Anti-Semitic Attacks Increase in USA: Don’t Forget the Lesson from Mauthausen Concentration Camp


Birth to death is the natural progression of life. Unfortunately, this truism only applies to humans but not to attitudes. Bigotry, inexplicably, never dies, as evidenced by the rise in attacks on Jews and other minorities in America today.  Where are the lessons learned from the atrocities committed by the Nazis in World War II?

Take a metaphorical walk with me back to 1938.  The Nazis were constructing their death camps; Mauthausen,  a work camp in Austria, was one of them. While it is not as well known to most people as Dachau and Auschwitz, Mauthausen was a major concentration camp.


Here are a few of the alarming facts about Mauthausen:

  • This was a forced labor camp with prisoners working nine to eleven grueling hours a day in the rock quarry.
  • Malnourished prisoners were literally worked to death, carrying 100 pound blocks of granite up the 186 rough, slippery steps out of the quarry.
  • Sick prisoners were killed by being pushed to their deaths from the top of the quarry,  by being shot, or by being gassed.
  • Women prisoners were sent to work as sex slaves in a brothel set up here for the Nazi workers.
  • Not only Jews, but also Jehovah Witnesses, Gypsies, criminals, and homosexuals were imprisoned and tortured here.
  •  Of a total of about 190,000 people imprisoned in the Mauthausen concentration camp and its subcamps over seven years, at least 90,000 died.

Eleven million victims in total were tortured and killed in all the Nazi concentration camps.  This number is equivalent to eliminating  the population of both Los Angeles and New York City today.


While these statistics are startling, there are new alarming numbers. NPR reported that since January 2017, according to the JCC Association of America, there have been  69 bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers in 27 states and one Canadian province.  Bigotry, therefore, was not buried forever in Hitler’s bunker.  Like a vampire, it resurrects from its tomb to feed on the innocent.


While most bigots commit their crimes wearing a dark cloak of anonymity, the Nazis brought their hate into the daylight. Today, when you approach the Mauthausen Memorial, its idyllic setting belies the evil enacted there.


Mauthausen Memorial today.

Visitors walk freely through the entrance gate, knowing they can exit at any time.  It is impossible not to imagine the prisoners’ panic when they entered this place, knowing they had no freedom to leave.


Thousands entered here and never left alive.


Visitors leave flowers to memorialize the victims and survivors in the courtyard bordered by the barracks.


Bold sculptures dot the Memorial’s landscape to remind us not to forget the lessons taught here. In victory, a menorah rises majestically and decisively above the rolling plains.


Israel’s memorial as well as being a menorah is reminiscent of the Tree of Life.

In contrast to victory, this sculpture sets on the cliffs above the infamous rock quarry, a reminder that bigotry is as cruel, painful, and  hostile as a barbed wire fence.


This sculpture is the memorial from the German Democratic Republic (East Germany).


Looking down into the quarry and at the 186 steps on the right the prisoners had to traverse carrying 100 pound pieces of granite.


To the right of the barbed wire sculpture is a mournful statue representing Mother Germany.


On a wall behind her are the prophetic words written in 1933 by Bertolt Brecht, German poet and playwright. The English translation is the following:

“O Germany, pale Mother,
How your sons have hurt you
So you are sitting among the nations,
A thing of scorn and fear.”

This is a message for all nations and is applicable for the United States at this time.  This is our lesson from Mauthausen. We cannot allow the small minority who harbor hate in their hearts to speak for the majority of our sons and daughters who believe our country’s credo of “all men (and women) are created equal.”


In fact, now is the time to be defined by our country’s own Mother Liberty who gloriously lifts her flame of freedom in a “world-wide welcome” for all regardless of nationality, religion, or gender. After all, our legacy is to be the land of the free and the brave, not the land of the bigots. We are better than that. Always have been; hopefully, always will be.


Cooking with a Master Chef in Prague: A Don’t Miss Experience

Calling Radek Subrt’s Cooking School in Prague a “cooking school” does it an injustice. It’s like saying  Prague is a just a city instead of one of the grand capitals of the world. Chef Subrt offers a grand world-class cooking experience not to be missed when visiting this iconic city.


