Belgrade is one of the oldest continuously inhabited sites in the world. There is so much history before the war thirty years ago and the Romans 2,000 years ago. Just imagine. I did not spend my time being much of a tourist so my photos were mostly taken from the car (I was there to visit a friend).
Belgrade has everything you would want in a modern capital city. The new waterfront is becoming a megapolis worthy of any big city.
I was here to catch up with friends. Luckily we did this while eating good food.
The food was good too. I ate at two of the best restaurants in town, Madera and Langouste. Madera has all the old world charm and lovely garden access to the central park, but Langouste has the view over the Sava river.
I will write about the food I had at Madera later. The food at Langouste was French, of a sort.
The one thing that made Belgrade an unattractive city was the smoking. Smoking is even allowed indoors.
Luckily, you can easily get out to the fresh air of the countryside from Belgrade.
So I finally made it to Venice! There are many ways to get to Venice, from the train, car, boat, taxi, plane, and bus. I tried several times to get to Venice because everyone told me how amazing it was/is. This time, I told no one where I was going and went. When I landed, it was pouring with rain. My taxi driver had no umbrella. The rain splashed up my legs like clamoring cats.
I bought an umbrella for 10 euro. I found my hotel and they suggested I try their affiliate restaurant for an early lunch. As my room was not ready and I was already wet, I decided to go see this city of mystery and passion.
There were many small streets and many canals. No trees in sight. I walked around and through puddles taking photos that I hoped conveyed the specialness of the buildings and atmosphere of Venice. Finally, I had spent enough time so that I could go to lunch. It was a lovely quiet place off the main drag. As an appetizer, the chef gave me a “cichetto” (a small open faced appetizer like a tapa) or whipped re-constituted dried cod (baccalo) on a piece of baguette. I was surprised that the appetizer was warm. It was soft. I then had excellent pasta. I was the only customer in the restaurant but the Bangladeshi cooks and the Italian waiter ate their meals before starting their work shift.
Later, as I was finishing up, some Italian ladies came in bringing a cloud of perfume and shiny gold purses, to order their dinner for the pre-arranged dinner they had planned. I was a bit cold from being wet but as the sun came out, I felt that I needed to take a few photos with the blue sky as a background.
Then, I took a nap. Later, I went on a group tour of the canals including the grand canal. It was impressive. I was reminded of the days of the grand tour when everyone was on show. Today, the tourists are not as elegant as those tourists from the nineteenth century but if I squinted, I could imagine them swanning about in their puffy sleeves and silk stockings.
At night, I was abruptly jarred back to modern times as I tried to find a place to eat that was not touristy or unavailable. I kept getting lost and eventually found a place where they would let me eat. The Three Lions was filled with French, German, and American tourists, but the place felt a bit like a secret place nonetheless. The waiters spoke French and English and they were quite nice.
I went back to my fancy palace bedchamber and listened to the assignations on the street below as I drifted off to sleep.
The next morning, before dawn, I took a water taxi to the airport. At 140 (150 because it was night) euro, this was worth the private ride across the lagoon and into the svelte modern water taxi port at the airport.
So, now that I have seen Venice, what can I say? I saw it. It was lovely and it was easy to find streets all to myself. Would I say that one must see it? I guess so. But, I do not think I would go back.
Now that I am leaving Rome, I’m reflecting on the things I will miss. Despite the crowds (hordes arrive in June), I will miss some of the really picture perfect places in Rome. It makes it easy to show tourists around.
Putting raw fish on a piece of rice does not make sushi. But here it seems to suffice. This is my short list of places to get decent sushi and ramen in Rome.
Kohaku: This is a new restaurant in the Ludovisi neighborhood. It’s a warm elegant place and I am trying to try everything on the menu. So far, their soy sauce ramen (they have three types) is the best I’ve found here.
Hamesei: This is an old reliable place. Very quiet and and elegant. Down near the Spanish Steps and very busy.
Sushisen: This is also an old staple down by the pyramid so far away from the tourist area. Down in a basement and with a sushi conveyor belt.
Yusa Ramen: Way out to the south in the southern part of Rome.
Akira: There are several branches in Rome. This is a go-to place for ramen. I thought the meat was tough.
Mama-ya: This is a bit to the south in Rome but they seem to have a loyal following.
Hiromi: Although this is a pastry shop, they do sell savory items like ramen and curry.
There are other places that I have not tried yet, like Rokku, but as there are so many Japanese restaurants in Rome, I had to draw the line somewhere. I’m not obsessed.
