Four days in the Crescent City: Bon Temps à la Nouvelle-Orléans

Its been many years since our first and only previous trip to New Orleans the Crescent City on the Mississippi River. Although Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and other events have done their best to change the tone and look of this city, the only obvious change is the high-rise towers lining Canal Street from the riverside toward the Superdome.  What hasn’t changed is the look and feel of the French Quarter (Quartier Français), also known as the Vieux Carré (Old Square), and the optimistic resilience of the people of New Orleans.

St. Louis Cathedral viewed through Jackson Square (L.Compisi)

Beginning with our Lyft driver, Anthony, our January visit was filled with kind, generous and helpful people who seemed to want to do everything in their power to make us feel welcomed and joyful. Laissez le bon temps rouler, Cajun French for ‘let the good times roll’, is more than a saying in this wonderful party town.  Anthony made sure we knew that the locals had shaken-off (but not forgotten) the grievous missed call in the NFL Saints Division Championship game with the LA Rams just the week before.  Signs for ‘We love you Saints’ and ‘Geaux Saints’ were all over the city and the Superdome. Anthony also told us the two best places to enjoy fried chicken. More about that later.

What to do:

There is so much to see, do and hear in the City of New Orleans. We began day one by walking from our hotel to Jackson Square a uniquely beautiful park with the Cathedral of St. Louis on one side and the levees of the Mississippi on the riverside. During any day you will find colorfully painted carriages pulled by mules lined-up awaiting their passengers. The 60-minute ride is $40 and is not private as the driver will try to get at least 6 people aboard.  

Day or night a stroll along Bourbon Street is an eye-opener. During this visit we were surprised to see so much of the street under construction. The project is multi-phased to improve water, sewer and other utility services from Canal Street to Dumaine Street with all businesses remaining open and accessible throughout. Work is to be completed by July 2019. No worries however as the contractor will completely demobilize all labor and materials, including fencing, from the site and temporarily backfill any trenches by the close of business on February 17, two weeks in advance of Mardi Gras, to minimize pedestrian and vehicular traffic disruption. The work will resume operations on March 7, 2019.

Talented street performers on Royal St. blew us away (L.Compisi)

Jackson Square, named for General Andrew Jackson, the victor of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1960, for its central role in the city’s history, and as the site where in 1803 Louisiana was made United States territory when Thomas Jefferson and Napoleon Bonaparte consummated the deal known as the Louisiana Purchase. The square is a haven today for artists and performers. Some of the art is very good and you might find something you didn’t know you needed and can’t live without, like a painting of a wine glass and wine bottle with your own personal label on it. Of course, they will pack and ship it where ever you want.

Jackson Square (photo courtesy of Visit New Orleans)

Since 1727 New Orleanians have worshiped in churches on the site of St. Louis Cathedral on the square (later named Jackson Square). The current (2nd) church was completed in December 1794 and established as a Cathedral for the newly created Diocese of Louisiana and the Floridas.

View from the choir loft St. Louis Cathedral (Courtesy their website)

There are walking tours, swamp tours, cemetery tours, jazz tours, history tours, Street Car Tours and Voodoo tours among the wide range of attractions and distractions in this city of visitors. We took the Historical Riverboat Cruise on the Mississippi aboard the Creole Queen, a paddle boat, with a stop at the, Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and the historic Chalmette Battlefield, scene of the decisive Battle of New Orleans during the War of 1812. The 2.5-hour cruise and tour were informative and picturesque. The on-board guide, Dr. Wendell, was very knowledgeable and the boat offered dining and beverage options. The seafood gumbo and jambalaya with andouille sausage were both very good.

Where to dine:

We arrived in the early evening from northern California and wanted something to eat close by our hotel. The concierge recommended two places in the Quarter, Acme Oyster House and Oceana Grill but both had longlines. We settled on Mr. B’s Bistro on the corner of Royal and Iberville streets.  We were not disappointed with the modern Louisiana Cuisine operated by Cindy Brennan, one of many restaurants in New Orleans operated by the family. After drinks we began our culinary adventure with Gumbo Ya Ya, featuring super-dark roux and spicy chicken and andouille gumbo. I say Ya-Ya!! We also shared the Seafood Gumbo, classic New Orleans Gumbo with Gulf shrimp, crabmeat, oysters and okra. We actually like this even more then the Ya Ya. All in all, a perfect start.

Acme Oyster House Menu (L.Compisi)

Our first full day began at Café du Monde, a New Orleans staple since it first opened in 1862. There are 8 locations around greater New Orleans but the original is the most fun. Tourists and locals alike seem to enjoy the Beignets and chicory coffee and the vibe. (TIP: Customers can wait in a line that snakes its way down Decatur Street (the original location) or go around back to the much shorter ‘to go’ window.) A great place to sit and people watch and a must do, a least once.

