Monuments

International TravelThings I LoveThings You Should KnowWining/Dining

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 ..

 

 

International TravelThings I LoveThings You Should Know

NOT JUST LONDON PART 1

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Suffice it to say, a week in London offers virtually endless possibilities. That is the amount of time allocated for the trip where attending Wimbledon was the centerpoint (see last post). But that was just one day’s activity!

I’ll start with how we flew to London. I’ve often talked about booking mileage seats for international flights. The number of miles to fly into Heathrow is officially crazy, not to mention the taxes. Arguably the worst route is LAX-Heathrow. But if you begin heading east from LA, the number of miles is less. Often by a lot. That means, find other cities with non-stop flights to LHR:  Phoenix, Las Vegas, Denver, and (bingo!) Houston. Why get excited about Houston (in the summer especially)? A chance to visit with longtime dear friends as a bonus for this trip. Even with the addition of round-trip air from LAX to Houston on United, the spend was less than originating in LA. Below, with various members of the Zeidman family in Houston (who tried their best to get us to divulge the nature of the trip – to no avail!)

After a fun overnight catching up, we had a uneventful flight into London. “Uneventful” is a word that cannot be assumed these days. Both our LA and Houston drivers shared with us the turmoil their schedules have been subject to recently. It is very difficult to plan with so much air travel disruption.

It’s always a big and time-consuming endeavor deciding on a hotel (for me, anyway). Consideration includes location, cost, amenities, hotel size, etc. Staying a full week in one hotel is highly unusual for our travels. We tend to move every 3 days or so. Accordingly, even more thought went into this one.

I chose the Baglioni London for a few reasons. It was one of the most “affordable” among the Amex Platinum offerings; it has just 60 rooms (definitely prefer smaller hotels); and I like the location for walking (near Kensington Palace). It’s also a member of Leading Hotels of the World, through which I often book. Overall, we thoroughly enjoyed the hotel along with their top-notch team. In particular, the concierges were extremely helpful and very knowledgeable.

Like the recent trip to Singapore, I booked an international outpost of a beloved LA restaurant – Pizzeria Mozza. We managed to keep awake long enough our first evening to thoroughly enjoy the meal while adjusting to the time change. The delicious food below:

The following day took us back to Heathrow but for an excellent reason!  Getting our rental car (for the day) and driving on from there to Wales. Why Wales? Why not? We’ve been to all the other UK countries. But it wasn’t just to have a “look about”in the area. The route provided us an opportunity for another first: visiting Stonehenge.

Back to the Wales visit, the country has an entirely different language.  I mean, it is barely understandable. And it’s full of consonants with few vowels. Try deciphering the one below while driving!

After lunch in Cardiff, Wales – chatting with a local

I mapped our return route to see the historic site Stonehenge. It is quite amazing — a monument made of stone assembled thousands of years ago that attracts more than a million visitors annually. It is well worth the trip.

And then a trip highpoint (for me at least):  Highclere Castle — the filming site for Downton Abbey. Getting there is fairly easy via train from Paddington Station, then a short cab ride.  I pre-booked our tickets and we arrived with time to walk around the immense grounds and visit the gift shop (no purchases!).  The first glimpse below.  Don’t you half expect to see Carson walking up the path??

Photography is prohibited inside (wink, wink), but a very nice person took the photo below at the entry.  (The entry doors seemed larger on the show!) Once inside, the path is pre-ordained to include the main “great” room, reception rooms, upstairs bedrooms and the well-known and familiar grand staircase. The downstairs kitchen was filmed off premises.

Several iconic areas below that are easily recognizable from the show:

A few people asked me if tourists are allowed inside. Many grand estates in the UK are only able to exist with the funds raised by people who are curious enough to pay for a visit. Highclere has been in the same family for 8 generations and encompasses 5,000 acres. That requires a lot of “pounds” to maintain!

The rest of our London (and beyond) adventure in the next post.

