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Trip Report 8-week annual "Sabbatical"

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Hello Fodorites!

We left the West Coast US on March 13th (2015), and are now in the middle of our 8-week Sabbatical through Europe. My husband has been writing a blog every few days that includes a write-up and photos. I will include the text of the blog here (as they become available) and include a link to the blog where you all can see the photos.

To orient the whole thing, here's an itinerary so you can follow along. We have stayed in many of these locations before, and have a few criteria that we followed:

-- had to LOVE the location (LOVE = good access to food either on site or restaurants; good hiking in vicinity for non-city locales; convenient for day trips by car if non-city locales)
-- had to LOVE the hotel/inn/agriturismo (LOVE = spacious and clean room; good water pressure in showers; often with great views; often with access to bicycles; often long-standing and fun interactions with the owners)
-- no less than 3 nights per location
-- no more than 2-3 hour drive between locations (when driving)

ITINERARY:

Rome: 4 nights
Apartment Rental: Sun Apartment
through Colonnato di San Pietro B&B

Umbria: 3 nights
Agriturismo La Chiusa
near Umbertide

Tuscany: 5 nights
Agriturismo Savernano
near Reggello

Verona: 4 nights
B+B Villa Beatrice

Bolzano: 3 nights
Hotel Hanny

Salzburg: 4 nights
Bloberger Hof

Durnstein: 3 nights
Hotel Saenger Blondel

Vienna: 4 nights
Pension Suzanne

Bratislava: 3 nights
Apartment Rental

Budapest: 4 nights
Kapital Inn

Fuissee: 3 nights
La Source des Fees
(Burgundy, France)

Beaune: 3 nights
Les Planchottes
(Burgundy, France)

Massangis: 4 nights
Carpe Diem
(Burgundy, France)

Paris: 8 nights
Apartment Rental
Sevres apartment through Paris Rental Connections

TRANSPORTATION (in sequential order):

-- SFO to FCO: fly through Frankfurt on United and Lufthansa
-- Car Rental #1: pick-up as we leave Rome and return in Bolzano
-- Bolzano to Salzburg: Train through Innsbruck
-- Car Rental #2: pick-up at Salzburg train station and return in Vienna
-- Vienna to Bratislava: Train
-- Bratislava to Budapest: Train
-- Budapest to Geneva: fly Brussels Airways through Brussels
-- Car Rental #3: pick-up in Geneva on French side of airport and return in Auxerre
-- Burgundy to Paris: train from Auxerre to Paris
-- CDG to SFO: fly through Frankfurt on Lufthansa and United

So that's the logistics part of the Trip Report. Now I'll start posting the text of my husband's blog with the links. By the way, the links also give you access to his blog from other trip going back a few years should you care to see those as well!

Enjoy, and happy travels to you all,

LisaG

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    Report #1:
    (Link to blog with pics: http://www.choosewhatworks.com/blog/2015/03/roma-a-sconto/

    Roma a Sconto
    Posted on March 19, 2015 by howard goldman
    When thou art at Rome, do as they do at Rome.

    – Miguel de Cervantes

    Rosa Maria, host for our stay in Rome, graciously awaits our hired car in front of 19 Viale delle Mura Aurelie. For the next 4 days we have rented a sunny, comfortable apartment with classic appointments of marble and dark wood, walls tinted in traditional Italian blond. We are thrilled residing in the San Pietro district – within a pilgrim’s crawl to the Vatican.

    Rosa Maria is cheerful, given our late arrival – efficient, modern systems have transported us across continents and oceans without a hitch, then we are snagged back in time by the predicable maddening hour-long delay – offloading luggage at Fiumicino Airport: Benvenuti in Italia!

    Our time spent in Rome are day-long strolls among the vias, largos, plazas, piazzas, campos, bridges, churches, cafes, shops, and curving banks of the Tevere. Few destinations in mind, we suffer little sorrow if they are not reached. Each day offers sun and showers, and seems perfectly synchronized with the pace and sartorial elegance of the citizenry and polyglot procession of visitors.

    We are reminded that travel, aside from promoted glamour and opened perspectives, is early on – at least, an exercise to maintain, or regain homeostasis: violated sleeping patterns, confused body functions, deregulated appetites, muscles strained and stiff, wild mood swings abound.

    In this regard we are comforted knowing that, six years returning to this Eternal City has schooled us in familiar and comforting institutions: the best hotel lobbies and toilettes, welcoming cafes for caffeine restoration, cool, meditative medieval tabernacles where a few minutes reflective silence recasts body and spirit.

    This year it rained on our parade. We put on a good face, and extra layers of light down as we brave the befouled climate. We stiffen through wind and water, over slick glistening cobblestones, dodge Lancias and BMW’s throwing up splashes of Pellegrino (just a joke), and skip over currents draining into ancient gutters.

