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Cooking done with passion is an act of love. – Tammy Mollai

TROGIR, CROATIA

July 2012

Chef Tatjana Ciciliani in her kitchen

Chef Tatjana Ciciliani in her kitchen

Last year, during our honeymoon in Eastern Europe, Jonathan and I got the pleasure of spending a day of shopping, cooking, and dining with the passionate chef, Tatjana Ciciliani. Of all of our adventures on this trip, this is the one that we will cherish and remember forever. For more details on how we found Tatjana check out my post, The Secret to Traveling in Croatia.

The Kitchen. The heart and soul of a home.

Deep within the walls of a 13 century palace, lies a kitchen. Not just any ordinary kitchen but one that is so full of love and passion that this incredible warmth spills out into the streets and entrances passersby. This kitchen, unlike any kitchen I have ever had the pleasure of entering, has its own pulse. It beats with energy yet is soothing and slows time which can easily make you forget that hours have passed and you’ve created enough food to feed a village. This kitchen belongs to Tatjana Ciciliani. A brilliant chef, a culinary artist, a mother, a wife, a friend to everyone. A passionate, loving, and joyful woman whom has changed the way I will forever view cooking and whose influence I will never be able to fully capture in words.

Tatjana is the type of person you meet for the first time and you immediately wish you had known forever. Her kindness and joy of life is simply contagious. After spending a day with her, you will not only be incredibly inspired but you will also feel as if you just traveled deep into the core of Croatia. I learned more about the Croatian culture in this single experience than I could have ever imagined.

Lessons Learned. More than a recipe.

Rather than write the specifics of our trip to the markets, what we bought and what we cooked, I feel drawn to share our experience through the lessons I learned while cooking with Tatjana.

  • Make use of all your senses. Taste is only one aspect of selecting ingredients to cook. Investigate everything, pick things up, feel them, smell them, listen and talk to the vendors. Buying quality, in-season and local ingredients will not only yield a better dish but will also bring you closer to your land and your community.
  • Waste nothing. Unless it’s an old cucumber…it goes in the stock! Or somewhere else equally important like infusing salt! I can’t remember how many times I almost discarded what seemed like a useless peel or the top of an onion and was caught by Tatjana. It was like she had eyes in the back of her head! I had no idea how easy it was to make use of every single bit. Why have I been so wasteful? I was astonished by how many items seemed disposable moments before suddenly transformed into something totally new and delicious. Fish bones, onion tops, stems of herbs, soggy old vegetables, extra flour from bread making…
  • Don’t rush. Be patient. Slow down and enjoy the process. I don’t remember one timer being set. We cooked for hours, yet somehow the morning and afternoon blended into one magnificent experience. We had pots and pots of items boiling away, bread rising, fish waiting to be descaled while out in the blazing sun…and not once did we ever rush or worry about time. I’ve never felt so nourished physically and mentally after a meal.
  • Buy wholesome food to feed the people you love. Not one item we used was from a can or a box. Every item was traceable to the earth or the sea…not a factory.
  • Make what you love and love what you make. Everything tastes better when you’ve created it from your heart.

The Gallery. From market to belly.

Learning how to select the freshest fish at the market in Trogir

Learning how to select the freshest fish at the market in Trogir

Farmers market in Trogir

Farmers market in Trogir

After hearing me rave about cheese, Tatjana selects some cheese for an appetizer

After hearing me rave about cheese, Tatjana selects some cheese for us to try

Tatjana whips up a delicious cheese plate with honey and figs

Tatjana whips up a delicious cheese plate with honey and figs

The final cheese plate

You know you want a bite, don’t you!?

Getting ready!

Getting ready!

Loving the denim apron!

Loving the denim apron!

Gutting the fish

Gutting the fish

Tatjana giving all the hard work to Jonathan...haha!

Tatjana giving all the hard work to Jonathan…haha!

Breading the sardines after descaling them

Breading the sardines after descaling them

Happily chopping along...

Happily chopping along…

Teamwork in the kitchen!

Teamwork in the kitchen!

We got all this going on and more...risotto, fish stock, fried sardines and bread rising

We got all this going on and more…risotto, fish stock, fried sardines and bread rising

Tatjana teaching me how to make a delicious cheese and olive loaf

Tatjana teaching me how to make a delicious cheese and olive loaf

My turn!

My turn!

Working with the cuttlefish...

Working with the cuttlefish…

Ready to fry!

Ready to fry!

Frying sardines

Frying sardines

Final product!! So delicious and crispy

Final product!! So delicious and crispy

Such a fresh and simple salad, straight from the market!

Such a fresh and simple salad, straight from the market!

My favorite dish - cuttlefish risotto!  And not just because I got to watch Jonathan burst all the ink sacs...

My favorite dish – cuttlefish risotto! And not just because I got to watch Jonathan cut all the ink sacs…

Jonathan making a creamy dressing for the sardines

Jonathan making a creamy dressing for the sardines

Setting the table...notice those cucumber skins I was about to throw away...they found a home in the water pitcher

Setting the table…notice those cucumber skins I was about to throw away…they found a home in the water pitcher

Packages!  Filled with fish, veggies, herbs and olive oil

Packages! Filled with fish, veggies, herbs and olive oil

Dessert!  I wish I could remember what was in this - Tatjana whipped it up in seconds flat and it was an delicious and sweet way to end of day of cooking with an very talented and charming woman!

Dessert! I wish I could remember what was in this – Tatjana whipped it up in seconds flat and it was a delicious and sweet way to end of day of cooking with a very talented and charming woman!

Jonathan and I learned so much in such a short amount of time. We have a better understanding of Croatian cuisine and of the wonderful people we met along the way. I no longer waste so much food and have jars upon jars of herb-infused salts for cooking, my freezer is full of homemade veggie and chicken stock, and my enthusiasm in the kitchen grows with every meal I prepare with Jonathan. We are forever grateful for this one-of-a-kind experience.

