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EUROPEAN VACATION PART 8 – NORTH MACEDONIA

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This is the eighth in  series of posts.  Previous post is HERE.

Did you know that there used to only be “Macedonia?” Neither did I. Technically, it is The Republic of Macedonia. Like the other Balkan countries, the geography has been carved up depending upon who is in charge.  I’ll spare you the history lessons.

Why come here? People we know well who know the Balkans well speak very highly of this country.  I can tell you for a fact that I thought Bulgaria and Romania were quite affordable to visit. NM is really inexpensive. I don’t care for the term “cheap,” but I’d use it when I can get a 90-minute deep tissue massage for $64.  And not at some questionable place either.

The Marriott in the capital city of Skopje is the highest rated hotel in the city. Overnight hotel parking? $15. Shouldn’t that be the cost everywhere?!  I keep using the currency converter just to be certain and sure enough, it’s very inexpensive here.  With just under 2 million in the entire country, it is the smallest by population of the countries we visited on this trip. Below, we’re at that point where the hubby finds the incessant food photos tiresome.  Or he’s just resigned to it. But aren’t those ice cream containers the cutest??

The drive from our last stop in Sofia, Bulgaria, was roughly 3-1/2 hours.  A restauranteur in Sofia shared with us that once one ventures out from that capital city, the rest of the country is quite primitive. Having now seen it, I agree. But the scenery is beautiful regardless.

Crossing the border from Bulgaria to North Macedonia was a bit funny.  The agent kept asking to see our “green card.”  What? We’re not going to work in NM — we’re just visitors!  Then we finally remembered that part of the car rental agreement included a “Power of Attorney” that is an actual green card.  They verified we hadn’t stolen the car, stamped our passports, and let us proceed.

The infamous green card below!

Everyone who speaks about this country recommends seeing Lake Ohrid, a jewel in the proverbial crown.  Ideally, however, a visit would be for more than a lunch.  Even better, staying for a few days to experience the beautiful surroundings.  Alas, ours was a short stay but enjoyable nonetheless.

On the way back to Skopje, a thought occurred to me.  What the hell are a couple of 70-year-old’s doing driving a windy mountain road in a not-too-populated region? This is the type of question that stops many others from doing a trip like this.  Even considering that this is the 31st foreign country in which I have driven (thus I am pretty confident), it is still something to ponder.  And then when the “monsoon” started (see BELOW) — I mean, zero visibility from immense rain that turned into hail — well, one must wonder.

But here we are, safely back in the hotel, none the worse for wear.  We came, we saw, we survived! I will admit it was lovely having our guide Daniel take over the driving in Romania.  And I am not opposed to opting for that scenario again.

It is said that one decision might lead to unexpected experiences while obviously not knowing the outcome at the time.  That was exactly the case upon deciding (with some expert advice) to skip Kosovo, although it is just an hour north of Skopje.  Instead, we used the time to see the capital city.  Below, the statue of Macedonia’s monumental leader, Alexander the Great, is prominently displayed in the city center.  Our hotel is just to the right.

The first stop once over the well-known “stone bridge” was at the Holocaust Fund of the Jews of Macedonia.  This is a very impressive spot to learn and see the horrors that essentially wiped out the entire Jewish population in the country.  Prior to the war, there were nearly 12,000 Jews in the geographic area of today’s North Macedonia.  Today that number is in the low hundreds.  Many of the Jews who survived the war emigrated to the newly formed State of Israel; thus the number has remained low.

Above, the “stone bridge” over the Vardan River; below, the Holocaust Museum.

We asked to speak to the person in charge and were told no one was available.  However when the hubby shared that he served on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum board, that got attention.  We were soon in the presence of Maja Nanou (BELOW) who gratiously met us.  After touring this impressive building, she called her colleague at the Jewish Community in the Republic of Macedonia/Beth Yaakov Synagogue, our next stop.

Aleksandra Subotic shared with us how the multi-purpose facility is used for holiday observances and even has a Kosher kitchen.  And this information from the website Conference of European Rabbis:

The Beth Yaakov Synagogue in Skopje is the only functioning Jewish house of worship in the country. It was consecrated in the building of the Jewish Community in 2000 with the assistance of the Macedonian government, the JOINT, and the Jewish community of Pasadena, California. The country’s Macedonian-born chief rabbi resides in Israel but travels to Skopje to officiate on Jewish holy days. Macedonian Jews maintain close contacts with the Jewish communities of Belgrade and Salonika.