    Alas, it is time to retreat to the delights of a proper Sunday luncheon at Ristorante Vecchia Roma hidden among Roman ruins and the city’s historic Jewish Ghetto.

    There is an almost forgotten dignity, amid our current lifestyle, in the noble pleasures celebrating Sunday afternoon with famiglie in classic settings, enjoying stylish Roman cuisine. The spectacular table offering antipasti and dolces, attendant chefs and waiters who authentically appear graced by our presence, transform us above the inclemency in the street.

    Other lunches are lighter affairs featuring al fresco seating with cozy burners turned up. Magnolia Cafe faces the lively farmers market stalls of Campo de’ Fiori. Fresh produce converts within meters to satisfying salads, dressed at the table with olio et aceto.

    The standard for café nesting is, of course Café Canova, opening to the Piazza del Popolo and the astounding parade of stylish locals and tourists that satisfies the eyes, warms the stomach, and panders to our weakness for international gossip. Six Euros exchanged for a caffe latte now seems like a reasonable tariff given the entertainment value.

    Rome is on sale (Roma a Sconto), as is all of Europe! The dollar regains its self-esteem – dinners are reasonable, heck downright cheap, if you consider tax and service (often) included. Great evening meals are plentiful in our ‘hood, just steps away from our place – simple food, well prepared – our favorite restaurant, Perdincibacco, features understated cacio e pepe, spaghetti carbonara, exquisite Mediterranean sea bream, and apple torte, all prepared by a Bangladeshi chef!

    Alas, I must confess I couldn’t resist this year’s “must have” tourist item – expandable Selfie Stick with remote shutter control. These are relentlessly hawked by legions of Indian vendors the instant the spot-market for umbrellas dries up. The passion of negotiating was most of the sport, as our contract moved down from €15 to €6 – I just kept walking away and allowed my sidewalk salesman to negotiate with himself. After the deal was struck, Lisa and I took a group Selfie with him to test the technology and restore the dignity of commerce. Some things are indeed eternal.

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    Report #2:
    (Link to blog with pics: http://www.choosewhatworks.com/blog/2015/03/niccone-valley-and-hill-towns-of-umbria/

    Niccone Valley and Hill Towns of Umbria
    Posted on March 24, 2015 by howard goldman
    “You may have the universe, if I may have Italy.”

    – Giuseppe Verdi

    After a maddening hour spent at the car rental counter in Rome’s Termini Station observing the tragicomic, yet friendly, staff bedeviled by the limitations of IT firmly affixed in 1982, we are released via Autostada to dwell amongst the grape and olive.

    Umbria, neglected stepsister of Tuscany, reserves a special place in our heart. Medieval, bucolic, and less trendy than Renaissance Tuscany, Umbria calls us to the simplicity of life in the Italian countryside.

    Our destination is a rustic retreat, La Chiusa, an unfussy agriturismo run by a welcoming family, headed by Masha and Luca, and 2 beautiful children – Mia and Valentino. The allure here is unspoiled beauty of the Niccone (as in nicotine) Valley, and delights of Masha’s farmed-based cooking.

    Masha’s mother, who also lives on the property, is a chef on Italian daytime television and a talented painter of primitive oils. We were treated to hand-rolled pastas and ravioli fashioned with wild-harvested vegetables, crispy home-cured pancetta, just-gathered eggs, home-baked black sesame seeded bread, and slow cooked duck and pork (alas, former residents).

    [Alert: poetic prose follows:] Winter’s dark embrace is just lifting to reveal verdant pastures and the first buds of spring. The colors of the countryside – studies in muted brown tweed – give way to granite towns that have sought the uneasy security of high ground above the vineyards and olive trees.

    Each morning, after breakfast in the sunny, glass enclosed porch, we take off for a constitutional buona passeggiata above the fields that rise and fall amid valley farms. Our calculus is that this exertion keeps us about par with our Mediterranean caloric intake.

    Afternoon destinations reunite us with hill towns of very different character.

    Gubbio, a stone commune built above ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and historically controlling a key artery to the Adriatic, resists the incursions of modernity. At this point the prevailing industry seems to be hanging out in sleepy piazzas, playing cards, and smoking.

    Assisi, a handsomely restored attraction, home to countless churches and monasteries is an easy commute for us that allows for energetic promenades among steep narrow lanes and entertaining cafe lattes studying the local customs and scandals.

    After 3 relaxing days we are off to Tuscany via the rough mountains and forests that protect our favorite Umbrian destination – Preggio. We are invited to a classic Saturday lunch at the vineyards and country home run by our prior agriturismo hosts, Bruno and Elena.

    They have opted out of running their appealing, remote inn, and now concentrate on maintaining their organinc wine and olive oil business. After having been guests for 4 previous years, we are moved to return to this intimate setting in the Italian countryside. We are treated to a warm and cozy meal featuring “nettle and potato fritters,” white wine, and other treats grown at Preggio’s kitchen gardens.

