Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Summer travels and newly published stories

So, here it is October and ... where did the summer go? Well, let's see...

In June I traveled through the Dalmatian coast in Croatia, which was just as beautiful  as you might imagine. Great weather, fresh seafood, wine and the amazing city of Dubrovnik. Even when it's filled to the brim with cruise passengers it's still one of the most beautiful cities I've seen. (Thanks Croatian Tourist Board!)

Since I was in the neighborhood I took a nearly 7 hour bus trip to make a long overdue visit to Sarajevo. The city, while still showing the scars of war, is an absolute delight. The mix of Imperial Austrian and Ottoman influence has given the place a very special east-meets-west feel. And then there's the Cajdzinica Dzirlo tea house ... I'm definitely ready to explore more of the Balkans.

From Sarajevo I flew to Berlin and took time to visit friends in Saxony-Anhalt before flying back to the US. It reignited my passion for the city - and Germany in general.

In July I traveled with the family to Michigan, exploring Grand Rapids and Holland, taking my youngest daughter to the beach for the first time. It was cold and rainy, unfortunately, but I'm sure there will be another chance to go back to that coast.

I worked on a destination guide on Austria for, one of my favorite websites and magazines, which went live in September. (The second of three projects with them to date.) Stories I wrote last year came out in AAA Highroads (Finland) and German Life (Tallinn's German Roots), proceeded by a story in Toronto's Globe and Mail newspaper about Stockholm's Hornstull neighborhood.

Looking forward to what's next ... not that I necessarily know what that will be.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Zlatan Otok Winery: Croatian wines with a view

After a morning of winding roads, one-lane mountain tunnels, and a disturbing lack of guard rails, I came to the third and final stop on a wine tour of Hvar in Sveta Nedjelja. It’s a small village nestled along the coast overlooked by slopes of grape vineyards of Zlatan Plenkovic's family winery, Zlatan Otok.

Their Bilo Idro Marina and Restaurant was a couple days away from opening during my visit, so instead I tasted a few of the wines and enjoyed fresh octopus salad and prawns under a shady tree on the terrace of the Tamaris restaurant up the hill. A better choice, in fact, thanks to the beautiful views overlooking the Adriatic. 

The winery is best known for its Plavac Mali, a rich, full-bodied wine with a high alcohol content (12%-17%) that is native to the Dalmatian Coast. Genetic testing revealed that it’s actually a cross between Zinfandel and Dobricic grapes. In fact, those Napa Valley Zinfandels you’ve probably enjoyed actually originated Croatia. They are also the only producer of Grand Cru in Croatia.

On the already sunny Hvar island, grapes on the south slope receive an additional boost of light from the sun's reflecting of the water. The climate, soil type and shape of vineyards means pesticides aren't necessary to protect the crop, though the rough terrain means harvesting must be done manually.

While much of Croatia's wine production is consumed domestically, the wines of Zlatan Otok are available across parts of Europe and through a distributor in New Jersey. They have also been negotiating a deal to bring their wines to Trader Joe's. 

Of course, nothing beats enjoying a glass on Croatia's most beautiful island.


Saturday, June 28, 2014

Marking 100 Years Since The Trigger of WWI

Site of the assassination and new museum devoted to the story.

Today marks the 100th anniversary since Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife in Sarajevo.  Little did the teenager know his shot would plunge Europe, and indeed the world, into war, crumbling empires and laying the foundation for a century of conflicts in Europe and the Middle East. 

Opinions differ on the role Princip played in the war, with Serbs considering him a national hero as opposed to the terrorist label he typically receives. It's just one example of the tensions that still remain in Bosnia following the Dayton Accord that ended the "ethnic cleansing" of Bosniaks. 

Check out the BBC's 10 Interpretations of who started World War I here.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Along the Croatian Coast

iPhone shots along Croatia's Dalmatian Coast

Old port at Hvar, the largest town on the island of the same name
 After flying into Split and taking a brief look through the old town, I boarded
a ferry bound for the island of Hvar for two nights.

 Sunset on Hvar 

Church in old town Korcula

One of seven delicious courses at Vila Koruna, Mali Ston

 View of the Adriatic from Hotel Rixos Libertas, Dubrovnik

  A cable car takes visitors up the mountain for an incredible view of Dubrovnik

Friday, June 13, 2014

Hotel 25hours Berlin Bikini: Stylish City West

I love the 25hours brand. Each one is unique, stylish and incorporates some aspect of the city in their design. Their new location at the renovated Bikini Haus with rooms overlooking the zoo is helping to reinvigorate Berlin's City West after two decades of (understandable) focus on the former East Berlin.