Aleksandra (seen ABOVE) has an amazing story of her grandfather coming from Eastern Europe as a young teenager.  He survived the war by being a Yiddish translator while never admitting to anyone he was a Jew.  After the war, he married a Macedonian woman, had children and a successful career.

While on a business trip, he happened to engage a journalist with whom he shared he had no idea the fate of any family members after he left Eastern Europe and whether anyone survived the war.  He was shocked to find out there were people in Israel who could help.  They found a cousin living in California and they spoke by phone, at which time he discovered he actually had some surviving relatives.  A relationship was created that thrives to this day.  What a magnificent story.

As I alluded to above, the decision to skip Kosovo led to these two extraordinary connections.  Who knew??

Our last dinner in Skoje was at the Hotel Panoramika, named for the outstanding and sweeping views (BELOW).

Dinner at Panoramika:  Tuna tartare, Arugula & Parmesan Salad; Lemon Sorbet; sharing the veal chop with chips (fries)

During our (delicious) dinner, a man seated next to us (with his family) introduced himself.  He is a native Macedonian who has lived in Chicago for over half his life, and has a successful career there owning two high-end hair salons.

We talked about the vast difference in the ways of life, the business community there versus his native home (he returns three times annually), and many other subjects.  And then he excused himself to go to the lobby to handle his payroll — electronically and half a world away.  One cannot make these things up.

And then, we departed the Balkans.  We flew to Vienna where the hubby and I parted ways – he to begin the journey home and I to go on to Italy for a week of cooking.  The trip highs & lows covered in the next post, plus my week in Tuscany to be covered in depth!

“Parting is such sweet sorrow” … depending upon where one is headed next, of course.

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EUROPEAN VACATION PART 7 – BULGARIA

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This is the seventh in a series of posts.  See previous HERE.

After departing a spectacular stay in Romania — a special country with great people, food, sights, landscape, and history — our next stop is Sofia, Bulgaria.  I cannot emphasize enough how we enjoyed Romania.  And soooo easy on the wallet, especially meals.

I called another audible and changed our flights (always booking “refundable”).  Why? Leaving the Cluj-Napoca airport in the north of Romania initially was via Luftansa through Munich, then on to Sofia.  On second thought, how about Turkish Airlines via Istanbul in Business Class for about half the cost.  I do not know why that wasn’t the original plan, but I’m glad for the change! Sometimes flying Business on shorter flights (each segment was roughly 90 minutes) seems a bit of an extravagance.  BUT, when one factors in extra luggage allowance, the lack of lines, lounge access, and additional service, for us it is the better choice. And the lounge in Istabul? Among the best ever! In fact the entire airport is sensational.

Below, view from our room at the Intercontinental Sofia

Below, Bulgaria is nearly as well known for its roses as Ecuador. That is saying something. The climate and soil are ideal, and roses were a welcome common sight.

For our two days in Sofia, we opted not to hire a guide even though we had an excellent referral. When traveling so “aggressively” — meaning constantly on the move, I find it is perfectly acceptable to spend a day without structure. We walked a great deal, first to the historic Central Synagogue of Sofia.  We engaged two other travelers there and neither of them were Jewish.  That is something, but then again we visit a great many churches so why would it not be the same for others?  The Synagogue dates back to 1909 and is the third largest in Europe and is one of two active synagogues in Bulgaria.

The generosity of Ronald Lauder, one of Estee Lauder’s two sons, is found worldwide in support of Jewish causes.  He helped rebuild the Sofia synagogue as noted on the plaque.  How fortunate to have such benefactors use their wealth in countless ways.

We were “2 for 2” in terms of terrific dinners in Sofia.  The first was walking distrance from our hotel (Intercontinental Sofia) called La Capannina, and the second a bit further away called Chef’s.  The former offered Mediterranean-ish dishes and totally fit our desires that evening.

Below, simple and delicious grilled steak, vegetables and citrus cheesecake.  All excellent!

Chef’s was a treat, well worth the 15-minute cab drive in a part of the city we otherwise would never have seen.  The menu is eclectic, to say the least.  We had asian salad with spring rolls followed by pad thai, while others were eating hunks of lamb shank.  For dessert, one of the best of the trip — Millefeuille with vanilla cream and strawberries.  See below.  Outstanding!  Plus, the proprietor was a fountain of information about Bulgaria and Macedonia, our next stop.