    4 white Maremma shepherds, 2 turkeys and other farm denizens make it hard to say arrivederci, so abruptly.

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    Report #3:
    (Link to blog with pics: http://www.choosewhatworks.com/blog/2015/04/cercando-il-cuore-della-toscana/


    Cercando il cuore della Toscana
    Posted on April 1, 2015 by howard goldman
    “Everything you see, I owe to pasta.”

    – Sophia Loren

    Dante Alighieri, if he were today conjuring torments for seven rings of hell, would certainly include driving in Italy as a critical component of his Inferno. The autostrada between Firenze and Bologna would be reserved consignment for the most wicked among us.

    We are in Tuscany, based at Savernano, the mother of Tuscan agriturismos. The enjoyments of this rural hilltop vineyard are well documented in the archives of this blog, so no need to be redundant. Davide and Eva, their engaging teenagers, and both sets of grandparents, devote themselves to our comfort and inclusion in their daily routines.

    For the most part, given it is early in the season, we are the only guests. This intimacy with the rhythms of Tuscan village life enriches our insight and appreciation for spirito italiano.

    From our central base in Tuscany, populated also by a petting zoo of enchanting animals, we commute via train or car to Firenze and Siena, to immerse ourselves in the twin capitals of Renaissance culture. Our annual return demands strict rituals – lunch at classic Ristorante Paoli (fresh salade cut at tableside by our joyful waiter Pascal, gnocchi con gorgonzola); being regaled by Ramone at his scarf stall, who charms with flair for fashion and customized “juuhzing” of tied silks; café lattes overlooking unforgettable piazzas crowded with visitors.

    On such excursions, we assign ourselves fantasy identities for the day – gracefully aging Venetian patricians.

    What are the meager benefits of such charade? In our playful esteem, we are granted access without notice to lobbies and toilettes at good hotels, street vendors and beggars exempt us with a bored “pass”, waiters address us in their best Italian, or possibly default to “cafe German.”

    Mostly, we just have fun, and feel, ever so briefly, the thrill of life with unreserved Mediterranean passions – Looking for the heart of Tuscany (Cercando il cuore della Toscana)

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    Report #4:
    (Link to blog with pics: http://www.choosewhatworks.com/blog/2015/04/stations-of-the-crossing/


    Stations of the Crossing
    Posted on April 5, 2015 by howard goldman
    “O, how this spring of love resembleth
    The uncertain glory of an April day;
    Which now shows all the beauty of the sun,
    And by and by a cloud takes all away.”

    – The Two Gentleman of Verona



    North from Florence, over Apennine Centrale mountains, across fruited Emilia-Romagna, we enter storied Verona.

    Romeo e Giulietta’s ‘hood, quietly, may be the most lovely city in Italy. It is certainly one of our favorites; offering aged marble pavement over which this Northern beauty reveals itself.

    The Adige River winds around the ancient walls and describes Verona from the industrial flats stretching from Milan to Venice.

    Each day we drive down the hill from our homey B+B Villa Beatrice, then on foot, over Roman-built Ponte Pietra (stone bridge) to enter a Disney-like portal. We work our way to central Piazza della Erbe, an exquisite square that is fixed in our memories. The attraction? Salades (warm octopus and potato, or mango and avocado), Soavé wine, and addictive regional breadsticks, served at stylish Café Mazzanti, front row to the vibrant opera passing before us.

    At the table next to us, a pony-tailed Mexican tennis pro is spotted by a group of school kids visiting from Vera Cruz. They seek a polite audience. He graciously takes “selfie-stick” photos and hugs them wrapped in the national banner. They are launched into spasms of joy.

    The town seems prosperous despite the greater economic worry in Southern Europe. Citizens inspire with defining fashion, and Verona functions as a real community not solely dependant on tourists. Shops feature designs of fine interior fabrics and furnishings, and the best Neapolitan-tailored clothing.

    The centerpiece of our attention is airy, breathtaking Sant’Anastasia, an exquisite Dominican church built from 1290-1481. We are transfixed by magnificent pre-Easter rehearsals of choir, organ, and orchestra. (Bach, Handel, and, yes, Ennio Morricone – spaghetti western composer).

    Our host at Villa Beatrice, Simone, along with his loving Romanian bride, Angelica, look after us starting with fresh-squeezed ginger spiced juices and home-baked rice cake.

    We begin each day wandering around the hills above Verona, with Shanti our “rent-a-dog” from the B+B.

    Verona dining is basic treats – Margarita Pizze con Burata, garden harvested insalata mista. For a special meal: calf’s liver with creamy polenta at romantic Da Ugo.

    We take a crazed side trip to Venice via the train, avoid crowds exploring working neighborhood canals and plazas, and return tired yet enriched by what we consider a living museum.

    Bolzano/Bozen, nestled in the “Italian” Dolomites, qualifies as the most livable city in Italy. Historically Teutonic, the Trentino Alto Adige region, became part of Italy after WWII.

