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Travel is the only thing you buy that makes you richer. – Unknown

HANOI & HA LONG BAY, VIETNAM

July 25 – 31, 2013

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A few years ago I came across a friend’s photograph on Facebook.  I typically take a quick look at photos in the news feed, sometimes I comment, but mostly I just move on down the feed.  This particular photo entranced me.  It awakened my desire to see and explore more than any other photo that I can remember.  It was magical.  It was breathtaking.  It simply blew my mind.  The photo was a scenic view of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam.  I knew from that moment I would have to travel there one day.

A majestic view from above Sung Sôt (Surprise Grotto)

A majestic view from above Sung Sôt (Surprise Grotto)

Day Four

  • Leave Hanoi by van to Ha Long Bay
  • Over night Paradise Luxury Cruise with stops at Sung Sôt and Đảo Ti Tốp

From Hanoi to Ha Long Bay

By staying at the Hanoi Elegance Ruby, we were able to easily book our trip to Ha Long Bay.  The hotel arranged our pick-up, held our bags overnight, discounted our stay since we were not staying one night out of our planned stay with them, and booked us a new (and even nicer) room for the evening when we returned.  Amazing service.

After looking at several options, we choose to book our overnight cruise to Ha Long Bay through Paradise Cruises.  This company was one of the few that had spacious rooms with balconies as an option.  We booked and were very happy with our room.  The energy on the boat was quite low from most passengers.  This did put a bit of a damper on our stay since we like to eat, drink and be merry.  We still did…just by ourselves!  Towards midnight, we heard a boat that appeared to be having way more fun – great music, cheering and excitement echoed from their boat.  Ours was quiet and dim by that time.  So warning – if you are looking for a party boat or want to socialize and meet new people, then you should try a different boat.

Paradise Luxury & Cabin

Paradise Luxury & Cabin

 

Enjoying everything there is to offer...

Enjoying everything there is to offer…

 

FYI, there's no shop for miscellaneous items on the boat...  We were hanging out on our balcony when we heard voices down below.  We looked down and saw a small raft approaching with goods for purchase.  These ladies had everything from chips, candy bars, water, fresh coconuts and more.  We turned them away as we didn't expect we would need anything.  A few minutes later another lady came by and it occurred to me that we might need a bottle of wine for the room.  What are my chances?  Sure enough, she had a bottle of Vietnamese wine for sale.  Then I thought, is she going to throw it up to us?  Then, how I am going to pay her?  My thinking didn't last long...she had a net to make exchanges.  Awesome!  What's not so awesome...hot wine that has spoiled.  Oh well!  It was a fun purchase.

FYI, there’s no shop for miscellaneous items on the boat… We were hanging out on our balcony when we heard voices down below. We looked down and saw a small raft approaching with goods for purchase. These ladies had everything from chips, candy bars, water, fresh coconuts and more. We turned them away as we didn’t expect we would need anything. A few minutes later another lady came by and it occurred to me that we might need a bottle of wine for the room. What are my chances? Sure enough, she had a bottle of Vietnamese wine for sale. Then I thought, is she going to throw it up to us? Then, how I am going to pay her? My thinking didn’t last long…she had a net to make exchanges. Awesome! What’s not so awesome…hot wine that has spoiled. Oh well! It was a fun purchase.

 

As part of the cruise, the ship stops at several places to give you an option of hiking, kayaking, swimming or visiting a cave.  Here we are at Dao Ti Top.  We were able to climb to the highest for a scenic overlook and then hang out on the beach to relax.  It rained when we were climbing but cleared up just as we were heading to the beach.

As part of the cruise, the ship stops at several places to give you an option of hiking, kayaking, swimming or visiting a cave. Here we are at Dao Ti Top. We were able to climb to the highest point for a scenic overlook and then hang out on the beach to relax. It rained when we were climbing but cleared up just as we were heading to the beach.

