Emma Krasov

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Emma Krasov is a professional travel journalist based in San Francisco, California. She is a travel columnist for several print newspapers and online publications nationwide, and a publisher of Real Travel Adventures and travel blog Art and Entertain Me www.artandentertainme.blogspot.com.

Photography by Emma Krasov

When I told my friend that I wouldn’t be able to join her in Hawai’i because I couldn’t miss a culinary trip to Austria on the same dates we were planning, she smirked and said, “What culinary – sausage?”

Oh, if only she knew…

I want this story that I’ll unfold here like a picnic tablecloth for her and for you, to be an eye-opening testimonial to the true character of Austrian cuisine – bold and beautiful, yet modest and dignified – exquisitely artful, and filled with joy of life.

Arriving via always cordial Austrian Airlines on a warm September day, I checked into Altstadt Vienna in the city center, and immediately felt at home. The hotel was located in a repurposed apartment building from 1902, very similar to the one I used to live in in the Old Country… Guest rooms with high ceilings, double doors, and windows open to the fresh autumnal air, smiley polite service, and the contemporary art collection scattered throughout tiled hallways and wrought iron staircases – everything was welcoming, neat, and unmistakably European. Beautifully served breakfast with assorted fresh breads, cold cuts and made to order eggs (pouched in champagne sauce on my first morning!) in addition to homemade coffee cakes and high-quality teas set the mood for an exciting culinary exploration ahead.

Our group gathered and met with Bianca Gusenbauer of First Vienna Food Tour company by the Viennese most famous landmark, the Secession Building – a masterpiece of Art Nouveau nicknamed “The Golden Cabbage” by the sharp-tongued Viennese.

We’ve immediately learned a few things from our guide – that it’s mandatory to look in each other’s eyes while saying “Prost!” (yes, we started the tour with some Austrian sparkling); that on the map Austria looks like Wiener Schnitzel, its most famous dish, and that charcuterie is considered a good dinner in Austria while hot hearty meals are reserved for lunch.

On our walk through the Naschmarkt, the most important produce market in Vienna, we noshed on a variety of Austrian foodstuffs, from a golden-fried lake trout at Umar restaurant and cave-aged cheeses at Käsehütte to “blue poppy” Zotter chocolate and cloudy semi-fermented Sturm wine, only available for a couple weeks in season.

We concluded our exciting learning experience with Bianca at Café Sperl, in existence since 1880, where Imre Kálmán, Franz Lehár and a host of other composers, artists, writers, and high government officials indulged in the same atmosphere of marble tables, red velvet banquettes, and matt light fixtures as well as coffee and sweets we were enjoying on our tour – Mélange and Einspänner, Sachertorte, Apfelstrudel, Mohnzelten, and other purely Austrian delights.

Viennese culinary surprises continued to unfold in front of us. Tian, a Michelin-star vegetarian restaurant, led by Chef Paul Ivić, presented a five-course completely meatless tasting menu that sparkled with bright colors and imaginative ingredient combinations putting together pumpkin with apple and cardamom, celeriac with egg and edamame, and zucchini with mushrooms and capers to the most delightful effect. A desert course consisted of peach ice cream with dates and rose petal sauce.

Edible flowers made their appearance in a unique confectioner’s shop, Blühendes Konfekt, created by Michael Diewald. The “Blooming Confections” enthusiast picks most of his ingredients in his own garden and in the forests that surround the city. He dries petals, leaves, and whole inflorescences, and encases them in glittering sugar, creating one-of-a-kind fairy-tale stuffing and toppings for his pralines, marmalades and pastilles.

Thoroughly enchanted by Viennese cuisine, we headed south for Graz, the capital of Styria – one of Austria’s nine administrative regions, known for its forests and vineyards, mountainous lakes and apple orchards.

The most famous foodstuff in Styria is nicknamed “Austrian black gold,” but in reality its complex color palette differs from shades of emerald green to reddish-purple, colliding on the edges of a dense reflective black liquid. This is pumpkin seed oil, Kernöl, fragrant and delicious, rich and nutty, easily transforming any ordinary soup, salad, and even ice cream into a heavenly treat.

Our group was admitted to a special event – Styrian Pumpkin Seed Oil Tasting in a private room of Gasthaus Stainzerbauer – a restaurant in existence since the 19th century, located in one of the oldest houses of the inner city near Graz Cathedral.

A licensed nutritionist with a degree in science, Theresia Fastian, engaged us in a lively presentation on historical facts and cultivation of the pumpkin, traditional processing of oil, nutrients and tips on usage, and finally sensory experience and tasting. For comparison, we were offered five samples of pumpkin seed oil from different origins, and after her short lecture were able to easily identify the winners of real Styrian product annual competition vs. cheap knock-offs readily available on the world market, but not worth using for food.

For the occasion, the restaurant prepared a special menu of pumpkin soup with pumpkin seed oil, meat roast with red wine sauce, and everyone’s favorite vanilla ice cream with pumpkin seed oil and seeds.

After a good night sleep at the historic Wiesler Hotel (since 1909) overlooking Schlossberg – the castle hill in the heart of the city with an ancient fortress and the world-famous Uhrturm (a clock tower and a symbol of Graz) we embarked on a walking tour of the city and marveled at the tempestuous river Mur at the high level, with an artificial island Murinsel in the middle of it. The mussel-shaped swimming platform that lights alien-blue in the dark was designed by an American architect, Vito Acconci in 2003, when Graz was appointed the European Capital of Culture. The same year and for the same occasion an art museum, Kunsthaus Graz, was built, looking like a space ship from a faraway galaxy, and locally known as “Friendly Alien.”

After a visit to the colorful Graz produce and flower market, overflowing with seasonal bounty of apples, mushrooms, pumpkins, asters, and dahlias, we sat down for lunch at a posh Restaurant Carl by Philipp Haiges near the Opera House.  A delicate filet of trout (Austria’s favorite fish) with roasted red beets and herbed sour cream was a great example of the elegant seasonal cuisine widely consumed in the country in midday.

We tried several other local favorites. At the Delikatessen Frankowitsch, a deli institution from 1932, where city dwellers are queuing up around the block for the picturesque open-face sandwiches, we had Campari cocktails at the pop-up Campari bar.

At Bar Albert on the pedestrian-friendly Herrengasse, we sampled the famous Styrian Vulcano ham, aged for six months and marinated in herbs, and aged sheep cheese from the volcanic region in the vicinity of Graz.

At Landhauskeller, inside the oldest Renaissance building in Styria, we indulged in the traditional Styrian fried chicken, and in Schlossberg Restaurant high above the city, near the iconic clock tower – in more pumpkin soup with Kernöl and house-made dumplings with seasonal mushrooms, stewed tomatoes, and mountainous cheese.

In search of more Austrian culinary discoveries our group also visited Salzburg and SalzburgerLand – one of the most beautiful places in the world – with green pastures and blue lakes, framed by snowy peaks of the majestic Alps, where farm-to-table cuisine is an inherent part of the lifestyle, and not a passing fad.

Our first stop in the area was at Wirtshaus Döllerer in a small village of Golling. Dirndl-clad waitresses promptly put on the table bottles of Stiegl beer from the oldest brewery in Austria, in operation since 1492, and slate boards with freshly baked bread, butter, volcano ham, and a Kernöl dip studded with dark-green pumpkin seeds.

Chef Andreas Döllerer, a winner of multiple awards, and a cookbook author of “Cuisine Alpine,” puts on the table authentic Austrian dishes from his native region, like seasonal young venison in red wine and mushroom gravy, and Bluntau Valley char with local vegetables and horseradish.

After a hearty lunch, we headed to Fürstenhof dairy in Kuchl, where a healthy herd of Jersey cows provides enough milk for a fully operational cheese factory and almost daily cheese-making classes that attract tourists and locals alike. At an impromptu cheese tasting we familiarized ourselves with a variety of Alpine cheeses – from mild and creamy to sharp and fragrant.

Upon reaching our beautiful Hotel Gmachl, the oldest family-run business in Austria, located in the town of Elixhausen, we had just enough time to swim a few laps in an infinity pool in the hotel spa with glass walls, overlooking the village and the Alps above it, before sitting down to a well-prepared and beautifully served dinner of beef consommé with semolina dumpling, meatball, and strudel, and other Austrian specialties.