    As far as we can tell, it is not geography, or altitude, or geology, or language (50% Italian / 50% German) which demarks this cultural transition – it’s fiber! Braun brot, muesli, dried figs, fresh fruits, prunes, hazelnuts, walnuts, pumpkin and flax seeds.

    Each day starts with a hearty frühstück, which fuels our energy for hiking and biking among the castled mountains and valleys. Exploring the charms of this intelligent city by bike is a vision of civic refinement.

    Hotel Hanny, is a proper family run hotel that allows us to stretch out, wash our undies, and enjoy the regional fare prepared by owner Karl Riegler and his family.

    Bolzano, is mountaineering Mecca, and we make a point to worship at the HQ of Alpine gear manufacturer Salewa, and their amazing climbing “cube”, set among the granite cliffs of the Sud Tyrol.

    We move through the stations of our remarkable journey.

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    All,

    There will be a several day intermission here! We are currently in Durnstein enjoying the crisp wintery weather (complete with snow). It will be a couple of days for the next blog to get written, and when it's done I'll post!

    Bye for now,

    LisaG

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    And here's the latest section of the blog! Please let me know if there is any other logistical or location information that would be helpful to anyone planning for these regions!

    Report #5
    (Link to blog with pics: http://www.choosewhatworks.com/blog/2015/04/mass-in-c-minus-salzburg-and-the-wachau/


    Mass in C minus: Salzburg and the Wachau
    Posted on April 10, 2015 by howard goldman


    “Without music, life would be a mistake.”

    ~Friedrich Nietzsche

    Easter has hatched Xmas this year, measured in Celsius (-1 degree). No complaints, we add a couple of layers of down and sweaters and prepare to accept cozy Salzburg on terms it offers.

    The promise of spring has swerved wildly back to winter; yet there is beauty for our eyes, music for our ears, and the authentic feel of Austria showcased for the holiday.

    We take the train north from Bolzano over the snowy Dolomites and across Austrian Alps, and alight in the new Salzburg station. We navigate to the familiar neighborhood along Moosstrasse: a tranquil mélange of homes, Gasthofs, family farms, restaurants, and light tech industry all perfectly assimilated on greenbelt and nestled against dramatic mountains that border Germany.

    “Grüss Gott” (literally: “God Bless”, now used as: “good day”) is our reception at Bloburger Hof, a warm and welcoming small family-run hotel. Our room faces a fog-shrouded mountain that serves as our daily barometer – cold, colder, or possibly snow! Food (wiener schnitzel, Easter lamb stew) is delicious, our hosts kind and generous, and the 2 children, Marcus and Lucas parked at reception watching streaming animation, so sweet.

    Morning walks in every direction exercise our sense of community as well as our legs: magnificent horses sleepily boarded at Walkner Riding Academy across the road; a restored hunting lodge surrounded by verdant grounds now home to professional service firms; open land for biking, fishing, and Autumn hunting.

    Each afternoon we migrate from city Zentrum across the Salzach River to luxuriate at comfy, classic Café Bazar. Hot milch and caffe, sublime warm topfenstrudel, International NY Times, and a great sampling of local culture.

    On Easter we attend an extraordinary concert Mass at baroque Salzburger Dom surrounded by hundreds of citizens wearing traditional Austrian attire – loden caps, tyrolean hats, dirndls. Mozart’s Mass in C minor is performed with angelic voices and immense accompaniment of orchestra and organ. This is the setting he envisioned for his evocation of heaven, complete with smoky incense, chimes, and the cacophony of hundreds of bells ringing throughout the city as the service ends.

    A few hours East along the Danube is Durnstein in iconic Wachau Valley (refer to the Viking Cruises ad before Downton Abbey). This fertile area produces wonderful Gruner Veltliner white wine, and apricots used in liqueurs and preserves.

    Here we are the solo guests at the Saenger Blondel Hotel, operated continuously by Familie Schendl, since 1792. Herr Schendl greets us warmly and personally prepares the house specialty: apricot topfenstrudel warmed with custard sauce and preserves for our afternoon pleasure.

    We brave the still-cold weather with daily hikes along the terraced vineyards overlooking the villages of the Wachau. The spirit of springtime is surely awakening in these once feudal hills.

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    Treesa,

    Thanks so much! We're having a great time in Vienna now. The Vienna Marathon is tomorrow morning and we'll be on the sidelines cheering folks on. Running the Ring must be a great and dramatic route for the participants.

    I'm sure my husband will have pics of that!

    LisaG

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    Hello All,

    We've just gotten to Budapest, and the weather is suddenly summer! We are now half-way through our trip. After spending the afternoon at the Széchenyi baths, we feel totally renewed and as if we are starting fresh. Having done laundry in Bratislava didn't hurt either!

    Here is the latest installment...enjoy!