 

Ha Long Bay - Bay of the Descending Dragon; a UNESCO-declared World Heritage area

Ha Long Bay – Bay of the Descending Dragon; a UNESCO-declared World Heritage area

Day Five

  • Return to Hanoi from Ha Long Bay
  • Dong Xuan Market
  • Dinner at Pho 10

After a wonderful night of dining, gazing at the stars, playing games on our balcony, we slept like babies.  The next morning our boat headed back to the port where our van was waiting to take us back to Hanoi.  My last thoughts on Ha Long Bay…simply majestic!

Our return trip took a few hours.  Along the way we planned out how we wanted to spend our last night in Vietnam.  There was one restaurant we had yet to try…but we had one very important stop to make before dinner.  After learning how to make traditional northern-style pho, we knew we would want to recreate it at home.  That meant we needed the secret ingredient since we were told it would be quite difficult to find it in the states…back to the market we went!

Sa sung; dried sea worms for pho from Dong Xuan market. They add a wonderful savory sweetness to the broth...all natural umami!

Sa sung; dried sea worms for pho from Dong Xuan market. They add a wonderful savory sweetness to the broth…all natural umami!

Dinner at Pho 10

A wonderful friend bought me the book, Where Chef’s Eat – A Guide to Chefs’ Favorite Restaurants.  I made a point to look up if there were any chef recommendations before heading to Hanoi.  Sure enough, I found one!  Pho 10 was recommended by Chef Neal Fraser as being a restaurant worthy of traveling out of your way to enjoy.  He was right on point!

A must try in Hanoi!  Delicious, inexpensive, packed with locals, and great service.  Don't expect to hang out...this is an in and out stop.  The servers are quick so that everyone can eat without a long wait.

A must try in Hanoi! Delicious, inexpensive, packed with locals, and great service. Don’t expect to hang out…this is an in and out stop. The servers are quick so that everyone can eat without a long wait.

Day six (really day seven but the first day was cut short) was spent eating a quick breakfast and heading to the airport.  We were sad to leave as we could have used a little extra time to travel to other cities in Vietnam but we had other plans… off to Taiwan for a road trip with friends!

Verdict ~ Visit Vietnam!  If you are in Hanoi, stay in the Old Quarter, be careful crossing the road, drink Vietnamese coffee like an addict, and take in the all the pleasures the city has to offer…great people, even better food, history, markets, street food, and more.  Whether you are in Hanoi or another city in Vietnam – make it a point to travel to Ha Long Bay and be prepared to revel in the beauty our planet has to offer. 

For more on this journey – check out Part One and Part Two

 Little by little, one travels far. –  J.R.R. Tolkien

HANOI, VIETNAM

July 25 – 31, 2013

Flag_of_Vietnam_svg

 

Day Three

  • Orchid Cooking Class with Chef Tien
  • Dinner at Nha Hang Ngon
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Chef Tien

 

Orchid Cooking Class with Chef Tien

One of the best ways to learn about a culture is through their cuisine.  On our third day, we signed up to take a traditional northern Vietnamese cooking class at Orchid Restaurant (25 Hang Bac Str, Hoan Kiem, Hanoi, Vietnam) with owner, chef, and local food expert, Chef Tien.

The class begins with a basic introduction into traditional foods and a quick review of the menu you will be preparing.  After that, Chef Tien takes you on an adventure to the local food market to shop for main ingredients.  Next you are back in the kitchen to learn, cook, taste, share, and experience great food from start to finish.

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Orchid Restaurant & Cooking School

 

At Dong Xuan market shopping for ingredients we needed for the class.  Chef Tien steers us towards a lady selling balut and encouraged us to try it.  Jonathan takes him up on the offer and is quite surprised that it was better than his last balut experience...

At Dong Xuan market shopping for ingredients we needed for the class. Chef Tien steers us towards a lady selling balut (duck embryo) and encouraged us to try it. Jonathan takes him up on the offer and is quite surprised that it was better than his last balut experience…

 

Trying out chả quế; a delicious meat pate flavored with cinnamon, star anis and other spices.

Trying out chả quế; a delicious meat pate flavored with cinnamon, star anise and other spices.

 

Pho Bo: basically a whole day of work goes into making this delicious bowl of heaven...this particular bowl was the best I've tried and yep, I helped make it!  Secret ingredient...sea worms.  Look no further, these add a depth to the broth that is hard to substitute (that's why we smuggled into the US...shhhhh).

