cutting board to the roasting pan.  Serve lamb with sauce.
MAKES:  6 – 8 servings

Friday, November 23, 2018

Baby Kale and Brussels Sprout Salad
3C baby kale
12 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, shredded
2 Persimmons, thinly sliced
1/3C almonds with skins, roasted, coarsely chopped
1/2C pomegranate seeds
1C pecorino Romano cheese or sharp Vermont cheddar
  cheese, shaved

3 Tbsp. raspberry vinegar
1 Tbsp. pear vinegar
2 tsp. honey mustard
6 Tbsp. olive oil

Shake the vinaigrette ingredients in a jar and set aside.

Mix the baby kale and Brussels sprouts together in a bowl.  Add the persimmons, pomegranate seeds and toss with vinaigrette to coat.  Add the almonds and cheese and lightly toss again.
MAKES:  8 servings

Thursday, November 1, 2018

France – October, 2018
Decided this was the year to visit France and October is the perfect time to go.  Flew to CDG from SNA which was very convenient and arrived the following morning.  Took the RER to Gare de Lyon where my Airbnb was not far away.  They let me check in early and leave my luggage so I had plenty of time to stop for coffee and a tarte normande and take the metro to the Louis Vuitton Foundation designed by Frank Gehry.  This glass building takes the form of a sailboat’s sails inflated by the wind and lies at the edge of the Bois de Boulogne.

When I arrived there was a long line of people waiting but it moved fast and soon I was enjoying the inside of the building as well as the very interesting exhibition by Egon Schiele, an interesting expressionism artist from Austria inspired by Klimt.  Afterwards I walked up and around the outside of the building enjoying its beauty. 

Later that evening I took the metro to Invictus, a cute little restaurant full of people where I enjoyed gambas with cabbage and sesame, mille feuille filled with vanilla and a glass of wine.

Walked to Blu Sucre for coffee and pain aux raisins in the morning then stopped by the open air market nearby before wandering down to the Place de Vosges to see the art galleries.  Last stop was a nice walk along the Seine before returning to my room, packing my bags and walking to the car rental place nearby.  Turning on the GPS I brought along with me, I headed to Chateauroux, taking the paid highway as it was a bit farther than I had originally thought.

Arrived in the center about 4 p.m. where I stopped for double espresso and an almond/chocolate pastry.  I called my airbnb to find out the check in process and Michael met me at the gate where he showed me where to park and into and around the little loft I had booked.  Took a walk to the cathedral and into the center where I returned later for dinner at Jeus2gouts which was delicious!!!  Started with a glass of wine, salmon sushi style with grilled avocados, cod with caviar and potato gratin, a 3 cheese course and a chocolate tart to finish. 

Walked to the inside market in the morning to pick up some little oranges and had a few with my double espresso and almond/chocolate croissant outside in the square.  Walked around the old town a bit and then drove to Perigueux where I parked outside the old city and wandered through the old cobbled streets to the Cathedral which was awesome.  A bit later I drove to the airbnb but couldn’t find any parking spot available for about 20 minutes which was very frustrating but at last one appeared and I was able to check into my loft.

Walked back to the Cathedral area where I was planning to dine but found another more interesting one star Michelin restaurant L’Essentiel which looked even better so went there instead and had a fabulous meal.  Even though I wasn’t dressed particularly well everyone was gracious and I had a wonderful time.  Started with a glass of wine, broccoli mousse with lavender ice and parmesan sable, foie du canard with roasted figs, ris du veau with potato puree and perigord sauce and finished with a chocolate crunchy dessert.  The French sure do know how to dine!!!

Walked into the old town for pain aux raisins and espresso in the morning, wandered around the Cathedral area and then drove to Bergerac to do a self-guided tour around this old medieval village.  Found a little café and had coffee and a lemon tart before heading to Issigeac, a very ancient walled city almost uninhabited except for a few little shops.  Arrived in Roque Gageac in the Dordogne about 3 p.m. and checked into the Belle Etoile, a nice little hotel where I had stayed many years ago.  Had dinner there later that night, i.e. rack of lamb and a chocolate dessert, nice but not as fabulous as I remembered…

Drove to Sarlat in the morning for chocolate croissant and espresso and a quick walk around the town and then to the chateau des Milandes, a 15th century chateau famous for its former owner Josephine Baker, glamorous dancer and music hall singer (1906 – 1975) who took Paris by storm in the 1920s with her risqué performances.  First watched the raptor show which was fun and then toured the chateau filled with lots of memorabilia about her life, 12 adopted children from all over the world, clothes, etc. 