This talented chef worked in notable restaurants in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.  His culinary journey also took him to the New York kitchen of Michelin award-winner, Daniel Boulud. In Prague he has established himself as a restaurant owner, a caterer, a cooking instructor, a television personality, and an ambassador for the high-end Miele appliances. In fact, he holds his cooking school at the Miele Experience Center in Prague.


While our husbands were attending an aviation conference held at Prague Castle, my friend Marcia and I, unable  to get a cab, scurried on foot, dashing between raindrops to arrive at Chef Subrt’s class exactly at the starting time of 11 a.m. One other student, Jennifer, was already there. The chef enthusiastically greeted us, gave us black aprons with the Miele logo to don, and then, in a flash!, we had glasses of white wine in our hand, and trays of hearty  nibbles in front of us. Obviously, this course on cooking traditional Czech foods was going to be strenuous, and we would need sustenance to cook.  (It’s a good idea to leave guilt at home and bring rationalization to a cooking experience like this.) We couldn’t resist these beauties below:

  • steak tartare–artfully seasoned, the best I have ever had.
  • stuffed baby potatoes–it’s all about the cheese.
  • chicken  salad on crostini–with herbs sprinkled prettily on top.


The tray of appetizers before the “real”appetizer.


While snacking and drinking wine on the fly, we were immediately put to work.   Our efforts were clumsy, but watching Chef Subrt was watching a culinary artist at work. Preparing the salad for the smoked trout appetizer, he minced dill in a flash,


and then stripped tiny, tender thyme leaves off their hard stalks.


He had pre-prepared the trout filets,which he smoked with an innovative technique that doesn’t require a BBQ grill.  Here are the steps:

  • Line an oven-proof  skillet with aluminum foil.
  • Add a couple of cups of sawdust: oak, hickory, or any of the fruit woods would work.
  • Heat the skillet on the stove top until the sawdust starts smoking.
  • Place a rack into the skillet.
  • Place fillets seasoned with coarse salt and pepper and brushed with olive oil on top of the rack.
  • Cover tightly with aluminum foil.
  • Put the pan into a pre-heated 350 degree oven.
  • Bake fillets in the oven for 5-6 minutes.
  • Take the fillets out of the pan and remove the bottom skin.
  • Trim the fillets with a knife to make rectangles.  Reserve the trimmings.
  • Plate, garnish, and serve.


The chef places the fish fillets on a rack above the smoking sawdust while Marcia looks on.


Chef Subrt surveys the perfectly cooked fish.


Now that the fillets are cooked, the chef easily removes the skin from the fish.

The end result is poetry on a plate.  This dish is so much more than just smoked fish.  Here’s how he finished it off:

  • Salad of red chard, beet leaves, frisse, watercress, and dill.
  • A salad dressing of olive oil, lemon, salt, and pepper.
  • A dip of creamed horseradish, sour cream, and salt.
  • A quenelle made from the chopped fish trimmings, cream cheese, sour cream,  shallots, chives, dill, salt and pepper.


Using two spoons, I rolled the fish-cheese mixture to make the oval-shaped quenelle.


The entrée was a worthy successor to the appetizer. First, the chef showed us how to use muscle to whip egg whites by hand for the bread dumplings.


Next, he assembled a misen en place to make the dumplings–a marriage of toasted bread cubes, whipped egg whites, melted butter, eggs, milk, and parsley. He then steamed the dumplings in Miele’s sophisticated Multi-Steam Oven for 15 minutes. When  it was time to serve, he browned the dumplings in butter in a skillet on the stove.


The simplest dish, but a most colorful, delectable one, was the roasted beets, carrots, and celery root tossed with oil, cumin, cayenne, and sugar and then placed on a baking sheet.  The vegetable concoction roasted in a 425 degree oven for 20 minutes. Chef Subrt reminded us not to discard the beet leaves, which are  delicious sautéed or in a salad.


We also made the luxurious sauce for the venison, a mélange of vegetables, wine, cranberries, venison bones, wine, tomato paste, and butter.  The sauce was simmered, strained, and puréed, soon to be a silky burgundy bed for the venison.


As he did for the fish, Chef  had an innovative technique to cook the venison tenderloin fillets. He added oil and thyme to a hot oven-proof skillet. He then seasoned the fillets with salt and pepper and browned them in the skillet. Here’s a new way to finish the cooking in the oven:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees.
  • Place the skillet with the fillets in the oven.
  • Open and close the oven door until the temperature reduces to 195 degrees.
  • Leave the oven door closed and cook for one hour.
  • May leave the fillets in longer, and they will stay medium rare.