    Report #6
    (Link to blog with pics: http://www.choosewhatworks.com/blog/2015/04/lord-of-the-ringstrasse/


    Lord of the Ringstrasse
    Posted on April 16, 2015 by howard goldman


    “When you set out to take Vienna, take Vienna.”

    -Napoleon Bonaparte

    We take our seats for dinner at stylish restaurant Huft. The man at an adjoining table politely removes his leather portfolio occupying my chair. Sheaves of fresh music notation tumble to the floor….

    This is Vienna and music is everywhere!

    In our case music, food, and perfect spring weather conspire to offer compelling adventures in this Imperial gateway to Eastern Europe.

    First the music – opera is heroic here, and our Pension – Suzanne is steps away from the Wiener Staatsoper (Vienna State opera), supreme temple to the “greatest art.” Russian diva, Anna Netrebko, is opening Anna Bolena. We ply scalpers working the square and score, absorbing the mild indignities of having to ransom our passions!

    Other evenings we watch parts of simulcast performances on a giant video outside the opera house, or when that becomes tiresome, open our hotel window to hear the strains of Strauss while browsing email.

    We attend a Sunday concert mass at gothic Saint Stephens Cathedral. Choir, orchestra, and towering pipe organ render gigantic religious themes (Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn). We are specks of dust against enormous Glory and Power!

    Outside the church, the Vienna Marathon is rocking in secular majesty. The race is well managed, attended by runners far and wide, and cheered by excited crowds and dogs. A Frenchman from our hotel is a serious competitor, accompanied by wife and four young sons. We ask why he didn’t run the same day Paris Marathon – “this is more exotic!” he grins.

    We view the proceedings by a sound truck blasting crazed rhymes of a local Samba drum troop. Their incessant energy powers runners for the last kilometer. For the rest of us, the trance music activates bestial instincts along refined Ringstrasse once strolled by Beethoven, Freud, and Mahler.

    Food also is a study in classicism. Our mornings are organized around enthusiastic visits to the open-air Naschmarkt, just outside the Ring. We stroll around fragrant stands of cheese, spices, pickles, olives, breads, fruit, vegetables – “noshing” samples, kibitzing with vendors, and buying nuts, raisins, and figs for our mobile stash.

    There is real joy in languishing in early spring sun, nursing steamy café lattes, and hanging out in the nourishment of the ‘hood.

    Michael, proprietor of Pension Suzanne, recommends dinner at Gmoa Keller, a tavern in residential Wien, unchanged in décor, manner, and menu for 130 years. Here we sit with locals, (and return) to enjoy huge plates of schnitzel, liver and onions, mixed Austrian salads, and pilsner. We wondered if Michael withheld his “secret” counsel until our fifth return.

    Of course, visiting Vienna and not indulging in street lunches of grilled sausage, spicy mustard, and crispy “Kaiser” roll would violate everything sacred. We have the best (couldn’t resist the pun) wurst – spicy, garlicky, crunchy bursts of juices with every bite. Geschmack!

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    maitaitom,

    Thanks for the comment on the photos. I'll pass that along to my husband!

    As to the pizza, I think it was a "huge"! I love how happy the pizza guy looks about his wares. I was certainly happy he was making them.

    In looking back at those pictures from Rome (which I did to see which pizza pic was in there) I see that there are a smattering of dog photos. There will be more later as friends and family have clamored for more fun with canines. I think they want a blog just about dogs!

    Happy travels to you, (and I loved reading your recent Paris adventures....except for the fizzles part!)

    LisaG

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    Enjoy the latest posting that my husband wrote! It's hard to remember that we were just in Bratislava and Budapest freezing! We're now in gorgeously spring-has-sprung Burgundy, France. Here you go!

    Report #7:
    (Link to blog with pics: http://www.choosewhatworks.com/blog/2015/04/down-the-danube-bratislava-and-budapest/


    Down the Danube: Bratislava and Budapest
    Posted on April 24, 2015 by howard goldman
    “ It is pleasant to have been to a place the way the river went.”

    – Henry David Thoreau

    Peering east from Vienna, we “Google” Slovenia incorrectly, and end up in Slovakia! (just some EU humor)

    Bratislava is 80 kilometers, down river from Vienna, but might as well be separated by an ocean: Disembarking at Hlavná stanica station has all the sensations of arriving in… well, Mumbai: grim surroundings, dilapidated structures, put upon by beggars and addicts – is this real?

    Peter Dic, from whom we are renting a tidy apartment, collects us at the station and provides a bit of optimism. An IT manager, Peter has everything squared away – detailed directions for operating the well-equipped, immaculate flat, including breakfast provisions and bikes. The apartment was renovated by Gypsies and flashes crazy design motifs, however we have a comfortable base from which to extend into an alien culture.

    Our overwhelming impression is civic neglect taken to high art form almost everywhere. Impoverishment, part the inheritance of Socialist regimes, or just the dour sensibilities of the “East”? We wander around the old town on a grey day amid a gauntlet of “Slavic food” restaurants hawking to Viking Cruise tourists.