Bulgaria is not nearly as advanced as the neighboring Balkan countries.  One restauranteur used the word “primitive” in describing much of the country.  English is spoken but not nearly as well nor as widely.  The two million residents in Sofia are advanced in many ways, but the other four million outside the capital? Not so much.  Yet, we enjoyed our somewhat brief time here.

Below, the same view as above, but later at night.

For the last country on this trip (for the hubby as I am going on to Italy), we drive to North Macedonia.  Stay tuned.

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EUROPEAN VACATION PART 6 – ROMANIA

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This is the 6th in a series of posts.  See previous here.

Our long-delayed visit to this country finally happened. We had planned to be here as part of our 2020 travels, but the obvious derailed our plans. Thus we finally came to the Balkan countries as part of a big European Vacation which includes a total of 12 countries.

Romania feels close to my heart mainly because my beloved manicurist of decades is from Bucharest, as is most everyone at Jessica’s Nail Clinic in Los Angeles.  The founder is Romanian and many of the women there have worked at Jessica’s since coming to the US.  The language is familiar, as it is part of the Romance languages that include Spanish, French, Portugese, and Italian. Hearing Romanian at my weekly appointment provided comfort that it would be easy to navigate in the country. But English is compulsory in Romanian schools, so most everyone speaks that as well.

Our guide Daniel, owner of Romania on the Map, is amazing.  Please refer back to a previous post to learn how we came to find him.  And there he was promptly in our hotel in Chisinau, Moldava, for the long but comfortable drive to Bucharest. Daniel likewise connected us with our guide in Chisinau, a colleague of his named Victoria.

First up, the historic (140+ years) and legendary Caru cu Bere restaurant below.  When in Bucharest, this is the place to try for authentic Romanian cuisine – huge portions of meat, lots of beer (or “Bere” as the name suggests), cheese-filled things — none of which we consumed.  We did share some schnitzel, delicious and inexpensive as is most of the food here. And big!

Below, taste testing at Daniel’s choice for a Bucharest iconic pastry shop – Scovergaria Micai – in the older part of the city, with our delicious selections!

Daniel showed us Bucharest including many of the historic buildings from the 1800’s forward.  Of course there was a lot of destruction when the Communists took over and subsequent rebuilding after 1989.  Romania has advanced economically more than the other Balkan countries and is thriving today.

Below, one of many classic architectural buildings – formerly government – now a bank

The Palace of Parliament below – the world’s second largest building after the Pentagon.  This is just one side of it.  We’re in front for scale. 

Below, the Union of Romanian Architects HQ showing off their talent by combining the old with the new in a single building.  Impressive!

After a half-day, we had a lovely evening dining with someone who worked at my L.A. nail salon.  She is now retired and living in her native Bucharest where most of her family likewise resides.  My friend Mihaela lives a wonderful life here after working hard and doing well.  She travels, enjoys culture, all the local restaurants and everything that Bucharest and the rest of the country has to offer.  Good for her!

Above, at a our wonderful dinner at Sara Floreasca (one of Sara’s four locations).  Great food & company! 

Below, the open shopping area with deli, produce and gelato (not shown); my grilled branzino; arugla salad; pizza dough bread (YUM); simple pasta.

Following Bucharest, it was up into the Carpathian mountains for two iconic sites – Peles Castle and Bran Castle.  Personally, Peles was much more interesting as I have zero interest in Dracula.  Not to mention, the climb is very steep at Bran, some of which is through very narrow hallways and passageways.  Bran is definitely not for anyone prone to claustrophobia!  Both are must-see’s.

Above, Peles Castle.  Below, photographed inside Peles with a knight in shining armor (or maybe two?)

Below, Bran (or “Dracula’s”) Castle with fitting gloomy skies!

Our night was spent in Brasov which historic old town (SEEN BELOW) could be anywhere in Europe.  Since this was the Orthodox Easter weekend with wonderful weather, families were out en masse.

Below, it just SEEMS like Starbucks has been around since 1835!

Below, this sign is mounted in English AND Romanian, but apparently to no avail.  Graffiti is sadly a massive problem everywhere.  I don’t get it.

