Where to Find a COVID-19 RAPID Test In Rome, Italy.

Italy, thankfully (!!), re-opened its borders to residents of the US in June 2019, and many of us Americans booked trips, including Dan and me! Ha, we actually booked two – in September and November. We just returned and had an amazing trip, but we were a bit stressed finding a COVID-19 test in Rome for our return flight to the US. Turns out, it was really easy! Here is the latest information as of September 20, 2021.

Back in Roma!! Unrelated to COVID testing, but this is just outside of the Pantheon!

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Restaurant Review: The Delicious & Inventive Taverna Piatakia, Rhodes Town, Rhodes, Greece.

Telling people that Dan and I were traveling to Rhodes, we received a lot of feedback stating that it was too touristy, too crowded, and that we would find “meh” food, at least for Greece (where honestly, even some “meh” food is great!). So I made it my missing to pre-book some, what I thought would be excellent dinners. In researching good food in Rhodes Town, I came across Taverna Piatakia, and it was a fantastic find. Definitely good high-end food at a very reasonable price! And spoiler alert, Rhodes, especially Rhodes Town, is super touristy and you can certainly find a not-so-great meal that is over priced; I do recommend doing some researching in choosing dinner spots.

Piatakia Taverna on Leontos Street, Rhodes Town.

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Aljoun Castle, Jordan: A Very Cool Castle In Northern Jordan!

Dan and I found ourselves at Aljoun Castle earlier this year on a day trip from Amman. We had previously never heard of Aljoun Castle, but it was a super cool castle with well-preserved exterior that tourists can walk around around. We would never had visited it without the stop being included on our day trip. Here are some pictures and information if you want to include a stop at Aljoun on your own Jordan tour!

Aljoun Castle. Stairs up to the roof.

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Fakhreldine, Amman: So Delicious I Dined There Twice!

Amman is a large city, Jordan’s capital, and largely filled with picturesque white square buildings. It’s quite beautiful. But again, its large and it takes time to get from here to there, so I went back and forth on where to dine when we were in town! After much research, I found the BEST restaurant just a 10 minute walk from our hotel – Fakhreldine Restaurant & Cafe. In fact, it was so good we went back twice (rare for us)!! Please don’t miss this gem in Amman.

En route to Fakereldine.

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Airport Lounge Review: Crown Lounge, Amman International Airport

On our departure from Amman, Jordan, Dan and I had two airport lounge options though our Priority Pass: Royal Jordanian’s Crown Lounge or the unaffiliated Petra Lounge. After googling some other reviews, we started with the Crown Lounge and it was so nice that we never left to check out the Petra Lounge! The Crown Lounge was quite luxurious – definitely an upgrade from many Priority Pass lounges!

Luxurious sofas welcome guests.

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Jerash, Amman: Pompeii Of The East.

Dan and I spent an afternoon visiting the ancient city of Jerash (or rather, Gerasa) back in May on our trip to Jordan. It was a great experience and recommended! Here is some information on our visit.

WHAT IS “JERASH” A/K/A THE POMPEII OF THE EAST?

Jerash is now a modern city in Northern Jordan, a little less than 1 hour from Amman by car. While being its own city, Jerash is best known as the home of the ancient Greco-Roman city of Gerasa, which is known, at least amongst archaeologist and historians, to be one of the best preserved Greco-Roman cities in the world. Frequently referred to as the “Pompeii of the East” by those in the know (because its so well preserved, not because of any volcano eruptions), it’s definitely some of the best preserved ruins that I’ve seen worldwide. Modern-day Jerash is very much a tourist town, but ancient Gerasa enjoyed much success as a trading post and a favorite city of Roman Emperor Hadrian, before eventually falling out of favor and into ruin. Modern-day Jerash is now the perfect place to day trip from Amman.

The ruins of Ancient Gerasa, with modern Jerash in the background (the white square buildings similar to Amman)

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Highlights of Amman, Jordan!

Amman, located in the Northern part of Jordan, is its capital. A number of travel advice suggested that I skip Amman when visiting Jordan, and I am very glad that I didn’t listen! While perhaps less exciting than some of Jordan’s other heavy hitters (Petra, Dead Sea, Wadi Rum, etc.), Amman is a gorgeous city that is often referred to as the “white city” due to the many, many white homes filling its hills; very picturesque and photographic, especially in Spring with all its flowers in bloom. Also, a great entrance or end to Jordan! In addition to its gorgeous white structures, Jordan is a fairly modern city, especially for the Middle East, with lots of Instagrammable spots! We spent 3 nights and 2 days in Amman, with a half-day trip to Jerash. We thought this was a perfect amount of time, but you could definitely squeeze it into 1 day. Here are the highlights from our time Amman!

Amman on a map!

Beautiful Amman!

More pretty Amman. This is a stair case that we stumbled upon just walking around.

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48 Gorgeous Hours At Al Manara, Aqaba Jordan!

On our recent trip to Jordan, Dan and I spent some time in Aqaba (yes, we continuously called Agraba!), and Aqaba turned out to be my favorite stop on our trip through Jordan. Which is kind of crazy given that we almost skipped it. As luck would have it, our flight was moved back by more than 24 hours and we had some extra time in Jordan, so I slotted in Aqaba on a whim. I recommend others making time for Aqaba even if you only have 1 day!

Gorgeous Aqaba.

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Everything You Need To Know To Visit Petra, Jordan. June 2021!

Jordan opened to tourists post-pandemic in February 2021, and Dan and I promptly booked Emirates flights for the end of May in the hopes of visiting Petra sans tourists. And, we were successful! We visited Petra and only saw 12 other tourists! It was amazing. While tourism is definitely rebounding as the pandemic subsides, I still think there is time to visit Petra before the hoards of tourists return. We had a wonderful visit and literally everyone who has seen our pictures is like OMG that’s Jordan?! Go now. Don’t wait.

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The Ancient City Of Petra, Jordan: A Photo Tour.

As you probably know, Dan and I went to Jordan last month for almost two weeks! Our trip was amazing, but the main point of it was, obviously, Petra!! Petra had just re-opened during our visit and we only saw 12 other tourists, which was crazy! I will be posting a full write up and guide on Tuesday, but here are some of our favorite pictures for your Friday viewing pleasure! Happy Weekend!!

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Visiting The Jesus Baptism Site in Bethany Beyond The Jordan, Jordan.

When I heard that the site of Jesus’ baptism was only a 20 minute drive from where I was staying in the Dead Sea, I decided that I needed to see it, despite not being religious (I did grow up Christian). We arranged for our excellent driver to take us to the Baptism site before driving the few hours south to Petra. Since it’s close to the Dead Sea, the baptism site can be visited as day trip from either the Dead Sea or Amman. The entire visit takes about 2 – 2.5 hours, depending on how long you need to wait for the next tour. And, for those looking for information, the site is actually called Bethany Beyond The Jordan.  There are signs on the highway leading up to it.

A mosaic of the site. More impressive than the actual site in my opinion.

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A Weekend Trip To The Dead Sea in Jordan!

Jordan, a small country in the Middle East existing between Israel, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia (!), recently reopened for travel, and Dan and I spent almost two weeks in Jordan in May 2021 right when it opened up post-COVID lockdown! While I will write more about our trip as a whole, we started our trip with a weekend on the Dead Sea, which was lovely and a great way to start a trip! And yes, while visiting the Dead Sea from Israel is well-known, you can also visit the Dead Sea from Jordan!

Lovely spring flowers all over Jordan.