Next day, Friday, on our visit to Salzburg, we appeared right in the middle of a festive weekend celebration dedicated to St. Rupert, the patron saint of the Austrian state of Salzburg. The entire city center turned into an old-fashioned fairgrounds with pretzel- and sausage stands, carousels, and a lively crowd dressed in dirndls and lederhosen.

On a food tour of Salzburg with our guide, Astrid Zehentmayer from Salzburg for You company, we visited Rigler’s oil, vinegar, and spice shop, and sampled some of its distinct blends; stopped by the oldest bakery in Salzburg that dates back to the 12th century – Stiftsbäckerei St. Peter on Kapitelplatz, and tried bland, flour-and-water bread, prepared by the same ancient recipe; and indulged in a real original Mozartkugel a.k.a. Mozart ball, produced by Fürst in 1890. The company shop on Brodgasse is still selling the same fine chocolates with marzipan center, wrapped in silver and blue foil with the genius composer’s silhouette.

A delicious break at the oldest continuously operating coffee house in Austria, Cafe Tomaselli, yielded lavish coffee drinks and pastries, delivered to our table on a heavy tray by a graceful waitress in black dress and white apron.

Lunch on an outside terrace of M32 on a hill by the Museum of Modern Art, with spectacular views of Salzburg, presented yet another version of pumpkin soup with pumpkin seed oil, giving us a great opportunity to compare different preparations of this popular seasonal dish, and pick the favorites. 

Finally, we made one more excursion in SalzburgLand – a visit to Schloss Fuschl – an upscale hotel on the shores of a pristine lake, where we had our farewell dinner at the hotel restaurant Jagdhof serving goulash, spätzle, and a cake, that according to the hotel manager, far exceeds even the most famous cake in Austria – the glorious Sachertorte! If you don’t believe it you can travel to Austria and check it for yourself. Additional information at: www.austria.info, www.vienna.info, www.graztourismus.at/en, www.salzburg.info, www.salzburgerland.com.

 

 

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Photography by Emma Krasov

“Don’t eat the piranha heads,” said our brusque server, clad in a dark blue shirt and black vest. From a black ceramic bowl he put on the table in front of us piranhas’ sharp bared teeth and dead eyes stared at us and glared. Another server, dressed in the same uniform, and equally curt, put a bowl of gray stones and prickly annatto fruit with exposed seeds next to the piranha heads in one brisk movement.

A few minutes earlier, both of them promptly rid our group of female diners of all our possessions – purses, jackets, scarves, iPhones, and lipsticks – all went into a special hiding place away from the table. Nothing next to our plates, nothing on the backs of our chairs. All attention to the food presentation and degustation. We were at el número uno restaurant in Latin America, after all, and number four on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list. We were dining at Central in Lima, Peru.

Some of the prominent San Francisco Bay Area chefs who happen to follow my news on Instagram reacted with envious comments to my piranha heads photo…

Yey! I guess… I’m not an envious person, and never aspire to be an object of envy, but hey, with this exceptional culinary event I was lucky to experience thanks to Bold Food Tours, I just took it.

In fact, the piranha heads were a whimsical yet fitting decoration for a dish, called Waters of Nanay, and the gray stones and spiky annattos – for the Forest Cotton wrapped in mashwa leaves.

Virgilio Martinez, the chef/owner of Central, focuses with high precision on Peruvian products and their producers in his culinary quest. He and his team travel all over the country to discover and utilize new ingredients while supporting local farmers and foragers. In his well-illustrated book, titled after the restaurant, the celebrity chef details the amazing diversity of Peruvian flora and fauna – an endless source for his inspiration and his diners’ fascination.

The tasting menu at Central is called Elevations. It follows the varied topography of Peru from below the sea level to the peaks of the Andes, and consists of 17 courses, all equally enticing in their utterly surprising nature, exquisite preparation, and unorthodox plating.

Bold Food Tours, started just last year by a former Genentech global supply chain executive, Muffie Fulton, stemmed from her original 2-year-old Bold Food company that she created to teach the science of cooking in her culinary classes and to provide in-depth consultations on all things food. Born in Colorado to a restaurant-owner family, and educated at Brown and Stanford, Muffie found her true calling in researching local cuisines wherever her business and leisure travels took her. When she realized how similar the restaurant chefs’ pursuits were to her own scientific background, Muffie followed her calling, and finally created an array of “trips for food obsessives,” as she puts it.

“I like to organize everything – high-end accommodations, a wide spectrum of food experiences, including eating at one-of-a-kind restaurants, cooking, shopping at local markets, learning about artisanal products – and to make it stress-free, while allowing for a comfortable level of flexibility,” says Muffie. Her tour activities for a group of about 12 are 80% food related, and 20% site-seeing, while regular tourist groups pursue the opposite proportion. She works months in advance securing reservations to not just fine dining, Michelin-star, or local cuisine restaurants, but to those of the highest ranking, critical acclaim, and led by celebrity chefs, ensuring a slew of unique experiences all packed in one eventful trip.

She encourages her potential group participants to call her with any questions, discuss personal preferences and requirements, and seek consultations. By developing personal relationships with the best private local tour guides on the ground she assures smooth sailing through any strange land.

Not that many lands are strange to Muffie. “I visited the majority of places before because I love to travel for food, and I travel all the time,” she says. “I don’t want to take people to a restaurant I’ve never been to. Everything is tried and true. I’m very precise, and I think of every detail of the tour. Control freaks trust me.”

The nascent tour company already conducted several successful food tours to various international and domestic destinations, and is planning to go on a few more this year, and 10 more tours in 2018. Among those – Singapore and Malaysia, Japan and Thailand, Barcelona, Mexico City, Chicago, Portland, Seattle – the list goes on.

On our Lima trip, Central was not the only outstanding restaurant visited by our group. Maido, the second-ranked restaurant in Latin America and number eight in the world, serves upscale Nikkei cuisine – the melding of Japanese and Peruvian food, developed by the substantial Japanese diaspora historically residing on the Peruvian land. Chef Mitsuharu Tsumura, who grew up in Peru and learned his craft in Japan, combines local ingredients with Japanese technologies to spectacular effects. His witty culinary hybrids, like Aji Negro Chawanmushi, Sansei Cebiche, and Asado de Tira Nitsuke are sure to stay in his patrons’ gustatory memory!

Another unforgettable experience was delivered by the TV personality chef Pedro Miguel Schiaffino at his artfully decorated (with the paintings of a popular Colombian artist, Heriberto Cogollo) restaurant Malabar.

Gregarious and friendly, and in possession of fluent English, the chef personally cooked our dinner, and provided an evening of ultimate comfort food, useful information, high energy, witty comments and bursts of laughter in his spacious and spotless kitchen on Malabar’s upper floor, where we’ve learned how a fresh heart of palm salad, prepared simply yet perfectly looks, smells and tastes (light, refreshing, with subtle fruity flavor); tasted the best fish preparation in [this reporter’s] life, and even tried a piece of delicate little cuy – fried to golden brown, and tenderly fatty.

Besides luxuriating in wonderful restaurants of world-wide fame, and staying in Casa Andina Private Collection Hotel in the hip and lively neighborhood of Miraflores, our group dined on all imaginable cuts of highest quality meats at a true-blue butcher shop Osso; visited two city markets – Mercado de San Isidro and Mercado de Magdalena; went on Lima Gourmet Tour, during which we prepared our own ceviche and pisco sour at the international celebrity Chef Gaston Acurio’s restaurant Embarcadero 41; had an amazing Historical Tour of Lima and Pachacamac Ruins Tour with a highly professional guide, discovered and hired by Muffie; visited Larco Museum of Peruvian antiquities, Dedalo Art Shop of contemporary crafts, Huaca Pucllana archeological site, and a number of other sites, all within rich in the glorious city of Lima.

To summarize a Bold Food Tours experience – it’s so incredibly rich, so refreshingly well-organized, and so thoughtfully filled with first-class entertainment that there’s really nothing quite like it. It easily might be the best food tour ever! Please look for more information at: www.Boldfoodco.com.

