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Monday, July 30, 2018

Must See In Split, Croatia - Preparing For Our Mediterranean Cruise

Bad news!  We were just informed by our cruise line that we will not be going to Ravenna, Italy.  No mosaics, no Basilica of San Vitale, no Mausoleum of Galla Placida and no chance of possibly seeing Bologna.  The regulations have changed and now our ship is over the size limit of what is allowed to come into this port.  But the good news is that we get to visit another country we have never been to before, Croatia.  We have heard that this is a beautiful country and we are very excited to explore the city of Split after researching the area.

There's no need for us to book an excursion here.  It is only a short but uphill walk to the Old Town and the other sites on our list.  

Diocletian's Palace is more a citadel than a palace.  It was Roman Emperor Diocletian's retirement home.  Today it is the central hub of Split where 2,000 people live or work.  We will be walking on original Roman streets that cut through the palace as we follow Rick Steve's walking tour through this massive place.  
1.  Palace Facade View - We can stand in front of the palace and face the water to enjoy the view Diocletian had when he walked past the row of 42 arched windows we will notice on this side of the palace.
2. Cellar Entrance -  Long ago this cellar was filled with water then later used as a dump.  Now it houses art exhibits and souvenir stands.  In a well-preserved area down here we can see ancient Roman engineering.  There is a charge to enter the cellar but if we decide to pay to have a look around, we will be able to see where scenes from The Game of Thrones have been filmed.  We have never seen this show but we will probably be wanting to after our visit here.  We can also see a headless and pawless sphinx and the bust of Diocletian.  I would love to get a glimpse of what this extravagant  Emperor looked like.
3.  Peristyle Square - We are excited that we will get to see two 3,500 year old, mostly intact, Egyptian sphinxes here that were brought to the city by Diocletian.  
4.  Entry Vestibule - This grand entrance into Diocletian's living quarters was meant to impress visitors.  It's here that we will hear an all-male a cappella group singing traditional songs.
5.  Cathedral of St. Domnius is the oldest cathedral in the world.  It was Diocletian's mausoleum but then converted into the town's cathedral. We will see the original ring of 24 supporting columns and the cathedral's wooden doors which have survived since the year 1200.
6.  Jupiter's Temple/St. John's Baptistery - We will look for a statue of St. John the Baptist, done by the great Croatian sculptor Ivan Mestrovic, and for a vaulted ceiling that is considered to be the best preserved of it's kind anywhere.  Every face and each patterned box is different,
7.  Cardo is the most important street in the palace.  It connects the main entry with the heart of the complex.  We will see many impressive buildings and we will pass the City Museum but I will be focused on finding Nadalina selling dark chocolate using Dalamatian flavors like dried fig and prosecco, an Italian white wine.
8.  Golden Gate was once the main entrance to the palaceIf we go outside this gate and turn to look at the palace, we can imagine what it looked like before the many other buildings were added on.
Just outside the Golden Gates on the northern wall of the palace we can see another Ivan Mestrovic statue, Bishop Gregory of Nin.   This Croatian icon helped spread Christianity into the region.  People rub the big toe of this statue for good luck.  

Historic Split is where we can find Pjaca Square.  This is where Split's old town hall is.  I can't wait to see the marble floors of this plaza and eat at one of the cafes with outdoor seating.   I will be looking for St. Anthony's statue.  The donor of this statue is seen clinging to the leg of St. Anthony as a reminder that he was the one who made this donation.  Above this statue, we can't wait to see the one of a man and a woman arguing!  These sound like two very unique statues for sure.  Radic Brothers Square or Fruit Square is a must see to enjoy beautiful renaissance architecture.  We will also find yet another Mestrovic statue.  This one is of a 16th century poet named Marko Marulic.  Will this and the other statues all have the usual Mestrovic characteristics typical of his statues?  Long, angular fingers, arms and legs and expressive, elongated faces with prominent noses.  It will be fun to be on the lookout for Ivan Mestrovic statues while we are here in Split.  And for people watching, we will visit Marmont Street where we will find Split's residents in the shops, cafes and restaurants.  We would love to take a break here and sit among the people of Croatia and eat some of their traditional foods.  We are hoping to find and try Fuzi which is a homemade pasta that is rolled around a pencil.  This pasta is usually served in different types of stews.  We also must have, because it really looks and sounds delicious, Soparnik, which is a savory pie filled with Swiss chard.  And for desert, Krostule, which is a pastry made from thin strips of dough that is tied in knots and deep fried.  After it is dusted with powdered sugar, it is ready to eat.  I really can't wait to try it.