The Brasov Radisson provided a story for the ages:  I always ask for an extra pillow upon being shown to any hotel room.  When it didn’t arrive, I asked again as we left the hotel for our town tour. Upon return, there was a pillow case (only) neatly folded on the bed. Next, we left for dinner so I took the pillow case to the front desk and asked for the pillow (again).  When we got back – there was the extra pillow on the bed.  Naked. No pillow case. Oh well. Let it go …

The drive from Brasov to our final Romanian stop in Cluj Napoca included a surprise stop in Viscri, where none other than King Charles (yes, the one from the UK) has a home and garden! Who would have thought.  He has a long relationship with Romania and is well loved in the country.  Below, the outside of his home and then the interior garden space.  There is a larger garden behind the property.

We also made stops in Sighishoara and Alba Lulia en route to Cluj Napoca, a quite modern city of 500,000.  Cluj is the second largest city by population in Romania, and where we would fly from for our next stop. Travel (and brain) fatigue led us to dining in (at the beautiful new Cluj Radisson) where we met head chef William, a Chicago native and now 8-year resident of Cluj. His stories were amazing, from supervising 14,000 daily “meals” at O’Hare Airport to now living in Romania (his wife is Romanian but they met in Chicago) and overseeing this beautiful new hotel.  The quality of life improvement is obvious from there to here.  He loves raising his son in this country.

Below, the Roman Catholic Cathedral — a huge draw for visitors to Alba Lulia

Thank you, Romania and guide Daniel for your hospitality.  We enjoyed our time with you.  Next stop – Bulgaria

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EUROPEAN VACATION, PART 5 – MOLDAVA (REALLY?)

This is the 5th in a series of posts.  See previous post HERE.

You’re going where?  Where exactly is Moldava??

Well, the eastern part of Europe.  Their largest border is with Romania (on the west side) and Ukraine on the north, east, and south where Odessa is located.  It could be considered a suburb of Romania as that is the language most spoken.  But Moldava has not progressed as well or as fast or grown as large as Romania. The country was doing well but then faced the double whammy of first Covid (like everywhere else), followed by the war in Ukraine.  Just when the effects of Covid were subsiding … boom. Tourism simply died. They were likewise tremendously hurt by not having access to the port of Odessa, causing gas prices to rise steeply.

Alas, the Moldavians forged ahead. It’s true few Americans visit here regardless, according to our guide Victoria.  English is widely spoken and is compulsory in elementary school.  Mostly Europeans visit the country.  We both found it to be very nice and safe with beautiful and abundant parks.  Food is very inexpensive (always a plus).

Below, a contrast between the old and new 

We were passing one of the innumerable pastry shops and I shared a tip from my beloved longtime Romanian manicurist in LA.  “The pastry in Bucharest is better than in Vienna!” To which our guide replied, “The pastry here (in Chisinau) is better than Bucharest!”  We’ll just have to see when we get to our next stop in Bucharest.  The delicious taste test below.

Below, our wonderful guide Victoria who was referred to us by Romanian guide (to be) Daniel.  

Below, in the center of Chisinau.  Who knew that Sacramento is among Chisnau’s sister cities?  Likewise, notice the QR code at the bottom.  Every sign we saw on buildings and monuments has a QR code.  I read that Moldava’s internet is among the fastest and least expensive in the world.  And there are electrical outlets in their parks so one can always get a charge.

Moldava’s official residence of the President Maia Sandu

As for getting to Moldava, we flew from Belgrade via Tarom – Romania’s national airline.  Let’s just say the flights were fine.  They got us here.  We had a brief plane change in Bucharest before continuing on. The planes are small. A great many of the passengers’ carry-on bags were taken once on board and put in a cargo hold at the front on the plane. When we deplaned, there were the bags waiting for us on the tarmac. A bit odd, but it worked.

Below, a pedestrian street with “piano keys” named after Eugene Doga, Moldava’s most famous and prolific composer. Makes one want to re-enact the famous scene from the movie Big.

Our time here is brief but adequate.  We came, we saw, we spoke to folks, had a lovely guide, and saw the Jewish part of Chisinau.  Supposedly there are 5,000 Jews in the country.  We were welcomed into the Synagogue (unlike the challenge in Belgrade — see that story HERE).  It was an emotional experience given the massive turmoil going on vis-a-vis anti-semitism and the Israel conflict.

Below, the rabbi puts tefillin on Bruce, an ancient custom employed before reciting morning prayers.  For a full description: Tefillin

So that is the story of visiting Chisinau (pronounced KISH-a-now which I have finally mastered).  So come to Moldava and see this lovely little country. Below, the park is decorated for the upcoming Orthodox Easter holiday.