WHAT IS THE DEAD SEA

The Dead Sea is actually a salt lake – not a proper Sea – sandwiched between Jordan and Israel and the West Bank.  The Dead Sea is in the Jordan Rift Valley and its main tributary is the Jordan River, of biblical fame. The Dead Sea is called the Dead Sea because of its salinity (i.e. saltiness); it’s so salty that nothing can live in the Dead Sea for any extended period of time.

Dead Sea from the side of the road. It’s much steeper than it looks.

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Airport Lounge Review: The Emirates Lounge @ JFK T4

After a somewhat disappointing visit to the new American Express Centurion Lounge at JFK two weeks ago, Dan and I made our way to JFK’s Emirates Lounge for a proper breakfast and drinks before departing on Emirates’ morning flight to Dubai.  Spoiler alert, the Emirates Lounge was great and service was fantastic. We both prefer this lounge to the new American Express Centurion Lounge.

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Airport Lounge Review: American Express Centurion Lounge, JFK T4

Dan and I finally made our long anticipated visit to New York JFK’s American Express Centurion Lounge two weeks ago! We have been waiting for this lounge to open for over a year and honestly, I kept my Platinum Card just for this experience. We visited JFK’s Centurion Lounge on a Thursday morning around 8:00 AM, prior to boarding an 11:20 AM Emirates flight to Dubai. We wanted a place to respond to a few last minute work emails, drink some breakfast beverages, and eat a small breakfast. In short, the American Express Centurion Lounge in Terminal 4 did provide what we were looking for, but it was not as great as I imagined. And it was very crowded, even on a Thursday non-holiday weekend morning.  Here is our review; be prepared for crowds and waits as travel continues to pick up.

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Yes, I Went To Reykjavik, Iceland In February (Pre-Pandemic), And It Was Fabulous!

I have to add to this post prior to publicly publishing that Dan and I went to Iceland in February 2020 – pre-pandemic. Things were normal and COVID was just a slight thought in the back of our minds causing us to carry extra hand sanitizer. While things have certainly changed since February 2020, Iceland remains a great destination and it looks like they are some what opening up in 2021 (fingers crossed)! Happy future planning (February 2022?).

Dan and my last international trip pre-Coronavirus was an escape to Reykjavik, the largest city in Iceland, over Valentine’s Day weekend. Yes, another cold-climate country in the Winter (read about my prior cold-climate February trips here and here)… We enjoy visiting cities in their off-season, as you can usually find deeply discounted flights, particularly from the NYC area (hopefully that’s not a pre-corona memory of the past) and these destinations are less crowded in off-season, yet almost everything we want to do, see, and eat is open for business. And, honestly, its often colder in New York than the winter destination we visit, which was the case last February in Iceland.  Further, Iceland is a super easy, five and a half hour flight from NYC and a long weekend (Wednesday night – Monday evening in our case) is a good amount of time to see the highlights. However, had I known that this would be our last trip pre-Coronavirus, I would have definitely stayed longer and seen more of Iceland. 

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Dan and me at Gulfoss Falls. I would note it was not as cold as it looked – it was just super duper windy.

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Friday Brunch in Dubai. It’s A Big Thing.

When researching things to do in Dubai, I learned that Friday Brunch is a very popular thing in Dubai. So, clearly we had to sign up! There are so many options for Friday brunch in Dubai, from pub fare at Dubliners Irish Pub to super upscale experiences at top notch restaurants. We opted for the renowned Traiteur Brunch at the Park Hyatt Dubai! Known to be one of the best and most popular brunches in town, we booked a table before we left the US and were not disappointed. When planning, however, I had a lot of questions. Hopefully this post helps to answer some of your questions.

Brunching at Traiteur.

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4 Fabulous Days In Dubai En Route To the Maldives!

En route to the Maldives last November, Dan and I spent four fabulous days in Dubai! Partly as a stop over en route, but mostly to see some of Dubai! It was our first time in Dubai, and given its location and good flight connections, I’m confident we will return. There’s a ton to do in Dubai and we had a difficult time deciding exactly what to do and how to fit everything into four days! For those planning a trip, here’s a recap of what we did during our four day stay. Feel free to replicate!

FIRST DAY IN DUBAI – 12.5 HOUR FLIGHT & ARRIVAL IN DUBAI!

Emirates’ direct flight from New York to Dubai departs around 10:30 PM and arrives the following evening, around 8:30 PM local time.  After a very, very long flight, we finally arrived in Dubai shortly after sunset! Customs in Dubai, where we presented our COVID-19 negative results (a simple PCR print out in English – nothing like French Polynesia), was quick and easy and we soon had our luggage and were en route to our hotel, the Intercontinental Festival City. We arrived shortly before 10:00 PM and were excited to see the entire hotel was decked out for Dubai’s national day on December 2nd. Very fun.

Intercontinental Festival City going all our for Dubai’s national day!

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How I Spent 1 Week In The Maldives In December, 2020!!

If you read my last post, you know that my husband, Dan (a bit of a points guru), found a crazy deal for a week in the Maldives at the Conrad Rangali Island, Maldives the first week of December – 5 nights in an overwater bungalow totally on points. So that became our Thanksgiving vacation! I was a little iffy about staying a full 5 nights and 6 days on a remote island with no realistic ability to leave, but we had a wonderful time and it was perfect during the pandemic.  And actually, Dan and I both felt that our Maldives vacation FLEW by and we easily could have spent another week. Big surprise! Here’s a run down of our week if you are curious (or hesitant) about what you would do on such a stay!

Palm trees at the Conrad Rangali Island.

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Resort Review: Conrad Maldives Rangali Island!

Dan and I spent a week at the Conrad Maldives Rangali Island in December 2020, during the COVID global pandemic. The resort was at around 35% capacity, we felt totally safe, and we had a lovely time, particularly enjoying the resort without other people! Here is our review of the resort, which may change slightly once COVID ends… In any case, I hope that this helps you plan your trip!

Conrad Rangali Island airport. Smack in the middle of the resort.

The Conrad Maldives Rangali Island is obviously in the Maldives, a national of many, many islands located off the south west coast of India (making it fun to combine with a trip to India or Sri Lanka).  The Conrad is in the South Ari Atoll of the Maldives, and is comprised of three private islands. It takes exactly 29 minute to arrive via sea plane from Malé, the capital of Maldives and home to its major airport.

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Wine Tasting With My Parents In Charlottesville, VA!

Dan and I attended our friends Pryor’s and Bryan’s wedding earlier this month in Richmond, Virginia and, since my parents live in Virginia and I had not seen them alllll of quarantine, we met them for two fun-filled days of wine tasting in Charlottesville, Virginia before the wedding! While Dan and I have wine tasted all over the world, from Mendoza, to Stellenbosh, to Bordeaux, we had not spent a lot of time in Central Virginia, so we were pumped to try some VA wines, especially since I am from Central Viriginia!

Appropriate signage at Pollak Vineyards.

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4 Days In Mo’orea, French Polynesia: Snorkeling with Sharks, Hiking a Really Tall Mountain, and Eating All the Delicious Food!

As you may know from my prior posts, Dan and I took an almost proper vacation to Mo’orea in August on our summer getaway to French Polynesia (after Georgia, Azerbaijan, Puerto Rico, and Puglia were cancelled …I know it could be much worse)! We had an absolutely lovely trip and recommend Mo’orea to others for sure! This details how we spent our four days on Mo’orea and provides some logistical information that is hopefully helpful. I would 100% do this exact trip all over again!