The advantage of this technique is you can start cooking the meat before you begin fixing the rest of the meal, so you don’t have to cook the meat at the last minute.  Also, you can’t over cook the meat.


The meat is ready for the door to be opened and closed to lower the oven’s temperature.


Perfectly cooked venison is ready for plating.


Happy Chef Subrt puts happiness on a plate.


The deliciousness is not over yet.  Dessert is the grand finale, and as any person who has ever made pie knows, the phrase “easy as pie” is a misnomer. This recipe for apple pie is the exception. It really is easy, but we weren’t given the exact measurements:

  • Peel, core, and slice apples (three slices per serving), but do not cook. Set aside.
  • Thaw store-bought puff pastry, cut into squares, and place on parchment-lined baking sheets.
  • Peel, core, chop, and sauté apples in a non-stick skillet on the stove until soft.
  • Add sugar and cinnamon.
  • Place a couple spoonfuls of the cooked apples in the middle of each puff pastry square, top with three apple slices, and fold the puff pastry edges to the middle.
  • Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes.

While the pie is easy, making the vanilla sauce, a classic crème anglaise, requires skill. You don’t want to end up with scrambled eggs in your sauce. The trick is to bring cream, sugar, and vanilla just to a boil, and then quickly whisk the  yolks into one-half of the heated cream. Then whisk in the rest of the cream.  Heat the mixture to 175 degrees, and it is done.

Yes, this is a hands-on cooking course. We helped with each course.  Here, Marcia is assembling the apple pie.


After the dessert exits the oven toasty brown, Chef Subrt displays the perfectly baked pie slices.



Cooking completed, the chef called us into the Miele Experience Center’s elegant, modern, dining room where the smoked fish appetizer and a Slovenian white wine awaited us.


With big smiles, we were ready to enjoy the fruits (and the fish, meat, vegetables, bread, and sweets) of our labor.


The chef’s beautiful wife was with us too, assisting in the kitchen and being the wine sommelier. She poured a full-bodied Slovenian red wine that reminded me of Pinot Noir.


The wine was the perfect complement to the wild game and its culinary accoutrements.


While we ate, Chef Subrt was busy in the kitchen plating the dessert:  a spoonful of cooked apples and a slice of pie dusted with powdered sugar, both swimming in a pool of rich vanilla sauce.


My, oh, my, just in case we were still hungry, a tray of decadent treats un-expectantly showed up.


A tray of berry creams, brownies, and fruit tarts is a surprise treat.


While the three of us were enjoying one of the best meals of our lives, the kitchen “magically” got cleaned up.  While cooking with Chef Subrt was a joyful experience,  cooking in a kitchen equipped with Miele’s latest, top-of-the-line appliances was a home cook’s dream.  The stove was an induction one, and I am now sold on induction cooking.  It offers the instant heat of a gas stove, the easy clean up of an electric stove, and the added benefit of speedy boiling.

I asked the chef about the round indentation on the stove top. He showed me that it held a wok.  He then placed a hot pad into the indentation, put the wok with some water in it on top, and turned the heat on high.  The water boiled almost immediately, and the hot pad did not catch on fire.  Welcome to cooking in the 21st century!


We asked for a final photograph to remember this informative, fun-filled cooking experience, one worthy to be offered in one of the most exciting, beautiful cities in the world.  My final suggestion:  Travel to Prague, witness Prague Castle, the Charles Bridge, and all the other wonders of this historical city.  Don’t leave, however, without a visit to Chef Rudek Subrt’s Cooking School at the Miele Experience Center.

Would you like to have this cooking experience?  Have you had one like it?  I would love to hear about your culinary adventures while traveling.


Lights of Joy on the Outer Banks of North Carolina: Beyond Sun, Surf, and Seafood

What sights come to mind when envisioning the Outer Banks of North Carolina? Sun, surf, and seafood are the obvious choices.  At this time of year, you can add Winter Lights at The Elizabethan Gardens in Manteo on Roanoke Island, North Carolina. For twenty-two days during late November, December, and early January, the gardens glow with sparkly holiday joy.