Making phở tái; basically a whole day of work goes into making this delicious bowl of heaven…this particular bowl (with cooked beef and then topped with rare beef) was the best I’ve tried and yep, I helped make it! Secret ingredient…sea worms. Look no further, these add a depth to the broth that is hard to substitute (that’s why we smuggled some into the US…shhhhh).

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Hanoi style Vietnamese spring roll and a seafood salad

Here we are making cha ca (pan fried fish with turmeric and lots of dill); this is a famous dish in the area and we made it with a twist...rapped up with romaine and rice paper..

Here we are making cha ca (pan fried fish with turmeric and lots of dill); this is a famous dish in the area and we made it with a twist…rapped up with romaine and rice paper.

I highly recommend this class.  Just the trip to the market with a local chef was worth the experience; learning to make all these wonderful dishes…was the cherry on top.  No, wait, eating them was the best part!  So what do you do after about 8 hours of cooking and eating.  Nap.  Guess what happened after that…  Yes, I was hungry again.

Dinner at Nha Hang Ngon

I don’t know how we actually do it.  Jonathan and I don’t eat like ravenous animals at every meal when we are at home but somehow we easily fit in enough food for a family of four at almost every meal when we travel.  I would be ashamed or embarrassed but I’m not…because we eat it all (or nearly so) every time.  There’s always this looming feeling that if we don’t try ‘it’ now we may never have the chance to…so we order and we order and we order.  Needless to say, I was not hungry the next morning.

When you encounter a menu the size of a novela, you get one of everything that is most appealing...and if you're indecisive, just order it.

When you encounter a menu the size of a novela, you get one of everything that is most appealing…and if you’re indecisive, just order it.

What a day!  We learned so much and enjoyed every waking moment.  Vietnam has so much to offer and if you aren’t convinced yet…stay tuned for part three, coming soon!  A little teaser… on day four we head off on an overnight trip to Ha Long Bay.

 

A Week in Vietnam: Part One

 

A soup like this is not the work of one man.  It is the result of a constantly refined tradition.  There are nearly a thousand years of history in this soup.  – Willa Cather

HANOI, VIETNAM

July 25 – 31, 2013

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Thank Goodness for Smart Phones & A Little Faith

Jonathan and I have found ourselves in some funny, albeit stressful, traveling situations.  For example, showing up very late to the wrong airport to board a flight to Singapore was about the worst prior to our most recent trip. So what takes the cake?  Trying to get your boarding pass two hours before your flight without a visa to the country you are flying to.  Yes, that’s us, standing at the United check-in line looking dumbfounded when the receptionist told us we weren’t able to get on our flight without our visa documents.

Going back to the city and waiting a few days to head to the embassy in order to apply was not an option.  All it took was a few reassuring looks between the two of us, a quick Google search…and poof!  We were ready to outsmart the system.  For about $40 dollars a person you can apply online for an express Visa.  In one day, you can receive a PDF document allowing you into the country.  It took some convincing, but we were able to get United to send us to Thailand (our last layover city before Hanoi) with the hopes that by the time we arrive, our visa documents would be ready.  United cancelled our flight from Bangkok to Hanoi and made it clear that if we were unable to get into Vietnam or happened to be stuck in Thailand it was all on us.  We didn’t flinch.  We boarded our flight with good faith that our online application would go through before landing.

For anyone who travels, not quite fully prepared (like us), then it may be good to know that Vietnam does require a Visa for entry.  Also good to note, the Bangkok airport has a printing station and passport photo booth to complete any Visa requirements.   Thailand saved us…as if we needed another reason to love that country!

19 Hours…

Our plan for Vietnam was to indulge in great food and overcome serious jet lag before heading to Taiwan.  Although the beginning of our trip was not going as planned, we finally landed in Vietnam and were back on track.

It took everything out of me to not check in the hotel and go right to sleep.  It was roughly 6pm and I knew that if I wanted to get over the eleven hour time difference I would have to keep myself awake until an appropriate time to sleep…and then I remembered how amazing Vietnamese coffee is.  What better way to keep myself up than a cup of cool, sweet addicting goodness!