Gorgeous Mo’orea. Blue on blue on blue.

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My Stay at the Conrad Bora Bora during COVID-19.

Dan and I stayed a few nights at the Conrad Bora Bora in August, shortly after French Polynesia re-opened to Americans on July 15th. We had an amazing time at the Conrad. The Conrad is top notch, super classy, and much fancier than the Hilton that we stayed at on Mo’orea or the Intercontinental Tahiti. But, it was also more expensive and difficult to reach. This is Dan and my review of the Conrad for those planning a visit – happy trip planning!

Welcome to Bora Bora!

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Budget Tips For Traveling To French Polynesia

Dan & I traveled to French Polynesia in August on a whim after it reopened to Americans on July 15th! After spending nearly two weeks in the islands, these are our budget tips for traveling to French Polynesia. Because French Polynesia is expensive and really, who doesn’t love to save some money for that next trip?!!

Dan and me in Bora Bora. It was as gorgeous (and pricey) as it looks. = )

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A Real Live Getaway To French Polynesia During The COVID Pandemic

After a very, very long year with hardly any travel since mid-March (aside from a quick getaway to Antigua over the July 4th holiday), Dan and I spontaneously booked a real live getaway to French Polynesia just as it reopened to the World in mid-July! There were a lot of unknowns due to COVID, but everything ended up working out splendidly. However, literally until we boarded our Air Tahiti Nui flight, we were not certain our getaway to French Polynesia would happen… I’ve detailed our trip for those visiting, or dreaming of visiting, French Polynesia!

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Mount Otemanu in beautiful Bora Bora, French Polynesia. August 2020. Continue reading

Trip Report: Traveling To Antigua Post My COVID-19 Lockdown.

Yep, we did it. After strictly locking down for 3.5 months in New Jersey (and missing 3 trips along the way), we were majorly itching for a getaway when restrictions were finally lifted. We initially planned to travel within the US but honestly, the US is going to shit with its handling of the pandemic. So we looked else where and realized that a number of Caribbean destinations were open/opening to US travelers. We settled on Antigua, which was one of the first Caribbean countries to open to the US back on June 4th, and upon researching, Antigua handled the pandemic quite well. We decided on a short trip over the 4th of July, from Thursday, July 2nd – Tuesday, July 7th. This article details our travels and hopefully will shed some light on the issue for those trying to decide whether to travel this year.

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Flying into Antigua! It felt great to be flying again.

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Barra Alipus: A Review of a Mezcal Bar in Condesa, CDMX on this Quarantined Cinco de Mayo!

Its Cinco de Mayo on a Taco Tuesday people, and we’re stuck inside. That’s mighty cruel. So in an effort to boost my own sprits, I wrote this post about a tasty little cafe in Condesa, Mexico City that Dan and I visited in 2018! I had meant to write about it before and never got around to it, but now seems like a better time than ever!

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Dan & I just outside of Mexico City at Teotihuacan in 2018.

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Visiting The North Korean Border From Seoul.

Dan and I visited South Korea in November 2019 and, like many tourists, we had a few discussions about whether to visit the North/South Korean border, referred to as the Demilitarized Zone or the “DMZ.” I very much wanted to and quite frankly, could not imagine going all the way to South Korea without at least trying to catch a glimpse of the infamous country. Dan, on the other hand, had zero interest and preferred to spend his time on more “positive” things. We compromised by doing a half-day guided tour from Seoul to the DMZ with I Love Seoul Tour, which tour got totally restructured due to an “African Swine Flu outbreak.” Reflecting back on our half-day tour, Dan enjoyed it more than he thought he would, and I was underwhelmed. Interesting and historical for sure, but not a “must see” in my opinion. This post is about our personal experience in November 2019. Information and safety at the Korean border changes daily, as do what things tourists can access, and travelers should always review the most up-to-date information before engaging in such a trip.

Looking out to North Korea.

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Food Touring in Gwangjang Market and Insadong, Seoul, Korea!

In planning our trop to Seoul, Korea, Dan and I were very excited to try allll of the food, but we also knew that we would have some trouble accessing some of the more local cuisine, especially of the street food variety, so I booked three (!!!) food tours during the course of our six day trip. Nope, I do not regret it at all and each one was quite delicious. Our first food tour was centered around Gwangjang Market, a busy market frequented by locals, as well as some tourists in the know. More so now with the release of Netflix’s Street Food Seoul episode  – featuring Gwangjang Market.

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Entering Gwangjang Market early on a rainy Sunday morning.

We entered Gwangjang Market early on a Sunday morning and despite it being rainy and cold, the market was largely open and packed with people, mostly Koreans. Our tour guide walked us through the most famous intersection of Gwangjang, as seen on Netflix’s Street Food Seoul edition, and pointed out some less authentic, more tourist oriented stalls in this popular area. He advised us to avoid them at all costs.

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Some popular tourist stands according to our tour guide.

Our tour guide then led us to our fist proper stop – a humble stall serving noodles and dumplings – as  featured on Netflix’s Street Food Seoul edition (!!), and we sat down for our first taste of the day (well, we did have some breakfast, which would later regret). Sitting at this food stall was quite exciting, as we did not realize this famous one was on the tour! Second surprise, the benches affixed around the cooking area are all heated! Totally genius and this perk made our meal much more comfortable on a cold morning. Our first food was two bowls of kimchi – the traditional red version that we often see is the US and a green variety that, according to our guide, is only found in Korea. We were also given a bottle of soju – Korean liquor – to drink with our breakfast… The kimchi was, as expected, way better than anything I’ve ever had in the US, and the green kimchi was my favorite of the two. It was absolutely delicious! The soju was a little much for a Sunday morning but, when in Seoul? We managed to finish the bottle.

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The famous food stall from Netfilx’s Street Food Seoul edition.

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Highlights of Our Thanksgiving Trip to Seoul, South Korea!

Seoul is the capital of South Korea, the lower portion of the Korean peninsula (the upper portion being North Korea). Seoul is a huge city located in the northwest part of South Korea on the Han River. I have been wanting to visit Seoul for a few years, and Dan and I finally pulled the trigger and visited for six days in November as part of a Seoul/Tokyo trip over our Thanksgiving holiday. I had a bit of a difficult planning our trip and figuring out what to see and eat, so here are the highlights of our trip, as two thirty-something American travelers who are certainly not experts on Korea! We loved our time, found Seoul to be a surprising budget destination, and we absolutely need to go back for the cherry blossoms!

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The famous Seoul sign at City Hall.

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Airport Lounge Review: Primeclass Lounge, JFK Terminal 1.

Excitingly, JFK recently added two (!!) Priority Pass lounges to its roster: the Primeclass Lounge in Terminal 1 and the Air India Maharaja Lounge in Terminal 4. This makes 3 Priority Pass lounges in Terminal 1 and 2 Priority Pass lounges in Terminal 4! Very exciting since the current Priority Pass lounge situation in both terminals is busting at the seams. For example, a 30 minute wait for Wingtips Lounge last summer…

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Wingtips line this Summer in JFK Terminal 4!!

Both the Primeclass Lounge and the Air India Maharaja Lounge opened to Priority Pass members in mid-November 2020, and Dan and I just happened to be flying out of Terminal 1 on Thanksgiving Eve for our trip to South Korea and Japan – perfect timing! Of course, we had to visit the new Primeclass Lounge in Terminal 1! Plus, a visit to the Primeclass Lounge fit perfectly into our late night departure (or rather, early morning – 12:50 AM), as the other Priority Pass lounges were not open during the majority of our time in Terminal 1. For example, Korean Air Lounge closes at 8:30 PM and the Air France Lounge does not permit Priority Pass members until 11:30 PM (they do also allow Priority Pass guests in the morning).