Beignets and Cafe au Lait with Chickory (L.Compisi)
Cafe Du Monde lined up (L.Compisi)

We concluded our first evening with a birthday dinner at Doris Metropolitan, a Middle Eastern influenced steak house awarded New Orleans Best New Restaurant in 2014. The dry aged beef, especially the 34-ounce Porterhouse and the 18-ounce Rib-eye were off-the-wall tender, flavor filled and delicious. The wine list was extensive with wines from all over the world. We were impressed. Expensive but worth the price.

We decided to try Acme Oyster House for lunch on our second day, a Tuesday. Got there just before the lunch hour and walked right in. (TIP: Arriving early for lunch or dinner can avoid lines.) The menu was replete with Louisiana and Cajun delectable. Linda had the softshell crab sandwich and was very happy. I had the New Orleans Medley which was a sampling of gumbo, jambalaya, red beans & rice and grilled smoked sausage. Perfect! Prices ranged from $6 – $17 for lunch items. Very reasonable and delicious.

We were fortunate to have a local friend, Tim McNally, host of the New Orleans Dine, Wine & Spirits Show on radio station WGSO, 990 AM to join us for dinner with his food and wine writer spouse Brenda. Tim suggested  Trenasse which was across the street from our hotel. Eschewing the menu, Tim and Brenda ordered a dozen raw oysters on the half shell and paired that with a bottle Philippe Fourrier Brut Champagne that they brought along. In fact, Tim and Brenda brought four bottles of wine, each more delightful than the last, including a wonderful 2016 Sancerre from Chateau de Thauvenay and Thierry Delauney Sauvignon Blanc. After the raw oysters were history, Brenda asked the kitchen to bring out the Trenasse ‘Log’, a platter of oysters All Ways supplemented with fried frog’s legs. The ‘all ways’ included Rockefeller, Bienville, Smoked with gruyere and pancetta and Au gratin. A feast for the eyes and the palate. A New Orleans treat.

Raw Oysters at Trenasse (L.Compisi)
Oysters All Ways (L.Compisi)

Recalling that our Lyft driver Anthony had mentioned the best place for fried chicken, the first was ‘Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen’ and the other was Willie Mae’s Scotch House. The Popeye’s (named after Popeye Doyle, a character in the 1971 movie ‘The French Connection’ not the comic book character) recommendation was repeated no less than 5 times over our brief stay but we opted for a place that was not a chain restaurant, so Willie Mae’s it was.

Willie Mae’s for Fried Chicken (L.Compisi)

Located ‘Uptown’ in the historic Treme neighborhood about a 20-minute walk from Bourbon Street, Willie Mae’s is located in a seemingly down-on its-luck residential part of town. Immediate upon entering the aromas of Louisiana cuisine fill your nostrils. Originally opened in 1957, the restaurant is run today by Kerry Seaton Stewart, the great-granddaughter of Ms. Willie Mae Seaton, who was honored in 2005 with the James Beard Award for “America’s Classic Restaurant for the Southern Region.”

Chicken Fingers
Willie Mae’s – (L.Compisi)
Fried Chicken with Brussels Sprouts – Willie Mae’s (L.Compisi)

Having been to New Orleans so long ago, we decided to return to the Commander’s Palace, where legends Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme made their names, to see if it had maintained its reputation. Another Brennan family eatery since 1974, we were not disappointed.  Located in the Garden District and operating since 1893, this converted residence has long been the go-to destination for Haute Creole cuisine. The Brown Butter Seared Diver Scallops were perfectly moist with a mouthwatering caramelization on the outside. My Filet Mignon of Black Angus Beef was cooked to perfection and was very flavorful. We finished with the Creole Bread Pudding Soufflé “The Queen of Creole Desserts”. High on the Yum factor scale. No surprise that the Commander’s Palace has been awarded seven James Beard Foundation Awards.

Commander’s Palace Menu (L.Compisi)
Brown Butter Seared Scallops (L.Compisi)

Our last culinary opportunities were on our day of departure. Having competing desires, we tried two different places for lunch. Linda wanted gumbo and chose Willie’s Chicken Shack (7 locations in NOLA but we went to the one on Decatur in the Quarter). I couldn’t leave without a
muffuletta from the Central Grocery, founded in 1906 by Sicilian immigrant Salvatore Lupo, and originator of this delicious sandwich. We were both very pleased with our ‘last meal’ in NOLA.

Where to enjoy an adult beverage:

The Hurricane cocktails at Pat Obrien’s in the Quarter are a New Orleans tradition (over 85 years in the Quarter) to be experienced. The drinks (mostly rum) are reasonably priced and quite delicious. Keep to one for your own safety. They charge $4 for the glass but you can turn it in at the bar and get your $4 back.

Pat O’Briens Courtyard (L.Compisi)
Hurricane anyone? (L.Compisi)

The Carousel Bar & Lounge, a circus-clad Merry-Go-Round, in the Hotel Monteleone has been spinning for 65 years and is a long-time favorite New Orleans (NOLA for short) watering hole. The Carousel Bar is the city’s only revolving bar and it is a challenge to get one of the 25 seats. If you’re patient and a bit persistent the seats do open up. bright.