Much love to Tatjana and her family for welcoming us into their home.

xoxo, Miranda

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I want to be with those who know secret things or else alone. ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

Hotel San Giorgio (on the left)

Beautiful and quaint street in Vis (Vis Island, Croatia)

The Secret

I love Rilke’s quote above. But really, who doesn’t want to be with someone who knows all the secrets? For example, if you happen to live in NYC you may remember the all too recent Speakeasy craze. Location and means of getting through the door was the secret to share with everyone you knew. Almost like a right of passage… I mean, some things are just meant to be shared and I am grateful for those who do! When it comes to travel, the person with all the secrets becomes a saint in my opinion. There’s nothing worse than hearing how you missed an opportunity to participate in something abroad just after you’ve returned from your journey.

And for that reason alone…I will share my little secret for those who plan to travel to Croatia.

The Discovery

While planning our honeymoon, Jonathan and I became a bit uneasy about our last destination. We had planned three days in Prague, four in Budapest and then had seven to plan for in Croatia. After overloading our brains on what we wanted to do, should do and couldn’t miss out on…we felt lost and back to square one in the planning stage. We had so much we wanted to experience in Croatia and much of it were things not easily done by purchasing a ticket or making a reservation.

We were hesitant. Really, on the break of throwing in the towel and extending our stay elsewhere. Until I just happened to discover the man who could make it all happen…and on any budget. This discovery is my secret to share!

While enjoying a glass of wine and doing some fun food googling one weekend evening, I came across a website that made me all too excited to get back to planning our trip to Croatia. I happened to come across a site, Culinary Croatia. After some playing around it all dawned on me…we could actually have it all – on our top to-dos in Croatia was a cooking class and to experience wine, either through a special wine tasting experience or visiting vineyards. I dug a little deeper and discovered that we could do everything we wanted with a little help from someone with all the secrets. That website led me to Secret Dalmatia, the ‘end all’ to our reluctance and frustration with planning this trip.

Secret Dalmatia

We aren’t the typical travelers that make use of travel agents or other sources before heading abroad. We usually have a plan we’ve made ourselves and somehow make it happen on our own. But Secret Dalmatia had so much to offer and could plan everything that we wanted…by insiders with our best interests at heart.

I wrote down a list of all we wanted to accomplish and contacted Secret Dalmatia. After a quick rundown of our budget and a list of what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go. The agent immediately reviewed my responses and summarized what we wanted overall…he totally got us. I got off the phone feeling completely reassured that he would, no doubt, find us the perfect places to stay and the right balance of personalized experiences and down time to relax and explore on our own.

My list looked something like this:

  • boutique/locally owned hotels within our budget that were more about sharing their culture rather than accommodating to ours
  • cities/locations that were vibrant/lively that offered lots of opportunities to mix with locals – less touristy destinations but with much to occupy our time
  • a cooking class – preferably private (just so you know, we were blown away by the experience we got!…post coming soon)
  • a wine tasting or a private trip to a vineyard
  • a beach destination that is more relaxing than anything else – no extreme nightlife required
  • destinations where food mattered – staying someplace where we could experience fine dining as well as great street food was a must
  • time to do nothing or plan our own excursions

The Experience

Within a week, we got a draft of our trip. Everything met or exceeded our expectations and was still within our budget! We were not expecting private transportation to all our destinations and the best rooms in the hotels we stayed but that’s what we got! It was immediately evident that once we checked in we were in good hands due to the fact that we had booked through Secret Dalmatia. It is apparent that the owner and founder of Secret Dalmatia, Alan Mandic, is well-respected in the tourism community. We were treated with so much respect without it being overbearing.

To top off the experience, we were given many recommendations for great restaurants in the areas we were staying. I have to say, as a true ‘Yelp’er, I rely heavily on recommendations and reviews when deciding on a place to eat. Every personal recommendation was beyond amazing. We were able to enjoy authentic Croatian food like the locals without having to do any research on our own.

The Gallery

The photographs below are only a small bit of our trip to Croatia. For more details on our experience or to see what we did and everywhere we stayed check out the links below the gallery.

Split, Croatia

Split, Croatia

Hotel Peristil (Split, Croatia)

Hotel Peristil (Split, Croatia)

Klub Gurmana i Hedonista (Split, Croatia)

Private wine tasting experience at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista (Split, Croatia)

Private tour of Diocletian's Palace in Split, Croatia (this is a photo of the model of the palace outside the entrance)

Private tour of Diocletian’s Palace in Split, Croatia (this is a photo of the model of the palace outside the entrance)

Best tour guide ever!  If you aren't a history buff before the tour you will be at the end - she was so enthusiastic and made history come alive!  To top it off, she taught us how to take it easy and enjoy a shot of rakija like the locals.  If I ever return to Split and she is there...I will find her!

Best tour guide ever! If you aren’t a history buff before the tour you will be at the end – she was so enthusiastic and made history come alive! To top it off, she taught us how to take it easy and enjoy a shot of rakija like the locals. If I ever return to Split I will find her!

Private day of cooking with Tatjana in Trogir at her home in a 13th century palace! Here, Jonathan and Tatjana are prepping the fish...Best experience of the trip!

Private day of cooking with chef Tatjana Ciciliani, in Trogir, at her home in a 13th century palace! Here, Jonathan and Tatjana are prepping fish…Best experience of the trip!

View of the town of Vis. (Vis Island, Croatia)

View of the town of Vis from the hillside (Vis Island, Croatia)

Our view from our room at Hotel San Giorgio (Vis Island, Croatia)

A great view from our room at Hotel San Giorgio; with unexpected champagne and fruit as a honeymoon welcome gift (Vis Island, Croatia)

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard - not pictured: dinner at Villa Kaliopa in Vis

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard – not pictured: dinner at Villa Kaliopa in Vis

Croatia – Part One

  • Split

Croatia – Part Two

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Three

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Four

  • Vis Island

Croatia – Part Five

  • Zagreb

The Verdict ~ Book your trip to Croatia for a romantic or adventurous getaway, full of history and culture, great food, relaxation, and lovely people. If you want to experience Croatia like a local then book your trip through Secret Dalmatia where Alan Mandic and his team will customize your experience exactly as you want. For all of you skeptics, this is not a paid advertisement…I love to share my experiences and only hope that the next person has as great of an experience as we did. Please comment if you have any travel questions!