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US in South Korea!

The Primeclass Lounge is located in JFK’s Terminal 1 post-security all the way in the back of the terminal, near Gates 8 and 9. Walk all the way down the terminal to find the entrance; a bar/shop in front of the entrance to the Prime Class lounge nearly blocks view of the entrance entirely from a distance.

Our flight left the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, and Terminal 1 was, not surprisingly, super crowded when we arrived, even though it was already late in the evening. after searching for the Primeclass Lounge, we eventually found it, and luckily only had to wait behind one person to check in. However, a line multiple people deep quickly formed behind us. Sign-in was not as quick as it should have been, and required our Priority Pass and boarding passes, per usual. The person doing the check-in also gave us two free drink tickets and explained how the lounge works. I think this “explanation” is part of the reason why checkin was not quick. The same could have been accomplished by a handout of signage inside the lounge.

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Slight line at checkin.

Access to the lounge is down the stairs behind the check-in desk; the lounge is actually located below Gates 8 and 9. There is also an elevator.

Upon entry into the actual lounge, our first impression was that the Primeclass Lounge is crowded. I’m not sure if this is due to the date we flew, the newness of the lounge, or if its always this way, but it was packed. We managed to snag two seats at the bar and set up there, as that was all that was available. The crowds did disburse by the time we left at 11:00 PM, but not until just before then (Terminal 1 is know to have some very late flights!).

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The bar area in the Primeclass Lounge just before we left. It was MUCH more crowded a bit earlier.

Setting aside the crowds on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, guests enter the lounge in the bar area, which consists of a bar and some bar top seating, then opens up into a room with a food buffet and standard lounge seats, which were almost all taken on our visit. Toward the back of the lounge, there is a non-alcoholic beverage station, as well as private bathrooms (which could have been cleaner). Primeclass was decorated nicely, with some very cool New York famed pictures around the lounge and mirrored ceilings.

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Primeclass Lounge seating.

Since we sat at the bar, I’ll start with my review of the drinks. As mentioned, every patron receives two complimentary drink tickets to be exchanged for an alcoholic beverage at the bar – but only certain beverages, which are explained on a little menus sprinkled around the bar. On our visit the complimentary drinks were a selection of red, white, or sparkling wine and a few types of beers. However, the fancier beers, such as Blue Moon, took two tickets. In addition to the complimentary beverages, cocktails were on sale for $18 US (!!) and you could buy extra wine and beer, too. I tried  the complimentary sparkling and red wines. Both were just ok; I would have been annoyed if I had paid for them. The bartender was pleasant and she made drinks pretty quickly.

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Drinks at the bar.

In terms of the food, all food is set up on a buffet in one corner of the lounge. Almost as soon as we arrived, the lounge announced that it would stop serving food in a few minutes. We visited the buffet shortly after that announcement, but there was almost nothing left (in the lounge’s defense, it was nearly 10 PM at this hour). In fact, the only things left were a few yogurts, a couple pieces of fruit, a bowl of pasta, and some couscous. I imagine the buffet would be more robust during normal dining hours. I would like to come back and try the lounge when it is fully functional. We did try the pasta, and it was quite good. Know that if you have a late flight, there may not be food in Primeclass.

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The 1 bowl of pasta.

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Very few things left late in the evening.

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And a tiny bit of salad.

I also grabbed a lot of bottled waters and a Diet Coke from the self-serve drink area near the restrooms. I also looked at the restrooms, which while spacious and private, could have used a cleaning. I will write that off to it being a very crowded travel day.

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Restroom in Primeclass lounge.

We stayed in the Primeclass Lounge for our 2 drinks and then left around 11:15 PM and got in line for the Air France Lounge on the opposite side of Terminal 1, and yes there was a short line! You can read about the Air France Lounge here and yes, it is by far the best Priority Pass lounge in JFK’s Terminal 1. Of note – Priority Pass members are not granted access in the evening until 11:30 PM and lines start to form around 11:15 PM. There is actually an entire area set up for Priority Pass members waiting to get in to the Air France Lounge in the evening. If your flight time works out, the Air France Lounge is completely worth the wait. A full buffet was still operational until at least 12:20, when we left for our flight. The pumpkin pie and whipped cream was a special Thanksgiving Eventreat!

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Air France treats – full spread of food there!

In sum, the Primeclass Lounge fills a time void for Priority Pass lounges in JFK’s Terminal 1 and provides additional lounge space, which is much needed in Terminal 1. Hopefully we just visited on an extremely busy day and Primeclass will perform better in the future. I am excited to return and try it at normal hours.

STEAL OUR LOUNGE

Primeclass Lounge: JFK Terminal 1, Post-Security, Near Gates 8 & 9. Open Monday, Thursday, and Sunday 05:30 – 00:00, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday 09:00 – 00:00. May 4 hour stay. Two complimentary alcoholic drinks per person.  Other alcohol and “premium” drinks and cocktails cost money. Printer available in the lounge. Complimentary access for Priority Pass members. The General Public can buy access for $59.00 for four hours.

Korean Air Business Lounge:  New York JFK, Terminal 1, air-side (post-security), near Gate 3.  Open 14:00 – 20:30 daily.  Accepts Priority Pass and Lounge Buddy, and possibly other cards.

Air France Lounge: JFK Terminal 1, airside near Gate 1.  Open daily 6:00 – 17:30 and 23:00 – 1:00 (it is actually open all day, but shuts out Priority Pass members between 17:30 and 23:00).  Offers wifi, showers, and refreshments – including Champagne and a Clarins wellness area (“during certain times”)! 

ON A BUDGET

If you’re traveling on a budget, I would not pay for entrance into the Primeclass Lounge, – its not worth it. But the food options in Terminal 1 are generally terrible. Eat before the airport and maybe grab a beer and a snack at that bar/kiosk obscuring the Primeclass Lounge entrance.

 

Hilton Executive Lounge Review: Belgrade, Serbia

Earlier this year, Dan and I spent a long weekend in Belgrade, Serbia. There are many, many hotels, hostels, and bed and breakfasts in huge Belgrade, but we choose to stay at the Hilton Belgrade because of the perks that come with our Hilton Diamond Status. There were other reasons as well, like location, a sweet spa with a “Caribbean shower,” and recently redone interiors, but our Diamond Status was what lead us to this hotel in the first place. If you’re unfamiliar with Diamond Status, its Hilton’s top status of hotel goers and we achieved it via our Hilton Aspire credit card. You can also achieve it via many night stays (I believe its currently 60 nights) or accumulating a certain spend. Diamond Status comes with a number of perks, including room upgrades, a welcome amenity, free breakfast and, our favorite, access to the Executive Lounge!

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Entrance to the Executive Lounge in Belgrade.

An Executive Lounge is basically a private club room for certain patrons of Hilton. The quality of an Executive Lounge varies by property, but, outside of the US, they generally all offer a quite space, your own concierge, and food and drink during certain times of the day.

In the Belgrade Hilton, the Executive Lounge was located on the second floor of the hotel, just about the checkin area and very close to the hotel’s ballrooms (lots of weddings on the weekend here!). This particular lounge was on the small side for a Hilton Executive Lounge, but it was very nice. You reach the Executive Lounge by swiping your room card and then checking in with the employee working the door by providing your room number. Once you check in once, they tend to remember you. Hilton is very good about remembering it Diamond members. Once inside, the Executive Lounge is basically one room decorated in a modern fashion.

