International TravelThings I LoveWining/Dining


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!

International TravelThings I LoveThings You Should Know


london 29

An 8-day stay in London provides so much time to do and see, a second post is necessary to cover all our activities. This is in addition to the one covering Wimbledon (HERE), and the side trips covered in the previous post (HERE).  With just four remaining days, a lot of ground was yet to cover.  And here you go:

Not knowing how peppy we might be from Friday at Wimbledon, Saturday plans were open. A last- minute decision to acquire theater tickets was an unplanned but deliciously enjoyable afternoon!  First, a random choice for Vietnamese food near the theater was one of those “scores” — amazing food! Next, seeing Crazy for You, a revival directed and choreographed by Susan Stroman, was just a marvelous experience. Gershwin’s “I’ve Got Rhythm” and “Nice Work if You Can Get It” had us smiling (and singing along) throughout. At the Gillian Lynne Theater now though January 2024, I highly recommend it if you have the opportunity.

Bardo St. James is a supper club in the St. James area (obviously) I found during research for our big Saturday night.  It is an extremely well executed restaurant/club. The food is delicious and the setting is gorgeous with nightly entertainment. We thoroughly enjoyed a young lady singing from the Great American Songbook with barely a hint of British accent. We spoke with her at a break and the accent was most definitely there, so kudos to her for singing “American.” The hubby and I have long frequented Catalina Jazz Club in Hollywood, but strictly for the entertainment. Food and ambience are most definitely secondary.

The singer is visible in the background (above); below our dinner and perhaps the single best dessert ever — a magnificent fruit tart.  Perfection. 

Our return visit to Buckingham Palace happened Sunday morning, early enough to still watch the Men’s Finals. Our first visit in 2011 featured a display from the Cambridge wedding (with illicit photos of Kate’s dress). This visit featured all the Coronotion regalia (with accompanying illicit photos).

The “backyard” is roughly 6 acres, including a gorgeous pond shown below.

Part of the tour included The Royal Mews adjacent to the palace, where all means of transportation are maintained. 

After watching the final match with a little picnic in our room, we had a lovely walk to a pub in Chelsea for dinner and nearly made it back to the hotel before the rains came. And came. And got us pretty soaked! Nevertheless, got those steps in.

Below, the magnificent sun setting prior to giving way to the rain.

Tickets for Windsor Castle were intentionally booked for Monday. The reason? To see the Queen’s final resting place there at St. George’s Chapel, closed on Sundays for worship services. This was also a return visit for us so we mostly did a quick perusal inside and headed to the chapel. After a fairly long queue, with full view of the tomb, I became quite emotional.  All I thought of to do was curtsy and say “thank you for your life of service” before welling up. I have always been enamored with her unfailing and lifelong devotion to service. Seeing the finality of it all just got to me.

Side note: Prince Phillip was not initially interred in the chamber. He was relocated there after the Queen’s passing. I don’t know the reason, but was told so by the guard on duty. Together with her parents, they shall remain so forever. Yes, I snuck a photo (below), not unlike what has been widely shared in the press.

Above, inside St. George’s Chapel; below, beautiful grounds at Windsor Castle

Our last evening included a spectacular performance of  Guys and Dolls at the Bridge Theater, so called as it is located steps from the Tower Bridge. What’s most unique about the venue: “It is the first wholly new theatre of scale to be added to London’s commercial theatre sector in 80 years.”

Suffice to say, any production of Guys & Dolls is by virtue of the score a joy. I would say this was exceptional.  “An immersive audience experience” — meaning guests could choose to stand during the performance. Stage management dressed as cops moved audience members about as actors on risers performed — flawlessly without interference. At the end, actors danced with audience members after the final “formal” curtain call.  An absolutely joyous experience where everyone walks out happy.

The magnificent bridge, seen after and before the performance

What to do until it was time to head to Heathrow for an overnight prior to our early flight the next day? Why, head to Harrod’s!  One can certainly spend countless hours browsing the endless floors and rooms and departments. “Go big or go home” were both true with lunch at Gordon Ramsey Burger.

Terrific people watching accompanied the delicious food. My favorite was a woman with her four children who ranged in age (I’m guessing) maybe 13 down to 6. When we left, I made a point to compliment her on their behavior. Imagine a scene where kids all sit quietly (reading/drawing/talking) without a single electronic device to occupy them!! Extraordinary, especially today.

