Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Best Roast Chicken I Have Ever Made



I'm not much into New Year's resolutions. For instance, this year I'm pretending to learn how to play Careless Whisper on the saxophone (though if anyone feels like teaching me how to play we can make this really happen) and actually sort of trying to use Twitter more. However, my friend Pete is determined to learn how to cook for himself this year and he enlisted me to help him achieve this goal. It has been an interesting exercise for both of us because he gets to ask all sorts of questions while I'm making something and I have to actually figure out how to answer them. In doing so I've realized just how much of my cooking skills came from watching my relatives. I've also come to really appreciate the fact that I grew up in a family where cooking and, well, food in general was kind of a big deal. If you aren't exposed to that on a regular basis I can see how cooking can be a bit of a mystery. 

So far we've made lasagna, marinara sauce, and roast chicken. I'm going to talk about the roast chicken because oh my God, it was amazing. Now, you may be thinking "What? A roast chicken? I've made that before. It's no big deal." Which is my point. This chicken is a big deal. This chicken will change your life. Ok, maybe not. But, if for some reason your life revolves around not being able to make the best roast chicken of all time, then this actually will change your life.

I actually have been interested in perfecting my roast chicken technique ever since I saw those lovely golden birds while in Paris last year. I could always make a perfectly serviceable bird, but it was never quite right--the skin was too soggy or the breast meat was too dry. Well, I'm proud to say that this chicken had a wonderfully golden, crispy skin along with the moistest meat (worst word combo ever) I've tasted. So I'm just going to go ahead and belatedly declare this my New Year's Resolution. Status: Accomplished.

Recipe Notes
I combined two recipes from Thomas Keller and Ina Garten and the result was the most golden, moist, and flavorful chicken I've ever had. I like Keller's method but it lacked any seasoning besides salt and pepper. I've made Ina's famous engagement chicken before but I liked this simpler recipe for lemon chicken which still makes use of the lemons and onions which provide the base of the incredible sauce that is served with the engagement chicken. Instead, this recipe includes home made croutons as an accompaniment, which I made using some bread I had baked earlier in the day.

For this recipe I used a kosher chicken which comes basically brined (more on that here). If your chicken isn't kosher I would strongly recommend brining it yourself (good how-to here) in order to get the moistest bird possible. In any case, make sure you spring for the highest quality bird you can get, as it really does make a difference. I also used my trusty grapeseed oil instead of the butter in Ina's version and the nothing in Keller's. I think it gave the chicken a nice, even golden brown color. 

Ingredients

1 3 1/2-4 pound chicken unwashed, at room temperature, with giblets removed

1 medium yellow onion, thickly sliced

1-2 lemons, cut into quarters

Kosher salt

Pepper

Grapeseed oil

Butcher's twine

Preparation

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.

1. Dry chicken using paper towels both inside and out. Make sure to really dry the chicken as much as possible as any excess moisture will make your chicken skin soggy. 

2. Sprinkle inside and outside of chicken liberally with salt and pepper. 

3. Stuff cavity with lemons and onions

4. Brush chicken with grapeseed oil

5. Truss chicken with butcher's twine (great video here)

6. Place chicken breast side up on the roasting rack of a roasting pan and pour about a 1/3 a cup of water  or a couple of ice cubes into the pan. This will help keep your oven from getting too smokey during the cooking process. 450 degrees is super hot and my oven got pretty smokey from all that sizzling fat, but the water or ice cubes should help combat this a bit.

7. Cook chicken for 50-60 minutes, until the internal temp is 165. Try not to open the oven during the roasting process as that increases your cooking time and can dry the chicken out.

8. Remove twine and let rest for 15 minutes before serving.

9. Carve that sucker up and enjoy the BEST ROAST CHICKEN EVER.


I have a terrible aversion to leftovers but even I thought this chicken was still great the next day. Of course, after that I cracked and set about turning the Best Roast Chicken Ever into the Best Chicken Soup Ever, but that recipe will have to wait for another time.

P.S. I have a piece up on The Toast that I'm really proud of. Give it a read!


Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Food, Glorious (Trip) Food

It should come as no surprise that food is an integral part of my travel experience and even though I wrote a fair amount about some memorable culinary delights, there was still a lot I left out. The foods mentioned here (broken down by city) shaped my trip as much as strolling along the Seine or climbing to the top of Saint Paul's. 

London

As you may know, I started off my trip housesitting in North London for a great family with the most wonderful dog ever. Before the fam left I was invited to dinner where I was exposed to British-style oven roasted potatoes. 



This sounds so stupid because, I mean, I've definitely had oven roasted potatoes many times here in the states, but these were different. Thanks to a dusting of cornstarch and some good fat these crispy potatoes come closer in taste and texture to french fries. I knew from the first bite that I wanted to make my own when I got home and I found a great recipe here on BBC Good Food. I subbed grapeseed oil for the goose fat instead of olive oil because it has a higher smoking point. (That basically means that grapeseed can withstand a higher temperature than olive oil.) It worked like a charm when I made these with a roast chicken last month and they are by far the best potatoes I've ever made.

Paris

I've already talked about the croissants and the duck confit and the rotisserie chicken so I'm just gonna plug the pastries here. What kind? Doesn't matter. Try them alllll. Laduree's famous macarons were amazing as were the tarts from Eric Keyser, although I'm sure anything from either of these two places is divine. Check out this pistachio-apricot tart: 



So pretty! 


It's worth a trip to Laduree just to see the store (I got scolded for taking this photo). We bought eight macarons and they were gone within an embarrassingly short amount of time. Rose petal, violet, and orange blossom were my favorites just because they were so different, but the more traditional flavors like pistachio and caramel were equally delicious and intense. 

Munich

I'll admit: I wasn't expecting a whole lot food-wise from Oktoberfest aside from giant beers, sausages and strudel but I was pleasantly surprised by a couple of things:


Cheesy Spatzle, which is the egg-noodle-meets-gnocchi dish pictured on the right (also notice the half-chicken. I finally had one!) and knodel, grated potato dumplings served in the most delicious dark beer sauce were revelations:


Unfortunately, both of these dishes involve a maddening level of steps and require tools (ricer, spatzle-maker) I don't have so I won't be recreating either of these any time soon. However, James and I plan on checking out the Munich Haus in Chicopee, MA at some point and if they have even passable versions of these dishes you'll be the first to know. 

Prague


Like Munich, Prague is a part of the Bohemian region and thus shares many of the same foods (meat, potatoes, bread, repeat). For our first meal we wanted something authentic so we checked out local favorite Hastalsky dedek. I had the (crazy cheap) duck which came with two different kinds of weird dumplings (think canned bread) and some absolutely delicious red cabbage. I'd eat a bowl of it if I could. In addition, the menu's English translations were...interesting. 


I came for the red cabbage, but stayed for the pig-slaughtering bread. And of course, a trip to Prague would not be complete without this: 


THERE CAN ONLY BE ONE.

Vienna

We're still in the land of meat and potatoes, people, but now we have Austrian coffee. Viennese coffeehouse culture is a huge part of Vienna and is even listed as a UNESCO Intangible Heritage so yeah, it's a pretty big deal. 


I chose the Ubersturzter Neumann, or Upside down Neumann, partially for the name and mostly for the whipped cream, which is put into an empty coffee cup while a double mocha is poured over it. 


Many Austrian coffees have very specific instructions for their preparation and presentation, which can seem a little overwhelming at first but is all part of the fun.


During our visit to the famous Cafe Sperl our waitress gave us a little booklet called the ABC of Coffee which helped explain the extensive offerings while making Starbucks look like McDonald's dollar menu. 

Budapest


Confession: I had a pretty bad cold during our two days in Budapest so I didn't really experience much in the way of Hungarian cuisine. I did make sure to have goulash for dinner on our first night and, from what I could taste, it was good and spicy. But my appetite was rather wain for most of the trip. However, we spent a nice afternoon at 1000 Teas, a cozy tea room with the largest tea menu I have ever seen. I had a pot of elderberry tea which was supposed to help with colds and I was good as new within a few days.


