Saturday, November 28, 2015

From Rijeka to Split and the Game of Thrones

After an exciting week with our Share Istria group, my friend Lynn and I were off on our own to explore more of Croatia. Our first stop was in Rijeka and we had a great first day there.

In the morning, we had another great and filling Croatia breakfast after a good night’s sleep at the Grand Hotel Bonavia in Rijeka. 

Before we headed back on the road we also had a chance to spend a bit of time in the Grand Hotel Bonavia Wellness Centre.

I was extremely impressed with this spa that was complimentary to all guests. It included a relaxation area with chromo therapy, themed aromatherapy showers, a Finish Sauna, a Turkish Sauna, and a spa area where they offered massages.

By the time we left there we were very relaxed and we hit the road to Split.

Alenka, our guide the previous day, had told us a lot about the beach town of Krk so we made a short detour to check it out.

It was indeed filled with beaches and a quaint downtown area along the water with a marina.

We walked around for a bit, enjoying the scenery, and watching the people at the cafes.

It was a good thing we didn’t stay too long, because the trip to Split, though beautiful, took twice as long as we expected.

As we arrived in the city, I was struck by how much more crowded it was than I expected. I soon learned that Split, Croatia,,was spread out and each area was different.

The spot our hotel was located in Podstrana was actually a bit more residential – and on an amazing stretch of beach.

When I looked out the window at Hotel Split, all I could think about was enjoying the turquoise water, but that would have to wait as we first had a tour waiting.

Our very knowledgeable, friendly, and fun guide was Vjeran Mlacic and he was going to introduce us to this historical city.

We met Vjeran on the other side of the city. This area of Split was filled with locals and tourists, sightseeing and enjoying local food. We were pretty hungry ourselves, but needed to get through the tour first.

He showed us a map of Split to give us a better understanding of the area before we headed inside Diocletian's Palace.

It was like nothing I had ever seen before. From the outside, you could see shops and cafes on the lower level with the remnants of what is the oldest remains from the Roman era above!

Inside the palace was also a combination of souvenir shops among these tall, old, walls. As we got further inside, though, it was all about long ago, and the Roman emperors that had lived here.

Although I’ve never watched Game of Thrones it was easy to see how anything filmed within these ancient walls could look realistic. Vjeran showed us a number of the tremendous rooms used for scenes.

After we went through the palace we stopped at some of the stores beneath it.
Lynn, who designs and makes jewelry herself, couldn’t resist picking up a few intricate silver pieces and I got some souvenirs.

We walked out of the palace area and to the marina toward our restaurant for dinner.

Tavern Varos is an excellent Italian choice. It was quite different than what we had in Istria, with more of this regions focus on vegetables.

After a salad and beets, we enjoyed grilled meats and a wonderful gnocchi in an alfredo sauce.

We walked back to the car along the marina. It was a beautiful scene with people enjoying cafes and music.

We couldn’t resist joining in for some gelato and cappuccinos before heading back to the hotel.

Lynn and I had one more day in <Split and it was going to be something I don’t get to do very often – free time on the beach.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Hitting the Road to Rijeka

Lynn and I woke up in Istria for the last time. We had breakfast with the group and said as our rental car pulled up to the front of Hotel Lone in Rovinj.

The Croatia Tourism Board had arranged for us to have this Audi as we hit the road to check out two more areas of the country neither of us had ever been: Rijeka and Split.

Rijeka was first and we had a scenic ride along the Mediterranean Sea to our destination.

It definitely looked more city-like than anywhere we had been in Istria, and Rijeka was in fact filled with plenty to. This has made it a very popular cruise port in the last few years.

We would be staying overnight at the Hotel Bonavia. It was centrally located and looked quite “grand.”

It was raining when Dominik Damis of the Rijeka Tourist Board and guide Alenka Šuljić Petrc picked us up to tour Rijeka, but we weren’t deterred from seeing the sites.

As we went through the city, we saw the cruise terminal, and heard about how inexpensive Rijeka is as a tourist destination. Taxis around the city are around a $1 a ride, and hostels are only about 25 euros a night, making it especially popular with young people.

She told us about the Planetarium and the ferries that you could use to easily visit the small islands in the area. We also learned that Al Capone’s mother lived in Rijeka, as did former New York City Mayor Fiorello H. La Guardia.

We also passed the Rijeka Synagogue, a small orthodox synagogue that was built and opened in 1932.

We drove up the hill to Trsat, where we explored the Castle and the Franciscan Monastery, which had been honored with a visit from Pope John Paul II. A bronze statue commemorates his time in Rijeka.

Despite the rain, we were able to see some beautiful views of the city and the sea behind it.

We went back down to town to meet Snijezana Papes from the Port of Rijeka for lunch at Gardens Restaurant. In some ways it reminded me of a New York diner, with a big menu that offered a little of everything.

Lynn and I were surprised how different the culture and food in Rijeka was from Istria. It was a little less Italian-influenced, but we found a lot more salads and vegetables.

After an indulgent chocolate fudge cake dessert,  we talked more about the port and the city before the group left us at Korzo, the pedestrian shopping area.

At first sight, it reminded me of a similar area in Vienna, but it wasn’t quite as high end. The prices and selection was quite reasonable.

Korzo also has outdoor cafes between the shops.

Lynn, a jewelry designer, especially loved the mosaics in the galleries. I picked up a few souvenirs to bring home.

By the time we got back to the hotel, we were pretty worn out from a long day. We were glad dinner was scheduled for right in the Grand Hotel Bonavia.