U.S. Travel

JUST A COUPLE OF ROADIES … Part 1

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It’s such a simple pleasure and it was so taken for granted until March, 2020.  So when the very first “dine-in” meal was enjoyed on the first day of this 2020 Road Trip, all the joys of going somewhere to sit and enjoy food and company were appreciated that much more.  The thought of dining at a restaurant wasn’t even considered when we made the quick decision to visit national parks — but no question a welcome bonus.  As for accommodations, it was Marriott brands except for Jackson Hole.  Easy bookings, inexpensive, pristine.  But those hot breakfasts included?  No more.  Coffee and cereal, etc., were available.  By the way, when you ask for a refill at a restaurant, it’s a fresh glass — no more passed pitchers of water or ice tea.  New realities.

First stop was Henderson, NV, to visit LA transplants (about a year ago) and see their new home.  Lovely neighborhood, gorgeous home, and under four hours door to door which is great time considering it was the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend.  The group was positively giddy sitting together (outside) at their nearby club with an expansive view of Las Vegas below.  Overall, a great start to the trip.

Lunch with the Sherman family, and that view ..

From there it was a lengthy haul to Salt Lake City for the first overnight.  I’m always surprised when a random search yields a terrific restaurant find, as was the case with Osteria Amore near the campus of the University of Utah “Utes.”  How a family from Palermo, Sicily, ends up in this region cooking delicious and authentic food is fascinating.  Between the language barrier and face masks, we never got the whole story but were happy finding the place.

 

RIP to the beloved coach of the Jazz, Jerry Sloan.

After a brief drive through downtown SLC, it was off to the next stop, Jackson Hole, WY, for night two.  We drove north to Idaho and then headed east/north up along the gorgeous Snake River.  I hadn’t driven in snow for some time so that was “fun.”  Credit the hubby for providing great entertainment along with the aid of modern technology:  His FiiO music device has 19,000 songs and was hooked up to my car’s Bluetooth.  Amazing.

Jackson Hole is a beautiful town year-round.  Dinner at Local Restaurant & Bar was simply delicious!  A walk around the town square and chatting up other travelers (from the proper distance) made for a splendid evening.

Beneath an arch of antlers with the ski slope in the background.

 

Cheers at Local Restaurant!

Day three was simply a marvel.  We enjoyed driving through both Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, which are basically next to each other.  Most park facilities remain closed for now — no camping, dining, etc., but that didn’t affect us.  We came to see the gorgeous scenery, Old Faithful, and some of the wildlife which had just begun emerging after the long winter months.  Check, check, and check.  More to follow from our next stop in Sheridan, WY.

Catching a glimpse of a moose

 

Lots of bison grazing near the Yellowstone east entrance

 

A brown bear foraging near Old Faithful

To-Do ListU.S. Travel

ON THE ROAD AGAIN … MAY 2020

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When news that our great National Parks are reopening May 18 — at least the outdoor parts if not all the Visitor Centers — it took about a nanosecond for us to decide to go.  We’ve had this road trip on our radar for a while.  Given that the baseball trip in late July is not likely (Dallas, Cleveland, Detroit & Chicago), then why not get the hell out of dodge?!

As for any COVID-19 concerns, the states where we are traveling have had among the fewest reported cases.  In fact, the combined total for Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, the Dakotas and Montana is less than what we’ve had in Los Angeles.  So, off we go ..

Below is our proposed map.  We’re really doing this “on the fly,” meaning arrival dates uncertain save for the first night in Salt Lake City.  That’s roughly 10 hours of driving, a compromise for the hubby wanting to “push it,” and me less so.  But it is certainly do-able.  Next we go to Yellowstone, then Sheridan, WY, to see a lifelong friend (with her Trader Joe’s wish list in the trunk), then on to Mt. Rushmore.  Bismarck is added because the hubby said practically no one goes to North Dakota and since we’ll be so close, why not?  The route home is to be determined pending seeing another friend in Montana.  That’s the basic outline, subject to adding more.

This trip contains many firsts — at least four states, parks and monuments, plus whatever unexpected experiences happen along the way.  Seeing the USA is always a gift.  We’ll be back with lots of stories and photos soon.