Queen Elizabeth I herself welcomes guests at the beginning of a leisurely walk through her namesake gardens.  Her roses are not in bloom at this time of year, but seasonal sights and sounds beckon you to take a walk of discovery.



You won’t be the first discovers here. Other displays of Elizabethan characters, including one with the Queen and Sir Walter Raleigh awashed in rose-colored light, remind visitors that these gardens are built on the historic site of the first English settlement in the New World. In 1584 Sir Walter Raleigh, as directed by Queen Elizabeth I, recruited 117 men, women, and children to establish this inaugural colony. By three years after their immigration, the colonists had inexplicably disappeared, thus earning the sobriquet, The Lost Colony. These gardens, which memorialize the brave colonists, were designed to be a “garden Elizabethan in spirit and style but adapted to the present.” Luckily, the Winter Lights celebration is a magical adaptation that transforms the gardens into a night-time wonderland.


Wonders galore await along the paths that meander throughout the gardens.  Strollers can get up and personal with four-legged critters that don’t become skittish and run away.


Their home, the dark forest, twinkles with red, white, and green fireflies birthed by lasers and brought to life on the trees’ bare branches.



Suddenly, a famous bird appears on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” path, which plays homage to this popular holiday song. The partridge in the pear tree points the way to discover the next eleven days of exotic gifts. By the way, if this colorful display inspires you to give two turtle doves, three French hens, etc., you better have deep pockets. Cost? $34,130.99!



Other paths lead to fantastic creatures like lavender butterflies, whimsical crickets, and albino peacocks.



The trek down the Gingerbread House path offers a visual taste of the sweet side of the season with not a wicked witch in sight.




For a reminder that this venue is a botanical garden, there is a glistening topiary highlighting the flowering cabbage patch and an illuminated container of seasonal greens and flowers lighting the way to an event tent.




While the above two images will appeal mainly to adults, children and the child in all of us will discover kid-friendly activities on the Great Lawn area. Sit on bales of hay and watch the movie about a much-loved snowman and then roast marshmallows over the toasty fire pit, (marshmallows and graham crackers provided) while listening to local choirs singing songs of comfort and joy.



Before the evening is over, stop by to visit Santa and whisper your secret Christmas wishes in his ear.


On exiting through the gift shop, you don’t have to leave the sparkle behind. You also can purchase glittery presents to take home.



Before departing Manteo, take a short drive to the waterfront and see the illuminated boats, including the ship, the Elizabeth II, a reproduction of one of the seven English merchant vessels that brought the ill-fated colonists to Roanoke Island.


Photo by Bruce J. Holmes

If there are any doubts about finding Christmas joy on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Fishing Santa reminds you otherwise.  Listen closely to hear him exclaim:  “Merry Christmas to all and to all a good Winter Nights!”


Women, Wine, Weenies, and Wow!: At the Great Market Hall, Budapest


Great Market Hall.  Photo by theusj at


Women from Eastern Europe are getting a lot of press these days, thanks to our president-elect’s gorgeous wife, Melania Trump. My observation is that Eastern Europe is indeed the home of  a bevy of beautiful women.  In fact, one greeted us at the front door of the famous Great Market Hall near the Pest side of the Liberty Bridge. While Melania wears the latest fashions, this beauty wears the oldest fashions, lace and embroidery made by the women of Hungary for centuries. Her colorful, art-full greeting was our first “wow,” and we hadn’t even gotten in the building yet.


Inside, there was a plethora of stalls selling table linens crafted with this folk art needlework.  Are they really made in Hungary?  A discerning consumer needs to inspect the pieces closely because some of them are made in China, so look for the local ones which are clearly marked.  Don’t just look for them at the Great Market Hall. Women all over the city–in shops, on the sidewalks, along the Danube’s promenade–are selling these works of tradition.



At the Great Market Hall, you will find three floors of shopping and restaurants to explore.  The view from the top floor produces the second “wow” of the day as it showcases the beautiful art nouveau design  of this building in the iron work on the second floor. The glowing gothic-arched windows on the opposite wall seem to whisper: “Welcome, Pilgrims, prepare to worship at the Altar of Consumerism. Leave a monetary sacrifice, and you will be blessed with riches beyond your imagination.”