Drove on through the beautiful valley to the quaint old town of St. Cirq La Poupie where I had very fond memories of visiting years ago…Stopped at a cute little café for traditional walnut cake with walnut sauce and walnut ice cream and just explored the city for about an hour.

Returned to Roque Gageac to regroup before driving around the corner to O’Plaisir des Sens for a fabulous dinner!  Started with a herring appetizer, sautéed foie gras with a baby pear, sturgeon with Swiss chard and wild mushrooms and finished with a crisp chocolate “tartlet” and petits fours.  Delightful!!!

Took a walk in the morning and then enjoyed a complimentary breakfast at Belle Etoile which was delicious, i.e. mini pain au chocolat, mini croissants, cheese, fruit and many cups of espresso!  Headed south to  Carcassonne which proved to be a lot farther away than I had anticipated…

Stopped outside the city at a little café for mille feuille and espresso and then drove to my airbnb near the bridge to the medieval city.  Was able to park nearby and check in to my little studio very quickly.  Wandered around the old town first and then crossed the bridge to the old city and walked up to the castle on the hill where there are lots of restaurants, shops, etc.  Pretty touristy…

Had an outstanding meal later at two star Franck Putelat on Chemin des Anglais, i.e. little appetizers, beef tartar with oysters, bouillabaisse with foie gras de canard, fish with cauliflower puree, beef filet with a Swiss chard tourte, cheese selection, poached pear with pear sorbet, chocolate tart with chocolate mousse and little petits fours.  My best meal during the whole trip!!

Walked across the bridge in the morning and stopped at Kristin’s patisserie for pain aux raisins before walking through the Narbonne gate into the old city.  Wandered around the ramparts and around the castle and then headed to Aix en Provence.  Got a bit hungry along the way so stopped in Arles at a cute little bistro for three cheese quiche and salad with sun-dried tomatoes.  Found my airbnb but there was nowhere to park so finally caved in and parked in the underground parking garage which was pretty expensive.  It was a relief, however, to have time in the city…

Airbnb wasn’t quite ready even though it was almost 6 p.m. so I wandered around the old city streets which was fun anyway.  It’s a busy town with lots of fun little shops, restaurants, etc. to see.  Returned later that evening to La Bouchee on one of the side streets I had walked along earlier and had magret du canard with scalloped potatoes and a rich chocolate fondant dessert – all delicious.  A very quaint little place with a lot of atmosphere and nice friendly people.

Walked by a sweet little bakery in the morning and sat outside to enjoy a pastry and espresso.  Had to check into my airbnb in Nice before 12:30 p.m.; otherwise, my host would not return until 9 p.m. so there was some pressure to get moving.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t enjoy the coastline this time but did arrive, after some drama finding the correct entrance, before he left.  Parked nearby close to the Chagall Museum and spent about an hour inside.  The most important works were the twelve large size paintings he made illustrating the first two books of the old testament.

Walked to the old part of town and had a lemon tart and espresso outside a little café.  This part of the town is charming and I walked to the port and out along the sea.  Returned to my studio and changed into something nice before driving to Eze, a charming hilltop town with its beautiful cobblestones streets filled with art galleries and cafes.  Had dinner overlooking the cote d’azur at chateau eza, i.e. autumn salad with mushrooms, truffles and egg yolk confit, crumbled crab with seaweed chips, cod fish with oyster sauce, veal with hazelnut crust and spinach, vanilla mousse with fresh figs, apple cake with apple sorbet and mignardises.  It was lovely…

Walked down the hill to a little café I had seen yesterday on my way into the old city and had a pastry and espresso before driving to St. Paul en Vence about 40 minutes away.  I had been told that there was a fabulous museum called Maeght Foundation which I found easily.  It was filled inside and out with fabulous Miros, Calders, Giacomettis, Legers, etc. some so large they were outside in the sculpture garden!  Amazing.