At Harrod’s in what many women also call “the promised land.”  (No purchases in answer to your question)

We ended as we began, with a British Airways flight to Houston and a switch to United for the flight home. The hubby got to experience Wimbledon to celebrate his milestone birthday (early) and we both came away feeling extraordinarily grateful to again see and do so much.

Things I LoveTo-Do ListU.S. TravelWining/Dining

Big Trip/Big Apple/BIG Birthday

birthday 16

I’m guessing that you’ve figured out the what and the where.  As for what constitutes as a BIG birthday, 65 is definitely one.  If you follow this blog, you know we went to Greece (click for previous posts) for the hubby’s recent milestone birthday.  As for mine, the destination was a no-brainer especially since I love cold weather, great restaurants and shopping, with some theater thrown in because it’s part of what one does in NYC.

We flew American to NY and were really impressed with their new 321T plane which is used for transcontinental routes.  Wow — great plane, modern features, tons of leg room in the exit row, outlets and individual screens at each seat.  We got upgraded for our return (15K miles and $70 each); it was fabulous!

Bottom left is exit row en route to NY; other pix are the new business class seats.

It was a “no holds barred” kind of trip (within reason, of course) because a 65th birthday happens just once.  And when one is fortunate enough to have so much, it’s time to both partake and reflect.  The latter comes in a bit.

Loews Regency Hotel on Park and 61st got the where-to-stay nod after much debate (with myself and the internet).  To me this is a very central location for our plans; we had a terrific previous stay; and, the rate didn’t necessitate a second mortgage.  I chose three shows, all purchased in advance:  The Band’s Visit, My Fair Lady and Network (Bryan Cranston!).  Might I add that none of the NY tickets (all Orchestra seats) cost as much as what we paid for Dear Evan Hansen in Los Angeles.  Go figure that one out.

Hotel greetings; Network curtain call; The Band’s Visit; Still lit up in NYC

There’s a few places and restaurants where I’ve always wanted to go but never have on innumerable trips to NYC.  One is Peter Luger Steakhouse.  So many people have so many opinions about the “best steak” place to go, but one doesn’t stay in business for 130+ years with lousy food.  This was on my to-do list so that we high-tailed it to Brooklyn straight away after a fabulous performance of My Fair Lady.  Norbert Leo Butz as Alfred P. Doolittle is worth the price of admission, if only to see him perform “Get Me to the Church on Time.”

Steak, fries, lamb chops and a mountain of whipped cream

It’s also no surprise that where to dine for the actual birthday dinner was given a lot of thought.  Several months ago, I put a reminder in my calendar of the date when January reservations open up for Eleven Madison Park — notoriously difficult to book.  Three Michelin stars and consistently on the World’s Best list.  Parenthetically, if you click on that link, #15 is White Rabbit in Moscow.  Yikes.  We did not think it was so wonderful on our visit there in May.  So lists can certainly be in the eye of the beholder.

Nonetheless, EMP had availability for Jan 8 so with the hubby’s blessing, the booking was made (and pre-paid in full).  The experience was so extraordinary that I’m dedicating a separate post to it (to follow).  The night before was a return trip to Daniel — an absolute favorite and site of my perfect 60th.  The restaurant is consistently grand and Daniel Boulud was in the house.

Below is the custom menu delivered at the end of the night.  I’m always grateful for this so I don’t have to either take notes or try to remember what scrumptious dishes were served!  Inside the box is a small pastry to take with, just in case we needed another bite …

In the kitchen with Chef Boulud and with the wine director lower right.
Five years ago on my 60th.

We got to visit with family as well for Sunday brunch at Les Leopard des Artistes, close to Lincoln Center.  And we had a late night drink with a dear Houston friend who happened to be in NY.  Remarkably this is the second birthday in a row we’ve seen him (see post)!