Luckily for my budget, I am more of a “looker” than a shopper, so I did not supplicate myself to the shopping god.  Temptation , however, was down every corridor and around every corner.  The attractive displays look as if they were composed by the Dutch masters of still life paintings. The canvas before me presented sweet Tokaj wine, glistening gold and amber in glass bottles; the heady fruit brandy, Pálinka, with realistic renderings of berries, apricots, and plums printed on the labels; as well as the hearty red wine, Egri Bikaner, hiding its blood-red beauty in dark bottles. Tucked amid the alcohol were the red, white, and blue tins of Hungarian paprika and the black cans of decadent goose or duck paté and fois gras.



While the spirits, paprika, and paté selections were impressive in their orderliness, they didn’t have the “wow” factor the next canvas did.  Salami, weenies, hot dogs, sausages, whatever you want to call them, hung in neat rows, rested in symmetrical slices, and hovered together on the shelves.  Not just tourists, but the locals also, find culinary salvation through the purchase of the perfect sausages.fullsizeoutput_1e7b

In fact, as you walk the streets of Budapest, you see the how high the populace holds the lowly weenie in esteem. It is elevated gourmet street fare.



The canvases showcasing Natures’s bounty could have hung on the walls of any great art museum:  golden butternut squash, purple eggplants, creamy parsnips, and variegated green vegetables.  A big “wow” here is definitely well deserved.


Others could convincingly argue that artisanal chocolates earn the loudest “wow”!  Chocoholics claim that these works of art painted with a jeweled palette of fruit and nuts are a sweet, sublime treat akin to a religious experience.


I say “amen” to that!  You will also exclaim “amen” when you find your gods to worship during your own pilgrimage to the Great Market Hall in Budapest.


Hungary’s Warning to the World, 2016


Liberty Monument on Gellért Hill at the site of the Citadella in Budapest.  Three statues there commemorate the Soviets freeing the Hungarians from Nazi control at the end of World War II. Later, the Hungarians learned that their Soviet savior had become their oppressor. Because of the Revolutions of 1989, the Soviets started leaving Hungary in 1990 and withdrew their last troops in 1991. This statue glorifies the Slaying of Evil across the decades.

The dragon invaded your lair.

Smoky grey portends demise.

Brave blue beckons courage.

Rise up!  Rise up!

Your savior can become your oppressor.

Fight the flames of racism, religious intolerance, and misogyny.

Raise your fist to injustice.

Knee intolerance to the ground.

God fights the good fight with the righteous.

Victory is yours.


Liberty Monument:  The main statue celebrates Liberty extending the palm leaf of victory over Budapest.

Make Liberty your goddess.

Place her on a pedestal.

Crown her with a palm frond.


Liberty Monument:  This statue showcases the promise of Progress in a free Hungary.

Like the Phoenix rising from the blazes of bigotry

To soar through the conquering blue,

A new world will be born.

A world of Progress.

A world that lifts the torch of freedom for all.

Remember the past.

Don’t repeat it.

Walking 10,000 Steps Along the Danube in Budapest



Budapest in her evening dress, looking north towards the Chain Bridge

Romantic Budapest. Beautiful Budapest.  Seductive Budapest. It is impossible not to fall in love with Budapest. This city is not only for the lovers who love it; it is also for the lovers who walk it.


After our arrival and check-in to the Marriott on the Pest side of the Danube, we scurried to the deck off the hotel’s executive lounge for a glorious night view of the city. As travelers who enjoy sampling local delicacies and  wines, we know we have to walk our 10,000 steps every day, so we don’t come home looking like dumplings. Looking north up the Danube, we could see the walking paths on both sides of the river and the Chain Bridge and the Margaret Bridge, which would allow us to walk from the Pest side to the Buda side and back again. Looking south down the Danube, we saw going that way was an option too, with the Elisabeth Bridge giving us access to the Buda side. Which way to go?  Hmmm.  We decided to sleep on it and make our decision in the morning.


Budapest in her evening dress, looking south towards the Elisabeth Bridge

Sun up, walking shoes on, and itinerary chosen based on wanting to see the very impressive House of Parliament. Off we went, heading north.


Budapest in her day dress, looking north toward the Chain Bridge


A short distance from the hotel, we began our trek across the Chain Bridge after being assessed  by a pair of imposing lions. This suspension bridge, built from 1839-1849, was the first permanent stone bridge connecting Buda and Pest.  It is also the symbolic heart of the city, drawing legions of admirers to traverse .23 of a mile from one river bank to the other river bank.