Walked down to the town which is one of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera.  Wandered a bit through the galleries and shops and then stopped at a little café and sat on the terrace enjoying my leek quiche and salad.  Would like to return when I had more time.  Drove to Vienne where I stayed at a delightful airbnb with the loft all to myself.  Wandered around to find the two important roman monuments still standing, i.e. the Temple of Augustus and the Gallo Roman pyramid from a roman circus.  Had dinner on a little side street at La Muse, i.e. cubes of gravlak salmon/salad and beet puree/pickled vegetables and radishes and a chocolate “success” for dessert.  Years ago I had eaten at the Michelin starred “La Pyramide” but it was closed the evening I was there…

Found a little café in the morning and then wandered along the quai to the cathedral.  Said good-bye to the lovely hosts of my airbnb and then drove to Vezelay, whose town and 11th century Romanesque Basilica of St. Magdalene are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites.  Parked my car down the hill and then walked up to the city, first stopping at a little café for a lemon tart and espresso.

Visited the Musee Zervos, a fabulous modern art museum with works by Picasso, Calder, Giacometti, etc. as well as a special exhibition of Hans Hartung which was very interesting as well.  On up towards the cathedral to visit the Jules Roy House, home of the Algerian born French writer. 

Spent some quality time in the Cathedral which is enormous.  As my airbnb still wasn’t ready I wandered around the gardens and the cemetery behind the Cathedral.  Once checked in I quickly changed and drove out to the Chateau de Vault de Lugny for dinner as Wednesday night all the restaurants in Vezelay are closed!!!  Had a lovely fois gras brulee appetizer, rich pumpkin soup, salmon with white beans and a chocolate mousse dessert.  It is a lovely restaurant and I enjoyed my dinner very much.

Took a little walk up to the cathedral in the morning, stopped for pastry and espresso at a nearby café and then drove back to Paris.  It is always a bit intimidating to return a rental car but all went well and before I knew it I was walking down Diderot street heading to my airbnb nearby.  This trip I hadd booked only lofts and studios, having the whole place to myself which I really enjoyed.  Once settled in I found a bakery nearby and had a quick almond tart and espresso before taking the metro to my favorite museum, Musee de la musique where I spent the remainder of the day.  It has over 7,000 instruments from all over the world, some of which you can hear play with the free audio guide.  A fabulous place!

Dinner later that night at Chez Delphine which trip advisor recommended.  It was easy to find and the atmosphere was charming but I was somewhat disappointed in what I ordered, i.e. squid with peppers and lava cake served warm with ice cream and custard sauce…

Stopped by the bakery in the morning for a last chocolate croissant before taking the RER to Chatelet and on to CDG where I caught a flight home.  Watched “won’t you be my neighbor” en flight and thoroughly enjoyed learning about Mr. Roger’s life.  I had a wonderful time in France and look forward to my next trip…

Sunday, October 21, 2018

Veal and Pork Stew with red and yellow peppers
1 lb. veal stew meat, trimmed
1 lb. pork stew meat, trimmed
2 – 3 tsp. spice rub of choice
salt and pepper to taste
2 – 3 Tbsp. olive oil
red pepper, cored, seeded and sliced
yellow pepper, cored, seed and sliced
1 onion, peeled and thinly sliced
4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
1C red wine
1C canned tomatoes, pureed
1 Tbsp. tomato paste
3 – 4C beef stock
1/2C fresh basil leaves, thinly sliced
1/2C fresh oregano leaves, coarsely chopped
1C fresh spinach leaves, stemmed

Toss the veal and pork stew meat with salt and pepper and spice rub to coat.  Heat olive oil in a sauté pan; add the peppers and cook until slightly browned, stirring frequently.  Remove and set aside.  Add the veal cubes and sauté until brown on all sides.  Remove and set aside.  Repeat with pork cubes, adding more oil as necessary.  Add the onion slices and sauté until transparent, add the garlic and stir to coat well with oil.  Add the red wine and bring to a boil.  Reduce by half.  Return the meat to the pan.  Add the canned tomatoes, tomato paste and three cups of stock and bring to a simmer.  Simmer, stirring occasionally until the meat cubes are tender, adding more stock as necessary.  Stir in the peppers and bring to a simmer.  Add the basil, oregano and spinach and stir in.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and serve.
MAKES:  8 servings

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!