 

Photography by Emma Krasov

Just like in my previous travels to Germany, once again I was moving around in a state of dual fascination – recognizing the sights and sounds of my European roots, and discovering the incredible variety of cultural identities that constitute this country of many lands.

This June, in a group of international travelers from America, Eastern Europe, and Asia, I’ve visited quite a few of German towns with connection to Martin Luther in the course of a thematic trip though Thuringia and Bavaria, where medieval castles, baroque churches, and local cuisine restaurants rate high among the popular tourist attractions.

Martin Luther, called the father of the Protestant Reformation, was born in 1483 in Eisleben, Germany, and on October 31, 1517, allegedly nailed his theses criticizing the Catholic church, and especially the selling of indulgences, to the gate of the Castle Church in Wittenberg.

The 500th anniversary of Luther’s act of protest, considered the start of the Reformation, is widely celebrated this year, with every city and town in which he used to reside, preach, or hide from the authorities, pitching in with their own historical references, monuments, legends, and mementos.

Tiny, pretty, and pedestrian-friendly, Eisenach boasts the medieval St. Nicholas Gate in close proximity to a train station, and right across from it – a massive Luther memorial, created by the sculptor Adolf von Donndorf in 1895 – featuring the corpulent reformer in a long robe, towering above the relief depictions of his life’s pivotal events.

Historical Eisenach welcomed Luther on more than one occasion. Starting in 1498, and for three more years, the future church rebel attended St. George Latin school in town of then 3000 inhabitants, while residing in the councilman Cotta’s house. It is said that the pious matron of the family was so taken by young Luther’s heartfelt singing and devout payers that she offered him room and board. Now called Luther House, and housing the Luther Museum, it might be the oldest half-timbered building in Thuringia, well-preserved, and located in the old town center.A short walking distance away, there’s the world’s first and largest museum dedicated to the composer Johann Sebastian Bach, who was born in Eisenach in 1685. The adjacent new building of a musical center presents a multimedia exhibition on Bach’s music, holds a collection of baroque instruments, and offers live music performances. Baptized in the local Church of St. George (built in 1182; where Luther held a sermon in 1521 after being excommunicated by Rome) later in life Bach, a devout Lutheran, created his famous cantatas based on Luther’s hymns, like No. 80, “A mighty fortress is our God” (“Ein Feste Burg ist unser Gott“).

 

 

A subject to the Edict of Worms (Imperial ban), Luther was aided by his early defender, Frederick III, who sheltered him at the Wartburg Castle in the wooded mountains overlooking Eisenach. Built in 1067, and richly decorated with murals and mosaics, Wartburg Castle was home to St. Elisabeth of Hungary in the early 1200s, and an inspiration for Ludwig II’s Neuschwanstein Castle (the prototype of the Cinderella Castle in Disney theme parks). Wartburg Castle was added to the UNESCO World Heritage list in 1999.

Here, in one of the chambers of the castle, Luther translated the New Testament into conversational German, and according to a legend, threw an inkwell against a wall while “fighting the Devil with ink,” by his own saying. The video “ink stain” appears on the wall during multiple daily tours through the themed exhibition, “Luther and the Germans” on view through November 5.

The well-researched and widely laid out exhibition doesn’t shy away from Luther’s controversies. In the curatorial sections, “The Reception of Luther and the Reformation in Divided Germany” and “Martin Luther under National Socialism” it addresses his characterization as “a traitor to the common people” in time of the Peasants’ War (1524-25) and his aggressive anti-Semitism resulting from the failed attempts to convert the followers of Judaism to Christianity.

While staying in the hospitable Eisenach, our group had a rather modern dinner of arugula and burrata, veal osso bucco with goat cheese polenta, and strawberry mousse with lime and basil ice cream at a historical restaurant, Turmschänke Eisenach, and spent the night at a chic Steigenberger Hotel Thüringer Hof in the town center.

Arriving in Schmalkalden – a small medieval town in Southern Thuringia, we started the day with a lavish lunch at Ratskeller restaurant, this time with all the traditional German fare, like roasted pork shoulder, seasonal white asparagus, and shiny round Thuringian potato dumplings.

On a guided walking tour of the town, visited by Luther many times in his tempestuous life, we learned about a special meeting of the Schmalkaldic League which resulted in far-reaching changes in the church practices. The Schmalkaldic League, an association of 16 Protestant princes sworn to defend one another against Catholic opposition, founded in 1531, assembled in the Schmalkalden Town Hall in 1537. This assembly (also called diet) was led by Luther and Philipp Melanchthon – the professor-theologian and intellectual leader of the Lutheran Reformation. The Articles of Faith presented by Luther during the meeting were incorporated into the Evangelical church’s Book of Concord. Today, priests are still ordained using the Schmalkalden Articles of Faith.

These historic events are the subject of the permanent exhibition, “Launch into a New Era” at Wilhelmsburg Castle, one of the major Renaissance castles in Germany, situated above the green tree crowns and red tiled roofs of Schmalkalden. The original interior rooms with characteristic period murals and exquisite stucco decorations, and the beautifully restored chapel with vaulted ceiling and working organ present an unforgettable experience enhanced by the views of baroque gardens that surround the castle.

We also visited the late-gothic church of St. George with stained glass windows and a thin black clock tower that bears a graphic reminder of Memento Mori, and a historical building in which Luther rented a top floor room during one of his visits to the town.

Transferring to the Bavarian Coburg we were about to embark on one of the best city walking tours in our group’s collective memory. Our guide, Beatrice Hoellein, who admittedly was born in Malaysia, married a German, and found her true vocation in leading multi-lingual tours in and around Coburg, started her amazing presentation standing at Marktplatz in front of the 1865 monument to Albert, Prince Consort of Great Britain from the House of Coburg. She made a reference to Coburg’s own “Brexit” when the city, located on the border of the two states, voted to drop Thuringia and join Bavaria in 1920 after a state-wide referendum.  Our guide then pointed to a depiction of the head of St. Moriz on the city’s coat of arms, on many building walls, and on manhole covers. She explained that the legendary Coburg Moor was the city’s patron saint, and that Coburg’s main church was also named after him.

We proceeded to visiting the St. Moriz church, where Luther preached in 1530, with a late-gothic hall, mid-18th century baroque interior, 13-meter tall alabaster epitaph of Duke John Frederick the Middle by Nikolaus Bergner (1598) and Schuke organ.

Then in an energetic tour-de-force, interrupted only for a quick yet substantial lunch at Brauhaus Coburg  (featuring local award-winning sausages) we visited all four castles of Coburg: Ehrenburg Palace, where Queen Victoria met the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph, and where Johann Strauss, the “King of Waltz” married his third wife Adele in the Palace Chapel; Rosenau Palace, one of Queen Victoria’s favorites, where her beloved husband Albert of Saxe-Coburg was born; Callenberg Castle, the summer residence of the Coburg dukes with a 400-year-old Protestant chapel, and Veste Coburg – the medieval fortress where Luther resided for six month in 1530 after being outlawed by the Emperor.  Here, Luther’s living quarters are authentically furnished and preserved as well as a chapel where he prayed.

The Bavarian State Exhibition “Knights, Farmers, Lutherans,” currently on display through November 5 at Veste Coburg, focuses on the impact that Luther’s teaching had on the people of Bavaria, and more precisely, Upper Franconia. It contains numerous examples of medieval and Renaissance religious art, reflecting the period’s fascination with death and its inevitability reflected in wonderfully crafted pieces, like a wooden mechanical clock depicting a skeleton riding a lion, and striking him with a bone over the head every 15 minutes on the dot.

We soon checked out of our Hotel Goldener Anker in Coburg, and were on our way to Augsburg, Bavaria’s third largest, and one of Germany’s oldest cities, founded by the Roman Emperor Augustus more than 2000 years ago. We stopped at Kastanienhof restaurant and beer garden in Pleinfeld for al fresco dining in the shade of old chestnut trees.