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Vietnamese coffee at the ever relaxing and air conditioned, Align 3D Café.

There simply wasn’t enough caffeine in the whole café to supply me with enough energy for the evening but I only had one choice.  Power through it.  Next up, dinner.  Anything would do after two days of in-flight meals but we were lucky to find ourselves near the famous Bat Dan Street.  It is rumored that Hanoi’s best pho can be found here on this street.  After strolling along for several blocks we settled down for dinner at the only place with a line of families and couples waiting for a seat.  Score.  When in doubt, look to the locals for clues on where to find the best food. Finally, a decent hour to catch some sleep.  We headed back to the hotel (Hanoi Elegance Ruby) and collapsed…  The next thing I know, Jonathan is waking me up from a lovely, deep sleep.  Whatever he wanted I imagined would go away if I just ignored his calling my name but suddenly it hit me like an amplifying echo…wake up, wake up – it’s 4:30 in the afternoon….wake up, wake up, it’s….  WHAT?  I was baffled; where was I?  And how on earth did I just sleep – wait let me count…19 HOURS!  That, my friend, is what they call jet lag.  Avoid at all costs.

Pho on Bat Dan Street.  More subtle and less fragrant than other places but certainly fulfills any need for a comforting bowl of beefy goodness.

Pho on Bat Dan Street. More subtle and less fragrant than other places but certainly fulfills any need for a comforting bowl of beefy goodness.

Day One

  • Sleep until an ungodly hour
  • Dinner at Highway 4
  • Night Market
  • Drinks

Sleeping 19 hours straight only leads to one thing…a ravenous belly.  No, two things…a ravenous belly and severe grogginess.  It was dinner time when we finally left the hotel and entered the world of the living.

Highway 4:  Get the catfish rolls!

Bo Tieu Den:  Beef sautéed in black pepper sauce

Bo Tieu Den: Beef sautéed in black pepper sauce

Nem Ca Xa:  Catfish spring rolls

Nem Ca Xa: Catfish spring rolls

Feast for two!

Feast for two!

An Evening Out:  Night Market and Drinks

The local night market is a great place to roam and purchase souvenirs.  The market basically had the same items found in the shops around town during the day but the draw to this market is not what it has to offer you but the energy it encompasses.  We were only a few among the tourists.  This market seemed to draw the locals out to pick up essentials, mingle with friends and to grab a bite to eat.  For a city that has little to offer for night life, I thought this market was an enjoyable way to walk off dinner and spend the evening.

Nothing like a beefy after dinner treat...

Nothing like a beefy after dinner treat…

...sweet and savory treats.

…sweet and savory treats.

Late night beers...

Late night beers

Just as we were beginning to relax and take it all in with a few beers we were ran off by the police.  After living in NYC for a few years, it is quite normal for us to eat dinner at 9pm and then head out for a drink.  Not quite possible in Hanoi.  The police rolled up in a truck and banged their long clubs on the bar’s awning.  We were quite surprised but quickly realized we were expected to leave and the bar owner needed to close down quickly for the curfew.  Plan according if you are used to late nights!

Day Two

  • Morning run around Hoan Kiem Lake
  • Bảo Tàng Dân Tộc Học Việt Nam (Vietnam Museum of Ethnology)
  • Don’s Tây Hồ (A Chef’s Bistro)
  • Hỏa Lò (Hoa Lo Prison or “Hanoi Hilton”)
  • Dinner at Essence Café and Restaurant
Jog around the lake...

Jog around the lake…

Our epic night of sleep apparently didn’t do us any good – jet lag still had it’s hold on us.  So…after lying wide awake in the wee hours of the morning, Jonathan and I decided to go for a run.  Since we were staying in the old quarter we decided to head out towards Hoan Kiem Lake.  We may have been the only ones up due to jet lag but definitely not the only ones who happened to be out exercising.  In the early hazy hours of the morning, you will find crowds of people at the lake.  Some doing yoga, some Tai Chi, and others jogging along beside us.