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To the complaint, ‘There are no people in these photographs,’ I respond, there are always two people: the photographer and the viewer.  ― Ansel Adams

ZAGREB, CROATIA

July 27 – 29, 2012

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Plitvice Lakes National Park

Final Days of our Honeymoon

After almost two weeks of traveling through Eastern Europe, we still wanted more…  We left the Island of Vis with sad hearts.  We were having too much fun to leave – the journey to the next city is always exciting; unless it’s your last.  We spent a day of travel by taxi, ferry, and train, finally arriving in Zagreb exhausted.  The last destination on our honeymoon.  We would only have one full day to explore the city.  So we set out for some beers and snacks to get us through what was left of the evening and to plan how we would spend the following day.

Hotel Dubrovnik

After beers were consumed and plans were sort of made (nothing is ever set in stone for us) we went to check in for the night.  We were staying at Hotel Dubrovnik near Jelacic Square.  This hotel lacked personality, was quite unattractive inside and out but the location and price made it an excellent choice.  We didn’t get to explore much with our limited time so staying in a vibrant, easily accessible area was key.

A Day in Zagreb

What do you plan when you have 24 hours to see a city?  After looking over our options the night before, we decided we would opt to spend most of our day in Zagreb actually outside of Zagreb…it was the best decision possible.

After waking and grabbing a quick coffee we went straight to the tourist information center in Jelacic Square.  Really, the last stop I thought we would be making but we had no choice.  We wanted to go to Plitvice Lakes National Park and considering it was several hours of a drive away and after 9am we knew we were going to need help in getting there quickly.  Once we arrived we immediately found out that we were too late for the tour to the park.  It leaves quite early and we missed it by at least an hour or more.

Remembering our lesson from earlier in our trip, Jonathan decided to ask for details in how to get a private tour guide to take us there and back as well as take us through the park.  I sat back thinking this was a crazy request.  But to my surprise – we had a deal.  The local tourism office found an English-speaking guide, a car and driver and to top it off – a decent price, not much more than a group tour on a bus.  Our guide and driver would be ready for us within 90 minutes so we had some time to spare.

Dolac Market

Wish I could say we knew about this market but we didn’t.  It just happened to be right off the main square.  We needed to find something to pack for lunch for our trip and we stumbled upon this place by accident.   How did we not know about this?  It was true luck.  Jonathan and I love going to markets, especially in other countries.  Markets are a great way to learn about the local people and to better understand their cuisine.

Dolac market is a must see if you are in Zagreb.  It is over eighty years old and had all that you could wish for in a market.  If you move from the main square towards the market you first encounter flowers and plants of all kinds.  From there you go up the steps to a huge space where in the center there is a bounty of fresh fruits and vegetables, really too large to see from standing in one spot.  Surrounding the middle are cheese and cream vendors and little stands selling quick, affordable lunches.  Below all of this is where you will find fishmongers and butchers.

We pick up our lunch here.  Some bread, lots of cheese and fruit.

Flower vendors leading up to the main area of Dolac Market

Flower vendors leading up to the main area of Dolac Market

Jonathan buying fruit for our lunch

Jonathan buying fruit

Fresh dairy!  A cheese centered lunch...yum

Fresh dairy! A cheese centered lunch…yum

Notice all the red umbrellas at the market…we later found out from our tour guide that there is a reason why they are red and the story is a romantic one.  Of course I was all ears, these are little tidbits that I love to hear.  I’m no historian so here’s my abbreviated version of this story:  boy loves girl, kisses girl in rain, black umbrella turns red, there is a rainbow, suddenly a red umbrella is a symbol of love, a Zagreb souvenir is born.  Awwww, so sweet.  Don’t bring an umbrella to Zagreb.  Buy one here.  Maybe you will get hit by this lucky love bug!

Another 45 minutes to spare.  We meet our tour guide, pay up and then head out for coffee and a walk in the Zrinjevac until our driver arrives.

Walking around in Zrinjevac - a mini park near the main square

Walking around in Zrinjevac – a mini park near the main square

Plitvice Lakes National Park

I’m easily enthralled by large furry animals, extraordinary acts of kindness, charming old men, people with unfathomable talents, and stunning panoramic views of nature.  Ok…that was a bit much but so true, if you know me well, all of the above just crumbles my senses in so many ways, often making me cry or taking my breath away.  The last in that list is what is relevent here.  Plitvice Lakes National Park seriously was the most beautiful place I have ever seen.  I was seriously captivated by mother nature herself.  Left breathless and complete serene, so much so that I could have toured the entire park in silence…except that every few minutes with visual sense in overload, I found myself smiling and uttering how beautiful every inch of the park was then back to silence again..

Plitvice Lakes deserves a post of its own.  So I give you a link to satisfy your curiosity now along with a few teaser photos until I dedicate a page to this tour only.  http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/98

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia

Plitvice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected and preserved

Plitvice is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is protected and preserved

Awww.....the Honeymooners!

I am blessed to have the life that I do.  I am beyond grateful for the man I now call my husband.  Our journey started over 13 years ago but it truly feels like we are just getting started.

This was the last day of our honeymoon.  As much as I would like to keep the honeymoon tale going I will close here.  Some things are meant to be shared but the most precious moments  are left to be savored by those who hold the memories.  I look forward to recounting future travels and our big moments as they come but as for our last evening…it’s simply that – ours.

Croatia is for Lovers

I can’t say it enough.  Croatia is for lovers.  Go there with someone you love.  Delight in every moment, relax in the sun and by the sea, spend your evenings with a great glass of Croatian wine, fresh seafood and good conversation. 

Honeymoon Itinerary Recap

For a more in-depth summary of our trip go here.  You can find details of where we stayed, our little adventures and our favorites spots in each location.

  1. Czech Republic: Prague – 3 nights
  2. Hungary:  Budapest – 4 nights
  3. Croatia:  3 destinations – 7 nights (Split, Vis, Zagreb)

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Embrace the detours.  – Author unknown

VIS, CROATIA

July 24 – 27, 2012

crvpatio2

DAY THREE

Before settling in our room on our second night, we decided to book a private boat to the island of Bisevo where we could explore the famous blue cave.  By morning our trip was cancelled.  It was a beautiful day but the winds prevented any excursions leaving Vis from happening.  Unarmed with back up plans, we decided to rent another scooter and see the rest of the island.  On our way out, we asked our concierge how to go about visiting some of the vineyards on the island.  Within minutes we had a private tour set up for the evening.