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The Executive Lounge.

As you can see, the room is set up with low tables and chairs, with a series of televisions playing major news channels in English. Along the wall there is a street view with bar style seating and a kitchen area in the back of the room, where all the food and drink are located. The private lounge restroom is also in the back of the lounge.

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The Executive Lounge from another angle.

One or two Hilton staff members work the lounge throughout the day, hence remembering the Diamond members. We found the staff to be helpful, nice, and quite friendly!

Like most Executive Lounges, the Belgrade lounge offered breakfast, non-alcoholic drinks and very light snacks throughout the day, and a happy hour each evening for a couple hours. As is pretty standard at Hilton lounges, breakfast was substantial, but not huge, and offered a selection or hot and cold foods. The variety changed slightly each day.

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Breakfast meat and cheeses.

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Fruits.

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Eggs.

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A Serbian bean dish, sausage, and bacon.

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Vegetables and a porridge type dish.

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Breads.

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Jams and cereals.

Kind of off topic of the Executive Lounge, Diamond members also get free breakfast in the hotel restaurant which, in my opinion, often offers more options and better food. In Belgrade, this was my made-to-order Eggs Benedict breakfast in the restaurant. Those hash browns were 100%!!! The cons, its way more crowded than the Executive Lounge, is not as relaxing, and it usually takes longer.

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Super delicious breakfast in the hotel restaurant. Free for Diamond Status holders.

After breakfast ends, most Executive Lounges put out some grab and go snacks, the quality and quantity varying by hotel. Belgrade’s were particularly bad – just these Big Corny bars. At least they were Serbian made. And they were kind of tasty.

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Snacks.

In all the Executive Lounges that I have visited, happy hour is the busiest and most popular time in the lounge. Happy hour is usually a 2 hour period, in Belgrade from 18h – 20h, where the lounge puts out essentially a small dinner spread and offers alcoholic beverages. During our stay, the food was quite good, and we actually made a meal out of it one evening! The Belgrade lounge offered a variety of dishes, a selection of which were always Serbian dishes. You can eat as much or as little as you want. This is definitely a good option for a pre-dinner snack or a full dinner if you don’t feel like leaving the hotel!

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Cute & delicious cheese and peach plates!

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My second portion of a delicious pasta dish!

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Overview of the appetizer area.

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More.

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Awesome fried potatoes.

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Another, not as good as the white pasta sauce.

In addition to substantial food at happy hour, the Executive Lounge also puts out free booze! In Belgrade, the Executive Lounge set out some local beers, a couple bottles of Aleksandrovic wine (which we visited on our wine tour!), and flavored rakia, as well as some standard hard liquor! The alcohol was replenished frequently. In addition to alcohol, an espresso machine, as well as sodas, canned juices, and still and sparkling water are always available when the Executive Lounge is open.

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Espresso machine.

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Booze.

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The Raika – fig and plum!

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Chips, nuts and popcorn with the booze!

In addition to food, the Executive Lounge has free, good wifi, a computer area, and a number of magazines in a variety of languages.

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Business area.

STEAL OUR LOUNGE

Hilton Belgrade: Kralja Milana 35, Belgrade, 11000, T+381-11-7555700.  Great hotel, and highly recommended! Access the Executive Lounge with the Hilton Aspire Card.

Who Knew Serbia Makes Good Wine: A Tour Around The Serbian Countryside Trying All The Tasty Serbian Wines!

Dan & I are big wine fans, and we love trying wine in less popular wine destinations. For example, we’ve done wine tours in South Africa, Montenegro, and Mendoza, to name a few. We spent a long weekend in Belgrade, Serbia last fall and upon researching for our trip, learned that Serbia has a wine country! Yes, Serbia has a wine country (actually multiple ones!) that is quite good, complete with its own indigenous grapes! As such, we promptly booked a wine tour.

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Sparking wine tasting at Aleksandrović Vineyards!

Our tour, which we did with Private Serbia Tours, took us around the Šumadija wine region in central Serbia to three different wineries. It was actually supposed to have been four wineries, but one was unexpectedly closed due to a sewage issue… Our tour started early in the morning with a pick up at our hotel in Belgrade. We were the only two on the tour, so after the pick up, we drove about an hour outside of Belgrade to visit the first winery. The drive was on a modern highway, and our guide told us that we were only a six hour drive from Thessoloniki. Had I know that, I would have tried to squeeze in some Greece on this trip! Once we got off the highway, the countryside was quite different than Belgrade. Few modern cards; lots of tractors and horse drawn contraptions.

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The Serbian countryside.

We reached Despotika Winery, our first stop on this tour, about an hour or so after our pickup! Despotika is a young and hip winery, making grapes with both traditional (i.e. French) grapes and indigenous Serbian grapes. Despotika’s theme is – “We’re still not the oldest, biggest and most famous, but we decided to be the best.” Love it, and also love that Despotika lived up to this theme! In addition to being the best, Despotika is designed to be really cool, and the owners have put a lot of work into this place. Lots of art and cool architecture. This would be a fabulous place for a wedding!

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Welcome to Despotika (that’s Despotika in Serbian Cyrillic on the flags).

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One of the cool art installations on the property.

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Despotika’s vineyards.

Our tour of Despotika began with a walk through the property, which included sightings of grapes being harvested and the extensive wine cellar, and ended with a tasting – and by tasting I mean nearly a full glass – of seven wines. Yes, seven wines.  The tasting was a mix between white and reds and well known grapes and local varieties. The entirety of the tour took about 1.5 hours, and Despotika ended up being our favorite stop on the tour! I think Despotika had the coolest grounds and the best wine (true to its slogan!).

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Barrel room.

Despotika also has a really interesting wine museum with lots of Serbian wine artifacts that we visited as part of the tour and a decent gift shop. Very interesting. Pro tip – buy Despotika wine at the vineyard. Prices at the vineyard were wayyy better than at the airport.

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A really cool glass grape piece from Despotika’s museum. Would love this for my house!

After drinking a lot of good wine at Despotika, our guide drove us to the capital of the Šumadija region, Topola, for a visit to the well-known King’s Winery. The King’s Winery is part Serbian wine museum and part small winery. The King’s Winery started years ago when the Serbian Royal Family grew grapes on the surrounding hills and produced Trijumf (the name is currently in use by winery Aleksandrović) wine. Production stopped due to the conflicts in the area in the late 1900s, but picked back up in the early 2000s. Today, the King’s Winery produces a limited amount of wine each year, which you can purchase on the property.

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The King’s Winery.

At the King’s Winery, we did a self-tour of the historic wine cellar, which has wine making equipment from the early 1900s and an amazing wine cellar housing some really old bottles. The visiting was quite interesting, and shed some light on historic Serbian wine production.

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Some of those really old bottles in the Kings Winery.

After our self-guided walk-through the cellar, we tried two tiny tastings of the King Winery’s wine. These wines were not nearly as good as Despotika. But I guess good wine is not really the point of the Royal Winery…

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Tiny tasting of red at the King’s Winery.

We skipped buying a bottle the King’s Winery. I mean, we we were worried about running into serious luggage weight issues… Since our third stop, which was also our lunch stop, was closed, we ended up having an al fresco lunch in the town of Topola (name that I cannot pronounce in the pic below).

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The restaurant where we lunched!