    Central/Eastern Europe is an acquired, perhaps inherited, Old World taste. No signage in English and the Slavic language has indications of a vowel disorder. Our tasks at a local market to buy additional necessities proves entertaining – is it yogurt, sour cream, mayonnaise…or face lotion?

    We seek clues of renewal and change, and slowly they reveal themselves over three days of discovery.

    Biking along wonderful paths on the Danube’s other bank releases us into green expanses of wood and field. We stumble upon abandoned fortifications built to keep Hitler at bay, press through a “wind manufacturing” valley, finally reaching Austria (immediately feel the orderly change).

    Next day, taking advantage of fair weather, we head downstream toward Hungary in the company of locals on bikes, skates, and with hiking sticks. Beer is evidently the energy/sports beverage of choice at refreshment stops along the corridor.

    Macbeth at the ornate matchbox Opera house in Bratislava is a delightful surprise. An earnest orchestra, and soprano and tenor out of central casting provide a passionate recital.

    Other unexpected revelations – remarkable food (lamb, salmon) at a local café, and an expansive riverfront development of shopping, business, and restaurants breaks the Borat legacy.

    Glad that our Slovakian adventure is complete we board a milk-train for the familiar comforts of Budapest., and arrive on a glorious day.

    The taxi driver, a fierce looking Hungarian also from central casting, deposits us at Aradi Utca 30, Albert Marton’s Kapital Inn.

    There is a reason this B&B is rated #1. Albert’s charm, style, and commitment to every guest’s experience are his secret sauce. As usual, Albert greets us at the street portal with smiles and hugs and bounds up 8 flights of stairs with both our embarrassingly heavy bags. We are treated to residence in his tastefully renovated suite. A welcome relief from our travel “encrampments.”

    Budapest is part Lower East Side, part Imperial Vienna, Old World, hipster, funky, depressed, and somehow, at it’s heart, familiar to my upbringing.

    Its history and its present remind us how much we take for granted about our lives and experiences in America. It is evident in faces and stories that every family has experienced personal catastrophes here and yet continues to move toward hope.

    After unburdening ourselves of baggage and excess clothing we head directly to the Szechenyi Baths for a long afternoon of soaking away the weariness of the road in steamy medicinal waters. That the baroque complex of pools and steam rooms is crowded with European spring breakers cannot diminish our luxuriant relaxation in the healing vapors. The rest of the day took care of itself.

    Budapest is alive with cafes, restaurants, and watering holes for the curious cosmopolitan tourists who now flock here. The old Jewish ghetto is now hipster central with eateries, shops, and “ruin bars” fashioned out of the deprivation of previous eras.

    Food in Budapest offers quality, variety, and inexpensive choices. We survey 3 doner kebab stands that serve as light, tasty lunches. For dinner we rely on the aged charms of Menza and Café Kors for surprisingly good fish and duck. Our Sunday supper is at hip Mazol Tov, serving Mediterranean tapas in a seemingly destroyed building.

    The Marriage of Figaro at the Hungarian State Opera is tribute to the depth of classical talent residing in this rich cultural heritage. Every aspect of the production is dazzling.

    As our taxi shepherds us to modern Budapest airport, we realize that we head to the final “third leg” of our journey. We have not been disappointed.

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    We're winding down our 8-weeks with a final 9 days in Paris. It's hard to believe our time has gone so quickly! Here's the latest installment from our Burgundy segment. Enjoy all!


    Report #8:
    (Link to blog with pics: http://www.choosewhatworks.com/blog/2015/04/mellow-velo-les-villages-de-bourgogne/



    Mellow Velo: Les Villages de Bourgogne
    Posted on April 30, 2015 by howard goldman
    “If you’re afraid of butter, use cream.”

    – Julia Child

    Hop over les Alpes via Brussels and we are delivered in Geneva, gateway to promises of lush plaisir awaiting us in Burgundy. Exercise, adventure, and epicurean delights are our mission in the heartland of France.

    First destination is Fuisse (as in Pouilly-Fuisse), vineyard hamlet furrowed in stony, stingy earth that forces the Chardonnay grape to work hard for its sustenance.

    Our cheerful hosts, Thierry and Gerald, run La Source des Fees, a 13th century structure which serves as active vineyard/winery as well as our B&B. Thierry announces our arrival with a fervent piano recital and we are casually left to investigate our understated, stylish surroundings.

    Boris, a self-taught young chef skilled in wonderful country-styled cooking, is a source of remarkable food and entertainment. He glows from our appreciation of fresh, quality ingredients prepared with minimal fuss: roasted garlic chicken with creamy carrots, pan-seared salmon, and of course Boeuf Bourguignon, along with carefully arranged salads, fresh regional cheeses, and fruited desserts.