Carousel Bar at the Hotel Monteleone (L.Compisi)

Situated on Decatur Street and just a couple blocks off Jackson Square, the Crescent City Brewhouse, opened in 1991 becoming both Louisiana’s and New Orleans first brew pub. The menu consists of some credible Cajun and Louisiana cuisine and most importantly some excellent brews. I thought the Red Stallion, malty and aromatic, was a delicious medium bodied brew.

Crescent City Brewhouse (L.Compisi)

Luke, designed as a Creole-inspired Brasserie, has a good happy hour every afternoon and great French press coffee in the morning. We enjoyed bartender-created specialty cocktails on a couple of occasions. A very good place to begin and end your day. Luke is located at the Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles

Great cocktails – Dark and Storm (L.Compisi)

Where to stay:

We stayed at the Hilton New Orleans/St. Charles which was originally constructed in 1926 as the Louisiana Masonic Temple. One of New Orleans’ first skyscrapers, the historic 18-story structure remained the Masonic Temple until 2000 when it became a Kimpton Hotel. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina caused the existing Kimpton Hotel to close with flood waters in the basement and first floor. In 2007, the historic landmark reopened as the Hilton New Orleans St. Charles Avenue and remains a distinguished treasure of Louisiana and a member of the Historic Hotels of America. The rooms were large and reasonable priced, being just outside the Quarter, with a very convenient location.

How to get to the French Quarter from the Airport:

The Quarter is approximately 25 minutes’ drive by car from Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport.  Uber and Lyft are both easily available and easily accessible at a shared ride central point in the airport parking lot.

There is so much to do in New Orleans and, despite the length of this posting, we have only covered our brief visit. Time for you to find your own Bon Temps!!

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Posted in Adult Beverages, Adventure, Amazing Sights, Culinary, Restaurants, Travel, Travel USA | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

La Soirée: French Elegance In San Francisco

The 37th Edition of the French-American Gastronomy & Wine show, ”La Soirée: Couture Garden Party“, was an elegant and delightful event last Friday night at The Design Center of San Francisco. Exquisite food, outstanding wines, an eye popping venue and a sultry dance party were de rigueur at this annual fund raising event for the French-American Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco (FACCSF). About 1,000 partiers attended this sold out, exceptionally well organized and perfectly executed event showcasing the crème de la crème of French and Californian wine, food and business.

The event made great use of the Design Centers Atrium style (L.Compisi)

The event included a VIP Cocktail Experience on the third floor, an online auction and walk around wine and food tasting that spanned the main floor and the second-floor mezzanine.

View of the main floor and booths from the mezzanine (L.Compisi)

The VIP Experience offered guests the opportunity to spend a privileged moment with wine experts from the most renowned wineries of Wine Country and several renowned Chefs like Claude Le Tohic, the James Beard Foundation Best Chef Southwest in 2010, Roland Passot, of San Francisco’s La Folie and named James Beard Best Chef in California 2005-2007, and Ken Frank, owner/chef of La Toque, a Michelin Starred restaurant in Napa. Wine experts included Jean-Noel Fourmeaux, of St. Helena’s VGS Chateau Potelle, Alexandre Remy, Winemaker, Atlas Wine Vineyard Management Co and Orobello and Pauline Lhote, Director of Winemaking, Domaine Chandon among others.

JCB offered Vodka and cavier on the VIP level (L.Compisi)
Illegitimate a Paso Robles Wine by Chateau Potelle (L.Compisi)

A selection of restaurants, delicatessens, boulangeries, caterers, wine shops and wineries showcased their specialties and delighted everyone’s eyes and palates.Fine appetizers, wines, cheeses, cooked meat, salmon, charcuterie, crepes,pastries, macaroons and other buffet desserts were enjoyed by all.

Fournée Bakery stood out (L.Compisi)

Culinary highlights included Liberty Duck from Sonoma Poultry, Salmon Mousse by Cathy of Saveur Provence, cheeses from Fabrique Délices and charcuterie offered by Jean-Charles Boisset’s Atelier among so many others!

Chef spoons his special sauce on the Liberty Duck from Sonoma Poultry (L.Compisi

Some chefs, like Chef Ken Frank, La Toque, prepared each bite of Steak Tartare before your very eyes.

Chef Ken Frank of La Toque (L.Compisi)

It was delicious fun to wander from booth to booth to discover new culinary experiences. The decor and the ambiance of the Design Center’s multi-floor exhibit hall added just the right touch of charm to the evening. The lighting was magical!