This particular day, there were literally legions of people, not just walking on the bridge, but also running on the streets. Budapest proclaims itself to be the “new running capital of Europe,” a well-deserved boast as evidenced by the over 27,000 runners representing 80 countries in the SPAR Budapest Marathon .  There’s a limit of 7000 for the marathon itself, but the other 20,000 people had a choice of entering shorter races: half-marathon relay for three; half-marathon relay for four; and  a 3,4 km fun run.  While the Danube is one of the most iconic rivers in the world, it paled in comparison this day to the river of runners in neon yellow, pink, and blue T-shirts. Happy colors.  People were joyful, especially at the start of the race, many wearing smiles that were as large as their strides.


Marathon runners on the Buda side with a view of the Margaret Bridge leading to the House of Parliament on the Pest side.


We walked parallel to the river, putting a little extra bounce in our steps, motivated by the runners and the jaunty tunes the musicians along the route were playing. We took a right turn at the Parisian Neo-Baroque style Margaret Bridge, which opened in 1876. Walking  almost .4 of a mile across the bridge, we had completed more  than half of our 10,000 steps since we arose in the morning.


It’s surprising how many steps one can get in a large hotel before leaving for the day.  All steps count, but walking outside offers much more chance for serendipity than walking hotel hallways. Case in point:  The Hungarian House of Parliament. To the un-informed, this Gothic Revival building can be mistaken as a massive cathedral with its spires pointing to the heavens. While it is not a church, this “house of the motherland” is considered a holy building in a patriotic sense. The Hungarians had lost their independence in a hard two-year battle with the Austrians, which resulted in the forced dual monarchy of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Their national pride had not died in that battle, so in 1898 to celebrate Hungarian’s 1000th birthday, Budapest began the construction of several artistic buildings, including the Hungarian House of Parliament. It is a symbol of the new nation and one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.  Unfortunately, Parliament was not open for tours the two days we were in town. We could only look longingly at the beautiful facade and continue walking on by.



As we continued our trek, we ran across another unexpected find, but this was not serendipitous.  This find was sadly poignant, not happy. The Shoes on the Danube Embankment consists of 60 pairs of metal shoes set in concrete.  It commemorates the execution of Jews during World War II by a hateful anti-Semitic, pro-Germany group of Hungarian socialists.  A sign on site reads:  “To the memory of victims shot into the Danube by Arrow Cross militiamen in 1944-45.”  This moving memorial brings back to life those tortured innocents who were forced to the riverside, lined up with shoes removed, and then executed.  They die again and again as seen through visitors’ eyes. Gone but not forgotten.


Our steps to 10,000 now seemed insignificant compared to the steps to eternity we just witnessed, but we had no choice but to keep on walking.  We soon spotted the Chain Bridge which brightened our spirits with this view from the Pest side.



We were now close to the hotel, but had trouble safely crossing the street without getting run over by the marathoners We stood on the curbside with the locals, cheering on the intrepid runners. Finally there was a break in the crowd, so we zigged, then zagged, and finally crossed to the other side.  We were close to the hotel, had met our walking goal by this time, and un-expectantly met a familiar friend, a displaced celebrity from England.


William Shakespeare himself was bowing to us and saying, “How dost thou, sweet lady and noble lord?”

Our answer was, “We dost fine. In fact, we dost more than just fine, walking 10,000 steps in beautiful Budapest.”


The Shakespeare Monument in Budapest









A Requiem for Really, Life?’s Name

VIRB Picture

Photography by Keith Britton

Dearly Beloved, we are here today to bury the original name of my blog.

Really, Life?, dust you never were, but dust you must now be. You were a good ole name, steadfast, but unfortunately not true to my musings. I needed a name which captures more clearly what the blog is about–comments about my travels with an occasional “detour” to other topics.

Please understand, Really, Life?, that you did nothing wrong. I chose you; you didn’t choose me. Now I am your executioner, and I take full responsibility for your death. As a former composition teacher, I understand the importance of brainstorming, of writing and re-writing until you get “it” right.  In this case, “it” wasn’t just the words I needed to get right; “it” was also the concept. I found myself writing far more about the serendipity found in my travels rather than about the serendipity and foibles of Life. Once I understood this truth, your demise was inevitable.