Vietnamese coffee post run.  Our only defense against the 12 hour time zone difference...and well, it's simply addicting.

Vietnamese coffee post run. Our only defense against the 12 hour time zone difference…and well, it’s simply addicting.

Bảo Tàng Dân Tộc Học Việt Nam (Vietnam Museum of Ethnology)

The great thing about being on vacation means that you don’t have to follow a schedule.  The downfall is without proper planning and scheduling you just might miss some things.  We had planned to start out our day at the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum.  Despite our early morning run, we took our time getting ready and enjoying breakfast.  By the time we arrived, the line was epic and it was raining.  We didn’t come all this way to spend an afternoon soaked and waiting in line…so we improvised.

We hopped in a cab and headed to the Vietnam Museum of Ethnology.  Glad we did!  The museum, although small, had much to offer in the way of learning about the culture and makeup of the Vietnamese people.  The museum highlights the tremendous amount of ethnic groups the are the backbone of the country.  I learned so much and it was a great way to escape the nonstop drizzle.

Don’s Tây Hồ (A Chef’s Bistro)

Oyster bar and views of the lake.  Yes please.  For lunch, we headed away from old quarter and towards West Lake.  Here you will find a less populated and more relaxing area to unwind.  Don’s Tay Ho has an eclectic mix of modern and traditional Vietnamese food as well as some international dishes that draw in an array of locals and tourists alike.  We sat down and devoured a lunch that would have probably fed a group of four.

Lunch overlooking West Lake

Lunch overlooking West Lake

 

Hỏa Lò (Hoa Lo Prison or “Hanoi Hilton”)

I was intrigued by this place…any prison that has Hilton in it’s nickname seems worthy of a visit.  Maybe that’s just me; I do love sarcasm.  This prison was a bit creepy but didn’t leave you with the skin-crawling sensation you can get from such sites (I happen to like that). However, it was interesting to learn about the history of the museum and the people that were once imprisoned there.  As we walked through and I was taking it all in, it became very clear that much of the information presented to the visitors appeared biased.  Bothersome but still worthwhile.  I was quite excited to see the guillotine room.  I can’t really explain why this was appealing but it was…I also found the artifacts and media covering John McCain’s imprisonment interesting (he was held as a POW at Hỏa Lò Prison in 1967).

Hỏa Lò Prison

Hỏa Lò Prison

 

Dinner at Essence Café and Restaurant

Surprisingly enough, we were able to muster up more energy to shower and head out to dinner.  Glad we did too because we had a fantastic dinner.  Essence Restaurant is ranked number two on Trip Advisor for restaurants in Hanoi.  You can expect great service and authentic Vietnamese food… and a long wait time if you don’t make a reservation.

Essence Restaurant in Old Quarter

Essence Restaurant in Old Quarter

Want to read more about this trip, check out Part Two

Help Me Plan Our Vacation!

Hanoi & Halong Bay, Vietnam

Have you been to Vietnam?  Ever traveled to Hanoi or Halong Bay?  Do you live in one of these areas?  If so, I would love your insider tips!  Jonathan and I are leaving big city life behind for a bit and dusting off our suitcases for another trip to Asia.

We love good food, unusual experiences, and more off-the-beaten-path kind of ideas.  If you have an idea, I would love to hear it!  Please give us your tips/secrets/advice below in the reply/comment section.  If you are viewing the link from my homepage, then you must find the ‘leave a comment’ tab to make the comment box open.   If we happen to go with one of your suggestions, I will be certain to connect with you after our trip to share our experience.

Here are the details that may help you narrow down your suggestions:

  • We are there for one week
  • We already have a hotel in Hanoi booked (in the Old Quarter)
  • We plan to travel from Hanoi to Halong Bay for an overnight boating experience

All my best,

Miranda

Eleven Madison Park

For a gourmet wine is not a drink but a condiment, provided that your host has chosen correctly. – Edouard De Pomaine

Eleven Madison Park

May 2013

The Surprise

It was the eve of my latest birthday.  Jonathan and I were meandering through Madison Square Park on our way to my surprise dinner he had planned.  Our taxi had dropped us off several blocks west of the park and as we were walking and chatting away, I was racking my brain; thinking of all the restaurants in a half mile radius that we might be heading towards.  Gramercy Tavern?  Three blocks south, but we were heading east.  Hanjan?  Two blocks northwest…not it.  Blue Hill?  Close, but too far south to walk comfortably in my pencil skirt and stilettos; he would have certainly taken us closer to the place by taxi.  ABC Kitchen?  Kin Shop?  Where on the earth are we going?  I didn’t actually say any of the above aloud because this man does not divulge any hints or clues to his surprises…never, never ever.