For lunch, I finally tried the national Jelen beer and Dan and I both ordered pasta. The meal was fine, but the al fresco seating was the real winner. The restaurant’s terrace was lovely! If you do eat here, the portions are enormous, definitely large enough to share.

The final winery that we visited on this tour was Aleksandrović Winery. Aleksandrović  is one of the most well-branded Serbian wineries and one of the few that exports its wines outside of Serbia. Aleksandrović’s most famous wine is a line called Triump (i.e. Trijumf from the King’s Winery) and its all over Serbia.

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Welcome to Aleksandrović!

At Aleksandrović, we watched a short video about the winery, took a tour of the barrel room, and then moved to the back deck for the wine tasting. Unlike Despotika, Aleksandrović requires patrons to purchase tastings by the wine, but its only a few dollars per taste (which is just smaller than a 1/2 glass). I think we tasted five wines for about $15 per person. The wine was good, but not as good as Despotika. The best things about Aleksandrović are its wine selection of wines and the gorgeous tasting setting. Of the three wineries that we visited, this would be the easiest to visit on your own.

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One of the reds.

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View from Aleksandrović’s tasting room.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Serbian Private Tours: We did the Royal Footprints Wine Tour for 219 Euro for both of us. The price included door to door transportation, all wine tastings, an English guide (also the driver), and a little gift at the end of the tour. For the entire day, I thought this was worth the price. That being said, it is expensive for Serbia.

Despotika Winery: 11423 Vlaski Do, Smederevska Palanka. T: +381 26 302 126
E: vinarija@vinarijadespotika.rs. You can do tastings on your own. I recommend calling or emailing in advance to set up a tour and tasting. Since its a young, working winery, I am not certain tours are offered daily. 

King’s Winery: Zdužbina Kralja Petra I, Oplenac bb, 34310 Topola, Oplenac, Serbia. T:
+381 34 6811 280. You can just walk in for a tour and tasting, or to buy wine. Call to confirm hours, but it seems to be open daily in high season.

Aleksandrović Winery: Village of Vinca, Topola – Oplenac, 34310 Republic of Serbia. Individual visits: Dragana Srbljanin, curator, mob: ‎+381 (0)62 262 277. Tamara Colic, curator, mob: +381 (0)62 262 186. Reservations recommended for individuals, mandatory for groups of ten and up. Open Monday – Saturday 8h – 19h, Sunday 10h – 18h. There is not a restaurant on premises.

Knezev Han: The restaurant where we ate lunch. Karadjordjeva 4, Topola Serbia. Right in the center of town. T: +381 34 812111. You probably do not need a reservation. Eat outside if you can.

ON A BUDGET

Serbian wine is inexpensive, particularly for the general quality. If you are on a budget, save money and taste various Serbian wines in Belgrade. You can find Serbian wine in most restaurants in Belgrade.

The Most Christmasy Place In NYC: Rolf’s German Restaurant.

It’s the holiday season and time to review one of my favorite holiday spots in New York City! You’ve all seen it – Rolf’s German Restaurant on the East Side (22nd and 3rd). This is the famously booked restaurant that is decked out to the MAX in Christmas lights, baubles, dolls, and Santas. Seemingly forgotten until the Christmas rush, Rolf’s offers authentic Alsatian food that is good year-round. However, it is best at Christmas, despite how difficult it may be to score a reservation. Well, this will be my 3rd year going and I’m to give you all the required information to secure that coveted reservation and enjoy a holiday meal (albeit next year)!

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The exterior.

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Rolf’s at Christmas!!

First off, if you are looking for a reservation during holiday season, you cannot book too early. I always make reservations in September or early October via telephone (there is NO internet booking capability) early in the day. Rolf’s takes down handwritten reservations and stops answering its phone once November hits (and often sooner if booked up). If you miss the reservation call period and you are in NYC, stop by and try to make a reservation in person. Weekday lunches are your best bet for last minute reservations during the holiday season.

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Lunch at Rolf’s last Christmas!

You should also know that Rolf’s has some interesting rules regarding meals during the holiday season. As of this year (2019), Rolf’s only takes reservations of parties of up to 4 people and each reservation is limited to 1 hour and 15 minutes (they will ask you to leave)! Seating is tight and service is quick, but its worth the effort, even for a meager 75 minutes! Also, since the restaurant is so tiny, this is not the place to come with loads of Christmas shopping – there’s simply nowhere to store it!

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Christmas craziness at Rolf’s at Christmas.

If you are unable to score a reservation during the holidays, you can wait in line for the bar area (for cocktails only, no food is served in the bar during the holiday season). To do this arrive, as early as possible and join the long queue on 22nd Street. You will probably wait hours for an overpriced cocktail, but this is an option to get that Instagram shot. Bucket list: check. That being said, if you’re local, decorations go up in early October and stay up well into the new year, so you can go and get that shot early or late. We actually took Dan’s cousins in October of this year just to see it! It was not crowded at all and we could stay as long as we wanted!

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The bar line during the holidays.

In any case, if you have a reservation, review the menu prior to arriving at Rolf’s. You do not want to waste your 1.25 hours looking at the menu. You want to waste it taking Instagram pics! Rolf’s makes choosing your food pretty easy – their menu is online and they don’t do specials during the holidays.

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Rolf’s menu.

The one wild card is the drink menu, which is usually pretty fantastic! Rolf’s always offers fun holiday cocktails, as well as a long schnapps list and beer by the stein.  Be ready to make a quick decision. Due to the time crunch, we generally order drinks as soon as the waiter comes by. Usually a Gluhwein, but sometimes we go rogue!

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Christmas drink list.

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Schnapps list.

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Eggnog.

As you will see from reviewing the menu, the menu at Rolf’s is fairly small and is solely compromised of traditional Alsatian dishes. Think pork and veal schnitzels, potato and cabbage based sides, and even rabbit. For the most part, main dishes cost around $35 USD and come with two sides. While a bit pricey, it is New York and Rolf’s dishes are HUGE!

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Traditional veal schnitzel.

My go-to meal is generally the above-pictured veal schnitzel, which is served with spatzel (German pasta), a lemon, and green beans. The schnitzel is pounded very thin and is always tasty. The spatzel is my favorite side dish, and I barely touched the green beans (I had better things to eat). I usually also order a side of German potato salad to split amongst the table, which was absolutely large enough to split between 4 people.

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The potato salad.

Other popular dishes are the meatloaf, which is even larger than the schnitzel and is served with purple cabbage and mashed potatoes, and the Jaegar Schnitzel, a non-breaded piece of meat served in a mushroom cream sauce, that is served with green beans and spatzel!

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Meatloaf!

Despite the dishes being huge, I always order dessert, which are really good! Recently, I’ve split the Black Forest Cake and the Apple Strudel, which is served warm(!), with my fellow dinners. Both are terribly delicious and huge.

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Black Forest Cake.

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Warm Apple Strudel.

All in all, I think Rolf’s is a super fun NYC Christmas experience. Its worth the annoyances, but only if you book early or go at an off time.  I don’t think waiting in line for just drinks is worth it, but that’s up to you. If you go that route, arrive early and be prepared to wait a long time and be super crowded inside the standing-room only bar.

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Standing room only at the bar around Christmas.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Rolf’s German Restaurant:281 Third Ave, New York, NY 10010. T: 212-477-4750 and 212-473-8718. IG: rolfsnyc. Open 12h – 20h, closed on Monday through Labor Day. Christmas decor up October – May.