Marjan Hill is a steep hill where we can enjoy views of the city below.  On our way up the short hill, we will see a Jewish cemetary.  Some of the tombstones here date back to the year 1700.  On top of the hill we will check out the two churches, St. Nicholas and St. Jerome.  There is an altarpiece not to be missed at St. Jerome.  We will stop at the only cafe bar on the hilltop, Vidilica, for a snack before we make our way down the hill.

We won't want to miss Split's pride and joy, their waterfront, the Riva.  This seafront promenade is lined with cafes, bars, eateries and souvenir shops.   On the west side we can find Republic square, church of St. Francis and a fountain.  And on the east side, we will see a green market. called Pazar.  We would love to try the local produce here.

Split is located by the sea so we will definitely want to relax on one of their beaches.  (I will make sure to bring an empty water bottle to collect sand here for the keepsake I will make as a reminder of our 40th anniversary dream vacation.)  There are many to choose from so we may check out a few if we have time.  Bacvice beach is a lively, crowded beach with people enjoying water sports and stylish cafes and is the only sandy beach in town.  At the foot of Marjan Hill we can find less crowded beaches.  The most popular beaches are Jezinac, Bene and Kasjuni.  

Although we are a little disappointed that we are not going to Ravenna to see the beautiful mosaics we heard so much about, we are sure that Croatia is going to be a country we will hope to get back to one day!

Monday, July 16, 2018

Stone Mountain Park Atlanta, Georgia

It was Memorial Day Weekend and the Mets were playing against the Braves in Atlanta, Georgia.  We have passed through Georgia many times on our way to visit my parents in Florida, but we never stopped, besides for when we needed gas or to use their restrooms.  We like rooting on the Mets when they are away because we get to check out a new stadium and a new city.  (Now that we live in North Carolina it is easier to see them away (Atlanta or DC) rather than going all the way to NY.) Since the Mets were playing on Memorial Day we figured we would get to Atlanta on Sunday and leave on Tuesday and make a mini vacation out of our road trip.  We wanted to finally stay awhile in Georgia  and since it was Memorial Day Weekend, we hoped to find a Memorial Day celebration

I did some research before we left and found Stone Mountain on many of the Top Things To Do In Atlanta lists.  I also found out that Stone Mountain was a monadnock which is an "isolated rock hill, knob, ridge or small mountain that rises abruptly from a gently sloping or virtually level plain."  On this mountain is an enormous carving which is really impressive, but unfortunately, controversial at the same time.  It depicts Confederate figures Jefferson Davis, Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson on their horses.  We chose not to think too much about the people on the wall and more about the people who carved it, the largest sculpture of it's kind in the world.  It was interesting to find out that the first person to work on the carving was Gutzon Borglum.   He abandoned the project and later went on to begin Mount Rushmore.   It took the talents of two other men and many years to finally finish this project.  It really is an amazing sculpture.

Since we were going to get to Atlanta late in the afternoon on Sunday that didn't leave much time for sightseeing.  We decided that we would spend our first day in Georgia just at Stone Mountain.  There is an amusement park here and they were having a Memorial Day light festival in the evening so there was plenty to do to keep us entertained for the rest of the day.  We got the full park ticket that got us admittance to all the rides (except Ride the Ducks) and entertainment ($31.95)  We also paid an extra $3.00 per ticket which got us dinner and endless fountain drinks.  Of course dinner was the usual amusement park fare but we thought it was a great deal and we wouldn't have to leave the park to go find dinner and then come back.  You can only get this deal if you order tickets online.  Right now there is a great sale going on that ends July 18th.  They are offering their All Attraction Pass for only $22.95!

The first thing we did was check the schedule of the two shows.  One was a 4D movie and the other was a one man show.  We had a few minutes to get to the one man show after we got our reusable cup and our first drink of the day.   The One Man was a juggler but added different elements and  used different props to juggle that we had never seen before.  We loved the rectangular blocks he juggled with.   When he tossed them they almost looked like they were floating in air.  

Next up, we boarded the Stone Mountain Scenic Railroad that took us on a leisurely ride around the perimeter of the mountain.   We rode past the carving and got a very good view of it.   We were able to take a great picture of it as the train went slowly by.