The Detour

The previous day of getting lost, then back on our path and finding a few unexpected great places led us to ditch our map and just hop on the scooter.  We headed off with hopes of finding another beach to soak up some sun and make our way around the whole island before heading back.

We set out for the main road and was about 10 minutes into our drive before we stopped for a short detour.  What would make us stop abruptly and pull over.  Old man, bottles of wine and a tarp at the edge of a vineyard.  It’s like stopping at a fruit stand on the side of the highway but way better!!!

Wine detour...

Wine detour…

We got out and greeted this man with such enthusiasm that we must have startled him.  Within seconds we realized we had no way of communicating.  We knew about three words in Croatian and he knew nothing in English.  So, point and mime it was all we could do.  From our understanding, he was the farmer and was selling wine from his vineyard along with some unknown fruit, capers, and what we thought for a long time was possibly very sweet and thick balsamic vinegar or a liquor…  We decided to purchase a bottle of red wine and the ‘vinegar/liquor’.  It seemed very special and had a tag attached with the description of the contents – which, of course, we could not read.  Jonathan pulls out a few bills and lets the man dig through for his share – I mean how else do we know how much we owe?!  Turns out our two bottles equated to less than five dollars.  SCORE!

Man selling wine and other goods from his land

Man selling wine and other goods from his land

Jonathan debating on what to buy

Jonathan debating on what to buy

Back to the ‘vinegar/liquor’…  Curiosity got to us a few days later so we took a picture of the label and had someone translate it for us.  We were for sure we had something unusual and special – turns out we did.  We bought medicine.  Yep, good for your heart, good for indigestion, good for high cholesterol, and well, anything really kind of medicine.  According to the label, it’s recommended for good health to take a shot a day.  Ha, joke was on us…or maybe not.  It’s quite delicious and even though it contains no alcohol we will enjoy it and the story behind it for years to come.  And hey, our translator said it is something that you would not be able to buy elsewhere – so cheers to us for finding something truly one of a kind!

Rukavac

Back to the scooter and off to find a beach.  About 20 minutes later we found ourselves in a small fishing town, Rukavac.  We noticed several beaches all within a short distance from each other. We parked the scooter and headed out on foot to find a place to chill our for a few hours.

crvrukavac2

Not thrilled about the rocks but loving the crystal clear water and the perfect weather

Not thrilled about the rocks but loving the crystal clear water and the perfect weather

Where Mountains Meet the Sea

A picture is worth a thousand words right?!  I know it is annoying to Jonathan to whip out the camera during our rides so that I can catch a snapshot of the landscape but I just can’t help myself.  Luckily, he’s a skilled scooter man and can take me moving all about on the back…here’s what we find as we head around the island and back to our hotel.

Photographing the view of the sea while on the back of the scooter

Photographing the view of the sea while on the back of the scooter

crvview4

crvview6

A Private Tour and Wine Tasting

After another day of cruising around on our scooter, we headed back to the hotel for a quick shower.  We were excited for our private tour but weren’t expecting too much.  Touring an island by car doesn’t seem that appealing but we had nothing else to do and were hoping to see some parts of the island that we may have missed on our scooter journey.

We got ready and headed out to meet Mr. Ivan Pecarevic – the owner of a local vineyard, a taxi company and more.  We arrive and learn that instead of Ivan we meet up with his son, Josko Pecarevic.  Lucky for us, Josko was closer to our age and spoke perfect English.  He was young, extremely knowledgeable and fun.  We set out by car to see some of the lesser visited areas of Vis.

As we headed up through the mountains we learned more about the culture and history of Vis.  We saw old churches, abandoned schools, an olive oil mill where the oil is pressed, and breathtaking views of the island all while learning about the daily life of Croatians on the island.  We talk non-stop about the adventures we’ve had so far and question our guide about everything we were hard-pressed to know…much of this was about the vast amount of vineyards.  The question of wine brought up the fact that the Pecarevic family are winemakers.  Our faces lit up!  We had no idea that our tour would be ending at the family cellar where we would be tasting (and buying) lots of wine.  What luck!  I think I did a little dance in the back seat and from this point I couldn’t wait to get there…but not too fast.  We had one more place to see.  Tito’s Cave.  Unimpressive but a beautiful hike up the mountain.  Thanks to my excitement of wine, I was lost on the history part of Tito’s Cave.  Lost as in, not so interested rather than a lack of understanding.  But if you know me, I tend to lose focus once my mind is set of food or wine.

Josko Pecarevic at the door to his family's wine cellar

Josko Pecarevic at the door to his family’s wine cellar

The grand finale of our private tour – the wine cellar!  Thank goodness we sent home our dirty clothes to make room for wine because Jonathan wanted to buy everything there was to offer.  We tried a white, red, a dessert wine, a liquor and olive oil all produced and bottled by the Pecarevic’s.  Jonathan was not holding back and tried several hefty pours from a bottle of white wine and the dessert wine.  The red was lacking in my opinion but Jonathan was excitement for his choices led us to walk out with several bottles in tow.  All in all, this was an unforgettable experience.  We learned so much and loved how easy and laid back the tour was.  Private tours can be quite affordable and the experience is always more personal than a group tour – for this reason, we will be taking advantage whenever the occasion arises.

The tasting begins...

The tasting begins…

The lushes

The lushes

Happy as a clam...

Happy as a clam…

The damage...Josko was kind enough to open anything that we like in order to try it

The damage…Josko was kind enough to open anything that we were interested in so we could try it

Beautiful door to the cellar

Beautiful door to the cellar

Savoring the Moment

I find spontaneity and the ability to welcome a last-minute change of plans a must in a traveler.  Jonathan and I can adapt at a moments notice when plans don’t necessarily go our way.  We brush it off and move on and often find ourselves more content with the unexpected.  This day was one of those…we didn’t let our cancelled trip get in the way of enjoying our day.  It was our last evening on the island and we made the most of it.  From a detour on our way across the island, a lovely afternoon on the beach, a long and peaceful ride around the island to an amazing tour with a local winemaker – we had to stop and take it all in.  What a day so far!  We took some time to enjoy the lovely view and sunset on our patio, savoring the moment before heading out for dinner.