The meal was great, but the Berry Crepe finish was fantastic.

Fortunately, it was also light because we were more than ready to head straight to bed.

It had been a great introduction to Rijeka and I hoped to come back, but in the morning, we were off to Split. 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

History at the Palmer House Hilton and Lyric Opera

My road trip through the Midwest had started nearly a week ago. I was now in one of my favorite cities with my mom.

We had stayed at the Palmer House Hilton previously and I knew how much my mom loved it. I also always had a great time at this classic hotel.

I called my friend, Ken Price, the hotel’s Director of Publicity, to arrange our stay.

Every time I’ve been to Palmer House, Ken has fascinated me with stories of the hotel’s history. He has mentioned his “History is Hott” tour and I was finally able to work out a time to do it.

After a good night’s sleep, we had a light breakfast and got ready to meet Ken.

We were saving our appetite for lunch at the Palmer House’s Lockwood Restaurant, which is included with the History is Hott tour.

Ken met us and we caught up over lunch before the rest of the people arrived for the tour.

I had the delicious French Onion Soup while Mom enjoyed the salad with shaved pears, hazelnuts, and greens in a buttermilk vinaigrette.

We also chose different entrees as I had the Spaghetti ala Chitarra with wild mushrooms, herbs, and parmesan, while she ate the BBQ Salmon, served with an asparagus salad. Both dishes were quite good, which I expect when I go to Lockwood.

We didn’t have time for dessert, but we took it to have later. It was “Bertha’s Famous Brownie.”

The first time it was made was in the kitchen of the Palmer House in 1893, to be served at the Columbian Exposition of the Chicago World’s Fair.

As we all know, the brownie became quite famous. Bertha Palmer also had a story and that’s what the History is Hott tour is all about. Ken Price tells the story of love, fire, architecture, and design in its entirety as you see original artifacts in the Palmer House Museum and tour the exquisite hotel.

The tour was as wonderful as I expected and I strongly suggest it to anyone visiting or living near Chicago (details and reservations information can be found here).

We went back to our room at the Palmer House and got ready for a special night. It was our first trip to Lyric Opera and we were going to see one of my mom’s favorite plays, Carousel .

We arrived early for dinner at the Florian Opera Bistro. It was set up like a French café and our dinner was delicious.

I had one of Romeo’s Savory Tarts, choosing the one with gruyere and zucchini, accompanied by a freshly made chicken noodle soup.

We shared a tart and some cookies for dessert and then headed up to the theater for the performance.

It was a majestic site. We had seats right in the front, though I doubt any seat could be bad at Lyric Opera.

The performance was the quality of a Tony winning Broadway show. Actor Steven Pasquale was amazing in the lead of this Rogers and Hammerstein musical.

I look forward to seeing more at Lyric Opera in the future. Their calendar is full and varied.

It was a long drive home after a week of road tripping in the Midwest that ended with a magical night in Chicago

Friday, November 6, 2015

One Chicagoland Girls Getaway Finishes, Another Begins

We had a perfectly relaxing day at Hotel Arista, enjoying the spa, food, and amenities. 

It was time for the Midwest girls’ getaway with my friend Lynn to end, but not before we explored more of the hotel and Naperville, Illinois.

I slept very well on the king bed in my spacious suite. It was a shame I only had it for one night.

Lynn and I met with Barb Hocker of Hotel Arista at Lavazza Café, which was a short walk through the hotel to the City Gate Centre.

We refueled with lattes, muffins, and yogurt, and talked about the hotel, which four diamond and a Preferred Hotel, as well as part of the Kiwi Collection.

After we finished breakfast, we toured City Gate, which also included the Tap Inn Pub & Carvery. Barb also showed us the golf simulator and I got to take a swing at it.

Lynn and I went back to our suites to freshen up for the rest of the day.

Carmia Stanovich, Director of Sales for the Naperville Convention and Visitors Bureau, picked us up and took us on a brief tour through her city. I was surprised at how much there was to do there and vowed to come back and explore.

Before heading back to the hotel, we stopped for lunch. I was pretty excited at the name of the restaurant, White Chocolate Grill.

As you can imagine, the motto at this restaurant is “dessert first.” We didn’t quite do that, but we did keep our eye on the dessert menu when ordering lunch.

While everyone else got salads, I decided to go with two of the items the restaurant was known for.

I started with the Tomato Gin Soup. I happen to love gin, but even if I didn’t, that bit of juniper made for a wonderful and unusual taste.

For my main course I went with the Veggie Quinoa Burger and it was fantastic, filled with vegetables and flavor.

With my burger I had a side of the Israeli Couscous. It was sprinkled with pistachios and was yet another dish which was unusual and tasty.

Choosing dessert at White Chocolate Grill was no easy task. We were able to narrow it down to two: a brownie sundae made with a (white chocolate) blondie and the restaurant’s signature White Chocolate Raspberry Cheesecake. Both were delicious.

Carmia took us back to the hotel. Lynn’s flight back to New York wasn’t until the evening and we were able to get a late checkout at Hotel Arista so we had some time to chill at this beautiful hotel before leaving for the airport.

The Midwest adventure was over for Lynn and I when I dropped her at O’Hare in Chicago, but it wasn’t quite over for me. Soon after Lynn’s flight left, my mom arrived from Florida.

We headed straight to her favorite hotel, the Palmer House Hilton in downtown, where we had some very special things planned for the next day.