Now, Berlin has no shortage of great places to stay for all types of budgets, from the famous luxury Hotel Adlon (site of Michael Jackson's baby dangling episode) to a pension in the former home of a silent film star. I've twice stayed in private apartments so I could, at least temporarily, live like a Berliner. So, why here and why 25hours?

You're just steps away from Zoo Station, once the city's main hub before the new Hauptbahnhof was built, smack in the heart of West Berlin. This was the glitzy showcase of capitalism during the Cold War. While Mitte and Prenzlauerberg took the post-reunification spotlight, this district has quietly been putting itself back in the limelight. From the rooftop there are great views of Berlin, including the Kaiser Wilhelm church right in front.

Its NENI restaurant is a concept by Haya Molcho from Vienna, and is a fresh culinary blend with flavors that extend from Germany to Russia to Persia to Morocco. Breakfast here is fresh and flavorful, though you can also pick up freshly made rolls and brioches with hand-made jams at the bakery. (Though the onsite ovens didn't quite work out, so they're actually just for show - at least for now.)

You can get free bicycle and even Mini Cooper rental.There's a DJ area that's become quite popular among locals and guests, and a sauna overlooking the zoo. But, what about the rooms?

149 rooms in six categories reflect Berlin's sleek style. Half are so-called "Jungle rooms" because they offer views of the Apes and Elephants in the Berlin Zoo next door. Inside you'll find unique decor, such as vintage globes and stereos. Shower stalls are small, but sleek, and the bath products smell wonderful. My room was a fairly open concept, with only the toilet having it's own private space. While I seem to barely sleep when I'm in the city, it's nice to come back to a plush pillow in the 25hours jungle.

Budapester Strasse 40
10787 Berlin

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Croatia's Second City: Split

The view from the plane coming down into Split's tiny airport was a great introduction to Croatia's breathtaking coast and the dramatic mountain backdrop. After a quick pass through customs, a driver was waiting to take me through the modern part of the city towards the docks and old town.

Since weather forced me to depart for Croatia a day late, I missed a full 24 hours in the city. Luckily, the entry to the old town is just a five minute walk from the docks where I'd catch my boat to Hvar. This allowed me to get a brief look at the old town, built within the remains of the palace of Roman emperor Diocletian. I passed through an unassuming entry and down to underground passages filled with jewelry and trinket stalls before heading up to tight cobbled lanes that eventually opened up to charming squares that exposed ruins of the old empire. Time permitting, it would definitely be a place worth getting a little lost.

While it is a great gateway to the islands, don't let Split be a city you just pass through. Allow at least a day to soak up the best of what this port has to offer.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

A journey along Finland's west coast

Last summer I visited Finland for the first time, traveling from Helsinki up the west coast to experience two very different festivals in Rauma and Finland, discover Finland's industrial heritage and sleep in a lighthouse. Definitely one of the best trips I've taken and hopefully not the last to this amazing place.

Click here to read my story in the latest issue of AAA Arizona's Highroads magazine.

If you're inspired to learn more, check out

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Chef Kaiser's Rieser Culatello

While most everything you’d want to see is within the circle of the medieval town walls in Nördlingen, Germany, those in search of a great meal should venture outside the gates to the Wirtshaus Meyers Keller. Tucked away in a residential area just south of the Reimlinger gate, you can enjoy fine dining in a warm, inviting dining room or enjoy great weather outside in a cool, shaded terrace.

Chef and owner Joachim Kaiser serves a mix of classic Swabian and Bavarian dishes from the region as well as fresh, inspired flavors from across the continent. Not to be missed is the “Rieser Culatello”, his take on a special Italian ham. Downstairs in the cellar, the cool, dry conditions are perfect for aging the hams – a total of 30 months is required – before they make their way to the table. Here it is enjoyed with a simple drizzle of olive oil. 

Marienhöhe 8 
86720 Nördlingen 
+49 09081 4493

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

St. Catherine's Passage, Tallinn

Tallinn is filled with medieval atmosphere and that's especially apparent when you turn down the picturesque St. Catherine's Passage, a cobbled alley lined with houses from the 15th-17th and, as seen here, the tombstones of members of the city's significant guilds. Today there are several artists workshops producing traditional crafts, including glassblowers and potters.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Antwerp Centraal Railway Station

View of the station from my room at the Radisson Blu Astrid

Opened in 1905, the Antwerp Centraal station is an architectural masterpiece. With beautiful stonework, high vaulted ceilings and a stunning dome by Louis Delacenserie, it reflects the grandeur of train travel at the turn of the century. I'm always fascinated by rail travel and historic railway stations, but Antwerp's might be the most beautiful I've seen, and is a great introduction to this highly underrated city.