Well, we tried. But, the line was too long for my liking. Instead, we enjoyed the boardwalk along the panoramic view over the plains, and we caught a glimpse of the edge of the Villa d’Este gardens. That will be enough for me. I will enjoy the online photos.
We also enjoyed the fountains that were in the public bathroom park.
We also enjoyed getting out of Tivoli. There are too many tourists and this is just spring. Wait till the summer!
In looking for parking, we had a nice drive (the driver shudders) through the center of Tivoli. Cute. Just like so many other Italian towns.
There is actually a hotel in the middle of the Villa d’Este gardens. I wonder how nice that would be to stay in?
In the US, it’s often easy to hire “two guys and a truck” to help move furniture across the city. In Rome, it’s really hard to move furniture across the city. I keep hoping there will be a “two priests and van” sign somewhere.
Anyway, if you have a vehicle, instead of moving furniture, you should go out for a road trip instead. Even just within an hour of Rome.
Outside Rome, there are so many small cute hilltop villages to explore and they are not famous. Or crowded. Like San Gregorio da Sassola. I bet you would have that town all to yourself.
Along the way, you can stop at an agroturismo (working farm) for lunch. Enjoy lunch. Pet some animals.
You might even come across a farm stand somewhere selling fresh produce.
Rome is a city built on seven hills, but Lisbon is a hill with many hills. It seems like the only level place is by the harbor. Lisbon is a gorgeous city but better suited to billy goats than a flat landlubber like me. People told me that it is like San Francisco. No. It is not. San Francisco’s downtown has long bits of flat. Lisbon has none.
Lisbon is becoming the hottest expat city to live in but I think even in that regard it may be getting too pricey. And it is too hilly.
The national airline of Portugal has sold all the slots near the airport to other carriers so when flying on TAP, one spends a long time on the bus.
But, I did have some good food in Lisbon, and the doctors are unnecessarily handsome (don’t ask, it was an adventure!).
For those who have been with me here on my adventures for the past 12 years, you know that I move cities every few years. My time in Rome is soon over, so I am beginning to reflect on the things I will miss about Rome.
For example, the other day, I was sitting out at a cheese shop and down the street was a couple sitting outside their underwear store, drinking some wine and people watching. This scene is a classic Roman scene that may soon fade away as the mega international chain stores wipe out these small family-run businesses. I hope not.
While I went on a food tour in Riga, in Vilnius, I was lucky enough to have a local show me the food. We even had some of the classics like beet soup, stuffed cabbage, and crepes. But, I also tried a surprise.
The surprise was deep fried rye bread smothered in garlic, bacon, and cheese. Like Baltic nachos. They were equally delicious.
When I visited, there was a street fair so I was able to see many of the other foods of the area from smoked fish to sausage.
Another surprise was a popular confectionary shaped like a mushroom. Mushrooms are a popular staple in Baltic food but these sweets were a sad knockoff.
But, the beet soup was yummy and such an arresting color!
As part of my quick tour of the Baltics, I spent a day or so in Riga. It was extremely clean. Riga has an old town but it is not as medieval as Tallin’s. In Riga, on the main square, the bricks are laid out to show where the old houses were torn down to make way for the grand square.
I still managed to find some buildings from before 1700 but it took some hunting.
I went to a market that is trendy. I think I preferred the famous central market located in the zeppelin hangars.
If one likes markets like I do, then visiting the massive multi-building hangar market in Riga is a treat. I hired a guide and went on a tour. Her information is in the last photo. She had to branch out during COVID and worked in a salon.
The most fascinating part of the tour to me was eating at the Soviet era cafe. The food was Latvian but the decor was kept the way it looked during communism.
Estonian food is so different than Italian food. But in a way, very familiar. I went a well known restaurant, Rataskaevu, in old town Tallin and ate in a picturesque tavern.
Of course, I tried the elk. But I did not like it as much as the salmon soup and the rye bread.
Near me was an international group of friends who had travel over from Stockholm, Sweden, for lunch, emphasizing how small the distances can be up here in the Nordic-Baltic region where the transportation and WIFI are fast.
In Tallin, all the restaurant staff spoke excellent English. It make visiting quite easy.
Tallin is a favorite city for many people and I asked one where he thought I should eat. He recommended Moon, and it was delicious.
When I admitted to the waitress that I did not like the pickled appetizer platter, she admitted that generally one needed to be drinking vodka with it.
The “Chicken Kiev” was the best I have had. It was light, moist, juicy, buttery, crunchy, and delicate.