View from our patio

View from our patio

Enjoying the sun on my back

Enjoying the sun on my back

Dinner at Villa Kaliopa

Everyone we met in Vis who knew we were on our honeymoon recommended that we go to dinner at Villa Kaliopa before leaving the island.  From locals’ recommendations and online reviews, this restaurant was touted as one of the most romantic places to dine in the world.  To me that’s a bold statement that is hard to live up to.  This restaurant is first mentioned for the ambiance and then the food.  Not sure what to expect, we made reservations for a late night dinner.  A long busy day makes for a big appetite so as dinner approached we were ravenous and ready to try everything on the menu.

Villa Kaliopa (courtesy of Google Images)

Villa Kaliopa (courtesy of Google Images)

Menu?  No menu here.  You get what is fresh, local and in season.  Those words had me wanting to jump out of my seat with glee!  To me, this means everything is made to order and must be damn good.  I was right.  The waiter ran off the options for the day and asked us to describe the type of wine we like.  She came back with a delicious bottle of white wine (from a vineyard we passed along our way exploring) and then a plate of cheese.  Heaven…no better way to start a meal.  We enjoyed a bowl of the soup of the day as well as two whole lobsters and ended with a local treat for dessert.  Delicious and worthy of the price (be careful what you order here – without a menu it is hard to remember what you are spending if you are on a budget).

Seafood bisque - creamy yet light and flavorful

Seafood bisque – creamy yet light and flavorful

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard - not pictured

Lobster, typical Croatian potatoes (boiled then drizzled with olive oil and herbs) and swiss chard – not pictured

Playing with my food. Don't worry - I made sure no one was looking, never want my immaturity to be offensive

Playing with my food. Don’t worry – I made sure no one was looking, never want my immaturity to be offensive

As for the ambiance…I don’t think this place is really one of the most romantic restaurants in the world but it is certainly romantic and a definite ‘eat here’ recommendation.  The restaurant was built in the 16th century as a summer-house.  Over centuries the garden expanded and was then walled.  In recent history, this summer-house was turned into a restaurant serving only local food grown on the island or caught by seasoned fisherman.  The garden is lined with palm trees and has various walkways that lead to tables.  The tables seem to be hidden throughout the garden and even though the space isn’t huge it is hard to see other tables while you are dining.  Really, if you couldn’t hear the faint echoes of laughter you would feel like you are the only guests there.  I decided to take a few pictures after dinner from where we were sitting but due to the lack of lighting and a basic point and shoot camera I was unable to capture the real beauty of Villa Kaliopa at night.

The garden at night

The garden at night

After dinner we headed back to our hotel, ready to relax and drift off to sleep in one of the best hotels we’ve ever stayed in…sweet dreams of the island, the food, and the people.

Verdict ~ Looking to book your honeymoon?  Go to Croatia, especially the island of Vis, it is the most romantic place we have ever traveled to.  Croatia is for lovers.  Period.  But Vis is for honeymooners.  Plan to take long walks, indulge in great food and wine and relax at some of the most beautiful, crystal clear beaches around.  There’s very little shopping in Vis which means that you can spend your time browsing boutiques that offer up goods by local artisans rather than international chain stores.  Food is all locally grown, most of which is organic.  The wines found on the island are made there.   Tourists mingle right in with the locals..leaving you  feeling like you belong – with everything so new and beautiful you will take none of it for granted.  Vis has much to offer but it’s best attributes are the leisurely pace of life and beautiful landscape…

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The cure for anything is salt water – tears, sweat, or the sea. – Isak Dinesen

VIS, CROATIA

July 24 – 27, 2012

crvVIS

DAY TWO

On our second day we awoke with just enough energy to seek out some sunshine and beach time. There are very few options for relaxing on the beach in and around the town of Vis so we headed out for to find a place where we could rest and recover from day one. The island of Vis is quite small with few towns to really explore so we decided to find the one and only thing to get us around to where the locals go…a scooter. Our favorite method of easy exploration!

Exploring the Beaches

We geared up with a quick breakfast of fruit and water in the room. Packed our suits and towels, borrowed a map from the concierge and then set out to rent a scooter. There’s quite a few places to choose from and all are about the same price so we went with the first one we came to. In hindsight, it would be a good idea to figure out which roads allow motorized vehicles and which don’t – we ignored this little rule and got some dirty looks from the townspeople..but I don’t blame them.

No matter how hard you try, you never look tough on a scooter

No matter how hard you try, you never look tough on a scooter

We were headed to a beach on our map that was supposed to be great for swimming but we couldn’t find it, as a matter of fact, we sort of got lost. At some point, we found ourselves on a dirt and gravel path going up a mountain that our trusty scooter just could not handle. We turned around and decided to just stop at the first beach we could find and put the map away.

View of the town of Vis.  We would have never seen it this way without the scooter

View of the town of Vis. We would have never seen it this way without the scooter.

The Explorers

The Explorers

Unknown beach - our first stop after we gave up with the map

Unknown beach – our first stop after we gave up with the map

One part fish, one part husband...a breed of his own

One part fish, one part man…a breed of his own

Stoncica Beach

I’ve been to rocky beaches in the past but still couldn’t tolerate the pain of walking barefoot on the beach. Note to self, if ever visiting a rocky beach in the future – I will invest in some water friendly shoes, no matter how unattractive they are. I mean, who looks attractive hunching over to investigate every rock while yelping the whole time anyway, comfort wins.

We hopped back on the scooter with the intention of seeing more of the island and with the hopes of finding a road that was on our map before dark. Luck was on our side. Somehow, we found a main road and chose the direction leading us to the other side of the island. We were aware that over 20 percent of the arable land was dedicated to vineyards but had no idea that we would see so many of them in a day. Along with the vineyards, we passed up olive groves, fig trees, and more.