It wasn’t until we stopped for a moment to watch a live filming of Sesame Street that it all dawned on me.  I looked at Jonathan and asked if he thought they always film in Madison Square Park.  When I said those last three words, I heard this echo in my brain.. Madison Square Park, Madison Square Park, holy moly!!  We are going to Eleven Madison Park!!!  One block east…the direction we had been heading all along.  I could see the entrance.  I wanted to scream to all around me that I just guessed where I’m having dinner.  That would just be totally wrong because if you know anything about NYC parks…you can scream anything you like and no one is going to acknowledge you, I would seem like a spoiled asshole AND the other reason I couldn’t scream it… Jonathan has this thing, if I guess right on any surprise or present then I don’t get it.  Not that I really think he would ever do such a thing but there was no way in hell that I was going to jeopardize this chance to dine at Eleven Madison Park!

A Birthday Dinner to Remember

A Birthday Dinner to Remember

The Experience

Walking into EMP is like walking into a spacious art gallery except instead of gazing at art you are gazing at the wait staff, completely dumbfounded by how they just appear and disappear when needed.  They are everywhere but nowhere.  It is honestly quite extraordinary.  Diners were greatly outnumbered by the staff.  But the beauty of this is that you never ever have to wait for a thing and they seem to be completely invisible until your face gives a look as if you may be thinking you want something…and poof!  Like magic they appear before you even confirmed to yourself that you really needed to ask that dying question or that you would like another glass of wine.

And the real experience…the best I’ve ever eaten, hands down.  Arguably my favorite fine dining experience and easy to see how Chef Daniel Humm has been awarded the highest of all honors; three Michelin stars.

Every course was a testament to how beautifully balanced and layered flavors can make any ordinary dish explode.  Even the most delicate of all dishes, an oyster, was intensely flavored with simple wood sorrel and buckwheat.  In a city with many extraordinarily talented chefs, you might wonder what makes EMP so special.  Amongst many things, the two most evident reasons that EMP should be on any gourmand’s to-do list are the locally sourced ingredients that inspire the menu and the theatrical experience of dining here.

Eleven Madison Park’s menu is created from a love of New York.  It’s hard to believe that with 16 courses, almost everything on the menu can be found on a farm or a shop nearby.  Even the cheese on the 11th course (a picnic basket filled with pretzels, mustard, beer and cheese) was aged in the caves of the famous NYC cheese shop, Murray’s, in West Village.

Having been lucky enough to dine at many highly acclaimed restaurants, I’m familiar with the little things that restaurants do to surprise their diners or showcase their food.  What I wasn’t prepared for during this meal was how entertaining each course was in the way it was presented to us.  At some points our table was full of a mist from a table top clam bake, later we were watching our carrots being hand-driven through a meat grinder and near the end of our meal I was beyond delighted to dig into my picnic basket to discover one of my favorite cheeses.  This style of presentation has serious potential to come off as artificial and overdone but that was certainly not the case.  We enjoyed every moment and was impressed by all the details put in creating and presenting each course.