Regular readers might remember Aunt Judy (blue coat) who traveled to India with us. Her husband, son, daughter & son-in-law made up a lovely group!
We met up with Houstonian Fred Zeidman (left) and his NY friend Gary to close the bar in the wee hours.
First visit to Russ & Daughters Cafe, Lower East Side, for transparent salmon, amazing latkes, egg cream, rugulah and clever wallpaper
Bergdorf’s shoe department, where the hubby’s “dogs” are in repose as I scoured the sales racks (sadly, nothing for me)

As for the reflection part,  I am indeed blessed.  A loving and devoted husband, adult children launched and flourishing in their respective careers, a successful business with loyal clients, seeing the world, two close sisters and great friends.  It’s a lot.  I am so grateful that I trusted my instincts to make the choices in life that resulted in all of this.  No doubt, some luck was involved as well.  But I wake up every day happy in wonderful surroundings.  So life at 65 is pretty, pretty good.


International TravelThings You Should KnowWining/Dining



We did it!  We made it to the Russian capital after lots of changes and Visa stuff (see previous).  After leaving Vilnius, we had a stopover in Riga prior to the flight to Moscow.  Travelers leaving the EU for Russian Federation countries go through a completely different checkpoint, with a very careful examination of one’s Visa.  Ours were in place and off we went.  By pre-arrangement, a car and driver greeted us at the Arrivals Hall for the short drive to the hotel.  By the way, greeters now hold up electronic devices showing one’s name (none of those old-fashioned signs requiring writing).

We were situated in the central part of “downtown” Moscow, minutes from Red Square, elegant shops, the historic Bolshoi Theater and other fine hotels.  Moscow is an ideal city for walking, with very wide boulevards.   Most of the major arteries require one to cross the street via underground tunnels as opposed to surface crosswalks.  You’d have to put a gun to my head to drive in Moscow, because the routes are extremely convoluted and the streets signs make no sense.  Other than that, it’s great!


I had purchased tickets to the Boshoi Ballet from home as I did not want to miss this iconic and historic landmark — founded in 1776.  It is absolutely pristine.  I have no idea what we saw — did not recognize the music or the story — but that was hardly the point; it was all about the experience.   What an impressive and beautiful facility.


We had a tour guide for the first morning — walking in Red Square and pointing out the various buildings and landmarks.  That was extremely helpful to get our bearings.  The timing was fortuitous as this was just days from the inaguration so some buildings (the Kremlin, etc) soon closed for the duration of our stay.


Below is a great view (left) Cathedral of Christ, followed by Church of All Saints, then (far right) St. Basil’s Cathedral (Red Square) — all historic and all visible from far away.

Day 2, we got confirmation of what we had hoped not to hear:  Nothing could be done about the incorrect exit date on our Russian Visas issued at home.  A series of mis-communications with the passport/visa agency (highly recommended to us) resulted in our Visas expiring after 5 days instead of the original plan to provide for our time in St. Petersburg.  The hotel GM tried with both the US and Russian authorities but to no avail.  I’m not sure what exactly happens if one overstays one’s exit date, but I wasn’t going to be the one to find out.  Stern warnings were heeded.

The hubby and I evaluated the situation – split the allotted time between two cities (separated by a four-hour train ride) or ..?  We decided to stay in Moscow and really see the city, then return to StP on a future trip.  All of you who have been to St.P and raved about it lest not think we “suffered” — I rerouted the remaining days on our trip to Paris. That’s a winning solution for sure.   It was a lot of moving about, paperwork and the like, but in the end one cannot speculate about what didn’t happen.  It’s all good.  And we think the magnificent Ritz Carlton Moscow personally felt a bit responsible for all the travails as we received upgrades and were showered with amazing service.Our time was spent trying restaurants, museums, shopping and walking — pretty much what one does in any European capital.  Along the way, we made a new friend in Jenny (below) who politely asked if we needed help as we pondered our map en route to dinner.  She spoke beautiful English and walked us to our destination while we chatted all the way.  We exchanged contact info, and she provided great travel tips while we were still in the city.  All I can say is, come visit us in LA so we can return the favor!