Lighting was exceptional a visual feast at La Soirée (L.Compisi)

FACCSF Executive Director, Laurence Fabre and her team of volunteers, flawlessly executed the overall Gastronomy and Wine event. Laurence stated, “The FACCSF is proud to organize the largest event dedicated to French-American gastronomy and wine in the entire bay area. Our small team of dedicated people and volunteers organized all the logistics for the food and wine tastings and welcomed over 1,000 participants for our 37th fundraiser”.

Executive Director Laurence Fabre (r) and DJ Aykut (l) glam for the camera (L.Compisi)

The wines offered throughout the three venues included both French and California brands. Scharffenberger, VGS Château Potelle, Boisset Collection, Domaine Chandon, Stama and several others.

Santenay by Louis Latour (L.Compisi)
Sparkling Scharffenberger from Mendocino – Anderson Valley (L.Compisi

Demonstrating the exceptional organization and planning, the entire booth arrangement on the main floor was dismantled and removed in 15 minutes to allow the dance party to begin promptly at 10pm. The party, with DJ Aykut driving the techno sounds, kept the enthusiastic dancers moving and happy. Revelers danced to the music while enjoying the sparkling open bar until 1:00 am! A fabulous night!

Revelers danced the evening away (L.Compisi)

French-American Chamber of Commerce San Francisco is a non-profit, non-governmental, 100% independent, member driven organization, made by companies for companies with the mission to foster the French-American business community and support businesses in their settlement and development in the Bay Area. The FACCSF has 300 members across the Bay Area. Aside from the SF organization there are 19 other French-American Chambers in the United States including New York, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, New Orleans, Atlanta, Dallas and Washington D.C.

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Culinary, France, French Wines, Provence, Restaurants, San Francisco, Wine, Wine Events | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Falling Back in Love with Merlot – Masters of Merlot Tasting

For about a decade now Merlot has been out of favor among the average wine drinker. Some suggest that the 2004 cult film Sideways caused this downfall in favor of Pinot Noir, Miles’ (Paul Giamatti) favorite.

The 8 Merlots offered by Mt. Brave, Pahlmeyer, Duckhorn and Freemark Abbey (L.Compisi)

Experts in the field tell a different story. Merlot, they say, was riding a wave of popularity as the more approachable (and less expensive) Bordeaux varietal for sipping or pairing with foods that were not screaming Cabernet Sauvignon.  This wide popularity caused many vineyards to be replanted to Merlot, even where they shouldn’t have been, to meet the demand and cash in.  This, they say, resulted in a glut of bad Merlot well before the movie.  In fact, perhaps all this bad Merlot was why Miles was so vehement in his rejecting ‘another g-damn Merlot’.

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Anthony Giglio (l) introduces his four panelists (L.Compisi)

Well, last week’s Masters of Merlot seminar and walk around tasting at the Culinary Institute of America’s Copia facility reignited our love affair with some very high-quality, reasonably priced, Merlot from Napa, Sonoma and other regions on the West Coast. The Seminar was moderated by well-known wine and spirits aficionado Anthony Giglio, whose moniker “WineWiseGuy” carries multiple good meanings.

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They all looked great through the wine glass (L.Compisi)

The panelists were a Napa “Who’s Who” of winemakers and viticulturalists.  Chris Carpenter, Winemaker, Mt. Brave and LaJota Vineyard Co.; Cleo Pahlmeyer, President of Pahlmeyer Winery; P.J. Alviso, VP of Winegrowing, Duckhorn Vineyards and Ted Edwards, Winemaker Freemark Abbey. Each of the panelists brought two outstanding Merlots for our tasting and took time to describe where the grapes originated, the harvest particulars and offered tasting notes on each.

From left: Chris Carpenter, Cleo Pahlmeyer, P.J. Alviso and Ted Edwards

All eight of the wines at the seminar where vintage 2015 and included some iconic labels like the Three Palms Vineyard Merlot from Duckhorn and the Bosché Vineyard Merlot from Freemark. Some of the eight were 100% Merlot while others contained various blends with Cabernet Sauvignon being the most consistent blending grape. Other varieties included Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. All these wines were rich and luxurious with a velvety mouth feel. In other words exquisite. The red fruit was always present and the wines were full-bodied.  The seminar ended with a delightful Q&A period including questions about the 2015 vintage and the favorite Merlots the panelists enjoyed besides their own.

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The media/industry reps were intent on the presentations (L.Compisi)

The Seminar was followed by a walk-around tasting with the addition of approximately 16 other wineries including some from Sonoma County, Paso Robles and Walla Walla Washington.  Favorites of those for us were Charles Krug, Trefethen Family Vineyards (both of Napa), Matanzas Creek (Sonoma County), J. Lohr (Paso Robles) and L’Ecole (Walla Walla). These wines often mirrored the quality and delicious flavor profiles of those from the seminar telling us that ‘Merlot is back’.

Matanzas Creek, Duckhorn and 18 other wineries participated in the walk  around tasting (L.Compisi)

If Merlot fell out of favor with you then perhaps you will take our recent experience and jump back into the Merlot market. If you have never been a fan of Merlot, we suggest you reconsider this noble grape. Its fruit forward flavors and lower tannins, compared to Cabernet, make it perfect wine with food or by itself, especially as we enter the cooler months of Autumn and Winter.