After a peaceful night sleep at the Hotel Augsburger Hof, steps from the city center with a monument to Emperor Augustus, we headed to the recently opened Fugger and Welser Museum for a guided tour with focus on Luther. Located in the extensively renovated Renaissance Wiesel house, the museum explores with the help of multimedia devices and interactive sections the influence of Augsburg patrician families of the 15th and 16th centuries on worldwide economic events as the Fuggers and the Welsers ran their businesses from the Fondaco dei Tedeschi in Venice, expanding their trade relations across Europe and financing popes, emperors and kings as well as trade missions to India, Africa and South America.

After a lively lunch at the innovative Die Tafeldecker restaurant offering contemporary small plates and outdoor communal seating, our group headed on a guided walking tour in the footsteps of Luther in Augsburg, a.k.a. The City of Reformation.

Church of St. Anna and the adjoining Carmelite monastery became the focal point of the Reformation when Luther stayed here in 1518 during his confrontation with Cardinal Cajetan. At the Christmas service of 1525, the Holy Communion was first observed “according to both rites.”

In 1530, the Augsburg Confession (Confessio Augustana) was read out in Augsburg, before Emperor Charles V.

At the Augsburg Cathedral, Mariae Heimsuchung, (“Visitation of the Holy Virgin”) Luther’s officially certified “Appeal regarding the ill-informed Pope and directed to the Pope who is in need of better information” was affixed to the Cathedral portal after the fruitless dispute with Cardinal Cajetan.

At the old gothic Town Hall in 1555 the Augsburg Contract of Religious Peace was proclaimed, which marked the end of confrontation and led to peaceful coexistence of different religious beliefs. It gave the followers of the Confessio Augustana the right to freely practice their religion.

After a lavish farewell dinner at Riegele Wirtshaus, when our group was heading to the hotel, we encountered a police-protected street demonstration emphasizing Luther’s adamant refusal to grant others the same religious freedom he proclaimed and insisted upon for his own followers. An effigy of Luther depicted as a flasher, and quoting his well-known insights, “Burn their synagogues, destroy their religious books,” etc. etc. was taken through the streets of Augsburg by a group of protesters, supported by some passersby – a great testament to the freedom of speech, alive and well in the City of Reformation.

Additional information at: www.germany.travel.

Photography by Emma Krasov; Friedrichstadt-Palast and Staatsballett Berlin press images

In the 1982 Hollywood classic “Victor, Victoria” Henry Mancini’s song stated the obvious, “Around the Rue des Beaux-Arts, where all the cabarets are… you’ll agree, what they mean when they say ‘Gay Paree’!”

Meanwhile, Gay Berlin surely holds its own. It actually mocks “Paree” in its Pariser Platz, named after the battle of Paris in 1814 that defeated Napoleon. This is also the location of the iconic Brandenburg Gate which became the symbol of German reunification after the Wall fell in 1989.

A walk along the historic Unter den Linden under the fragrantly blossoming linden trees will grant the views of classical sculptures next to new construction cranes, and take you to the major city sites, like Berlin Cathedral and Museum Island.

The best way to observe Berlin’s multiple monuments and architectural wonders is from a hop-on hop-off City Circle sightseeing bus that rides past the most important ones.

Berlin Victory Column, designed by Heinrich Strack in the mid-1800s to commemorate the Prussian victory in the Danish-Prussian War, by the time it was inaugurated in 1873, acquired additional meaning after Prussia had also defeated Austria and its German allies in the Austro-Prussian War of 1866, and then France in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 in the Unification Wars. These later victories were reflected in the addition of the 27 ft sculpture of Victoria, designed by Friedrich Drake.

The Rotes Rathaus (Red City Hall) is the red-brick town hall of Berlin, built in 1869 in Italian Renaissance style by Hermann Friedrich Waesemann is located in the Mitte district, where I was staying in a comfy and cozy Mercure Hotel Berlin Mitte, recognizable from afar by its wall-size “Berlin’s largest mural” on a side of the building.

 

Checkpoint Charlie (the name given by the Western Allies to the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between East Berlin and West Berlin during the Cold War of 1947–1991 can also be seen from City Circle bus that makes stops near all the sites along its route.

Or, take U-Bahn – the fast and efficient city subway to the legendary Friedrichstrasse (very much comparable to Rue des Beaux-Arts) with its world-famous revue theatre Friedrichstadt-Palast, or to Charlottenburg district – home to Deutsche Oper Berlin on Bismarckstrasse (you’ll know you’re heading in the right direction by the composers’ names written on U-Bahn station tiled walls). Walk through a tree-lined Schlossstrasse to Charlottenburg Palace with exquisite Baroque interior and impressive collection of art, surrounded by serene park grounds with a lake.

Friedrichstadt-Palast, where I watched the over-the-top glamorous “The One” Grand Show puts up the following statement signed by Berndt Schmidt, General Director: “Respect Each Other. As a theatre owned by the city of Berlin, the Palast has the utmost respect for all legitimate views and lifestyles… In light of its past, the Palast consciously advocates diversity, freedom and democracy. While democracy is far from perfect, it is the only form of government that allows both the majorities and minorities their freedom. Our history shows that freedom is not simply there – and it is often lost again more quickly than one would think. It must be asserted every single day.”

The Palast’s predecessor, the Grosses Schauspielhaus theatre was founded in 1919 by impresario Max Reinhardt, who engaged the amazing expressionist architect and interior designer Hans Poelzig, and artistic director Erik Charell.

The theatre foyer with layered fountain-like columns led to a cavernous, domed amphitheater with stylized stalactites. This vast grotto was dramatically lit with colored lights, and the ceiling was dotted with lights emulating the night sky. Lavish, risqué revues, typical of Berlin’s decadent 1920s nightlife, were being produced, until the Nazis came to power, and everything changed.

The building was seized in 1934, and renamed Theater des Volkes (The People’s Theatre). The spectacular vaulted dome was considered ‘degenerate architecture,’ and removed. Nazi propaganda shows were staged until 1945, when the theatre was damaged in a World War II bombing. Rebuilt and renovated in 1984, it became the flagship theatre of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) until 1990, and after the fall of the Wall, the Palast established itself as the first address in reunified Germany for extravagant and spectacular show entertainment. It continues to be Europe’s biggest and most modern show palace.

Being of Jewish descent, homosexual, and modernist, the original theatre creators, Max Reinhardt, Hans Poelzig, and Erik Charell suffered under the Nazi regime, and were memorialized in 2015, when the Palast inaugurated a sculpture dedicated to their achievements, depicting a stage spotlight, and placed next to the new building on Friedrichstrasse 107.

“Colors of Respect” poster designed by Zhoi Hy, became a symbol for the Palast mentality, inspired by the colors of the rainbow flag, designed by Gilbert Baker in 1978. It has since been a symbol of the LGBTI international community.

The abundance of rainbow colors spilled out onstage at the Palast current show, “The One,” set to run until mid-2018.

Directed by Roland Welke, with 500 costumes by the world star fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier, lighting by Emmy Award winner Peter Morse, choreography by Brian Friedman, Craig Revel Horwood, and Marguerite Donlon, and songs by Daniel Behrens, Christian Lohr, Gregor Meyle, Maya Singh, and KT Tunstall, the show features Roman Lob and Brigitte Oelke as solo artists, and more than 100 of their colleagues from 26 nations.

“I have dreamed of working on a revue ever since I was a little boy; when I had seen the premiere of Folies Bergère on TV at my grandmother’s,” said Gaultier. “The following day, I got into trouble at school for drawing girls with feathers and fishnet stockings. But I also noticed that I was being admired for my drawings as I started to become more and more popular among my classmates. Now, more than a dream is coming true for me: The first revue for which I have designed the costumes takes place in Berlin. This city defined the cabaret of the twenties, and the Palast is a place with a rich and eventful history, having reinvented itself more than once. I am flattered and honored to be a part of this production.”

“Only in dreams, on stage, and in movies, everything is possible,” said Welke. “That’s why I want to combine these elements; the three-dimensional images of theatre, the cross-fade and slow-motion effects used in the film industry and the endless possibilities of dreams that are not limited by natural laws. A rushing stream of images, where everything changes and nothing stays the same.”