Some of the trip highlights:




And how about the frame shown below, found in our room the night before our departure.  How’s that for attention to detail?? Bravo.  And now it is on to Paris …

Things I LoveWining/Dining


I had the pleasure of recently experiencing not one but two NY icons done L.A. style. The first is the Broadway-Tony-award-record-breaking-smash-hit-musical Hamilton, which I was fortunate to see way back in October 2015. The second is the restaurant Jean-Georges, which the hubby and I have enjoyed on numerous occasions in NY and thus selected the new LA (Beverly Hills) outpost for our 31st anniversary dinner.  So, how did the west coast versions fare?
October 2015:  With daughter Hannah and Jonathan Groff (King George); Javier Munoz (took over for Lin-Manual Miranda on Broadway) and Tony-winner Daveed Diggs
It didn’t come as a surprise that Hamilton-LA is as terrific as the original.  Creator Lin-Manual Miranda as well as others responsible for the show were all present for opening night at the Pantages. Given Miranda’s well-known creative integrity, it follows that this cast, while providing their unique signatures, are marvelous. In particular, Michael Luwoye as Hamilton and Rory O’Malley as King George are stand-out’s.
It was a joy experiencing the show with the hubby and son, for whom this was their first time. The daughter and I have now seen it three times (twice in LA).  The takeaway is what an incredible service Miranda has done to generate so much interest in the story of our country’s founding. The audience was completely silent save for regular raucous cheering at the end of each number; i.e., so totally captivated not a single “shhhh” was necessary! That says a lot.  (The show runs through December).
While the Waldorf Astoria  and restaurant officially debuted late June, at the iconic intersection of Wilshire and Santa Monica Boulevards (next door to the Beverly Hilton), we decided to wait for the “dust to settle” before checking things out. 
Our last visit to the flagship Jean-Georges on Columbus Circle was an adventure — literally.  We happened to be visiting when Blizzard Jonah struck (Jan 2016), closing the entire city and environs.  Not to be daunted, we walked up 7th Avenue from our hotel to Central Park South (pictured below) to get to dinner.  I could have seriously used those cross-country skis.  It was quite something!   
8pm – the streets are virtually deserted!
Back to the dinner at hand, any comparison to the centerpiece of the J-G empire (nearly 40 in the US and abroad) is virtually silly as the experience is completely different.  It’s not even fair to compare one with three Michelin stars (not to mention a dress code) to one serving meals all day long in a more casual setting.  J-GBH is beautiful with excellent staff, but the menu — supervised by J-G to incorporate seasonal flavors — contains some ubiquitous choices (margarita pizza). The BH experience is much more akin to the more casual Nougatine, next to the flagship J-G, set in the bar area with a less serious albeit delicious menu.
Clockwise from top:   Entrance to the restaurant; simple tablesetting; wine case in the bar; our beverages (loved the CabFranc from a not-too-impressive wine list
IMHO (as the kids say, “in my humble opinion”), I think they would have been better served to pick a different name for the main downstairs restaurant so no Michelin-star experience would be anticipated.  That doesn’t mean we won’t go back for the hotel is gorgeous.  But save for Providence, LA will continue to be about LA food and will leave the serious dining to Napa, San Francisco and NYC.
The rooftop setting is a home-run with the pool, restaurant (Rooftop by J-G); view towards Westwood over the Beverly Hilton; pink-shirted Wolf Blitzer checking things out ..
Clockwise:  Monterrey calamari; corn with manchego, lime & chili (fabulous); skirt steak; lobster in coconut milk emulsion
Table-side prep of the salted caramel sundae was definitely a delicious treat!
Things I LoveU.S. TravelWining/Dining


Lucky me — back to the Big Apple again after last October’s visit (see previous post).  This time the hubby is in tow as the principal reason is a bat mitzvah celebration on his family’s side.  Of course I took the opportunity to schedule in a few fabulous meals and two Broadway shows plus an exhibit at the Met, all crammed in to four nights/three full days of non-stop action.
Never were the words “man plans and God laughs” more fitting than experiencing NYC’s second largest recorded snowfall, beginning the night before the event.  For much of the eastern seaboard, it became a series of plans changed, plans canceled, plans uncertain until the last minute, and everyone going with the flow.
Our original plan stayed in place for the first 24 hours: we checked into our hotel — The London on W. 54th.  A benefit of traveling to snowy cities are the reduced rates, plus this hotel’s location is superb for access to pretty much everything.
We landed in time to have dinner at the exquisite Le Bernardin, the flagship restaurant of Eric Ripert, garnering three Michelin stars, the 18th spot on the World’s Best List, and pretty much every other accolade out there.  The dining room is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.  Service was impeccable but never snobby, even when I altered the chef’s recommended preparation of a dish. The four-course tasting menu is practically a bargain compared with others in this caliber .. Per Se (east coast sister to The French Laundry) used to be there but has apparently slipped (see review) and is more than twice the cost. The nearly all-female sommelier staff (6 in all) were very knowledgeable with a neatly-edited list focused on certain varieties — heavy on white and red burgundies.  I asked what percentage of patrons bring in their own wine and the answer was: “None.  It is not allowed.”  It was a spectacular meal in all aspects.  No wonder it is the toughest reservation around.
Hamachi sushi
Seafood pasta with
shaved truffles
Beautiful salad with
Amazing white tuna
and waygu beef
Black walnut dessert