This little journey unexpectedly led us to a beach that I recognized on our map, Stoncica. I was in luck – it happened to be the only sandy beach on the island. Following the small signs, we parked our scooter and headed down a mountain path. Even luckier considering it was nearing lunchtime, there happened to be a tavern located directly next to the beach, Konoba Stoncica. We ordered a bottle of wine, stuffed ourselves silly with locally grown food (the tavern happened to be on the end of the owners farm) and then headed to the beach. Both the food and beach are certainly worthy of a trip if you find yourself on the island.

crvstoncica

View of Stoncica Beach

Lunch at Konoba Stoncica

Lunch at Konoba Stoncica

Scampi

Scampi

Seafood spaghetti

Seafood spaghetti

Croatian mashed potatoes

Croatian mashed potatoes

Grilled vegetables with olive oil and herbs

Grilled vegetables with olive oil and herbs

The aftermath, a food coma...both of us passing out on the beach

The aftermath, a food coma…both of us passing out on the beach

Stoncica Beach

Stoncica Beach

As the evening approached, we headed back to our hotel. The views of the island from the scooter and the search for good food and beaches had us feeling completely relaxed and grateful for life and for each other. Our day didn’t end here, we did clean up and set out for more good food and drinks but I took the night off from photographing and journeling. It’s hard for me not to try to capture every last thing…but there’s nothing more pleasurable than living in the moment, especially with great company.

 

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As you walk and eat and travel, be where you are. Otherwise you will miss most of your life. — Siddhārtha Gautama

VIS, CROATIA

July 24 – 27, 2012

Island of Vis, Croatia

A Haven for Honeymooners

After two hours or so of traveling by ferry from Split, Jonathan and I finally arrived to Vis. We grabbed our luggage and met our driver. We were in awe of the quaintness of Vis. It had the look of a small, old European town and was flanked by the most beautiful mountains in all directions with the exception of the sea to the north of the town. We had no idea that the Adriatic Sea would be so breathtaking and romantic.

We were dropped off a quarter of a mile from our hotel. The main road that follows the coastline (in the town of Vis) is closed during the day to allow for people to safely walk about. This meant we had to drive up the mountainside and back down to get to our hotel. Once we walked into our hotel – we knew right away that walk with heavy luggage, weighed down by an enormous amount of wine, was worth every step.

Hotel San Giorgio (on the left)

Our hotel, San Giorgio, is, in my opinion, the best on the island. The hotel is situated in the oldest part of the island. It’s modern and elegant yet is able to retain old world charm. There are only 10 rooms in the hotel. We were lucky enough to get the best one – the deluxe. This was set up by Alan, from Secret Dalmatia (more about him in a future post). He was kind enough to not only secure the best room on the island but to also have a table of fruit and champagne waiting upon our arrival – the latter was put together by the hotel owner as a honeymoon welcome gift. She would have never known if Alan hadn’t mentioned this to her on his own accord.

Our room at Hotel San Giorgio was by far our favorite of our two-week honeymoon. Even though we always find ourselves out and about rather than hanging out in our room – this room holds many memories for us. The deluxe room had a patio tucked into the mountainside with a grand view of Vis. The patio was large and had a table as well as two sunning chairs. It was spacious with all the usual amenities of an upscale hotel. But what took the cake…the jacuzzi! After 9 or 10 days of traveling and being constantly on the go, this was a feature that certainly didn’t go unused.

The Deluxe Room
….the second best part of the room
…and the BEST part of the room!
Best hotel welcome gift ever...enough fruit to last a few days
Best hotel welcome gift ever…enough fruit to last a few days

DAY ONE

After relaxing, taking in the views from the patio and enjoying a bottle of champagne, we left to explore the area and find a post office – we desperately needed room in our luggage for more wine to bring home. It is about a 20 minute walk from Hotel San Giorgio to the port…the beauty of Vis can only be enjoyed by taking your time to absorb all of its beauty. We made our way back and forth several times daily and always found something new to look at or stop and see; sometimes a fantastic doorway, many times to peek inside a little boutique and often to just to take a break and enjoy the beauty of the sea.

If you have a sweet tooth, you are in trouble. There is so many places to drop in for a pastry or ice cream. I’m the salty, savory type so I was a bit out of luck but Jonathan was a happy to try out everything in his path – making a short walk into a lengthy stroll.

The mission was to find the post office to buy a box to ship clothes (making room for wine) but someone I know got sidetracked...
The mission was to find the post office to buy a box to ship clothes (making room for wine) but someone I know got sidetracked…
Croatian style baklava
Croatian style baklava
Cherry filled pastry
Cherry filled pastry

Wine Tasting at Hotel San Giorgio

The rest of the evening went a little like this…wine tasting, eat, drink more, eat even more, fall asleep fully satiated and in complete bliss…somewhere in that was the jacuzzi because we hear it helps with digestion and hangovers!

Wine tasting at the hotel restaurant..all wines made on the island.  A great introduction to local wines and made ordering at restaurants much easier for the rest of the trip..if you don't stay here at least reserve a spot one evening for the daily tasting
Wine tasting at the hotel restaurant..all wines made on the island. A great introduction to local wines and made ordering at restaurants much easier for the rest of the trip..if you don’t stay here at least reserve a spot one evening for the daily tasting
Plavac Mali from LIpanovic Vineyards nearby  - The favorite from our tasting...yes, this went in our suitcase!
Plavac Mali from Lipanovic Vineyards nearby – The favorite from our tasting…yes, this went in our suitcase!
Someone got caught eating my cheese...I'm not amused but he is
Someone got caught eating my cheese…I’m not amused but he is

Dinner at Pojoda

If you don’t know what to order when going to Croatia you can’t go wrong with fish – Croatians have mastered the art of cooking the whole fish. Years ago I would have made a little face and been reluctant to dig my fork into fish on a platter with its head still attached. I’ve matured, my tastes have changed and now I see what I have been missing all along. The flavor of fresh caught and grilled fish is like no other.

With recommendations from Alan and great reviews from Trip Advisor we decided to head to Pojoda. We were lucky to arrive and be seated without a reservation, although this meant we had to eat inside rather outside in the large, beautiful garden. The food was unbelievable. I was running low on battery and only took a few pictures but at least captured our two favorites from Pojoda.

The daily catch is brought to each table when ordering. You pick the fish you like and that’s what goes on the grill for you. Great way to see what you are getting and determine the freshness before ordering, that is if you happen to have a skillful eye for such things…next photo courtesy of Trip Advisor.