On my short two-day visit to Berlin I was lucky to catch a Staatsballett Berlin show “The Sleeping Beauty” by Tchaikovsky, performed at the Deutsche Oper Berlin.

Berlin’s new State Ballet Company – Staatsballett, founded in 2004, was created by merging the previously independent ballet companies at Berlin’s three opera houses. Today, it’s acknowledged as one of the world’s leading ballet companies performing in three venues – the Deutsche Oper Berlin, the Komische Oper Berlin, and the Staatsoper in the Schiller Theater. Starting with the 2014/2015 season, a renowned choreographer and director Nacho Duato took over as Artistic Director of the Staatsballett Berlin, bringing in a wealth of experience and his own much admired choreographic techniques.

The company’s dancers present the entire range of the ballet repertoire including all of Tchaikovsky’s ballets as well as neo-classical and contemporary works.

“The Sleeping Beauty,” choreographed by Duato, with set and costumes by Angelina Atlagic, lighting by Brad Fields and musical direction by Robert Reimer (Deutsche Oper Berlin orchestra) featured Ksenia Ovsyanick as Princess Aurora and Marian Walter as Prince Désiré, supported by the talented ensemble. The entire ballet was performed with abundant energy and skill, however, Rishat Yulbarisov in the role of the evil Carabosse completely stole the show. The 6’4” agile and highly powerful dancer, clad in a shiny strapless black dress with a full skirt of rustling ruffles, dominated the stage in his every graceful move, surrounded by a soundless, acrobatic team of the evil witch’s shadowy sidekicks – Alexander Abdukarimov, Taras Bilenko, Joaquin Crespo Lopez, Artur Lill, Lucio Vidal, and Wei Wang. (Currently on summer break, the show will resume on September 15).

Gay Berlin was on my mind while I was traveling on U-Bahn with my trusty Berlin Welcome Card. On U-5 line construction site there was a depiction of a train car with passengers of different races, ages, genders, and sexual identities sending a clear message of inclusivity and acceptance. CSD Berlin was advertised – the coming up on July 22 Christopher Street Day a.k.a. Berlin Pride. The first CSD took place in 1979, and since 1993, the gay/lesbian city festival has been celebrated every year becoming the largest of its kind worldwide. These days, up to 750,000 people celebrate the CSD in Berlin with more than 50 floats moving toward the Brandenburg Gate.

Many Americans remember Berlin’s mayor, Klaus Wowereit (in office October 2001 – December 2014), the first openly gay German politician who famously proclaimed, “I am gay – and that is also a good thing.”

Apparently, Berlin was considered the gay capital back in the 1920s. Despite the financial struggles of the time, a vibrant scene of bars, clubs, and cabarets existed in numbers still unrivalled today. According to some historical accounts, there were about 400 venues for homosexuals at that time, ranging from the famous cabaret Eldorado (closed down by the Nazis in 1932) to the ladies’ dance hall Zur Manuela, and to the large balls organized by various homosexual associations.

As early as 1897, Magnus Hirschfeldfounded, a German Jewish physician and sexologist, founded the Wissenschaftlich-Humanitäre Komitee (The Scientific-Humanitarian Committee) in Berlin as the first ever gay and lesbian human rights organization. From 1919, he ran the legendary Institut für Sexualwissenschaft (Institute for Sexual Science), which made an important contribution to the emancipation of gays and lesbians all over the world.

After the suppression of the entire gay and lesbian community and subculture by the Nazis, it wasn’t until 1971 that the homosexual scene recovered again – which is when the gay movement Homosexuelle Aktion Westberlin (Homosexual Action West Berlin) was founded.

Today, Berlin is one of the most open and tolerant cities in the world. Gay bars, clubs and parties as well as wide-ranging cinema programs, the Gay Museum and many other venues and events, including the annual CSD, for LGBTI community, are readily available and well-attended.

VisitBerlin website provides tips, practical information, and points of contact for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersexual people. LGBTI-friendly hotels in Berlin are listed in Pink Pillow Berlin Collection. All participating hotels have signed the gay-friendly hotels promise: to treat all guests with same courtesy, dignity and respect; to actively contribute to social LGBTI projects; to create a work environment of respect and tolerance; to offer guests information about the LGBTI scene; to participate in VisitBerlin’s semi-annual LGBTI information days.

Find more information at: https://www.visitberlin.de/en.

Press images: Friedrichstadt-Palast “The One”: photography by Sven Darmer. Staatsballett Berlin “The Sleeping Beauty”: photography by Yan Revasov (Princess Aurora) and Ed Shelley (male trio).

Photography by Yuri Krasov

Denver, Colorado, is a gateway to advanced skiing, hiking, mountain biking, and so many other wonderful outdoor activities so many of my athletic friends appreciate and pursue here. I love mountains, too, but we have an incompatibility issue… In a Mile High City – only a mile above the sea level – I’m besieged by the altitude sickness symptoms, feeling sluggish, light-headed, and having to literally drag my feet even to the most enticing places in this beautiful area.

That is not to say that I would abstain from whatever leisurely pursuits are still available to me in Denver – and those could easily fill out a weekend turning it into a pleasantly relaxing vacay.

On a Friday night my husband and I arrived at the capital of the Centennial State (formed in the year 1876), and I checked my list of planned activities. I soon realized that the pesky elevation fatigue wouldn’t let us hurry up and get here and there before the closing time. All I wanted was to keep awake at least until dark. We decided that everything else could wait, but we had to have dinner, and for that we went straight to Vesta – a reputable and very popular dining establishment awarded for its memorable food and drink as well as for its excellent service and ambiance.

3. Vesta restaurant lights

Named after an ancient Roman goddess of hearth, usually personified by the fire, the restaurant, located in an historical 1800s building – a former spice mill – boasts the original brick walls and hard wood floors, a row of weathered wood pillars, an open kitchen, and a long stone bar under a copper roof that reflects the lights of six red-orange orbs with frozen glass “flames” positioned vertically along the counter.

As explains Josh Wolkon, the proprietor, those six artisanal light fixtures – the most striking feature of the interior – symbolize the priestesses of Vesta who served in her temple in Rome and had to guard the eternal fire in her hearth.

4. Executive Chef at Vesta

Whatever’s the connection with the virgin vestals, the fire at Vesta produces some really impressive grilled, roasted, and charred delicacies created by the Executive Chef Nicholas Kayser, who was awarded a Michelin star during his previous tenure in New York City, and sous chefs Steven Cox, Brian Hardy, and Wes Oswalt.

Vesta bread plate presents a rotating house-baked selection of fresh breads served with roasted garlic, black pepper truffle honey, and compound butter, while a charcuterie plate contains house-cured meats and Colorado cheeses – behold for example, salami fino, chicken liver pate and Haystack Mountain Cashmere cheese served with house-made mustards, fig jam, peppered honey, and candied walnuts.

5. Charcuterie at Vesta

6. Cocktails in Vesta

Just these starters alone are great with the whimsical libations from the cocktail-driven bar, like Down by Law, Mezcal Last Word, and Where the Buffalo Roam. However, it wouldn’t be wise to miss on the small plates and mains at Vesta – all made with locally grown, organic and sustainable ingredients.

Be it braised pork belly with yuzu aioli; charred baby octopus on a bed of white beans and red cabbage; or a generous portion of extracted from the bone and pan-fried bone marrow – it’s hard to go wrong with anything at Vesta!

No matter how full you might feel after consuming Green Garlic Bucatini Carbonara or Madras Grilled Venison, try not to skip dessert. Executive Pastry Chef Nadine Donovan makes wondrous seasonal sweets, like Spring Crème Brulee with strawberries, rhubarb, lemon curd and white chocolate.

After a good-night sleep, induced by the substantial meal at Vesta, we were ready to explore the city over the weekend.

7. Denver Art Museum

Denver Art Museum is an imposing architectural wonder that consists of two buildings – the original one, resembling a fortress, designed by the famous Italian architect Gio Ponti, and the newer Hamilton Building – a jagged shimmering titanium fantasy by Daniel Libeskind, inspired by the snowy peaks of the Rockies.