Our Menu

Course One

Cheddar Savory Black & White Cookie with Apple

CHEDDAR
Savory Black & White Cookie with Apple

Course Two

Oyster Wood Sorrel, Buckwheat, & Mignonette

OYSTER
Wood Sorrel, Buckwheat, & Mignonette

Course Three

Asparagus Custard with Caviar & Rhubarb

ASPARAGUS
Custard with Caviar & Rhubarb

course3b.jpg

Course Four

Surf Clam Fava Bean, Meyer Lemon, & Green Garlic

SURF CLAM
Fava Bean, Meyer Lemon, & Green Garlic

Course Five

Littleneck Clam Clambake with Whelk, Parker House Roll, & Chowder

LITTLENECK CLAM
Clambake with Whelk, Parker House Roll, & Chowder

Course5b.jpg

course5c.jpg

Bread & Butter

Rolls Bacon Fat Butter & Goat's Milk Butter

ROLLS
Bacon Fat Butter & Goat’s Milk Butter

course5e.jpg

Course Six

Foie Gras Terrine with Black Truffle & Asparagus

FOIE GRAS
Terrine with Black Truffle & Asparagus

Course Seven

Carrot Tartare with Rye Bread & Condiments

CARROT
Tartare with Rye Bread & Condiments

course7b.jpg

Course Eight

Lobster Poached with Snap Peas, Morels, & Sweetbreads (my favorite course)

LOBSTER
Poached with Snap Peas, Morels, & Sweetbreads
(my favorite course)

In Preparation of... Showcasing the beef that will come two courses later

In Preparation of…
Showcasing the beef that will come two courses later

Course Nine

Nettles Creamed with Fingerling Potato and Goat Cheese

NETTLES
Creamed with Fingerling Potato and Goat Cheese

Amuse Bouche

Beef Broth

BEEF BROTH

Course Ten

Beef Grilled with Mushrooms, Amaranth, & Bone Marrow

BEEF
Grilled with Mushrooms, Amaranth, & Bone Marrow

Course Eleven

Greensward Pretzel, Mustard, & Dried Fruit with Ithaca Beer Company's Picnic Basket Ale

GREENSWARD
Pretzel, Mustard, & Dried Fruit with Ithaca Beer Company’s Picnic Basket Ale

Cheese A washed rind also arrived with the picnic basket (my second favorite)

CHEESE
A washed rind also arrived with the picnic basket
(my second favorite course)

Course Twelve

MALT Egg Cream with Vanilla & Seltzer

MALT
Egg Cream with Vanilla & Seltzer

Course12a.jpg

Course Thirteen

SPECIAL REQUEST At the beginning of the meal I asked for a dessert course that would pair well with a stout. I don't recall the ingredients but remember it was a winning combo!

SPECIAL REQUEST
At the beginning of the meal I asked for a dessert course that would pair well with a stout. I don’t recall the ingredients but remember it was a winning combo!

course13b.jpg

Course Fourteen

SHEEP'S MILK Cheesecake with Mango & Peanut...and a birthday candle!

SHEEP’S MILK
Cheesecake with Mango & Peanut…and a birthday candle!

Course Fifteen (Not pictured)

Pretzel

Chocolate Covered with Sea Salt

Course Sixteen

CHOCOLATE Sweet Black & White Cookie with Apricot

CHOCOLATE
Sweet Black & White Cookie with Apricot

Wine Pairing

I selected my quote for this post to make a point and unfortunately, EMP missed the mark on this one.  Wine here was an afterthought, not a condiment.

As wine lovers, we opted for the wine pairing for each course.  It was the only letdown of the evening.  Just like the food, the wine is selected based upon your likes and dislikes.  I told the sommelier that I was not a fan of many white wines but was open to them if he thought that the selected wine was a perfect pairing.  Only three courses turned out to be served with red wine and not one course that was paired with white was a homerun in my opinion.  If I had to do it all over again, I would have ordered a wine that I knew I would love and forget about the pairings.  There’s nothing like experiencing a moment when the combination of food and wine is more grand than the individual components but that did not happen here with my dinner.  For these reasons, I would not suggest a pairing unless you; are not a fan of red wine, don’t want to be bothered with selecting your own wine, or you are new to wine and want to learn a bit during dinner.

Final Thoughts

In my opinion, Eleven Madison Park is worth traveling to New York City just for this one experience.  At $195 a person (wine pairing and gratuity not included), it is an indulgence that most will find hard to partake in.  If you can swing it, do it.  I believe it will be one of your best dining experiences ever…as I said, it is my all-time favorite to date.