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No surprise here (L.Compisi)

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Posted in Adventure, Historic, Napa Valley, Sonoma County, Travel, Wine, Wine Country, Wine Events | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Dubrovnik: Croatia’s Pearl

After leaving Mostar and Bosnia-Herzegovina we drove back to the coast and made our way south to the Pearl of the Adriatic, Dubrovnik. From the hills above looking down on this sparkling city by the sea you have no doubt where this historic city got its nickname.

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The Pearl of the Adriatic: Dubrovnik. (L.Compisi)

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Early morning along the main boulevard inside the walls. (L.Compisi)

Few regions of the world have had the fortune, or misfortune to be directly affected by so many great dynasties or empires in its history. Dubrovnik (and Croatia at large) counts the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, the Byzantine Empire, the French (Napoleon), the Austro-Hungarian Empire among its masters and influencers over the centuries. It was also on the main land route from western Europe to the Middle East and Jerusalem. Dubrovnik, Ragusa in the language of Rome, carried the name the Republic of Ragusa for several centuries until 1808 and the Kingdom of Dalmatia for another century. The Venetian influence is particularly observable in the architecture of this amazing place.

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The narrow interior alleys hide special treasures. (L.Compisi)

Upon entering the old walled-city it feels like a small town. Very hard to picture its importance as a major maritime power rivaling Venice and Ancona 500 years earlier wielding the 3rd largest Navy in the Mediterranean with only these two larger. The walls were constructed between the 14th and 15th centuries.

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The amazing tiled roofs from the walk along the walls (L.Compisi)

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The city plan, always useful. (L.Compisi)

In 1979, UNESCO listed the city of Dubrovnik as a World Heritage site offering the city the prestige, protections and funding needed to assist in necessary restorations and maintenance.

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The medieval harbor from above. (L.Compisi)

Dubrovnik was a center of innovation and modern thinking even in the middle ages establishing medical services (1301AD), the first pharmacy (1317AD still operating today) and an orphanage (1432AD). The Republic of Ragusa was even involved in diplomacy and trade with the American Colonies as early as 1771 and later with the American revolutionaries when they entered into a trade agreement in 1776 with the United States. The Americans agreed to allow their ships free passage into American ports.

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The crowds pick up after 11am. Get an early start. (L.Compisi)

More recently, in 1991, the city of Dubrovnik was laid to siege for 7 months during the Yugoslav Wars (1991-2001). Nearly 60% of its buildings were damaged, in some way, by the 650 artillery rounds that landed within its walls. Little of this is visible now 25 plus years later thanks to the vibrancy of its residents.

Sights of interest:

The Church of St. Basile, the patron saint of Dubrovnik and the protector of the Republic of Ragusa, is a beautiful Baroque Church with a large plaza in front of it. The church was built in 1715 by the Venetian architect and sculptor Marino Gropelli.

St. Blaise Church

The Church of St. Basile, Patron Saint of Dubrovnik (L.Compisi)

The Dubrovnik Marina gives you the sense of living in the middle ages with its protected harbor just outside the walls of the city. Also to enjoy is the walk around the wall which takes about an hour depending upon the number of people walking. It’s just about a mile in circumference.

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From sea level the harbor evokes thoughts of Venice (L.Compisi)

 

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The walk along the wall takes about an hour – depending on traffic. (L.Compisi)

The Church of St. Ignatius of Loyola is also worth a visit. We took the amazing stairs, designed by the Roman architect Pietro Passalacque in 1738 to look like the Spanish Steps in Rome, which lead to St Ignatius Church adjacent to the famous Jesuit school Collegium Ragusinum. The Church of St Ignatius is the work of the famed Jesuit architect and painter Ignazio Pozzo, who worked on the church from 1699 to 1703. The church was completed in 1725 and opened in 1729.

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The Church of St. Ignatius offers beautiful frescoes. (L.Compisi)

You must find the Buža Bar (Buža = Hole in the Wall) while in Dubrovnik. It is the only bar outside the walls on the seaside of the city and offers drinks only – no food.  The views are delightful, if you can find it.

Just outside the walls is the Fortress St. Lawrence (Fort Lovrijenaca), sometimes referred to as Dubrovnik’s ‘Gibraltar’. The fortress includes a theater and is outside the western wall of the city. Historically, this fort was originally constructed in less than 90 days by the residence of the Republic of Ragusa to fend off the Venetians. It succeeded.

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The Fotress of St. Lawrence (L.Compisi)

Tips:

Even though Croatia is part of the European Union they maintain their own currency, at least for now. Croatia’s unit of currency is the Kuna (Kn.), which is divided into 100 lipa. Despite these facts, Euros may be used in many circumstances.