There’s a wealth of art pieces exhibited at the museum’s galleries – from more than 70 000 in the entire collection – ranging from Native American art of more than 100 tribes to Western and Asian, classic and contemporary, derived from the permanent collection, and currently on display in temporary shows.

8. Museum of dolls

On a much smaller scale, in more than one sense, The Denver Museum of Miniatures, Dolls and Toys is located in the historic Pearce-McAllister Cottage, and holds an impressive amount of tiny doll houses populated by well-dressed dolls, furnished and decorated in the most meticulous fashion with glass, metal, and even pure gold objects measured from half an inch to a pinky size.

9. Molly Brown House

Of life-sized fully furnished and decorated historical mentions, Molly Brown House Museum, formerly a property of Margaret Brown, or the “Unsinkable Molly Brown” and Byers-Evans House Museum provide fascinating guided tours and a glimpse into the bygone era. Interestingly, the guide at one of the house museums noted in the course of our excursion that on his tours he encounters mostly out-of-towners. Denver residents rarely explore the fascinating past of their gorgeous city. Perhaps, they have a reason for that – the surrounding nature is too good to miss on a day in or a day out.

10. Byers-Evans House Museum

By the end of our short trip to Denver, I felt energized enough to explore the outdoors. We ventured no further than the Red Rocks Amphitheatre – famous for all the musical stars that graced its stage over the years, but also for the legendary red rocks that surround it.

11. Red Rocks Amphitheatre

More information at: www.visitdenver.com, www.vestadenver.com, www.denverartmuseum.org, www.dmmdt.org, www.mollybrown.org, www.historycolorado.org.

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Photography by Emma Krasov

AmaStella was the name of a brand new AmaWaterways ship I happily boarded for a 7-night river cruise from Budapest to Vilshofen a few weeks ago. With “Stella” (star) in its name and a rich, saturated with historical and cultural treasures of Europe itinerary, offered on the Melodies of the Danube cruise, I knew I was up for a treat. It was my birthday after all, and throughout the entire journey I was treated like a birthday girl I was! And so were all the other passengers on the ship…

We made fast friends, enjoyed shore excursions and lavish meals in onboard restaurants together, and were laughing often and toasting each other around our dinner table. At night, we were counting our lucky stars from a sun deck while our ship smoothly and almost imperceptibly was making its way along the mighty Danube.

AmaStella built 2016

Built in 2016 in Netherlands, the snow-white elegant AmaStella, with its advanced river vessel design, clean modern décor, twin balconies in most of its 79 staterooms, and only adult passengers on board for the late April trip, looked positively heavenly to me, whose one and only cruise experience before AmaWaterways has been chalked off as two – the first one and the last one! That time, years ago, I embarked on a gigantic ocean cruise that proved to be overcrowded, impersonal, and hardly relaxing. I remember staying in long lines to get off the ocean liner and back on it for every shore excursion. I still shudder at the memories of the liner’s swimming pools day and night filled with cavorting children; of the captain’s dance party attended by properly dressed couples as well as by young parents in their pajamas who came out with baby strollers and milk bottles to partake in the festivities; of the 24/7 eateries with abundant but tasteless food, and the overall feeling of vast and unfriendly place like a county fair on a cold rainy day… I didn’t think I’d be tempted to go on a cruise ever again.

Budapest Heroes Square

A chance encounter with an enthusiastic advocate of AmaWaterways first piqued my curiosity, then exited me with a possibility to travel in luxury on an all-adults cruise, seeing the most enticing sites of several countries and never dragging my bags from one hotel to another, and finally made me fall in love with the company’s truly wonderful ways!

Champagne on AmaStella

Dessert on AmaStella

Launched in 2002 by the former Viking River Cruise President, Rudi Schreiner, high-level travel executive Kristin Karst, and Brendan Worldwide Vacations founder and owner Jimmy Murphy, AmaWaterways with its substantial fleet of upscale vessels, several levels of walking tours onshore for more and less athletic participants, guided bicycle touring, and award-winning culinary program is rightfully considered the best in providing river cruises, and is touted as “the best value for the quality” by the River Boat Ratings and Evaluations independent site. “One gets the sense that management is constantly thinking up ways to appeal to a younger and more sophisticated clientele,” notes riverboatratings.com.

Lifesaver on AmaStella

Warm, helpful, attentive, personable, smiling – those are just the first-come-to-mind adjectives to describe the service on all levels of dealings with AmaWaterways. As always, before my trip I was roaming multiple air travel sites in search of a shortest, most affordable, most comfortably timed flight. Eventually, an AmaWaterways agent recommended a perfect flight that arrived in Budapest in time for my transfer to the river port, and it was all smooth sailing from then on.

Welcome to the cruise

Reception on AmaStella

Captain on AmaStella

The arriving passengers were greeted by the AmaStella team with a champagne reception and individual chaperons to take us all to our respective staterooms. The cruise manager introduced the crew, and the captain briefly described safety features before everyone was invited to a beautifully served welcome dinner.

Budapest Parliament at night

After sunset, the ship sailed past Budapest’s gothic Parliament building – the largest in Europe – on a special Illuminations Cruise along the city’s glittering riverfront.

At the Budapest market

Budapest SynagogueMatthias Church in Budapest

Next morning, on a Budapest guided walking tour, my new friends and I marveled at the bounty of the Great Market Hall overflowing with flowers, foods, arts and crafts, and many-many kinds of paprika. We explored the iconic sites of Buda and Pest that merged into one glorious city in 1873 on both banks of the Danube – from the vast Heroes’ Square and Hungarian State Opera to the historical Great Synagogue and colorful St. Matthias Church. Some of us climbed the 160-feet Castle Hill in Buda, others took a bus ride, but a great and unforgettable time was had by all!

Street art in Bratislava

In Bratislava, after a guided excursion to the Old Town Hall, St. Martin’s Cathedral, and the historic Main Square, we were singing in the rain and photographing each other hugging street art sculptures. I picked a bronze Napoleonic soldier, leaning on a street bench, who according to the urban legend woke up one morning too drunk to follow his regiment.

Detail of Imperial Palace in Vienna

Ankeruhr clock in Vienna

St. Stephen Cathedral in Vienna

Then it was a fascinating tour of Vienna with a knowledgeable and artistic guide who entertained as much as she educated us on the history of the former ostentatious capital of the Habsburgs’ Austro-Hungarian Empire. I picked a Special Interest tour titled Hidden Vienna and offered on the cruise itinerary as an alternative to the regular walking tour. Back alleys and secret spaces in existence since the Middle Ages took us to the Anker Uhr clock, Mozarthaus, and the underground catacombs of the St. Stephan’s Cathedral with mummified remains of the royals and bishops, and morbid rooms constructed from the bones of black plague victims.

That night, the majority of AmaStella passengers were enjoying a concert of Mozart and Strauss music onshore, but I was listening to Shostakovich’s “Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk” at the famed Vienna State Opera. While I was on a city tour, our cruise manager booked it for me, even though it was a last minute request and a full house – and this is a great example of the ways AmaWaterways treats its guests. I still don’t know how he managed to secure an orchestra seat for me in one of the most popular theaters on the planet on the day of the performance!

Durnstein

At sunrise, approaching our next stop at Weissenkirchen, I stepped out to my balcony at the precise moment when we were passing by the porcelain-blue baroque Stiftskirche, a cloister tower in Durnstein, considered the most beautiful of its kind in Austria. A Durnstein excursion followed, with local specialty apricot liquor tasting, and a tour of the spectacular Benedictine Abbey in Melk with a floor to ceiling gilded church – one of Europe’s largest monasteries and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Grein castle

The afternoon walking tour to the Castle Greinburg in Grein presented us with an opportunity to see Austria’s oldest residential castle with an extensive collection of historical artefacts, and the mysterious Sala Terena – a 1625 cavernous room decorated in its entirety with myriads of pebbles. A local dance ensemble performed folk dances for us in the castle chapel.

More excellent entertainment followed after dinner, with an onboard visit of the virtuoso trio of female musicians, La Strada, who performed an array of “melodies of the Danube” originating from all the countries located along the river banks.