We also had some pretty great Thai food on our last night night, which was a welcomed break from the meat-and-potatoes express.

Dubrovnik

I've already rhapsodized about the wine, bread, and cheese so now I'm going to talk about the ham. Specifically, Dalmatian ham:


A thick-cut, smoked ham reminiscent of prosciutto, Dalmatian ham is a Croatian specialty and was featured on nearly every menu we saw. 


Dubrovnik also has a great selection of high end restaurants (many of which were out of our price range) but we had a particularly memorable meal at Lucin Kantun, a Mediterranean tapas-style restaurant that included a delicious stuffed squid and beef carpaccio. 


For our last meal in the walled city we decided to try something different and checked out Taj Mahal, a misleadingly named Bosnian restaurant. The food was a bit of a mix between Turkish and Greek--lots of spiced mets, phyllo, and yogurt. Katie ordered the sausages pictured above, which were a highlight, along with the teeny baked potatoes topped with thick yogurt.  

Rome

Oh Rome, I could write about your food forever. Instead, I'm  limiting myself to only three things:


We stopped at a random cafe for breakfast on our way to the Colosseum and happened upon the best breakfast pastry of the trip: coronetto (little horn) alla marmellata--a sort of Italian version of the croissant filled, in this case, with some kind of red jam or jelly. I'm not exactly sure what it was, actually. Marmellata can refer to what we think of as orange marmalade along with jam and conserves, but it didn't distinctly taste like raspberry or strawberry. If anything, it was some kind of mysterious red stuff. And man was it good. My cousin and I each had one and then we each got another before we left because well, when in Rome! 


We had the BEST meal at Nipotino del Solitario, a tiny traditional family-run restaurant in the Esquiline neighborhood. Everything was fresh, home-cooked authentic Italian food at a very reasonable price, but the carbonara was outstanding. So, so good. I still dream about this dish. I'll be dreaming about it for the rest of my life. In fact, I need to go make some carbonara right now....

(Twenty minutes later)

Nope. Not as good.


We had our second best meal at Piccolo Arancio an inventive and reasonably priced restaurant near the Trevi fountain, an area that can be a bit of a tourist trap. I had lasagna with saffron and zucchini flowers (a long-standing obsession) which was light and flavorful. 

Despite all this indulgence, I actually lost weight on this trip thanks to the hours of daily walking. But even if I hadn't it still would have been totally worth it.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Grand Tour III: All Roads Lead To Rome


Like the cultured young gentlemen centuries before, our Grand Tour ended in Rome. The idea was that  exposure to the great works of antiquity and the Renaissance would give these gentlemen the polish they needed before moving in society. So after five days in sunny Dubrovnik we boarded a night ferry and traveled across the Adriatic to Bari in order to get some polish.


Since it was the low season only one ferry company was running and because we booked our tickets  just three days in advance we ended up with seats on the deck instead of a cabin. I think the ten hour bus ride may actually have been more comfortable because there weren't immovable armrests between each seat and we weren't kept awake and then woken up by super loud Italians roughly my parents age who were partying next to us. FYI: no one wants to hear A Whiter Shade of Pale being blasted from your iPhone at 6 in the morning, old Italian guy. Eventually it was time to get off the boat and find some much needed coffee. We took a bus to the train station in Bari that was driven by one of the handsomest men I've ever seen in real life. That's Italy for you--even the bus drivers are hot. 


Our train wasn't leaving for a few hours so we parked it in a cafe for some espresso and cornettos, which are like Italian croissants. All through the trip my cousin Katie had been talking about the coffee in Italy and how amazing it is. Now, I'm not saying I didn't believe her, because I did. I just didn't know what that actually meant. I see that now. I had coffee and espresso in every country I went to and while none of it was bad per se (with the exception of the instant coffee topped with cool whip we had on the train in Budapest) none of it was this good. Like the croissant I had from Stohrer in Paris, this cappuccino was on an entirely different level I didn't even know existed. And they all tasted that good. Everywhere we went! Ugh. I can't talk about it anymore because it's making me sad just to think about.