ON A BUDGET

Rolf’s at Christmas is definitely a worthy splurge! If you are on a super tight budget, you can wait in line for access to the bar – but drinks are still $18 – or find another fun bar decorated to the nines for Christmas! There are a lot in NYC!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Delicious Food Tour Though Belgrade, Serbia!

Dan and I spent a long weekend in Belgrade, Serbia earlier this year after our trip to Montenegro, as our Air Serbia flight connected in Belgrade to NYC and we thought, why not see a bit of Belgrade? Since we had limited time, basically 1 day in Belgrade proper, we decided to make the most of our time by taking a food tour through Belgrade, one of our favorite ways to explore a new city! Spoiler alert, we really like to eat and drink! There are a couple food tour options in Belgrade, but we went with the Food Tour Belgrade company based on a fellow traveler’s recommendation.

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Interesting Belgrade.

The first stop and the start of our tour was at the Question Mark cafe, or simply “?,” a landmark in Belgrade. The Question Mark is the oldest operating cafe, or “kafana,” in Belgrade, and its associated with loads of Serbian history. Decorated in a traditional manner, ? showcases gorgeous furniture in its main room, as well as a large beer garden in the back. We were welcomed with the Jelen beer branded (a popular mass produced beer in Belgrade; its ok) swag all over ?!

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We found it – the ?

To start our tour at ?, we tasted traditional Turkish coffee, which is very strong dark coffee prepared in a traditional Turkish (and Serbian) manner and served with a cube of sugar and a Turkish Delight, or a sweet candy. Turkish coffee is really popular in Belgrade, due to it being a part of the Ottoman Empire at one time. The coffee at ? was solid and the presentation was 100%. After we finished the coffee, our guide even showed us how to read our fortune (I won’t spoil the surprise!) More excitingly, we learned that the work Jelen (from the beer brand fame) is one of the most common female names, pronounced “Yellen,” like Helen according to our guide = )

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Turkish coffee at ? in Belgrade.

After finish our coffee at ?, we took a short stroll through a popular and upscale area of Belgrade, before reaching our second destination, a “dumpling” shop.

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A stroll through Belgrade. Could not resist a picture of the cute blue moto.

In contrast to ?, the second stop on our tour was super modern, and Instagramable, store called Ferdinand Knedle. Ferdinand Knedle only makes knedles, or Serbian dumplings, and they are served in sweet and savory flavors, with plum being the most famous flavor. Despite translating to dumpling, they are not the dumplings that I think of; instead, they are more like fried dough balls filled with a soft filling. Our guide described it as something you would eat after school.

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Modern interior of Ferdinand Knedle.

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Menu at Ferdinand Knedle.

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Lots of knedles at Ferdinand.

At Ferdinand, Dan and I each got to pick our own knedle to try. We decided to split the two, opting for the plum knedle and the 4 cheese knedle. Both were delicious and I would love to return and try allll of the flavors. The knedle was quite filling, and I was super surprised to learn that its only a snack here!

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Plum knedle from the outside.

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Interior of the plum version.

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Inside of the 4 cheese knedle.

After the knedles, we took another stroll, this time down a touristy street, and cut into a restaurant with an unexpected back courtyard. The restaurant felt fancy, with waiters in suits, but it was most certainly casual. First up, our choice of Serbian wine of the traditional liquor, Rakija. I had enough rakija in Montenegro, so I ordered red Serbian wine. Dan went with a flavored rakija. Both were sizeable pours and quite tasty.

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Serbian red wine.

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Dan’s rakija.

Shortly after ordering the wine, we were each brought a plate of traditional Serbian appetizers. Our plates included two types of Serbian cheese, two Serbian dried meats, a slice of tomato, an order of traditional sun-dried tomato spread, and the most delicious bean salad. My favorites were the bean salad and and the tomato spread. I really loved the bean salad! However, my favorite food on the plate was a prosciutto wrapped prune. OMG. Absolutely delicious. This type of plate is a popular appetizer plate in Serbia and you can find something similar at more traditional restaurants throughout the city. Pro tip, split one with your travel partner or order it as a meal.

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Serbian appetizer.

After this meal, we stopped at one of Serbia’s most popular ice cream shops, Crna Ovca (or, the “Black Sheep”). Seriously, there was a line outside. I ordered white chocolate blueberry and straticella (my choice!), but there were so many flavors that I would have love to have tried, including Pear and Fennel. How cool does that sound?! The ice cream was excellent and a nice cap to our big appetizer.

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Ice cream from the Black Sheep.

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More ice cream at Crna Ovca!

Our next stop was a quick one, more meats and cheese at a local meat and cheese shop! Good think Serbia does great meats and cheese. Here, were tried 4 dried meats, a sausage, two pieces of Serbian cheese, and breads dipped in Serbian olive oil, more of that tasty tomato paste, and a sweet Serbian jelly. We also tried some fried pork fat, which was absolutely amazing!! By far my favorite dish. I wish I had purchased some to eat later.

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Meats at the meat shop – delish!

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Fried pork fat, even more delish!

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Our meats plate!

Moving along, our next stop was just down the road at homemade Serbian liquor store with a woman very reminiscent of the Amsterdam hostel woman in Eurotrip… In any case, and as you may have gathered, rakija is very popular in the Balkans, including Serbia. We had already tried a bunch on this trip; I hate it, and Dan loves it. Here, we tried an herbal rakija that ended up coming home with us in a bottle too big for our wine bags, some cherry wine, and a few other liquors. Most were too strong for my taste, but the shop was pretty interesting. The owner, a/k/a the Amsterdam hostel owner, was also really sweet and hospitable. Definitely look this shop up if you are into Serbian liquors.

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Some of the liquers.

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Cherry liquer.

En route leaving the shop, we swung by a little market to pick up some raspberries – one of Serbia’s most famous exports. Who knew?! Aside from buying raspberries, the market was super cute and would make a fun stop for tourists!

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Said raspberries.

Our very final destination was the bohemian district of Skadarlija, which is often compared to Paris’ Montmartre. I didn’t really get that comparison, but really nothing compares to my beloved Paris! Skadarlija is home to cute restaurants, cafes, and shops, many catering to tourists. We walked around Skadarlija for a few minutes and ended at an upscale sit down restaurant for another meal of classic Serbian foods. Yes, truly another complete meal.

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Skadarlija.

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Dan and me in Skadarlija.

I cannot recall the name of the restaurant; it is right on the corner next to direction sign in the above picture. I recommend a reservation. For our last meal of the tour, we started with Serbian red wine and Serbian grilled cheese. A perfect combo! Serbian wine is actually quite good and has a long history (which I will write about in another post, stay tuned!) and the cheese was fantastic. Our cheese and wine was paired with a salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and Balkan cheese (like the ones we had in Montenegro!) called sopska salad, and cabbage salad. The tomato, cucumber, and cheese salad reminded me so much of a classic Greek salad – incredibly tasty! 

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Grilled cheese salad.

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Serbian salad.

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Cabbage salad.

After, we each were served a plate of cevapi – Serbian grilled meat in a tube form – served on traditional Serbian bread in sandwich type format. The cevapi was very, very good, especially on the pita bread. During our meal, our guide answered all of our questions about Serbia – its history, conflicts, growing up in the Balkans (she grew up as a Serb in Bosnia), and modern day Serbia. Our conversation was really interesting, and reading up on Balkan history will definitely make your visit and a conversation such as this much more interesting. Our tour was over after this meal, and Dan and I set off to see Belgrade’s Church of Saint Sava.