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Big Onofrio’s fountain (1438) is supplied by a medieval aqueduct 

Two or three days is all you need to enjoy this beautiful and historic city along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. A true world treasure.

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Weather: The weather in Croatia in mid-June through early July was quite warm (90F) with some humidity – a bit steamy. We usually travel to Europe in September and October and I think this would be a much better time to be on the Adriatic coast. May might also good for traveling along the Adriatic coast.

Follow us on Travel Bites, Flights and Sights as we spend the final days of our holiday in the Lavender fields of Provence.

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Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Coastal Adventures, Croatia, Historic, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments

Dalmatia to Mostar and on to Dubrovnik

Our most excellent European Vacation continued as we sadly said good bye to the beautiful islands of Hvar and Korčula.  We took the Jadrolinija for a short ferry ride back to the mainland of Croatia.  To break up the journey we stopped in the walled city of Ston, which is two cities, southern Ston and Mali (little) Ston, connected by a 1200-meter-long great wall built on orders from the Dubrovnik Republic between 1461 and 1464 AD. The wall was built to protect the important salt production that remains today in Ston. Although much of the original 7000 meters were destroyed over time by 3 major earth quakes, parts have been reconstructed and are open to the public.  We didn’t do that as our schedule would not allow it.  We had a quick lunch and continued to Mostar.

 

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The Great Wall of Ston c. 15th Century (L.Compisi)

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City Plan for Ston and Mali Ston (L.Compisi)

The journey from Ston to Bosnia-Herzegovina included a rather invasive border crossing with trucks and buses lined up waiting to be cleared.  Once through we continued inland away from the Adriatic to Mostar. The distance is just over 100 kilometers and took us about 2.5 hours considering the border crossing. It is sad to say that among the former Yugoslavian countries we have visited (Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia-Herzegovina), Bosnia appears to have recovered the least from the wars of ethnic cleansing in the early 1990s. Perhaps because of the complicated system of government, and some say political corruption, the country remains the least economically viable of the former Balkan countries.

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Bombed out home remains unrestored (L.Compisi)

The evidence is clear that rebuilding of bombed out homes and businesses has not fully occurred even 23 years after the peace agreement, referred to as the Dayton Peace Accords, were signed in late 1995. Although the bloodshed was ended the agreement allows for a tripartite Presidency.  Yes, that’s three presidents, one Bosniak (Muslim), one Serb (Serbian Orthodox) and one Croat (Roman Catholic). The Parliament follows a similar ethnic makeup as does the Council of Ministers. Leave it to say, as they rotate through power their main goal seems to be keeping power thereby maintaining the status quo. Oh yes, meant to mention that Bosnia and Herzegovina are two entities: The Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and the Republika Srpska, with significant internal autonomy.

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Daytime view of Mostar and the Neretva River from our hotel (L.Compisi)

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Night time view of Mostar and the Neretva River from our hotel (L.Compisi)

Sorry, got a little off track there.  Once we arrived in Mostar we checked into our hotel. The hotel was right on the Neretva River and offered pretty views of the City and surrounding hills as well as easy access to the old city. Mostar offers a fascinating and unique multi-cultural blend of south Slavic, Ottoman-Turkish and Mediterranean traditions. The food and architecture in various parts of the city reflect this. We used a local guide whose family had suffered greatly during the war.  She took us on a very thought provoking walk and discussed the siege of Mostar. We visited Mosques, an Ottoman-Turkish home, the quite beautiful and restored Stari Most Bridge (circa 16th Century), the Kujundžiluk Bazaar and had a truly delicious dinner at Sadrvan, an Otto Turkish restaurant. The city is filled with minarets and the occasional church.

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Restaurant Sadrvan offered delicious traditional Turkish fare (L.Compisi)

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Picturesque Stari Most Bridge in its latest incarnation (L.Compisi)

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The dome of Koski Memed Pasha Mosque (L.Compisi

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Interior of Koski Memed Pasha Mosque (l.Compisi)

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Minarets dot the Mostar skyline (L.Compisi)

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Mostar Pivo (Beer) was very good (L.Compisi)

Mostar has a population of about 115k people and is quite walk-able. To compare, Sarajevo, the Capital, has about 300k people. Tourism, despite the reminders of the ravages of war and the complexity of its governmental system, is on the rise, reportedly one of the fastest in World.

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Stolac is quaint, beautiful and a very special place (L.Compisi)

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The Bregava River adds to Stolac’s charm (L.Compisi)

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Stolac offers history, charm and tranquility (L.Compisi)

Upon departing Mostar, we headed to Dubrovnik but not without brief stops in Stolac and the Radimlja Necropolis, both in the valley of the Bregava River. The ride was unusually beautiful with vineyards and great fertile fields of general agriculture. Stolac was replete with amazing architectural gems. The area has been settled by various peoples for over 15,000 years. The Radimlja Necropolis of stećaks (medieval tombstones) have monuments inscribed as early as 1151 and 1178 AD.