Beautiful fountains in front of the Maria Biescu National Theater

And another in the city’s main park, a gorgeous and very large green space

Next stop, touring Romania.

 

 

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EUROPEAN VACATION PART 4 – SERBIA

This is the fourth in a series of posts.  Previous post is HERE

Are you surprised this country is included in our itinerary?  Based on the fact that our restaurant server told us we were the second Americans he waited on in a couple of years, I’m guessing your answer is yes.  Meaning not many come to this part of the world.

Let me backtrack to share how we got here. Driving. Croatia was the only country en route that would allow a rental car from the EU to Serbia.  Thus, we drove from Ljubljana to the Zagreb airport solely for the purpose of a rental car exchange.  Drop off at Europcar and pick up at Dollar. Unlike the prior rental car (a wonderful Cupra Leon by Volkswagon), I couldn’t get rid of this one (a Renault something) fast enough.  In fact, Dollar picked up the car from the Belgrade hotel.  But, Dollar staff emailed me several times regarding our timing at Zagreb and were very responsive.  So they get credit for that!

The drive is not particularly interesting, bordering on boring. And long. Interestingly, the roads are better in Serbia than in Croatia (very bumpy).  And then came the boarder crossing. Wow. They actually stamped our passports upon entry into Serbia. About 45 minutes in line, but we’re told that was because it’s holiday time approaching the Orthodox Easter.

Below, a very good likeness of Serbia’s most famous actor:  Karl Malden

The fact that someone likened Belgrade to Paris is a stretch.  Yes, there are tons of outdoor cafes, but not much else to remind one of Paris. Still, Belgrade has it’s own charm and character.  It is brimming with tourists and locals out walking and shopping everywhere we went.  Belgrade prides itself on offering a vast array of culture, from festivals for film, theater, music and even beer.  A bit of everything is available! 

I try to incorporate a visit to either a Synagogue or Jewish community center wherever we go.  In Belgrade, it is Synagogue Sukat Shalom.  Our guide showed us the way.  Upon arriving, we could see a group of men chatting by the synagogue, but we were quite a distance from them, outside massive gates.  No one was answering the phone or responding to our knock.  This was the last day of Passover so that explained the lack of phone contact.

Below, outside the massive gates.  The top of Bruce’s cap is barely visible at the bottom.

We were frantically waving to the men shown below inside the yellow circle! 

Eventually someone saw us waiving and then an enormous security guard emerged from the gate.  We asked to go inside and he responded with a hard no.  Our excellent guide pleaded with him in Serbian and I could tell we were getting nowhere. It is the holiday and no can be admitted which made no sense at all.  I told him we just want to see the synagogue building inside the gates.  No.  I said politely that it is the custom of Jews everywhere to welcome other Jews in whenever they are encountered. Still no. Undaunted, I kept pressing. He then looked at us carefully and said “are you Jewish?”  Yes, of course.  And then the proverbial $64,000 question — the test of tests to see if we are telling the truth.

The guard:  “What do you eat on Yom Kippur?”  Me: “Nothing!!” And with that, we were permitted to enter, having passed the “test.”  I’m certain I detected a slight grin from him.

He told our guide that with all the recent turmoil, a lot of extra precaution is necessary.  People claim to be Jewish to gain access and then behave disrespectfully.  Thus, he is extremely careful as to providing entrance to strangers.

Below, inside the beautiful Synagogue

The head rabbi, Dr. Isak Asiel, chatted with us for a few minutes about the history of the synagogue and the community at large of roughly 3,000.  It is primarily sephardic in practice now.  He shared that a large delegation of Los Angeles Jews had visited a few weeks earlier.  Our brief time together was special and memorable.

Below, Republic Square – National Museum of Serbia behind the stage; National Theater on the right

We saw a good deal of the older part of Belgrade on foot with our terrific guide Bojana.  Our close friend in LA — originally from Montenegro — knows the Balkan countries well and provided contacts and what we must see.  Connections matter, especially in travel!

Above, Bojana takes us to her favorite restaurant The Two Deer for lunch.  The restaurant dates back to 1832! Below, fresh-caught trout was delicious as was the chicken soup and classic Serbian bread with paprika.

Below, the Sava River which flows into the nearby Danube.  A view of modern Belgrade on the left.

 

 

Back to flying for the next stop — to Chisinau, Moldava.  To be continued ..

 

 

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EUROPEAN VACATION, PART 2 – VIENNA

This is the second in a series of posts.  See previous here.