1st of May in Linz

In Linz, where we appeared on May 1, the national holiday, besides the fascinating walking tour with a highly-skilled guide, we were witnessing a Labor Day/May Day parade of the local trade unions, with abundant red flags and pro-labor slogans.

Cesky Krumlov

Gardens in Cesky Krumlov

Among a variety of enticing onshore excursions departing from Linz on buses, bicycles, and on foot, I picked a half-day trip to the medieval town of Cesky Krumlov in Czech Republic, nestled in the hills over the Austrian-Czech border. After a guided tour of its imposing, wonderfully preserved castle grounds, we were given some free time which I spent at the baroque gardens with emerald green lawns and patterned flower beds of flaming-red tulips.

St. Stephen Cathedral in Passau, Germany

Arriving in Passau, Germany, we visited the most opulent St. Stephan’s Cathedral with baroque and rococo architectural elements, and mind-boggling mural work.

Octoberfest in Vilshofen

Finally, in Vilshofen, a charming Bavarian town, and the last stop of our cruise, a private Octoberfest was presented to the AmaStella passengers in a large white tent spread out right on the dock. Live music and folk dancing were emceed by the local “beer queen,” and everyone had a chance to indulge in endless amounts of fine Bavarian brew. As if on cue, two white swans appeared by our ship, and lingered nearby, obviously attracted to the boisterous gathering.

Happy Birthday on AmaStella

That night, my new friends and I were dining at the Chef’s table in a special small restaurant onboard, feasting on a 10-course tasting menu that ended with a sweet surprise – my birthday cake, made of chocolate, nuts, and berries.

Next morning, we were saying goodbye to our wonderful hosts, to the beautiful and lucky AmaStella, and to each other. This weeklong adventure changed my opinion of cruises in general, but in particular I’m talking about the wonderful AmaWaterways – the stellar cruise company, sky-high above the rest.

More information at: www.amawaterways.com.

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Photography by Yuri Krasov

If you fly to New Orleans, Louisiana a.k.a. NOLA, on a Friday afternoon, you might want to start your weekend in the French Quarter – the beating heart of the city – big, generous, full of life, and untainted by years of visiting tourists from all over the world, walking down Bourbon Street in huge crowds day and night in various degrees of public intoxication.

The real NOLA, in all its sublime beauty, Southern charm mixed with French chic, and over-the-top exuberance is still here, every step of the way!2. DSC_0429 copy

Have a lavish dinner at Kingfish, a popular casual joint on Chartres Street, serving mean cocktails (try the signature NOLA’s Sazerac or Vieux Carre), and new Louisiana cuisine by renowned Chef Nathan Richard.  You can’t go wrong with local specialties, like Louisiana BBQ Shrimp and Crispy Grit Cake or Chicken and Smoked Sausage Gumbo. And if you consider yourself and adventurous eater, don’t shy away from Alligator “Wings” in Café au lait barbecue sauce. Served in a small cast iron skillet, they look just like your party chicken wings, but those are baby gators’ tender limbs (awww!) www.kingfishneworleans.com.

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A short walking distance away catch a Friday night special – Trixie Minx Burlesque Ballroom at The Jazz Playhouse in the lobby of Royal Sonesta Hotel on the corner of Bourbon and Bienville. The weekly show is performed by a rotating cast of New Orleans and international touring burlesque performers, who dance onstage and throughout the room to the sounds of live jazz and blues music with wonderful vocalists. Burlesque Ballroom is the only weekly show that accompanies burlesque with live music – just like it used to be during the original heyday of 1950s Bourbon Street burlesque culture.4. DSC_0511 copy

This intimate production that fills The Jazz Playhouse with a conspicuous speakeasy vibe, is extremely popular with tourist groups, bachelorette’s parties, foreign visitors, and just about anyone who’s lucky enough to be in NOLA on a Friday night! Trixie Minx, a classically trained ballerina-turned-burlesque performer, producer, healthcare advocate, and cultural ambassador – and a true NOLA celebrity – can be seen here making every show a late-night spectacular. http://www.trixieminx.com, www.sonesta.com/us/louisiana/new-orleans/royal-sonesta-new-orleans/jazzplayhouse.

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If your luck is with you all the way, you’ll stay two blocks from Bourbon Street, at the Maison Dupuy, “the French Quarter Hotel,” on Rue Toulouse. Overlooking a cozy courtyard with a heated blue swimming pool surrounded by lounge chairs and cabanas, from your room balcony you might see an elegant wedding happening right there, by the three-tiered marble fountain in the center. Maison Dupuy has on average 63 weddings each year, so the chances are pretty good you can catch one on any given weekend.

This historical hotel’s location originally was home to the nation’s first cotton press. Later, utilized for industry, the intersection of Rue Toulouse and Rue Burgundy housed sheet metal companies. Only in the 1970s the Dupuy brothers successfully turned the building into a posh hotel it is today. It’s the last hotel to have been built in the French Quarter, since in 1975 the Vieux Carre Commission banned the future development of the neighborhood to preserve its historic significance.

Spread out throughout five joined townhouses, made of red brick, Maison Dupuy hotel maintains the original architectural features – ornate French doors, long windows, wrought iron balconies, and 200 spacious rooms with all the modern conveniences, including pillow-top mattresses and flat screen TVs.

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For a leisurely breakfast, look no further than to the hotel’s own restaurant, Bistreaux. Festively decorated with wall murals that replicate Toulouse-Lautrec’s cabaret paintings, with sunlight streaming through the wide arched windows, the white-table-cloth venue serves Continental and American breakfasts, including a stuffed French toast with cream cheese, jam, and fresh strawberries to give you a great head start. www.maisondupuy.com.

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On a nice day like almost any day in NOLA, just strolling through the French Quarter is a treat on its own. Stop at the historic Hotel Monteleone on Royal Street – the grand dame of NOLA’s hotels. Here, in the lobby there’s a famous Carousel Piano Bar & Lounge, where you can sip a cocktail while suddenly noticing that the entire circular bar is revolving around the central stand like a slow moving carousel.

Have a quick lunch of Po’boy or Muffuletta sandwich (both local specialties) at Arnaud’s Remoulade on Bourbon Street.

Or take a tour of the French Quarter with Two Chicks Walking Tours, admittedly “based on what we would do with friends on an afternoon in the French Quarter.” The tours meet by the world-famous Café du Monde, where you can actually oversee through a side window the process of making those airy beignets covered in powdered sugar that are served with the NOLA’s favorite chicory coffee.

On a tour, you’ll see the mighty Mississippi River passing through the city on its way from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. With 200 ft depth, it’s not your recreational body of water. NOLA residents have a lake for that. The major parts of the Crescent City are named in relation to the river – Uptown up the river, Downtown – down the river, plus there’s River Side and Lake Side.

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The tour will take you to Jackson Square with the iconic Andrew Jackson horseback statue and the St. Louis Cathedral – the oldest cathedral still in use in North America. Jackson Square is also the location of an open-air artist colony, where artists display their work on the outside of the iron fence. You might see the artists at work and perhaps have your portrait drawn by one of the many talents utilizing Jackson Square as their studio.

You’ll stop by the historic open-air French Market, reminiscent of its European counterparts. With abundant shopping, dining and live musical entertainment it’s a traditional gathering place in NOLA.

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Step into the oldest watering hole in NOLA, Tujague’s on Decatur Street, established in 1856, with the original 1700s wooden bar stand, delivered from France, and walk to the second floor balcony for a city view enjoyed by the locals.

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From Café du Monde to the bazaar at the end of Esplanade Avenue, there are five blocks of specialty retail shops and a community flea market with only the original, locally-made art, jewelry, clothing, and cuisine. www.twochickswalkingtours.com

You won’t notice how soon your little weekend will come to an end, but if spent in NOLA it might very well be the best weekend you’ll remember all year!

Additional information at: www.neworleanscvb.com, Facebook (Visit New Orleans), Twitter (@NewOrleansCVB) and Instagram (VisitNewOrleans).