Moving on. As we progressed through our trip proximity to the train station became increasingly important because it just made things a lot less complicated. Thus, when I started looking for our hotel in Rome I only considered places within walking distance of the Roma Termini, the city's main train station. I feel like I should mention that I used Booking.com for most of our reservations because they seemed to list more independent and family-run places than say, Hotels.com. I usually then cross-checked potential places with TripAdvisor just to make extra sure the place was legit.


Rome is pricey, like Paris pricey--but unlike Paris my hotel wasn't free. I ended up finding a budget hotel for $37 per person per night. Of course, calling what we stayed in a 'hotel' might be stretching it but our room was clean, had three beds, and a private bathroom. It certainly wasn't located in the nicest neighborhood and at night it looked downright sketchy, but the worst thing that happened was some creepy guy said 'I love you' when I walked by and really, creepy guys saying 'I love you' can happen anywhere. 


So after a few hours on the train we arrived in Rome very excited, but also tired and hungry. We all needed some cash so we went to an atm on our way to the hotel. This is when The Bad Thing happened. Katie went first and got her cash then I went. The way the atms work there is they give you your card back and then your cash, except my card got stuck in the card slot. I could see it there but I couldn't grab it. Naturally, I started to panic and pressed on it thinking the machine would spit it back out again more forcefully. This didn't happen. Nothing happened. My card went back in and then the machine stopped working. No money, no card. Oh, it was also around 6 pm so the bank itself was closed for the day.


Next to the bank was some kind of auto parts store, or maybe it was an auto club like AAA--I don't know, I don't speak Italian. Anyways, my cousin asked a man who was working there to come help us and he was even more handsome than the bus driver from earlier. Unfortunately, he didn't have any better luck so he suggested we come back the following day. I felt completely helpless, but there was nothing we could do at that point so I mostly focused on not freaking out. I bring up this whole situation because it was a good learning experience.


I had tried to go to the atm earlier in the day when we were in Bari, but my card wasn't working there. Why, I don't know. Perhaps the universe wanted me to have this terrible experience so I could share it with you. So, here it is: If you're using an atm, try to use one attached to an actual bank that is open in case your card gets eaten before you can get your cash. The best (worst) part is that the transaction still showed up on my bank account. I got my card back the next day but the very unhelpful bank manager basically said it wasn't his bank's problem and that I needed to take it up with my bank. When I got home I explained the whole situation to my bank and they filed a dispute and comped me the money. That was almost two months ago and I haven't heard anything, so I'm guessing it all worked out in the end.


But, back to my first day in Rome. After checking into the hotel we went for dinner at Sapori e Delizie, a lovely neighborhood pizzeria I found using TripAdvisor's Rome city app. TripAdvisor has a bunch of these free apps for different cities and they were so helpful to us during our travels. Not only did we find great places to eat but the Point Me There feature was invaluable. And it works even if you don't have a phone plan or wi-fi! I only wish I had realized that sooner than Vienna...


By this point I hadn't had a beer since Oktoberfest but given the day's events a giant Peroni was looking pretty great. We ordered a few pizzas along with arancini, fried zucchini flowers, and grilled vegetables. Everything was delicious and cheap--my favorites. I know I said earlier that Rome was on par with Paris price-wise, and in a lot of ways it is, but I think it's cheaper to have a great meal in Rome than in Paris because some of the best Italian food tends to be made from less expensive ingredients. Pizza, pasta, and vegetables aren't terribly expensive. Duck confit is. This place also had a delish spicy olive oil that I am still desperately trying to recreate here at home.


We only had three full days in the eternal city, but that was enough time to hit all the major tourist spots. We spent a day touring the Vatican museums (if you go on Wednesday during the Papal Audience it isn't as crowded) and getting pushed around St. Peter's Basilica. The museums are actually a collection of 54 art galleries and pontifical museums culminating with the Sistine chapel. It is a huge and impressive collection of art that rivals (if not surpasses) the Louvre. In particular, I think the experience of seeing the Sistine chapel was much more satisfying than seeing the Mona Lisa.


