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!
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…
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).
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.
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
In addition to food, the Executive Lounge has free, good wifi, a computer area, and a number of magazines in a variety of languages.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!).
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.
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.
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.
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…
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).
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.
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.
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: firstname.lastname@example.org. 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.
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)!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 ?!
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 = )
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.
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!
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
In terms of actual sight-seeing, Perast’s St. Nikola Church houses an interesting bell tower that tourists can climb, as well as a small maritime museum.
However, Perast’s main attraction is located on a small man-made island just off Perast’s coast in the Bay – St. George Island and Our Lady of the Rocks. Both are small man made islands in the Bay of Kotor that are best seen from Perast. Tourists cannot (well, are not supposed to) access St. George Island, as its a working monastery. However, tourists are welcome to visit Our Lady of the Rocks, which houses a gorgeous church with paintings by Tripo Kokolja, a Baroque artist from Perast, and a really interesting art museum.
Legend has it that Our Lady of the Rocks Island started as a “pile of rocks” when some local fisherman saw a vision of the Virgin Mary. After that sighting, fisherman continued adding rocks to until the island formed. Entrance to the island is by small boat from Perast that leave almost constantly during the day in high season. The island is also home to decently clean public WCs. Entry is a few Euros, as is the boat shuttle. Plan to spend 30 minutes to an hour on the island.
While Perast lacks a proper beach, the Pirate bar referenced above is a beach club and offers access to the Bay, as well as lounge chairs right on the water. If we had stayed longer, I would have spent a day here on the water.
HOW LONG TO STAY IN PERAST
How long one stays in Perast is really a matter of personal opinion. Perast is one of those places where you take it slow, enjoy the views, and simply relax. We stayed 5 days, but you could certainly linger. I felt that 5 days gave us enough time to see Perast and the highlights of the Kotor Bay, without feeling rushed.
If you are visiting as a day trip from a neighboring town, you can stay anywhere from a couple hours to a full day. The town can be walked in less than an hour, but it takes a while to get to the islands and you will certainly want to enjoy a seaside meal.
EXCURSIONS FROM PERAST
While public transportation is limited to the Blue Line bus route, tourists wanting to take excursions and willing to pay for a taxi will find Perast a good base. On our trip, we took a day trip to Dubrovnik (via private car), spent a 1/2 day in Kotor (via the Blue Line bus), and spent an afternoon in Herceg Novi (via taxi). We also did a 6 hour Bay tour from Kotor (again, via the Blue Line bus).
The one negative about taking excursions from Perast is that its expensive. Staying in Kotor will be easier (and less expensive) if you want to take many excursions around the area. There are lots of companies in Kotor offering day tours and excursions, as well as a more robust public transportation system.
HOW TO GET TO PERAST AND PRACTICALITIES
The closest airport to Perast is the Tivat International Airport in Montenegro, which is about 25 minutes from Perast. Coordinate with your hotel to arrange for a taxi. Podgorica, Montenegro’s capital, has a larger international airport. Podgorica is about an hour drive from Perast. I prefer to fly into Tivat to save time, but I would fly into Podgorica if it was easier or much cheaper.
While not a member of the European Union, Montenegro uses the Euro and ATMs distribute Euros.
If you rent a car, which many people do and can be helpful in Montenegro (we did not), know that cars are not allowed in Perast during the summer season. Cars must park on either side of town. Some hotels claim to have private parking lots.
Once in Perast, the Blue Line local bus service runs between Perast and Kotor, where you can connect to other bus lines. The Blue Line picks up at Restaurant Conte and comes about once an hour. Check with your hotel for the current schedule (it picked up on the half-hour when we were there). We found the bus to be very punctual. Tickets were about 2 Euro per person, paid directly to the driver.
There are currently no ride-sharing apps (like Uber or Lyft) in the Kotor Bay. However, there are tons of taxi companies, which will drive you all over the Kotor Bay if you are willing to pay. Coordinate with your hotel to call a taxi and confirm the average cost. If a taxi picks you up since there are no cars in Perast, you meet the taxi driver just outside of town near the Pirate Bar.
Everyone in the tourist industry speaks English. English speakers will have no trouble getting around.
There is exactly 1 ATM (outside Hotel Conte) in Perast and no Pharmacies. Bring essentials or buy in neighboring Kotor (20 bus ride).
Perast is extremely safe.
In case you aren’t ready to jump on a plane just yet, here are some more of my favorite pics from Perast!
STEAL OUR TRIP
Hotel and Restaurant Conte: Obala Kapetana Marka Martinovića BB
85336 Perast, Crna Gora. Reservations recommended for restaurant, especially to sit right on the water. Hotel reservations via the linked website. Breakfast at the hotel is awesome – included with most rooms, 10 Euro per person otherwise and to the public.