Stop #2 after Prague is Vienna, which destination has long been at the top of the list for a return trip.  I sometimes dream of going at Christmas thanks to a Hallmark fave “Christmas in Vienna.” But that’s for another visit!  For this one, spring is likewise a special time to see this magical city.  Even when it’s still in the 40’s after a brief hot spell (we missed that).

Our concerns regarding getting to Vienna on time per the last post were for naught.  The hotel access was unimpeded by the marathon closures about which we had been warned! Plenty of time to check in, change, have a bite at the rooftop brasserie, and walk to the opera.

What did we see? A performance of Georges Bizet’s Carmen at the magnificent Vienna State Opera (“Wiener Staatsoper”).  The hubby is generally a good sport attending, while obviously he would rather be seeing a rock concert.  I’m not quite sure why this production was signifcantly raunchier than I remember.  Regardless, the music is magnificent.  I loved that the subtitles are available via seatback tablets which are a very cool idea.

For the proverbial “when in Rome” (substitute Vienna) activity, one must indulge in desserts.  At the top of the list is the infamous Sachertorte. The origin of this dessert may be subject to interpretation, but a virtual cottage industry has been built around it. I personally opted for a phenomenal strudel post opera at nearby Cafe Sacher.

A return visit to the grounds of Schonbrunn Palace was a no-brainer.  The scope of this Unesco World Heritage site is breathtaking! It is very near to Vienna itself, easy to access via cab or public transportation.

Above, looking toward and away from the palace across vast grounds. 

Below, photo fun in the kid’s area mirrored kaleidoscope.

A priority without question for this visit is dinner at Steirereck

You know how you have memories of a place and they loom larger as times goes by?  And then after a return visit, the result is “it’s not as good as I remember it” or “as it used to be.”  Well, this was the exact opposite.  It was indeed as good if not better than 2012, our last visit. It might be even more beautiful. And we’re both certain we sat at the same table (a fluke).

The “world of Steirereck” continues to expand with the farm and lodging some 90 minutes from Vienna.  “Farm to table” is a bit ubiquitous these days, but they actually practice it faithfully.  Scraps do not go to waste, but rather are collected for feeding their farm animals. The food is serious but fun. And delicious. And watching the staff flawlessly move about? A beautifully choreographed pleasure. Enjoy below.

Really, what more does one need?  Great Austrian wines and superb bread.  “Brot Andy” has been there since 2005.  We remembered him well.  He knows every variety in great detail.  His favorite? None; he no longer eats bread as he began consuming too much! 

Below, our a la carte choices (there is a pre-fixe menu as well):  Grilled broccolini; white asparagus (now in season); chicken with paprika and lamb.  

A detailed menu card is provided with EVERY dish.  Saved me from having to take notes! 

The desserts — bottom right is rhubarb with peach inside that gorgeous meringue dome.  Others were a variety of small bites provided.  Top is dried and sweetened citrus peel (6 varieties!)

Finally, the entrance way; wine selection; selection of cordials; enormous cheese cart; and the kitchen.  Owner/proprietor Heinz Reitbauer is “center stage” while his wife Birgit is everywhere else. 

The Albertina Museum complex is simply a world-class venue with distinct parts.  We visited The Modern wing, showcasing Roy Lichtenstein 100 years since his birth.  A substantial number of his works were on display along with the exhibition Monet to Picasso.  Below, for our dear friend/financial guru Brad who would NEVER let us sink! Separately, if you know Lichtenstein’s use of dots, one can discern the era of his works based on how large or small the dots are.  The dots became larger as time went on through the use of tools.

After that bit of culture, we culminated our Vienna stay with dinner at Plachutta Wollzeile for classic Viennese cuisine (perfect schnitzel; caramel sundae; a wonderful Pinot Noir gifted to us – that story to follow).  Our dinner companions Werner & Niki are dear friends of our dear LA friends.  It was perfect.

Below, with Roland Hamberger — our new friend/Managing Director

extraordinaire of Rosewood Vienna

This relatively new hotel is in the heart of the city but just enough off the busiest area to feel quiet and calm.  It is the perfect combination.  Roland took superb care of us (the wine was a bonus!); his entire staff was excellent.  What a pleasure!

Vienna may just be my favorite city.  Given the culture, cuisine, shopping, big open streets, walkable but with excellent public transportation, wonderful people  — a return visit will be much sooner!