The Basilica itself is beautiful but verrrrry ornate. Gold and marble everywhere. It was a bit of a shock after spending time in the more *ahem* austere churches of England and Germany. What I'm saying is...I can see why the Reformation happened.


We then hiked up to the top of the Duomo, which was about as high as St. Paul's but an easier climb and not as scary as the Golden Gallery. I yelled at some obnoxious guy trying to sell us tickets which felt weird since we were right in front of the Vatican, but it was the only thing that got him to stop. On reflection, I did a lot of yelling in Rome. The street vendors are relentless.


When we visited the Spanish Steps vendors were everywhere hocking these little squishy balls that would splat on the ground and then reform. They also made this almost mournful noise, like a broken squeezebox, so in my mind my visit to the Spanish Steps is accompanied by a chorus of dying musical instruments. In addition, there are also guys trying to sell you roses and when you say no they then try to hand you one like it's a gift or something, but don't take it! This also resulted in me having to yell again. Here is a candid photo of me after the 50th guy tried to give me a flower:


I realize that so far it sounds like I didn't really like Rome, but that's not true at all. Right after this photo was taken we went to the Keats-Shelley House which is beside the Spanish Steps. A visit here seemed quite fitting since I had visited his home in Hampstead months before and kind of made the whole trip come full circle. There we learned all about the Romantics and their connection to Rome and even saw the room where John Keats tragically died at just 25 from tuberculosis.


We also toured the Colosseum and the Roman Forum where I developed a new obsession with the Vestal Virgins and learned that people don't like it when you go around yelling 'Are you not entertained??' Man, remember when Russell Crowe was bad-ass and hot? Those were the days.


As I'm writing this I'm realizing something: I could go on and on about all the places we visited and the foods we ate, but to be honest we did what everyone does when they go to Rome: we ate, we drank, we saw everything one is supposed to see--not exactly breaking the mold. But even still, it was magical.  I can see why the traditional Grand Tour ended in Rome because it really does live up to the hype. Even the annoying bits, and boy were there a lot, didn't take away from the experience. Rome is an easy and fun place to visit. Everyone pretty much speaks English and they aren't dicks about it like the French. The food is delicious, the weather was great, and the whole city really does have this relaxed 'La Dolce Vita' vibe that is infectious.

But for me Rome was also the end of the road. 


After three months abroad this was my final stop before heading home--the culmination of a year spent first on meticulous planning and then on traveling. By this point I was exhausted and looking forward to plopping on the couch for a while, but at the same time I was scared about returning home and going back to 'real life'. I had seen so much and got used to spending my days exploring the wonders of Europe. I didn't want to lose that excitement, that enthusiasm on my return.


I think you learn more about yourself when you travel than you do about the places you visit and looking back I'm not sure I knew what I wanted to get out of this trip when I first left. I think I had some vague hope about going away and having everything change for the better while I was on the road and in a lot of ways it did, but not how I expected. I didn't come back with a book deal or a dream job--nothing external. Instead, the changes I experienced were emotional. I learned things about myself and what I am capable of because that is what travel does. So to merely talk about what I saw and did and ate doesn't really tell you about my experience in Rome. What I want is for you to go out and experience something that truly moves you, changes you in some fundamental way. 


I've been home for nearly two months now and it hasn't been easy. There's a kind of depression that settles over you after returning from a big trip like this one. It's strange because even though I feel like I've changed, home still seems the same as when I left. There's a bit of a disconnect initially and getting over that involves going back to the way things were. I suppose that's partly why writing these last few posts have been so difficult because it means it's really over. Everyone keeps asking me what my next trip is but I honestly don't know. I want to figure out how to be content at home first before I go away again. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Grand Tour Part II: Budapest and Dubrovnik


After Vienna we boarded a Railjet train (the train that may or may not turn into a plane) for Budapest. This was when that expensive first class Eurail ticket was actually worth it--big leather seats, actual working wifi (!),  complimentary snacks, and entry into the first-class lounge before boarding. It was also our shortest trip at 2 1/2 hours because, of course. 