    As we swoon with satisfaction and inquire about his secret “sauce,” Boris brings petit German pressure-cooking pots to our table and reveals recipes and methods. He is pleased and proud. We love Boris.

    Breakfast is simple and concise: fresh baguettes and croissants, berry preserves de la maison, and heavenly teas. The guys are bottling wine from oak today, so not much time to hover over curious Californians.

    The Voies Vertes is a dedicated bike path fashioned from a repurposed railway. At the tiny old depot we depart on bikes and meander though vineyards, farms, and small towns. We pass chateaus and cows and kids with their moms. We move through hills and a frigid 3-kilometer railway tunnel dripping water and sheltering bats. This offers immediate cool-down, although a slightly scary diversion.

    After lunch in the Benedictine monastery town of Cluny, we are ready to return to our estate grown Pouilly-Fuisse whites, and Boris’s comfort food.

    When town planners of Beaune sought the look and feel of their burg, they must have visited Disneyland, ‘cause it sure looks familiar.

    We stay one block outside the walls of this postcard ville at the impeccable home of Ms. Cecile Bouchard who attends to every detail of our comfort. Her house carries the aromas of roasted meats and garden flowers. Home made jams, still-warm boulangerie baguettes and brioches, and visits of her adorable grandson insure our petite dejuneurs are intimate and homey.

    All attractions in Beaune are a 10-minute promenade: open market Saturday, cafes and small restaurants, and a remarkable 14th century Hospice Musee. We eat at 2 cozy restaurants with prix fixe offerings that while adequate, are a little too predictable.

    A third restaurant, the tiny wine bar Le Dilettante, provides a folksy offbeat experience. Families and couples, jazz music, hand sliced hams and sausages to accompany great Burgundy wines (bubbly Cremant was to die for), and homemade lemon tart. We hear the bearded proprietor speak at least 5 languages – including Japanese – which inspired me to learn 3 additional words of French.

    Biking thorough vineyards and picturesque towns dotting the landscape is enjoyable, even memorable. We stop at a small fromagerie to provision a sunny, stone-wall picnic demarking the ancient properties of venerable vintners.

    Land use changes as we migrate north through Burgundy. Craggy vineyards give way to velvety fields of mixed agriculture – verdant spring wheat and blazing yellow rapeseed fields provide watercolor vistas. We romp in a blossoming Flonase commercial with medieval backdrop!

    We drive though dozens of limestone farm villages and expansive grassland in search of our next venue, Massangis. Locals refer to this region as the “lungs of France,” as it provides essential life to the nation.

    We ring the chime outside the metal gates of Carpe Diem and are greeted by owners Patrick and Eric. They left 900-year old aristocratic families 30 years ago to pursue their vision of running an exquisite country inn. It is a grouping of remodeled stone animal quarters, re-created in period furnishings, inherited antiques, and collected vignettes of crystal, silver, books, paintings, and furniture.

    We are assigned crimson Eugenia Suite (Napoleon’s 3rd wife). I strut around, much to Lisa’s forced amusement, declaring myself the reincarnation of Bonaparte himself!

    Dinners at Carpe Diem are 3-hour etudes in tradition, social graces, meticulous care, presentation, and beautiful cuisine. Patrick commands his salon with wine and toasty fires to ensure all guests (we were alone one night as well) are compatible in the ensemble.

    Days in the area are also spent visiting the spectacular Abbey and Basilica at Vezelay, a destination for pilgrims from which two crusades were launched. Just outside Massangis is a 1000-year old, still functioning quarry from where limestone was supplied to Fontainebleau and countless churches and towns of Bourgogne.

    Biking here is a tranquil 15 km excursion along the working Nivernais canal that formerly supplied commerce along the river L’Yonne.

    Our stay is a memorable adventure in rural French settings, customs, and traditions.

    One lesson learned from this superbly cosseted countryside visit is that imposed ritual is not always synonymous with gratifying experience.

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    Your descriptions of Bratislava, Budapest and Burgundy chime with my memory, still Bratislava is so much better than it was 20 years ago (needles littering the main square and paint holding the plaster on)

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    Adelaidean,

    Thank you so much for your comment on the photos! So glad you like them.

    bilboburgler,

    Until you listed Bratislava, Budapest, and Burgundy out like that....I hadn't realized how alliterative that list was! I'm glad we weren't in Bratislava 20 years ago as your recollections wouldn't have put it in my go-to list. Those kinds of comparisons made me wonder where the hot-spots for travel will be in 2025 that are not on any radar now.

    LisaG

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    Hello All!

    Well, we're home now.....so this is the final installment. Thank you for taking the journey with us. I hope this is informative and useful for anyone planning to visit these areas.

    Happy travels to you all,

    LisaG


    Report #9:
    (Link to blog with pics: http://www.choosewhatworks.com/blog/2015/05/une-promenade-dans-paris/


    Une Promenade dans Paris
    Posted on May 12, 2015 by howard goldman
    “A walk about Paris will provide lessons in history, beauty, and in the point of Life.