After the train ride around the mountain, it was time to go up the mountain.  Our all inclusive ticket included the Skyride aerial tram ride up to the top of the mountain.  If we didn't have the ticket we could have climbed up.  We have never been on top of a quartz monzonite monadock before.  It really is a gigantic rock and it felt like I was walking on the moon with all of it's small craters (rock pools).  There were a couple of trees up there that found a small patch of dirt, in the crevices of the rock, to grow in.  They looked out of place to me growing out of the rock but I was very impressed with their determination to grow when the odds were against them.   We had a terrific view of downtown Atlanta from the top of this mountain.  We walked around the mountaintop to see all the different views and take lots of pictures.

Near the Skyride was Memorial Hall.  This building contained a museum and two movie theaters.  The first thing we came to as we entered was rows and rows of pictures of heroes that lost their lives so that we could live our lives freely.  There were notes and things taped to some of these photos from family of friends of these brave people.  It was a sad but wonderful memorial display.  After we spent some time here we went to find the museum.  We learned all about the artifacts that the museum had from civilizations that have lived on this mountain.  Some items dated back 12,000 years.  We learned about how the granite from this mountain helped build the local economy.  And we learned all about how the carving came to be when we watched the 11 minute film in one of the theaters.

In the early evening, we got our folding chairs and set them up on the lawn with hundreds of other people.  We ate our chicken strips and grilled chicken sandwich  dinners and enjoyed the music of the Air National Guard Band of the South while we waited for the laser show.


Because it was Memorial Day, there were plenty of patriotic symbols in lights and we had a chance to honor vets and current heroes with a standing ovation and moment of silence.  

After the light show which lasted almost an hour, there was a fireworks display.  We don't know how long they went on for because it started to rain for a second time, and it was coming down harder than before.   We decided to leave along with two thirds of the spectators.  There were diehards there that were sticking it out to the end.

We had a nice, relaxing time at Stone Mountain Park.  There was so much to do here and didn't even get a chance to do it all.  We missed the Antebellum Plantation with the historic manorhouses  and the petting farm.   There is also an area called Camp Highland Outpost with many outdoor challenges, like rock walls, for lots of family fun.  And if we were 50 years younger, we would have enjoyed the splash area and dinosaur play room also.  I am putting this park on our "Must See With Grandkids" list!  

On Memorial Day we went to the baseball game that we came to here for.  We also found a few other wonderful sights in Atlanta.   To be continued...

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Monday, July 9, 2018

Must See In Kotor, Montenegro - Preparing For Our Mediterranean Cruise

Kotor, Montenegro is the last port and the last country we will visit on our amazing Mediterranean cruise.  It will be a perfect ending to a perfect cruise as it will be a little easier to explore this very small city than the larger cities we will visit earlier in our trip.  We will be able to walk directly from our ship (or tender, if we are one of the last ships to arrive) into the town.  But before we even dock here, we will be treated to a spectacular one hour cruise through a magnificent fjord on our way to the port.  We will be arriving at the port at 8:30 am so we will be sure to set our alarm clock for way before that.  We will leave this port at 6:00 pm so that gives us plenty of time to enjoy our visit here.

I had to look up what a fjord was and found out that it is "a long, narrow, deep inlet of the sea between high cliffs, typically formed by submergence of a glaciated valley."  Nature has a way of creating the most beautiful sights we will ever see.  We cannot wait to have the experience of cruising through this fjord.  And this is only the start of all the raw, natural beauty Kotor has to offer.  The Balkan Mountains and the waters of Boka Kotorska are a big part of making this area a picturesque wonderland.

We won't be booking an excursion to do here.  We have decided that we would like to take it slow and enjoy this gorgeous country at our own pace.   I hope we get a chance to see everything on our Must-See List but if not, we will leave here feeling like we ended our Dream Vacation on a very wonderfully relaxing, enjoyable note!

St. John's Fortress is on a hilltop and can be reached by climbing 1,350 steps.  This hike sounds more strenuous than relaxing, but we think it will be fun and we will try to take it slow.  It's supposed to take 45 minutes to reach the top but I am sure we will not be moving at a 45 minute pace.  We think the climb will be worth it to be able to see a stunning view of Kotor once we reach the top.  There are different sites to see along the way, with places to rest, like the Church Of Our Lady Of Health.  We will probably need to say a prayer here for help to get us the rest of the way up.