Special thanks to my amazing husband, the man who first ignited my passion for good food and fine dining.  You fill my life with so much joy and always make the best dinner partner.  To many more  amazing experiences to come!

xoxo,

Miranda

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

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!

There is no surer bond of friendship than an identity of community of ideas and tastes. ~ Cicero

Taste ‘Buds’

Me & Tara stopping for a pretzel during the wedding day shoot..It was a joke but very much our character to do so!

Me & Tara stopping for a pretzel during the wedding day shoot..It was a joke but very much our character to do so!

If you are passionate about many things it’s highly likely that you keep company with similarly passionate people.  I know just who to call when I want to go out for an adventurous meal, a 90 minute yoga class, or find the ‘perfect’ outfit.  And if you’re lucky like I am – you have that one friend who is always up for anything, really…anything!

This post is dedicated to just that person!  My lovely and beautiful friend, Tara.  She is truly the epitome of a girl’s best friend.  She’s one of those people who are just so genuine, kind, and loving that it doesn’t seem humanly possible.  She is purely kind-hearted and thoughtful, a self-sacrificing person – the last being her only downfall in that she sometimes puts others before her when she should come first.

If that makes her sound saintly, then here’s the rest to reassure you that she is human just like the rest of us.  Tara is also that crazy fun friend that you find yourself having boatloads of margaritas, martinis, whiskey, wine, or really any interesting concoctions until 3am.  French dining at 4am.  Hours in dressing rooms and buying nothing.  Random shots of olive oil and salt while searching for diet Coke in a sea of diet Pepsi.  Tomato browsing.  Midnight plunges into the ocean.  Bubble gum as shoe glue.  Pantyhose as leggings…

I could go on but then I’m missing the point of this post.  Tara not only is my best friend but she is also one damn good taste ‘bud’.

The Chew

The week of my wedding, Tara got us tickets to ABC’s show, The Chew.  To be honest, until she told me we were going together, I had never heard of it.  But from a quick google search and some DVR’ing, I caught myself up on what to expect.  The two of us love food!  We could talk about food for hours.  It’s kind of bizarre how excited we get just describing things we have eaten or want to eat.  So this show was a perfect fit for us…and a very sweet gift for a kick off before the final days leading to my wedding.

I am on the left behind Mario's head and Tara is on the right...

I am on the left behind Mario’s head and Tara is on the right…

The Chew is hosted by Iron Chef America’s Mario Batali and Michael Symon, Top Chef’s Carla Hall, What Not to Wear’s Clinton Kelly (who introduces the guests and welcomes everyone to the show) and Dr. Mehmet Oz’s daughter, author and wellness enthusiast Daphne Oz.  I was most excited to see Clinton Kelly in person…I actually told him I wanted to miniaturize him and put him in my back pocket to keep with me everywhere I go.  I immediately realized how psychotic that sounded and was thankful that he laughed without being creeped out.

As you can see from the above photograph (taken by my very kind friend, Kat, who sat through the whole show just to see a few glimpses of us at the end of the hour) we were invited to sit at the tasting table.  I believe we shrieked and did a few fist pumps as a reply…yep, we were that lame but it was all we could talk about on the way there and we were chosen!  This episode was themed, “Battle of the Iron Grandmas”…check out the four-minute clip, we are featured quite a bit in this segment since we are behind Mama T. & Mario.

So the show can seem quite a bit corny at times and really isn’t one that I would regularly add to my DVR line-up but it was truly a fun experience and I’m so happy I got to share it with Tara.  What an unforgettable time and a brilliant way to start the final countdown to my wedding.

Behind the Scenes

Almost showtime!

Almost showtime!

Waiting for Mario's lobster rolls at the tasting table!

Waiting for Mario’s lobster rolls at the tasting table!

Top Chef Carla interacts with the audience after the show

Top Chef Carla interacts with the audience after the show

Clinton Kelly is just as sweet and adorable in person as he appears on television

Clinton Kelly is just as sweet and adorable in person as he appears on television

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)

Embrace the detours.  – Author unknown

VIS, CROATIA

July 24 – 27, 2012

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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.

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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

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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…