Konoba Skolji: Open daily 11 – 23. Close to Bocalibre. Reservations not needed.
Bocalibre: Located near the Wisteria Cafe, to the left of Hotel Conte when facing the water. Open daily – 23h. Reservations not needed. Budget friendly.
Pirates Beach Bar: Located near the parking lot just outside town (5 – 10 minute walk from Hotel Conte). Open daily 8 – 21 during summer season only. Reservations not required.
Kotor is an old triangle-shaped, walled town on the Kotor Bay in Montenegro. Its the most well-known and well-touristed town on the Kotor Bay, and probably in all of Montenegro, despite its small size. Why you may ask, especially if you’ve never heard of Kotor (or possibly even Montenegro)? 1. Kotor, and the Kotor Bay, are totally stunning and make for a gorgeous vacation destination. 2. Kotor is now on the Adriatic cruise ship circuit and smaller (but not that small) cruise ships dock in Kotor for the day. 3. Rick Steves has written a lot about Kotor, and its an easy day trip from neighboring Dubrovnik. In sum, people know Kotor and its a busy destination. If you want off the beaten path, stay down the road in Perast, like we did! That being said, nothing beats the views from Kotor and its a terribly lovely place to spend a day.
Dan and I flew through Belgrade’s Nikola Tesla airport this summer on our vacation to Montenegro. We connected in Belgrade after flying Air Serbia’s sole transatlantic flight from JFK, which is almost 10 hours long… Landing in the morning, we exhausted tired and ready for a rest and some food before flying the last 45 minutes to Tivat, Montenegro (50 minutes, also via Air Serbia).
Lucky for us, or so I thought, the Belgrade airport is home to a Priority Pass lounge, and not much else. After deplaning, we found the Business Club pretty easily; it was located quite close to where we entered the airport. Delirious, we did not do much looking around aside from locating the lounge.
Checkin to the Business Club was quick and easy. We simply presented our boarding pass and Priority Pass card. A quick swipe and we were in!
The Business Club is on the smaller side, and you can view the entire lounge at checkin. The lounge is separated into three main parts: a food service area, an eating and business area, and a lounging area. The most comfortable of these 3 areas is what I dub the lounging area. This area is slightly removed from the food and is filled with couch-like chairs and sofas. There are numerous coffee/end tables in this area, too, and it makes for a comfortable place to relax before your flight. There are TVs scattered throughout this area playing CNN. This area was pretty crowded when we landed on Saturday morning, so we set up shop in the business/food area (yes, odd pairing).
The business portion of the business/food area is comprised of several kitchen-style tables that are perfect for eating and drinking, they also make a good desk for getting some work done (there’s the combo!). Just behind these tables is a row of computers that can apparently be used for working. However, I didn’t see anyone using the computers when we visited.
Next to the business area is the food, which I found to be lacking. We visited the Business Club twice during breakfast hours, which once spilled into lunch. At breakfast, the food options are slim, with a cold buffet and a few slices of cold cuts and cheese playing the starring role. There were also some pre-packaged tuna sandwiches in one of the fridges and some odd salad fixings. Hard pass.
When lunch rolled around, the lounge staff, who were very nice, set out soup, pasta, and rice. Nothing looked too appetizing or tasty, so I skipped it all around. I believe Dan tried some of the pasta. He didn’t get sick, so that’s a win.
The drink set-up was only slightly better, although since it was so early, I didn’t properly explore all the options. There was a decent espresso machine, as well as soft drinks and plenty of bottled flat and sparking water. There was also this really popular Serbian energy drink called Guarana. Dan tried one and seemed to like it. It was all the rage in Belgrade!
In terms of alcohol, I was excited to try the wine after noticing a sweet set-up in walking in. To my disappointment, this was simply a set-up and there were only single bottles of wine in the mini-fridges, as well as a few types of beer, including Leffe (not bad!). There was, however, a decent display of rakijaa, but it was all warm…. I would note that people were still drinking it, and I probably could have found some ice.
In addition to the above, the lounge has a small bookshelf with reading materials and basic clean WCs and the staff was pleasant and constantly replaced the limited food options. In a small, not-great airport, the Business Lounge was a welcome distraction and an easy place to waste a few hours. I probably would not pay to enter, unless I planned to drink a lot of warm rakija!
STEAL OUR LOUNGE
Business Club Nikola Tesla Belgrade Airport: Between Gates A4 & A5. Open 5h30 – 13h. Complimentary access to Priority Pass members.