    -Thomas Jefferson

    Paris is rainy. We are not taking it personally – just different hues for the eye and camera.

    Our first task after we arrive at our rental apartment – just off St. Germain des Pres – is to provision our stay at nearby Au Bon Marche, Parisian holy temple dedicated to French food and drink.

    From the appearance of the clientele, Bernie Madoff and his wife might be doing his time in Paris, as everyone shopping here has the air of stylish, mildly annoyed billionaires.

    Famished at this dazzling spectacle of epicerie, we slide into the tasteful sushi bar at Au Bon Marche and inhale a point-and-click meal of raw fish. A very Froonch lunch, even if composed of Japanese fare. Others at food bars in the market are sipping champagne, nibbling hand-carved prosciutto with melon, sampling tiny grilled cheese and ham sandwiches, and generally celebrating a very normal Wednesday afternoon.

    Actually we should beg the French for forgiveness. While we have spent the last few decades cycling through delusional food trends: non-fat; low-carb; gluten free; sugar free; – they continue to religiously consume the finest artisanal cheeses, butter and dairy, fresh daily-baked breads, fresh and dried meats from pampered stock, full fruit preserves, chocolates, coffee, and yes cigarettes, and they look fabulous!

    Our rental apartment in the 6th Arrondisement, is above the newly remodeled Hermes store, complete with exotic tea rooms. Clearly we will assume haut couture high ground for our ten-day encampment on the Rive Gauche.

    Generous accommodation here allows us to unpack fully, spread out, and arise daily to discover Paris at its leisurely pace. We divide the city into segments, both familiar and new, to structure our promenade adventures.

    Paris is a treat for the senses, a stunning visual museum, an imperially designed city of fabulous vistas, monuments, curving riverbanks, elegant parks, sculpture, grand boulevards, tree-lined streets, graceful apartments, appealing shops, internationally assembled culture, and…ever-present air of style, both grand and personal.

    We set out methodically to survey the distinct neighborhoods that give Paris varied expression: the gentrified Marais – where new retail flourishes amid now threatened Jewish quarter; St. Germain de Pres – haunt of international visitors and storied bistros, St. Honore – high temples of international couture and fashion devotees standing in line to get into Goyard (hand painted bags), immense art treasures of the Louvre and Musee D’Orsay.

    One excursion via the Metro is to Pere Lachaise Cemetery in the Bronx-like multicultural hood of the outer 20th Arrondisement. Herein Chopin, Oscar Wilde, Jim Morrison, and hundreds of artists, politicians, revolutionaries, and less famous citizens find eternal rest amid tombs and gravestones, both sacred and profane.

    We search for Jim Morrison’s obscure, almost unmarked grave, followed by a troop of bewildered stoners from California. To get them off our tail, I ask if they had seen Jimi Hendrix’s tomb (he isn’t buried here). This seems to reprioritize their celebrity death hunt, temporarily.

    Every venture returns interactions with citizens, treats for eye, and nutrition for the soul. If we extend in our wanderings too far, the high functioning Metro is a great and workable system to navigate our way back home.

    Meals are devoted to enjoying classic comforts offered at brasseries and bistrots that describe Parisian café culture. La Rotonde in the Montparnasse is our culinary mistress. We return three times for dishes such as seasonal white asparagus with hollandaise, perfectly prepared salmon, and fruited sorbets.

    Walking along the Rue du Bac near our rental, is a gauntlet of tiny, friendly restaurants like Café Varenne, across from the Prime Minister’s residence. Stewed lamb, “grand mere’s chicken,” hearty soups, and artful salads are enjoyed by locals and as well as visitors at these proud sanctuaries.

    Other de rigueur treats around town are falafel on Rue de Rosiers in the Marais; creamy, rich onion soup at Café St Germain, and crispy, grilled chicken doner at some anonymous Algerian corner in an outer ‘hood.

    Afternoon cafe crème is our ritual that we take seriously. We distribute our custom at favored institutions across the city: “Café Bonapart, Rue Royale near the Madeleine, Café Castiglione on the St Honore, Le Village Royal on a flowered Marais lane. $8 tariff for the “cup of Joe” is a bargain, given the sublime pleasure of sitting in an unhurried refuge, just being in Paris.

    For reasons I can only explain as mental regression, my crippled high school French seems to return in unpredictable spasms. After painfully stuttering our meal preferences to mostly polite waiters, we receive a response in English, along with cheerful smile.

    Our required visit to Opera Bastille is rewarded by a stunning existential interpretation (well this is Paris) of the Magic Flute that reminds us that we are in the Big Leagues of international opera.

    We prepare to leave Paris for home in California, blessed and grateful for the privilege of eight week’s journey through Europe; well planned, safely executed with minimal angst, and magnified in beauty through sharing it with you.

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