 

Photography by Emma Krasov

Cover photo: Henri Matisse Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916)

Traveling to San Francisco just got a tad more exciting. Or, a ton more! The current special exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), laconically titled, Matisse/Diebenkorn, explores the intricate connection between the two great artists of the 20th century, separated by years, continents, and art schools, and yet united by their unmistakable kinship in color, line, composition, subject matter, and the very method of creating art.

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Henri Matisse Goldfish and Palette (1914)

The first ever show to explore Richard Diebenkorn’s (1922-1993) affinity for Henri Matisse (1869-1954) and the endless inspiration the American abstract/figurative painter derived from the French fauve/modernist’s masterpieces was co-organized with the Baltimore Museum of Art, and is on view at SFMOMA – the only venue on the West Coast – through May 29, featuring about 40 paintings and drawings by Matisse and 60 by Diebenkorn.

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Henri Matisse Seated Odalisque with Left Knee Bent (1928)

Matisse’s paintings that admittedly profoundly influenced Diebenkorn at different stages of his life and career, and Diebenkorn’s canvases that in a myriad of subtle and often barely perceptible ways reflect the influences are placed on gallery walls in close proximity to each other, allowing for multiple “Eureka!” moments that add a joy of discovery to the viewer’s pure indulgence in brilliant art.

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Richard Diebenkorn Still Life with Orange Peel (1955)

From Matisse’s bold and unusual juxtapositions of color, his unmasked trials and errors, visible erasures, singular assertive lines that magically create an image of unforgettable beauty, the viewer’s eye moves to Diebenkorn’s unpretentious, yet poignant and brimming with life and sunlight figurative works, airy dreamlike abstractions, ink and pencil drawings that look livelier than photography, and the revelation of the similitude between the two geniuses becomes immediately evident.

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Richard Diebenkorn Still Life with Orange Peel II (1955-1956)

Matisse/Diebenkorn is an incredible story of artistic inspiration, revealing how Diebenkorn’s enduring fascination with Matisse informed his own body of work in substantive and often surprising ways,” says SFMOMA’s Janet Bishop, Thomas Weisel Family Curator of Painting and Sculpture. “The exhibition casts new light on two artists represented in depth in SFMOMA’s holdings, and in fact several of the Matisse paintings now in our collection were among the very first paintings by the French artist that Diebenkorn ever saw.”

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Henri Matisse Lemons on Pewter Plate (1926-1929)

Diebenkorn’s first encounter with Matisse’s works happened in 1943 at the Palo Alto home of Sarah Stein when he was a Stanford University student. As a newly-enlisted Marine in Virginia, in 1944, he was seeking and researching Matisse in the East Coast museums – The Museum of Modern Art in New York, The National Gallery of Art and The Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., where he first saw Matisse’s Studio, Quai Saint-Michel (1916) that he said created in indelible impression, “the big one.”

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Henri Matisse Interior at Nice (1919 or 1920)

In Los Angeles in 1952, Diebenkorn saw an exhibition of Matisse’s work with such important paintings as Goldfish and Palette (1914) and Interior at Nice (1919 or 1920). After visiting this comprehensive traveling retrospective he began incorporating elements of the French painter’s paintings into his own compositions with brighter palette and new interest in structure.

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Henri Matisse Flowers and Parakeets (1924)

Diebenkorn’s Bay Area Figurative paintings and drawings echo some of Matisse’s compositions that he particularly admired, with intriguing parallels perceptible in outlines and color choices of otherwise vastly different pieces, like Matisse’s Interior with Violin (1918) and Diebenkorn’s Interior with Doorway (1962); Matisse’s Notre-Dame, A Late Afternoon (1902) and Diebenkorn’s Ingleside (1963); and Matisse’s Woman with a Hat (1905) with Diebenkorn’s Seated Figure with Hat (1967).

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Richard Diebenkorn Untitled (1961-62)

Diebenkorn never stopped seeking out Matisse’s art, discovering a treasure trove of never before seen masterpieces during his trip to the former Soviet Union in 1964. He saw the extensive collections of works by Matisse in the State Hermitage Museum in Leningrad (now Saint Petersburg) and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. This experience is reflected in Diebenkorn’s Recollections of a Visit to Leningrad (1965) and Large Still Life (1966), which both feature the sort of ornate patterned wallpaper or textiles favored by Matisse.

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Henri Matisse Reclining Nude with Arm behind Head (1937)

Two years later, at the large (more than 350 works) retrospective in Los Angeles, Diebenkorn saw “almost abstract” Matisse’s paintings, View of Notre Dame (1914) and French Window at Collioure (1914), that influenced his most famous and celebrated abstract Ocean Park series.

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Richard Diebenkorn Untitled (Seated Woman, Patterned Dress) (1966)

Coming from the American and European museums and private collections, and rarely (if ever) seen together, the artworks on display include multiple SFMOMA’s own pieces resulting from the museum’s long history of dedication to displaying both Matisse and Diebenkorn en masse and often, but the San Francisco institution’s role in this landmark presentation extends to more than just the supplement from its permanent collection.

SFMOMA offers private guided tours for guests looking to experience the museum in a private and engaging setting. A knowledgeable art historian will lead the group through the beautiful, newly expanded space, giving insight to the outstanding collection of modern and contemporary artworks. 

A variety of six tours are currently being offered, including the current special exhibition, Matisse/Diebenkorn.

Private tours are perfect for friend or company outings, celebrations, gifts, or just a way to visit SFMOMA in a whole new way, private to your party. Members receive discounted pricing.

Reservations can be made by submitting a request online at www.sfmoma.org/groups, or by emailing groups@sfmoma.org.

 

Photography by Emma Krasov

Sweet dreams are made of this… How do you bring together the world’s most coveted travel destinations and attractions all in one place? Monaco Government Tourist Office presented the upcoming summer exhibition, “The Forbidden City in Monaco: Imperial Court Life in China” during its 2017 press preview in San Francisco at the Michelin-starred Hakkasan restaurant.

Present at the event and speaking to the press were Thomas E. Horn, the Honorary Consul of Monaco in San Francisco; Guillaume Rose, Director of Monaco Government Tourist Authority; special guest Mark Braude, author of “Making of Monte-Carlo: A History of Speculation and Spectacle,” and Monaco Government Tourist Office representatives.

2. Cafe de Paris

3. Casino at night

As if traveling to Monaco – the playground of the rich and famous – wouldn’t be enticing enough, the tiny principality on the Mediterranean coast tirelessly expands its tremendously significant cultural programs year after year, with grandiose art shows usually coming every summer to the spacious Grimaldi Forum in the heart of the city-state.

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The Forbidden City exhibition, jointly curated by Jean-Paul Desroches, Honorary General Curator, and Wang Yuegong, Director of the Imperial Court Life Department at the Forbidden City in Beijing, focuses on the last imperial Chinese Qing dynasty (1644-1911), its pomp and circumstance, its tastes and grandeur. The Forbidden City, one of the most impressive palace complexes in the world, and the world’s most popular tourist venue, attracts around 10 million visitors annually.

In the exhibition, there will be two models of monumental temples from the China Red Sandalwood Museum in Beijing, archival audiovisual material made public for the first time, and 250 artefacts, including portraits, ceremonial costumes, furniture, precious art pieces, and scientific instruments, some of which are ranked as national treasures. The show will run from July 14 through September 10.

4. Grace cocktail

The press reception started with a glass of rose champagne with a single pink rose petal in the flute – a tender homage to Princess Grace who made America’s connection to Monaco the tie that binds.

Hakkasan restaurant menu, suitable for the occasion, included some of the famed restaurant’s signature dishes.

5. Shanghai

6. Dumplings

An array of traditional dumplings included Shanghai siew long bao, har gau, scallop shumai, and prawn and chive dumpling.

The main courses presented the usual richness and variety of classic Chinese seafood, meat, and vegetable dishes served over egg and scallion fried rice:

7. Shrimp

Spicy prawns with lily bulbs and almonds

8. Claypot

Sanpei chicken clay pot with Thai sweet basil

9. Beef

Stir-fry black pepper beef

10. Lotus

Lotus root and asparagus and lily bulb

11. Desert

A duo of desserts consisted of yuzu-mango lollipops and chocolate blood orange cups.

For more information, go to www.visitmonaco.com