The Old Town of Kotor.  We will want to stroll the narrow streets of the city that Lonely Planet named #1 city to visit in the world in 2016.  We will be people watching as this ancient city is home to many.  Clothes will be hung between stone buildings and friends will be meeting for coffee.  We will be looking forward to standing in line with them at Salvatore's while we are waiting for our wild strawberry gelato to be made.

Saint Tryphon's Cathedral is one of two Roman Catholic Cathedrals in Montenegro and it's namesake is the protector of Kotor.  We can pay a couple of euros here if we want to take a look inside.  On the upper floor we can view a collection of local dress, weapons and artifacts.  There is also a balcony that gives us a view of the town and photo ops.

St. Nicholas' Church is the city's Serbian Orthodox church.  We will definitely want to visit this church to buy candles for the living and deceased members of our families.  The tradition is to kiss each candle and then place them in either the top row of candle holders for our living relatives and on the bottom shelf for the deceased.

Cat Museum of Kotor is a treat for cat lovers like myself.  It's just all about cats here and sometimes there are live exhibits!  I hear that there are cats all over this town and that many of them congregate at the Church of Saint Mary Collegiata in Wood Square.  I am sure we will not leave this town before heading over there to see them.

Our Lady of the Rocks is a Catholic church that is on a small, artificial island which can be reached by a 15 minute boat ride.   We will be able to enjoy the views of the Bay of Kotor coastline on our way over to the church.  For 1 euro we will get a 30 minute tour of this church.  Our tour guide will tell us about the history of the church and artifacts.   I'm looking forward to see the huge, ornate altar here that I saw a picture of.  Once outside the church, we will be looking for the delicious ice cream we heard is on this island.

We will have two days of cruising back to Barcelona after our stop in Kotor.  This will give us a chance to relax before we get back to reality!

The next time I blog about our Mediterranean cruise, it will be about the wonderful time we had on our first trip ever to Europe.  I can't believe that this is happening in only about two months from now.  We will need to make our Vatican, and other, reservations soon.   We also need to start thinking about what we need to bring with us and what we want to bring back!  We will need to learn a few important words and phrases in Italian like "Dov'e il bagno" (Where's the bathroom?!)  The preparing is all part of the fun of vacationing isn't it?

I can't wait to tell you all about our adventure!  Ciao for now!!

Monday, July 2, 2018

Pastrami Reuben Sandwich

The pinnacle of cured meats, pastrami, is the unique creation of the Romanian-Jewish immigrants of New York.  They took brisket of beef and salt-brined, spiced, hot smoked, chilled, steamed, sliced it and served it on rye bread.  When this group started to move out of New York and into other parts of the country, the recipe started to change and so the pastrami itself.

I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York and until 3 years ago, when we retired, lived in New York all my life.  I have had pastrami sandwiches outside of the Big Apple but there have been times when I was not sure if the meat I was eating was pastrami at all.  I gave up ordering it anywhere but New York.

A couple of weeks ago we were in New York at my son Joe's house and he wanted to treat Soko, for Father's Day, to a sampling of delicious deli meats from the best place to buy those meats, a Kosher deli.  Joe ordered from Ben's Best in Rego Park.  This is his "go to" deli for pastrami, corned beef, tongue and more.  We decided that if he ordered extra pastrami we could have the traditional pastrami on rye for lunch and I would make, for the first time ever, Pastrami Reuben Sandwiches for dinner.  The Reuben's were absolutely delicious, but I am sure they were because we had the best pastrami and had nothing to do with my cooking skills!


Pastrami Reuben Sandwiches

Ingredients (per sandwich)

2 slices rye bread

1/4 - 1/2 lb. pastrami

2 slices swiss cheese

1/4 cup sauerkraut

1 - 2 Tbsp. Thousand Island dressing*

1 Tbsp. butter softened

*Thousand Island Dressing Recipe

1/2 cup mayonnaise

2 Tbsp. ketchup

2 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish

2 tsp. finely diced onion

1/8 tsp. kosher salt


Prepare Thousand Island dressing.  Spread 1/2 Tbsp. butter on a slice of the rye bread.  Put the slice, buttered side down, on frying pan.  Top bread with Thousand Island dressing, slice of swiss cheese, pastrami, sauerkraut then second slice of swiss.  Spread the second slice of bread with the remaining butter.  Place this slice, with buttered side up, on top of sandwich.  Cook on medium-low heat until golden brown.  Flip sandwich over and cook until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted.


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