 The city is huge, one of the largest in the EU, and is separated by the Danube River (you know, this one) with Buda on one side and Pest on the other. We were only in town for a couple of nights though so I'm not sure we really got the full 'Budapest' experience, but it was the cheapest place we stayed--$11 per person per night for a triple in a pension in Buda. The thing I was most excited about though was the baths. The city is home to over 80 thermal springs that feed the baths enjoyed by locals and tourists alike (here's a good overview). After doing some research I decided to check out the famous Gellert Baths because it was within walking distance and is designed in the Art Nouveau style. I always base my bath house choices on which artistic movement they favor. Get out of here, Dadaists!


It's important to do your research because some baths are men or women only on certain days. We also couldn't figure out whether or not it was customary to wear bathing suits, but at Gellert everyone wore a suit and they even sold them in the lobby. 


Apparently it is one of the most photographed baths in the world but I felt a little weird taking pictures inside when people were relaxing, so here's a link to other people's photos. Really though, it is a beautiful building--just like you would imagine a Hungarian bath house to be.


In addition to a large Roman-style swimming pool, there are several outdoor pools as well as indoor thermal pools of varying degrees. My ever-present sore hip demanded that I head straight for the warmest pool, which was 106 degrees. After we spent some time in the warmer pools we decided to take the plunge in the 68 degree pool and after the initial shock it was actually really refreshing. When you get out your skin feels all warm and tingly and your muscles feel like they're expanding and contracting--it's hard to describe. We hopped around from pool to pool and every time I got to the cool one I tried to stay in longer, though I probably only worked my way up to a full minute. It was also really interesting to see so many different people of all ages and body shapes just chilling in their suits, perfectly comfortable in their own skin. I nominate Budapest as the capital of Body Positivity.


Afterwards we went to a lovely little tea shop called 1000Tea, where I sipped on some elderberry tea. There were lots of nice, independently owned places like this near where we stayed. We even had great Thai food one night. Though there are definitely reminders of the brutal decades spent under Soviet rule, Budapest is a city coming into its own as a tourist destination. 

Getting to Budapest may have been a first-class leather-bound dream but leaving Budapest, well that was a little more complicated. Our next destination was Dubrovnik which isn't exactly easy to get to, at least from where we were. Flying from Zagreb would have been ideal, but by that time they were too expensive. Same with the ferry. So after running through a few scenerios it looked like our best bet was to take the train from Budapest to Zagreb ( an 8 hour journey) and then hop on a overnight (10 hour) bus to Dubrovnik. We could have shaved a few hours off of our trip but that would have involved changing trains which is a huge pain in the ass. So, in the name of simplicity we chose the longer, but less complicated route. Unsurprisingly, our train was no Railjet. It was pretty dated and the first-class cabins reminded me of an early 90s dentist's office--lots of pastels and busy prints. Of course, then we were kicked out when the first-class part of the train was literally taken away from us (those cars were then attached to another train) so it really was a case of not knowing what I had until it was gone. Sing it, Cinderella.


So, what do you do on an 8 hour train ride? Well, we played a lot of phone Jeapordy, performed a horrible edition of Name That Tune, imagined what life might be like in the town of Balatonszentgyorgy, and befriended the very old train attendant who implored us to come visit him in the dining car. All the while we were psyching ourselves up for the sure-to-be-uncomfortable bus ride that awaited us in Zagreb. 

Croatia's railway system isn't that great, but it has a pretty well-serviced bus system. The bus itself was nice, like Megabus or Greyhound, but it didn't have a bathroom. We freaked out a little bit at first until it became clear that the bus going to stop every hour or so for at least ten minutes. This may have made our journey longer, but negated the need for adult diapers. We left Zagreb at 9 pm and arrived in Dubrovnik around 7 am. I slept for a few hours but every time I looked out the window we seemed to be right at the edge of an insanely steep cliff, so I would quickly shut my eyes and pray for sleep to come.


Budapest had been a bit cold and was going through the first shades of autumn but when we woke up in Dubrovnik we were greeted by a warm breeze off the Adriatic and palm trees. Walking along its marble streets (yes, marble) filled with visitors one would have no idea that it was the site of a war 20 years earlier. Indeed, after Croatia declared its independence from Yugoslavia in 1991 Dubrovnik was attacked by the Yougoslav People's Army in a battle that lasted seven months. The city, which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, sustained some damage from the artillery shelling but was fully repaired by 2005.


In the last few years the city has become a popular tourist destination thanks in part to its use as a port on Mediterranean cruises as well as a filming location for HBO's Game of Thrones. One of my cousins is a GOT fanatic (to put it mildly) so I learned more than I ever wanted about where what was filmed for which episodes. But even without the GOT connection Dubrovnik is a beautiful and interesting city all on its own. After our 18-hour journey we stayed here for five days, the longest of the trip, and because we had just missed tourist season it was incredibly cheap. We rented a little apartment with a kitchen and patio with ocean views for $22 per person per night. This was our view. No, really:


Compared to the other places we had visited thus far Dubrovnik was easy. Mostly everything is centrally located in Old Town, the part of the city contained by Dubrovnik's famous walls, which was an easy walk from our apartment. October was also a great time to be there because it was the low season but the weather was still nice. Dubrovnik is tiny so it can get pretty crowded in the summer when up to three cruise ships a day dock in the harbor. Our landlord said that he doesn't even bother going to Old Town then because he can't even walk down the street. That's a shame because the streets of Dubrovnik are magic, especially in the later part of the day. 


On the day we arrived it was my cousin Samantha's 24th birthday so we tried to make up for those first few bus-bound hours by taking her to Mala Buza, a great bar that is literally built into the wall and offers amazing views of the sunset. Seriously, if you go to Dubrovnik you have to go to this bar for the sunset.  It's one of the few places where you can see the sun fully set on the ocean. It's still a great view every other time of day but the sunset, my God. It reminded me of Key West, a very laid back, celebratory vibe. Everyone clapped after the sun disappeared before heading off to their next stop. 


For us that meant D'Vino, a wine bar that had some great Croatian wines, including one of the best sav blancs I've ever had. This is a shot of the red wine flight we tried along with a selection of local cheeses, breads, and olives. I'm pretty sure I could live on Croatian bread, cheese, and wine. I probably wouldn't live very long, but it would be delicious and therefore worth it. 


Dubrovnik may be small but we actually had a lot of good food there, though most of it was of the meat, bread, and cheese variety that seemed to dominate much of our trip. Price-wise I'd put it on the same level as Prague, but because we were there for so long we ended up buying groceries and eating in more here than anywhere else. As for the sites, the city walls are the big attraction here and for good reason. You can walk around all of Old Town and get some amazing views of the city and the sea. Admission is $16, not exactly cheap, but it is well worth it and a must if you're here. I may have gone a little overboard with the photos here...





Another place for breathtaking views is from atop Mount Srd, which is accessible via a footpath, car, or the newly opened cable car, which we used.


See that island? That's Lokrum, accessible by ferry, and where we spent a day. It used to be inhabited by Benedictine monks until they left in 1808. 


 In 1856 Archduke Maximilian, a lesser Hapsburg, tried to build a palace there but supposedly the monks had cursed the island and after a few mysterious deaths the Hapsburgs fled, leaving behind the peacocks they brought which now rule in their absence.


Strangely, it is illegal to stay overnight on the island and has been largely undeveloped apart from the ruins of a fort and the monestary, which is now a pizza place. 


There's also a nude beach, if that's what you're in to, a botanical garden, and a swimming pond called the Dead Sea. 




After nearly two weeks of packed days and long journeys, it was nice to stop for awhile in Dubrovnik. This was the longest I had stayed put since Paris and by this time I was in need of a little R&R. 


The city's tourism seems to be ramping up as more and more visitors discover this jewel on the Adriatic and prices are steadily climbing as well. But for now, it is a bargain for the area and offers a rich and unique history all its own. 


I hope someday I'll return, but for now I have the memories.

Next time: All roads lead to Rome.