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The delicious cevapi.

Looking back, this food tour was an excellent way to explore Belgrade; we saw a lot of the city and tasted many foods that we would not have been able to try on our own. For those thinking of visiting Belgrade or the Balkans, Belgrade is quite safe these days, despite its outdated reputation of being a war torn country. There is still conflict in the Balkans, but tourists won’t see that on a visit to Belgrade. Today, Belgrade is hip, charming, and a great value to budget minded travelers. Plus, many people speak English due to growing up on US television shows. Belgrade is definitely worth visiting, and is an easy pair with more popular Balkan destinations, such as Croatia and Montenegro, especially from the East Coast of the US due to Air Serbia’s daily nonstop flight from JFK to Belgrade (which I took, it was a fine flight).  Feel free to email or comment with any questions about Belgrade!

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Belgrade’s famous Church of Saint Sava.

STEAL OUR TRIP

Food Tour Belgrade: We did the Serbia On Your Plate Tour at 56 euro per person, which included an English Speaking guide and all food and drink mentioned in this article. The food was more than enough for a meal. This company offers a few other tours, but the one we took is billed as their “most popular.”

 

Virpazar on Lake Skadar: Montenegro’s Wine Destination.

Dan and I finally vacationed in Montenegro earlier this year! I had been dreaming of going to Montenegro for seriously like 10 years, and I was really excited to execute this trip! In planning, and in my last 10 years of Montenegro dreams, I mainly focused on the Adriatic coast: the Bay of Kotor, Budva, Petrovac, and Sveti Stefan. When actually planning our trip, however, I learned that Montenegro has much more to offer than its gorgeous coastline, including a really good wine industry. Yes, who knew?! The center of Montenegro’s wine industry is the tiny town of Virpazar, so we promptly booked a stay in Virpazar as part of our trip.

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Virpazar on Lake Skadar.

Continue reading

Wareontheglobe’s Guide To Holidaying In Perast, Montenegro.

I have wanted to visit the tiny Balkan country of Montenegro for years, and I finally went for a week for Dan and my 2nd wedding anniversary this past August! We spent 11 days in Montenegro and Belgrade, Serbia, with most of those days in Perast, Montenegro. Perast, and the Kotor Bay in general, were even more beautiful than I imagined, and I highly recommend them as an “off the beaten path” destination for travelers.

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View from our room at Hotel Conte in Perast, Montenegro.

PERAST, MONTENEGRO

For those unfamiliar with Perast, which I am assuming is most people reading this blog (ha), Perast is a tiny, tiny town on the Kotor Bay in Montenegro. Perast is located about 30 minutes from Kotor, Montenegro and 1.5 hours from Dubrovnik, Croatia. Currently, Perast only has a population of around 400, but it has loads of history and a very Venetian feel, which makes sense, as Perast was part of the Venetian empire. Perast was also home to one of the best sailing schools in the world and historically educated some of the most well-regarded sailors. To date, Perast maintains the feel of a small fisherman’s village, but the look of a super swanky and expensive destination.

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Sailing waters.

While today Perast is mostly a tourist town, its well worth a visit. Perast has only one main road, running right along the Bay, with most businesses being located right on this road. The entirety of the town can be walked in 20 minutes, but you should spend at least few hours soaking in the city. Its charming and you will want to stay longer. If visiting from neighboring Kotor, plan to spend a half-day, including lunch at Restaurant Conte.

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Perast’s main street on a summer evening.

WHERE TO STAY IN PERAST, MONTENEGRO

Perast has many hotels, plenty for all the tourists in town, yet does not feel overly touristy or crowded. Since there are many options in choosing a Perast hotel, I would look for the following characteristics: 1. Is there air conditioning (since Perast’s buildings are old, some do not have this amenity) 2. Is there a pool? A pool is useful in the hot summer, especially since there is no proper beach in Perast. 3. Location of the hotel and your room. As buildings in Perast are old, many hotels have rooms in multiple buildings, and hardly any hotels have elevators. Confirm you are staying on the ground level if you have trouble with stairs. That being said, many hotels have golf carts to transport visitors around town (just call the front desk) and will have a strong local insist on carrying your luggage to your room (don’t forget to tip!).

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Stairs to our room in Hotel Conte.

We stayed at the lovely Hotel Conte, which we absolutely adored!! Hotel Conte’s main building is located next to Restaurant Conte in the center of town, but its guest rooms are spread out in several buildings . Our room was located high in the town over looking the Kotor Bay – what a treat!

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More views from our room.

Hotel Conte offered American-style air conditioning and a pool just outside of our room. Hotel Conte also had golf carts to drive guests around town and the staff insisted on carrying our luggage to and from our room, so the stairs were not a problem. If you do have mobility issues however, be sure to ask for a ground level room.

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The gorgeous pool out side our room.

In terms of other hotels, most seemed locally owned and quite charming. The only chain we saw was an Iberostar outpost, which also had a golf cart driving guests around. One downside of staying on the Kotor Bay, no loyalty chains here.

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Said golf carts for transporting hotel guests around town.

WHERE TO EAT IN PERAST, MONTENEGRO

If you talk to a Kotor Bay local, they will tell you that Perast has some of the best food on the Bay, and recommend a meal in one of Perast’s many waterfront restaurants. At least that’s what several locals told us! And they weren’t wrong; Perast has a string of waterfront restaurants right on the Bay, which make for particularly romantic sunset dinners. Our favorite was Restaurant Conte, where we ate twice! Reservations for more popular restaurants are recommended for sunset, especially on the weekends during high season. However, since there are so many restaurants, you should be able to find a table on most days even for dinner during high season. Most restaurants feature a similar menu of seafood, pasta, and pizza, showcasing Italy’s influence on Perast.

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Anniversary dinner at Restaurant Conte.

Restaurant Conte. We stayed at Hotel Conte, which is attached to Restaurant Conte, and dined here twice. Conte’s speciality is seafood, and more than one person told us that this is the best seafood restaurant in town. Both of our meals and service were excellent. Make a reservation if you want to sit on the water like us; Conte books up.

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Squid ink risotto. A speciality of the general area.

Konoba Skolji. Just off the water, Konoba Skolji specializes in Balkan meats, as well as seafood. Meat is cooked in an outdoor grill, which definitely catches the eye. We choose this restaurant based on several reviews I read online. Unfortunately, neither of us loved our meals at Konoba Skolji. We found them to be fine, but nothing to write home about. That being said, Konoba Skolji is good alternative if you don’t want seafood or pizza.

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Octopus salad at Konoba Skolji.

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Truffle Pasta at Konoba Skolji.

Bocalibre Pizza. A quick and casual pizza restaurant in a pretty courtyard. The dinner pizzas were just OK. The banana-Nutella dessert pizza, however, was out of this world. No reservations needed.

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A BBQ Sauce based pizza at Bocalibre.

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That banana and Nutella pie!

Pirate Bar. A simple beach bar serving hamburgers and a few fried things. We only had sunset drinks here, but the Pirate Bar would be useful for a quick lunch or for those traveling with children.

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View from Pirate’s Bar.

WHAT TO DO IN PERAST MONTENEGRO

Perast is best for relaxing, strolling the town’s sole road, sipping a cafe of an adult beverage, and popping into the few shops in town. One end of town to the other only takes about 15 minutes, but its a fun stroll and there are numerous shops and cafes for breaks. Be sure to try the Pomegranate wine from the little wine stand – a local sweet wine!

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