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The stećaks of Radimlja Necropolis whispered of peoples and times gone by (L.Compisi)

Continuing westbound toward the Adriatic and Dubrovnik we had a tour and tea at the Dervish (Sufi) Monastery in Blagaj Tekke and made a brief visit to the Serbian Orthodox Žitomislić Monastery. Žitomislić has been destroyed and rebuilt at least five times (most recently in 2002) since its original construction between 1566 and 1606.

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The Dervish (Sufi) Monastery, Blagaj Tekke required head scarfs for ladies (L.Compisi)

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The traditional tea service was memorable at Blagaj Tekke (L.Compisi)

 

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The Blagaj Tekke Court Yard was surprisingly empty (L.Compisi)

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The building and grounds at Žitomislić Monastery (L.Compisi)

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The religious art on the ceiling and walls were breathtaking at Žitomislić (L.Compisi)

There is a great deal of beauty and history in this tumultuous land called that is so worth exploring. One of the benefits of travel is to see what other people and countries are doing and what is working and what is not. Maybe we were on to something when ‘E Pluribus Unum’ was first considered for the American Motto on the Great Seal of the United States in 1776. Perhaps in the next 25 years Bosnia-Herzegovina can surmount the ethnic divisions that appear to be holding it back.

Next up, a delightful 2 days in Dubrovnik!

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Restaurants, Slovenia, Travel, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Islands of Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast: Hvar and Korčula

After our brief adventure in Split and the Palace of Diocletian, we boarded a ferry for the two hour cruise to the island of Hvar. Hvar has a fascinating history that includes being populated in prehistoric times and eventually by the Greeks, Romans, Venetians, Napoleon and the Austrians. It was an important naval base for both military operations as well as the silk route trade. Hvar’s wide fertile plain proved to be perfect for growing Lavender and Rosemary which were important to the French perfume industry. They also excelled in producing exceptional wine grapes.

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Fishing and pleasure boats pack the Hvar Marina (L.Compisi)

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Cafes and restaurants line the seawall surrounding Hvar Marina (L.Compisi)

Today, tourism is the main attraction of Hvar for very good reason. The mild Mediterranean climate boasts average day time temperatures between 70° to 85° F between May and October, although it was in the low 90s while we were there in late June. The water temperatures also are attractive with temperatures usually staying between 73° to 81° F during the summer.

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A sailing playground in the torquise waters of Hvar (L.Compisi)

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One of the many yachts moored in Hvar marina (L.Compisi)

The island promotes itself as “the sunniest spot in Europe”, having nearly 2,800 hours of sunlight in an average year. Hvar City has beautiful beaches and quaint seaside architecture which make it very attractive to tourist from all over Europe. This is manifested by the large yachts that fill the harbor and the crowded café that overlook it.

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Many larger sailboats with the town of Hvar as backdrop (L.Compisi)

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One of the more elegant restaurants along a gorgeous beach area (L.Compisi)

After a delightful day in Hvar enjoying the beaches, café, bars and restaurants we took a large catamaran to the Island of Korčula. The cruise was just over an hour in length. Korčula is a fortified town on the eastern coast of the island of the same name. Slightly larger in population than Hvar, Korčula town offered a very interesting old town that was originally an island itself.

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A graphic of Korčula (L.Compisi)

Unlike Hvar, whose main commercial area was flat, Korčula was quite hilly making it much more interesting from an architectural and photo taking perspective. St. Mark’s Cathedral, also called Korčula Cathedral, is in the center of the old town and commands the highest point.  Korčula has many outdoor café and restaurants along the waterfront as well as in the central plaza by the Cathedral and even along its steep side allies which form ‘spokes of the wheel’ that the city resembles.

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The stairs leading to the beautiful medieval main entrance to Korčula town (L.Compisi)

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Korčula as seen from the seaside (L.Compisi)

We stayed at the Hotel Korsal in Korčula which was a short walk from the old town area. The rooms were very nice with many having views overlooking the marina and the old town. The restaurant has a good wine list, a wine cellar and services solid local cuisine.

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View from our room at Hotel Korsal (L.Compisi)

Korčula claims to be the birthplace of Marco Polo and is investing in the restoration of his legendary home but there is little hard evidence that he is truly from there rather than Venice. There is also a Marco Polo museum in Korčula

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Plans for the restoration of the ‘home’ of Marco Polo(L.Compisi)

Getting there: You can take the ferry with your rental car or actually buy a bus ticket in Split and they will ferry you to Hvar and then transport you by bus to the center of town. Either option requires early purchasing of tickets during the high season. This ferry route to Korčula from Hvar runs 3 journeys per day in high season. In the low season it runs 1 journey per day. Journey time is between 1 hour 05 minutes and 1 hour 45 minutes depending on the route. The main Croatian ferry operator, Jadrolinija, runs a service linking Korčula Town with SplitHvarDubrovnik and (from May to September) Bari, Italy.