The all-white blossoms towered
in the center of the room
The Met visit included taking in the Costume Institute’s exhibit featuring international style/fashion icon Jacqueline de Ribes.  The hubby was about as interested in this as having a tooth extraction, but he makes an effort to be a willing participant for which I am grateful. What’s unique and special about this woman is her attention to detail — a dying art. Few women have the time, means and interest to concern themselves with always appearing “just so.” We live in an era of people getting on airplanes in flip-flops and tank tops. It’s not so much about the designer clothing, but rather the caring about one’s appearance which seems to be sadly diminished.  Enough said …
The gowns are timeless and look fresh
today as they did 30 years ago
The gown which she is shown wearing to a costume ball was on display
Not part of the exhibit but I was inspired to shoe shop after … Bergdorf’s still had their post-Christmas sale going on!
Friday afternoon was when the plans for Saturday and Sunday began to change so rapidly it was hard to keep up.  The bat mitzvah scheduled for Saturday late afternoon with evening party got moved to Sunday.   We made a beeline for the box office at Lincoln Center to change our Sunday matinée tickets (The King and I) to Saturday evening, plus change our nearby dinner reservation as well. So far, so good.  We informed the hotel we would be staying through Sunday instead of spending one night in Westchester and coming back to the city for a night.  No problem there.
We LOVED the hilarious Something Rotten  (second time for me) and departed the theater to a light dusting of snow as predicted late Friday evening.
Saturday morning was something entirely different as the snow was really coming down.  Nonetheless, the hubby hightailed it down to the box office to get matinée tickets (phenomenal seats!) for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime (again a repeat for me) —  as even in a snowstorm Hamilton is impossible.  Not 90 minutes later as we showed up at the theater we were informed our show — and all of Broadway — was cancelled due to the weather. In fact, the entire city was shutting down save for the hotels and the restaurants within the hotels.  Hello Jonas, the blizzard of 2016.  Frankly I don’t see why so many folks had to be hugely disappointed. In some cases the tickets are next to impossible to get; people traveled long distances for special occasions that they may never have again.  The actors were already in place; you could hear people cheering as they exited the stage doors to go home. Couldn’t the productions just have a big slumber party if folks connected with the shows couldn’t access their normal means for getting home???
Snow piled up in Times Square with the
 die-hards still trying to get tix before alerted to the closings
Why the smirk?  Because in the hubby’s
native Ohio, two feet of snow is called “spring.”
Fortunately our dinner that evening at Nougatine was spared (cannot say the same for the hotel’s umbrella which the wind literally dismantled). This is the more casual companion eatery to Jean-Georges at Columbus Circle.  Even that was all upside down as the casual side was overwhelmed in order to accommodate hotel guests (the restaurant is in Trump International Hotel, but you-know-who had nothing to do with this!) so we were seated in the formal dining room with our choice of menus. Anything goes in the face of a blizzard..
One of my favorite
shots … perhaps the
driver needed to make a hasty retreat.
Below as we’re walking
down Central Park South back to the hotel.  I would have killed for those cross-country skis.
we had a great time with the hubby’s family, most of whom live in the northeast or Florida so these visits are regrettably less frequent. Congrats to Lauren, the bat mitvah girl, and her family. It’s not easy undoing and redoing an event for which the planning begins more than a year in advance.
With the hubby’s cousins Andrew, Nancy (mom of Lauren) and David Stone.
Below are the beautiful grounds of Elmwood Country Club in Westchester County
As for the experience of being in the “center of the storm,” we actually thought it was quite an adventure … Shout out to JetBlue for getting us home on time Monday even with all the clean up!