Fresh fish selection
Fresh fish selection
Appetizer - tuna with a capers sauce
Appetizer – tuna with a capers sauce
Our fish - oh how I wish I could remember the name of this fish.  Although it was certainly not a pretty fish - it sure did taste delicious!
Our fish – oh how I wish I could remember the name of this fish. Although it was certainly not a pretty fish – it sure did taste delicious!

Champagne, Wine, Beer, and…

Rakija! When in Croatia…a little over indulgence never hurt anyone right?! Let’s just say it was a long day and we had lots to try and enjoy.

Post dinner rakija...Jonathan can't contain his excitement and wonder for this traditional croatian drink
Post dinner rakija back at the hotel…Jonathan can’t contain his excitement and wonder for this traditional Croatian drink
So lesson learned...making a bubble bath in a jacuzzi is not a good idea, unless you like cleaning up afterwards this is before it got out of control
So lesson learned…making a bubble bath in a jacuzzi is not a good idea, unless you like cleaning up afterwards! This is before it got out of control..

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The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page. – St. Augustine

SPLIT, CROATIA

July 22 – 24, 2012

Choosing Croatia for our Honeymoon

Several years ago, shortly after getting engaged, Jonathan and I were out to dinner and having a lovely conversation with our waiter. He had traveled throughout the world and was inquiring about where we thought we would go for our honeymoon. At this point, we had tossed around many ideas but hadn’t given it considerable thought. Loving his personality and his traveling spirit, we asked him as he was walking away from our table to think of any place in the world that he’s been that would be the perfect honeymoon spot. He seemed to brighten up and bounce off with joy in helping us decide on a place.

He came back a few minutes later with a big smile, announcing that he had the perfect place. Croatia. We were intrigued. We knew very little about Croatia and as curious as we are, we knew he might be on to something. He explained that is was the most romantic place he has ever been with a coastline that rivals Italy yet better because it is less touched by tourism. Several hours and google searches later we were fairly certain that Croatia would be our honeymoon destination.

One of our best decisions ever. Stunning. Romantic. Peaceful. Charming. Relaxing. Fulfilling.

C R O A T I A  I S  F O R  L O V E R S !

Croatia Itinerary

We spent a week in Croatia but this post is only dedicated to the time we spent in Split as well as a morning/afternoon in Trogir. In case you’re interested in other cities, here’s our itinerary.

Split/Trogir – 2 nights, 2 days

Vis Island – 3 nights, 3 days

Zagreb – 2 nights, 1 day

Split: Day One

My first impression…not so good. From the moment our driver dropped us off by the port in Split I thought I just arrived in the land of annoying tourists. Every inch surrounding me was a souvenir stand or a cafe touting prices that rival New York. This was not what I was expecting. Luckily, by evening my impression had changed and I was beginning to see the beauty in this city.

Our hotel, and as a matter of fact – almost everything we had planned in Croatia, had been hand-picked and booked by an amazing, brilliant and interesting man, Alan Mandic (founder of Secret Dalmatia). I look forward to revealing how we came about working with Alan in another post but for now, what you need to know is that he found us an amazing place to stay and planned two of the most memorable experiences of our honeymoon.

Hotel Peristil

Hotel Peristil within the Diocletian Palace

Hotel Peristil has 12 rooms. It is intimate and it’s located within the Diocletian Palace. The location perfect. The service very attentive but not overly so. The downside is that the air-conditioning and the beds are not up to par. But who cares! If you travel to Croatia and plan to spend your time inside your room then you deserve to be uncomfortable. Best part of this hotel, other than the location…you can hear the Dalmatian folk singing in the open terraces along the palace from your room. At night, there’s almost always an artist performing at the main square just a few feet from Hotel Peristil. Open your windows and enjoy the music while you are preparing to go out for the evening!

After getting settled into our room we grabbed lunch at the hotel restaurant, Tifani, then set out to explore before a scheduled wine tasting in the evening.

Jonathan enjoying a brew and seafood salad at Tifani…perfect choice for the hot and humid weather.

In typical Miranda fashion, I chose a plate of local cheese with Croatian wine. This is paski sir, a creamy and well-balanced sheep’s milk cheese from the Island of Pag. Get this in Croatia…it’s easy to find and why miss out – it won the prestigious Barber Award and was named the Word’s Best New Cheese in 2010.

Klub Gurmana i Hedonista

This is the point when my perception began to change. We had a wine tasting booked at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista. Our driver came to pick us up and took us just outside of the palace walls. Once we arrived we realized we could have easily walked.  Although the drive was short, we got a quick introduction to the city outside of the palace walls.  Our driver introduced us to the expert of Croatian wines, at least in my opinion. The man behind it all, Igor Beros. A very intelligent and friendly man. Connoisseur of wines and pop culture. A great conversationalist and several hours later…a friend. I didn’t want to leave. No, this is not the wine speaking through months later. I swear. Go here and you will see for yourself!

Over the course of about three hours, Igor offered us about 5 wines to taste.  We learned about Croatian wine, wine-making in general and how to distinguish the age and quality of a wine by sight and smell.  We were not always this civilized…at some point we were discussing South Park and funny British television.  In fact, by the end of the tasting we were both calling Igor, Croatian Dave…in honor of our friend whom we sometimes refer to as British Dave.  Both men endearing, funny, tall as hell and owners of the most obscure knowledge of random things.  In short, we loved Igor like a friend.

The wine we tasted greatly varied.  We got a taste of a few young and old wines.  Bold, elegant and light varieties.  All of this came with some of the best anchovies I’ve ever had.  I’m saddened that I’m unsure if I will ever get them as good as those again.  I ate all of mine on the tasting board and Igor quietly slipped away for a moment to bring out a heaping plate full to keep me going.  I was, for a moment, embarrassed.  That lasted only until I had another  bite and then about 10 more…why try to hide my appetite and gluttonous spirit?  I’m all about embracing it these days…

Us and Igor at Klub Gurmana i Hedonista!

Enjoying a toast together!

The tasting board…before I demolish it!