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Jadrolinija Ferries in Split heading to Hvar & Korčula (L.Compisi)

When to visit: Hvar and Korčula are definitely worth visiting when the water and air temperatures are warmer but we would recommend late May – early June or late September – early October when the temperatures are a bit more moderate and the crowds have thinned.

Two or three days each is all you need to enjoy these beautiful and historic islands along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. These are unique world treasures. Check back for the next story about our most excellent European Adventure including Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Dubrovnik.

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Coastal Adventures, Croatia, Island Vacations, Travel, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Split, Croatia: Sun City for Retired Emperors

Split, Croatia is an ancient city that grew up around a delightful piece of unique history. Roman Emperor Diocletian’s Palace, is both massive and architecturally interesting, and perhaps the most fascinating aspect of Split.

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Bust of Emperor Diocletian inside the Palace below ground spaces. (L.Compisi)

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Artist’s conception of the Palace layout. (L.Compisi)

The Palace, actually more like a fortress, was built in anticipation of Diocletian’s retirement on May 1st, 305 AD. As a native of the Roman province of Dalmatia, Diocletian wanted to spend his last years in his native land. Split, as it came to be known, was only four miles from Salona, the provincial capital of Dalmatia. Diocletian’s Palace was designated a World Heritage Site in 1979.

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Ancient portion of the exterior Palace walls (L.Compisi)

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The eastern Golden Gate of the Palace (L.Compisi)

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Amazing Roman vaulted arches below ground supporting the Palace (L.Compisi)

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More Palace storage area and arches (L.Compisi)

 

Split, and the Palace, may be familiar to some because of its role in the blockbuster HBO hit, Game of Thrones. Some episodes of the 4th Season were filmed in the Palace. The Palace comprises about half of what is now the old town area of Split.  It is situated along a natural bay that today offers the Riva Promenade, a long seaside promenade with a beach area as well as a view of the Cruise ship and Ferry port at one end of the town. The Promenade has restaurant after restaurant, shops, bars, cafes and wonderful ice cream shops. Quite inviting and very beautiful.

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Riva Promenade with the sea to the right (L.Compisi)

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A portion of the Palace wall along the Riva (L.Compisi)

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Dining al fresco along the Riva Promenade (L.Compisi)

Within the old town are numerous sights of interest:

Marjan Hill is a short distance north of town and offers stunning views of the city, the Palace, the seaside and the surrounding hills. If you don’t like steps, uphill elevation changes and sweating stay away but we found the views very worth it. The restaurant at the top offers an opportunity to rest and recover.

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View of Split from Marjan Hill (L.Compisi)

Just outside the East Gate of the Palace is a very large statue of Grgyr Ninski by renowned Croatian sculpture Ivan Mestrovic. Gregory Nin (in English) was a medieval bishop from Croatia who strongly opposed the Pope, stands just outside the Golden Gate of Diocletian’s Palace. Bishop Gregory introduced the national Croatian language into Catholic services (in place of the traditional Latin) in Croatia after the Great Assembly in 926 AD, finally making it possible for everyone to know what was being said during the service. The Status is 20 feet tall above its pedestal. It is a popular belief that that rubbing the bishop’s toe brings good luck. The toe is now smooth and shiny.

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20′ tall statue of Bishop Gregory of Nin – toe rub for good luck! (L.Compisi)

The Peristyle was the main gathering place for Diocletian’s subjects. Later on, as the city grew, the Peristyle was too small and the People’s Square, or Narodni trg in Croatian, became the main meeting spot. It has been so since the 14th century.

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The Peristyle was the gathering place of the people during Diocletian’s time (L.Compisi)

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Saint Domnius Cathedral and Diocletian’s Masoleum overlook the Peristyle (L.Compisi)

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The Cathedral from inside the Peristyle (L.Compisi)

Republic Square is just west of the Riva. It is a three sided (the open side faces the sea) series of columned buildings that were designed to resemble St. Mark’s Square in Venice. It serves the city as an excellent venue for concerts and other events.

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Republic Square is patterned after St. Mark’s Square in Venice (L.Compisi)

The weather in June, when we visited, was a bit steamy and hot. We usually travel to Europe in September and October and I think this would be a much better time to be on the Adriatic coast.

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The Peristyle at night facing the Vestibule (L.Compisi)

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Looking toward St. Domnius Cathedral from the Peristyle (l.Compisi)

Two or three days is all you need to enjoy this beautiful and historic city along the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. A true world treasure.

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Crotian National Theater just outside the Palace walls (L.Compisi)

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The People’s Square was created when the Peristyle was no longer large enough (L.Compisi)

Check back for the next story about our most excellent European Adventure including Dubrovnik, Bosnia and Provence.

 

Posted in Adventure, Amazing Sights, Coastal Adventures, Croatia, Travel, Yugoslavia | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments