This is another trip report so skip it if you are not interested.
We four, Luther, me, Susan and Gary, left Umbertide at around 9:30 on a Sunday headed for Ljubljana, Slovenia and ultimately Krakow, Poland. We brought a picnic but it’s darn near impossible to find a place with tables or seating. We finally stopped short of the border and sat on benches. It was very hot but we found some shade. We arrived at the Grand Hotel Union. It was in a great location just steps from the triple bridge across the Ljubljana river. It was very hot and we took a rest before venturing out to find dinner. It was Sunday so many places were closed. We found Gujzina, a Slovenian restaurant along a pedestrian street. We sat outside. Our server was super helpful with food descriptions and wine recommendations. Took lots of time with us. We had a superb bowl of cold cucumber soup. It was oh so refreshing on such a hot day, afterwards we had among the four of us: venison, trout, and pork cutlets. The food was not gourmet but fine for a casual dinner. My trout was over salted but I did not complain. We were treated to bowls of vanilla ice cream on the house. One speciality here was pumpkin oil. We had never heard of it. We had it first with the bread like when you get olive oil for dipping. It was very dark green, almost black. A bit off-putting but wow what a flavor. They toast the pumpkin seeds before making the oil. Then later the waiter drizzled it on our ice cream. Amazing sensational taste! I would never have thought. Anyway, each couple bought some to take home.
The next day we had a great breakfast and walked to Tivoli park. We saw the US embassy in an odd looking building. We visited Pravoslavna cerkev, Saints Cyril and Methodius Church. Eastern Orthodox. It had five domes topped with crosses and was beautiful inside and out.
We walked through the the market and visited the dragon bridge. And we found a nice little place for lunch in an alley with a much appreciated breeze. We again had cold cucumber soup and salads. Very refreshing. By now we were done for so retreated to our rooms to recover.
This night we had reservations in Valvas’or. We enjoyed a sparkling wine as we chose our food. The chef sent an amuse bouche of puréed essence of tomato with a bit of soft white cheese, nice. Our waiter was excellent in recommending wines. We are seasoned wine people but did not know Slovenian wines well. All choices were excellent and fairly priced. The food was all very good.
We decamped our nice stay in Ljubljana and headed north to Bratislava, Slovakia. It is situated on the Danube River and we stayed in the Marrol Hotel. We had stayed here last year and found it nice enough. We dined in the Houdini restaurant in the hotel our first night. Since we were last here this restaurant has been refurbished. It looks great and the food was very good. The servers are very nice and very knowledgeable and helpful. I started with a cool, sliced veal with arugula and anchovy mayonaise. Very tasty and just the right size. Then I chose the chicken breast. It was baked and served on a bed of roasted vegetables with quinoa. The chicken was not dry. Very moist. An interesting dish and quite healthy. Others in our group had tuna tartar to start. For entrees one had lamb on a purée of squash, one had baked baked salmon which he liked. A good choice.
Next day we did a walking tour of the town. Someone tried to get into my backpack but I could feel her pulling on the straps. Two youngish women pretended to be looking at a plate in the ground when I turned and found the zipper open. I didn’t say anything…should have. Slovakia has the EU presidency right now and there was a huge roped off area for dignitaries. We walked along the river and had refreshments outside.
Then we went off to find lunch. We had our eye on a gastro pub called Mestianske Pivovary. They have inside and outside seating. Big building with pipes and open duct work. The beer was super fresh, naturally and the food was good enough. We were there for lunch so stuck with schnitzels and fries. They were tasty. Nice place.
We had dinner in Zylinder. It is on the leafy green mall in the center of town. It was cool and raining so we couldn’t sit outside. There was a large table and we were afraid we’d have trouble getting served but all was perfect. Our waitress was great. We had Schnitzels, one had dumplings light as air. The wines were good and we had a lot of fun. Not fine dining but good for a basic meal.
Off to the farthest point in the trip, Kraków Poland. I was a little worried about this one as the rooms were apartments on a restricted street. I’ll have to hand it to Chloe, our GPS, she got us there. We had to drive right through the large and very crowded with people, horse carriages and cafes, main square. We found the apartments and got our luggage up two or three flights of stairs. The woman at the desk gave us directions to the parking. We missed it the first time but – after another harrowing trip through the square(!) we found it and – parked for the duration.
I should mention it was downright cold here. The first thing we did was buy some warm clothes. Also we had a lot of rain throughout the stay. Definitely not my idea of July. It was not common, there was an enormous front that came through while we were there.
The first night we visited Kawaleria for dinner and were pleased with our choice. They had a guitarist playing and it was a nice touch. The service was excellent. We had only one course each but they were pleasant. My quiche was a bit thin but the salad with it was good. One got the cold cucumber soup which was surprisingly spicy. One got the salmon perogies which he liked and finally the baked salmon fillet which he thought was only OK. We had wine and fun. Not the best place in the world but quite pleasant and reasonably priced.
The next day we had arranged a tour of Auschwitz/Birkenau. We were picked up by a bus and the ride was nearly two hours to the camps. We had a guide who was very good. It was a depressing experience but we had known it would be. So horrible what happened… 1.1 million Jews were exterminated there. We saw whole rooms of hair, eyeglasses, shoes, clothes. We looked at the pictures of the people who were strong enough to work. Yet they rarely lasted more than three months due to conditions in the camp, poor nutrition and hard manual labor. I looked into the eyes of the lost souls and was moved to tears. Each one looking straight into the camera and thus into my eyes. I learned that they took photos of people when they started to work and that in a month or two they were unrecognizable. This prompted the tattoos to identify them even when emaciated. We must never forget.
Arbeit Mach Frei – work makes you free – on the gate
The one bright spot. Gallows on which the former camp commandant was hung, within sight of the villa where he and his family lived.
This is the platform where the arriving would get sorted. Thumb to right, gas chamber. Thumb to the left, work until you die.
This train car is one of the originals. It was found and donated by a Jewish man whose father died in Auschwitz.
When the Nazis knew they were going to lose they tried to destroy evidence of the exterminations. This is what is left of one of the crematoriums.
The pit in the very back was the gas chamber.
There were over 300 buildings. The wooden ones are gone with just the foundations and chimneys left.
We visited Resto Illuminati for dinner this night. Our nice waitress spoke decent English and was very attentive. The menu was quite small. There were two soups, about four appetizers and four entrees but we had no problem finding things we liked. Susan ordered the cold beetroot soup. It arrived and it was a shocking, bright pink! But its taste was sublime. Others had the perogies and for entrees we tried the trout fillets with risotto, tagliatelle with chanterelles and rabbit. The pasta was perfectly al dente as was the risotto with a nice chewy bite. Good wine list. Zabaglione for dessert to share. A very very pleasant meal.
This day we walked to Warwel castle where the Princes of the kingdom lived. We toured the state rooms. It was pretty impressive. After that we decided to do the little golf cart tours they have here. There are four areas – Old town, Jewish quarter, Shindlers factory, the Jewish ghetto. We went for the first two. We had an interesting 20 year old driver from the Ukraine. He played a recorded tour for the places we visited but was very sweet and talkative. We all liked him. It was a good investment as we saw some things we wouldn’t have seen.
Dinner this evening was at Kogel Mogel. It is just off the main square in the Old Town. Very popular so reserve. We had a good waitress who gave us attentive service. All of my table mates enjoyed their food but I did not like the beef cheeks entree. Very thick, dark, unappealing sauce with strong flavors, none too tender beef.
We all enjoyed Kraków and agreed another day would have been good.
Next day we headed back south homeward bound. We stopped in Durnstein Austria. It sits on the Danube River and is very pretty. We had rooms in the Richard Loewenhertz hotel. It is just next to where Richard the Lionhearted was held hostage for nearly 10 years. I had a soft spot for it from a trip 30 years ago…my first to Europe. We had lunch there. It is pretty old fashioned but I still liked it. We had a nice dinner the first evening in the hotel. It was still too cool for the terrace…too bad as it’s lovely. The food was nice. All four of us enjoyed our meal. The wines were local and very good and the service attentive.
The next day, not wanting to drive anywhere, we decided to take the boat trip up-River to Melk. The river is a fast flowing river so the trip upstream was about 2 1/2 hours. Coming back it was only 45 minutes. What a difference. It was nice and relaxing. Melk has an amazing church which we toured. We also had lunch there.
Melk monastery. They liked gold!
Vineyards of the Wachau valley
View of the iconic church in Durnstein.
We dined In the Relais et Chateaux hotel, Schloss Durnstein. Lovely dining area on the terrace overlooking the river. We had major issues with the Maitre’d who was our server. He was inattentive, arrogant, and dismissive. We were moved to post some pretty bad ratings. There were three good things. Food was good, views were beautiful from the terrace, and the piano player was very good.
Excellent breakfast at Richard Loewenhertz and we were off winging our way south to our “children”. We all missed our pets.
We arrived in Bassano Del Grappa in the Veneto region of Italy after a long, nearly 7 hour drive. It has again gotten oppressively hot. We stayed in the Ca’Sette hotel. It has a good restaurant. I was not at all happy with our room. Not up to standards.
Dinners were excellent. We ate there both nights. We sat on the gorgeous patio overlooking the pretty grounds complete with fountains. The villa is pretty too. Other than the poor room I like this place.
We also visited the town of Bassanno dell Grappa. It is cute, small and walkable. It has a pretty wooden bridge. It is the birthplace of grappa with a nice museum.
The town of Bassano del Grappa is lovely. Note the clock face has 24 hours!
Grappa museum. The town is famous for this spirit.
All in all a good trip. We were happy to get back to our little Umbertide.