On our way out Jonathan and I decided to buy two bottles of our favorite from the tasting and one that we could drink in five years on our anniversary.  After talking about the beauty of an aged wine, we set Igor to the task of finding a wine that would be perfect for opening after 5 years.  He jumped to the task like a joyous schoolboy!  Very cute!  He walked around his cellar deep in thoughts until he found the perfect one.  Now our task – be patient and wait before opening!  As we were walking out with our goods, Igor gave us a gift as a honeymoon present…he told us that we would have to try it and tell him what it is – the flavor was a surprise and something of a local treat!  We’ve yet to open this bottle.  It’s kind of like unwrapping a gift slowly to save the suspense.  It sits beautifully upon our counter as a reminder of an amazing Croatian evening.  I know all too well that we will open this sooner rather than later and I look forward to contacting him in regards to our best guess!

First Croatian Dinner

After indulging in the hearty cuisines of Czech Republic and Hungary, we were so excited to try Croatian food.  I can say, it was a welcome surprise.  Much lighter in comparison to the previous countries and still full of flavor!  After leaving our wine tasting and really not very hungry, we still found ourselves back in the palace walls and sitting down to dinner.

Using Trip Advisor as our dining guide, we headed to Trattoria Bajamonte.   This restaurant sits inside the palace and is a bit hard to find.  With tables spread out in a few streets just wide enough to walk down in twos, and no restaurant sign or kitchen to be found, you can easily miss this place.  We luckily happened to read a cork board by some tables and noticed that the handwritten menu was in fact for the restaurant we were looking for.  We happily set down and ordered what we read would be a very local/typical dinner.  We shared a plate of mussels and I went for the seafood risotto while Jonathan got the fish with potatoes and swiss chard.  Delicious!!!

Seafood risotto…a bit soupy but seriously good!

Fish with lemon, olive oil and fresh herbs with a side of swiss chard and potatoes

The Art of Manliness

As we were finishing up our last bites it began to rain.  This is when officially, without any doubt, Split won me over.  After hiding from the first few minutes of drizzle we headed back to our hotel.  If you are like me, a good rain storm is more romantic than most other imaginable things…gifts, cards, snuggles, poems or what have you.  Stand outside in the rain with the one you love and walk side by side like it’s a sunny day and instantly my heart becomes all gooey…and girly.  The palace is confusing with hard to find, let alone read, street signs coupled by the fact that the streets look all too similar to not feel like you are walking in circles.  I was swooned by Split and by the man holding my hand and running along with me to the next overhang or archway.  I found so much beauty in this moment that I don’t think I spoke much…at least that’s how I remember it.

Hiding from the drizzle at the end of dinner

Trogir & Split:  Day Two

Cooking with Tatjana Ciciliani

My obsession with taking a cooking class while traveling all stems from one day several years ago…in Thailand.  The quick version of the story (yes Jonathan, I can tell a quick story)…we were traveling with our friends, Dave and Alex.  It was our second full day in Chiang Mai and we had planned a day long cooking class.  I was stoked!  Thai food ranks among my favorite.  Although extremely tired, I remembered to set my alarm.  Unfortunately to the wrong time zone.  I woke Dave and Alex up twice, the first only hours after we all went to bed…Dave was nice about my mistake and stumbled back in bed.  I reset my alarm and was still wrong…just a few hours later, I woke them again, all ready for the class.  We still had at least two hours before we needed to be up.  He wasn’t laughing at my mistake a second time.  Jonathan and I went back to bed.  This time…Jonathan and I did not get up.  The intermittent sleep and jet lag got the best of us.  We stayed in bed while Dave and Alex went off to learn the fine art of Thai cooking.  I finally awoke in the late afternoon…this time angry that I missed out.

So, in preparing for our honeymoon, I knew we had to give a cooking class another try.  One thing that I didn’t know…it was going to be one of the most special days of our trip.

I can’t begin to tell you how amazing Tatjana is.  What I can say for sure and in the most simplest terms – she is passionate, kind, interesting, and above all,  one damn good cook.  In the few hours that we got to know her I felt a connection.  She is warm and funny with such a good spirit, a person who can make anyone feel at home and at ease…even with a cleaver in her hand.

Our day of cooking in Trogir with Tatjana must have its own post.  I look forward to sharing every detail no matter how small.  But here’s a peek for now!

Cooking with Tatjana Ciciliani

Jonathan and Tatjana prepping the fish…

Risotto, fish stock, fried sardines, and bread rising…just a few of the things we had going on!

Diocletian’s Palace

After our morning and afternoon with Tatjana, Jonathan and I headed back to Split for an official tour of Diocletian’s Palace.  I’m no history buff but I certainly loved the tour.  Our tour guide, a young vibrant Croatian woman, gathered us up at the port and took us for a walk through the palace.  One of the first things she told us was, “if you get bored or tired, I’ll take you to a fun bar for a pit stop”.  How could you not love her?!  After a huge meal, sitting down to a glass of wine and relaxing sounded great but her enthusiasm and love for history bled through.  Off we gladly went for a tour!

Unfortunately, my mind only recalls details of things that I’m passionate about…history, not so much.  So I have to say, all I have of this tour is my photographs.  If you’re looking for information about Diocletian’s Palace…google it.

A model of the palace…see how easy it can be to get lost here!

Narrowest street in Split – appropriately named, Pusti Me Da Prodjem (translation: Let me pass)

Grgur Ninski Statue – touch his toe for good luck!

The palace is a UNESCO World Heritage Monument – pretty cool that many people have homes within..

Near the monumental court and our hotel…

Rakija – National Drink of Croatia

At the end of our tour, our guide introduced us to rakija.  Rakija is a popular Croatian drink, similar to brandy, and is often taken just before dinner or on your way out for the evening.  As our tour came to an end and we were headed to the bar, we stopped at Rakijarnica to try out our first rakija and to toast to an amazing evening.

Best tour guide ever!

Rakijarnica (within Diocletian’s Palace) – loads of choices for flavors…we went for the sour cherry

Ghetto Club for drinks! A very bohemian and artsy bar with more locals than tourists…photo courtesy of Time Out Croatia (my camera died by this point in the evening)

On to Vis

On the morning of our third day, we awoke with excitement to begin a new adventure on Vis Island.  We enjoyed our time in Split but were ready for something more….beach, good food and relaxing?  Yes!

View of Split from the ferry to Vis

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