Do not despair, Really, Life?, for there is hope as seen in Henry Wadswoth Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life“:  “Life is real! (That’s you!)  / Life is earnest! /  And the grave is not its goal; /  Dust thou art, to dust returnest, /  Was not spoken of the soul.” While it is true that your name is buried forever, the writing itself, your soul, is resurrected and represented by the new name, Flying  to Adventure–with Detours.

Rest in peace, Really, Life?, for I embrace your reincarnation. Take solace knowing your soul and I now begin our journey together forever and ever. Amen.



Ljubljana: Difficult to Pronounce, Pleasurable to Explore


View of the Triple Bridge,  the Ljubljana River, and Pogačarjev Square

Ljubljana:  I bet you can’t say that fast three times.  Heck, I can’t even say it once slowly.  (It helps, though, to know that the in Slovenian is pronounced like a y.)  However you say her name, Ljubljana, the capital of Slovenia, is a gorgeous, friendly lady, and I was thrilled to make her acquaintance.


We had left Sežana and now were staying at the comfortable Slovenian House Vida on the outskirts of Ljubljana, a short convenient bus ride from the city center. This guest house has large rooms, some with kitchenettes, and a funky subterranean breakfast room decorated with antique radios and toasters.

Our first meal, however, was dinner not breakfast.  On the innkeeper’s recommendation, we booked at table at Gostilna Sokol, the best restaurant in town for traditional Slovenian food.  While we found the food in Sežana to have a Mediterranean influence because of its proximity to Italy, the food at Sokol didn’t have that same lightness.  This restaurant celebrates the land of game, sausage, dumplings, and gravy.


We rode the bus to town and got off to walk around the Old Town area.  Our way to dinner was artistically lit with the highlight being the green hue of Ljubljana Castle. This is an appropriate color as Ljubljana is The Green Capital of Europe 2016, an award it won for its “high environmental standards.”



We strolled by closed shops, wishing that this attractive book store had been open. On second thought, I am not sure I could have found a book in English here. For example, the book in the foreground is Platon, which in Slovenian is Plato. It still would have been fun to poke around.



Arriving at Gostilna Sokol, I shook hands with the cute chef who greeted us at the door. Inside, we found a warm, inviting room with white-washed walls, wooden tables and chairs, and knickknacks placed about, kind of like being at your Slavic grandma’s house. We found authentic Slovenian delicacy on the menu that was too “authentic” for our taste: foal. Other restaurants offered this local fare, too, but they called it horse outright.


I was not too hungry and rather vegetable deprived, so I ordered the vegetable casserole, which actually was a very pretty, tasty vegetable terrine. Bruce’s dish won the “wow factor,” however. He ordered the game plate, which came with “deer medallions in . . . cherry sauce, stag stake (sic) with porcini mushroom sauce, wild boar with green pepper, cheese rolls, polenta, and dumplings.”  



Obviously, there was no room for dessert, so we began our walk back to catch a taxi, but we had to make one stop.  We took this “tourist photo” (We are tourists, after all!) in front of the 1751 Robba Fountain named after its famous creator. This major landmark is also known as The Fountain of Three Carniolan Rivers. It is a replica; the original sets inside the National Museum, safely  out of the harm of hot sun and freezing temperatures and snow. I like knowing this fact since Francesco Robbo bankrupted himself to finish the piece, so its preservation validates his sacrifice. I think Robbo would be pleased.



After a good night’s sleep, our husbands went to work, and Marcia and I went to explore Ljubljana by daylight. This is the City of the Dragon. According to legend, a ferocious dragon guarded the area, preventing any settlement here.  Then, Jason and his Argonauts of Greece fame encountered this fire-breathing beast and slayed him.  Local people were ecstatic and began to settle along the river. Look closely today and you will see the omnipresent dragon:  on the city’s coat of arms, on top of the castle tower; on the Dragon Bridge, on the flag, on souvenirs, etc. (Photo of a dragon sculpture on the Dragon Bridge from Ljubljana Tourism E-News Letter.)


Ljubljana has several attractive town squares, or trgs; historic buildings with architectural charm; and memorial sculptures, such as the one below of Slovenia’s most famous poet, France Prešeren. Marcia and I strolled by admiring the local color, but we didn’t stop because we were on a mission: shopping for souvenirs.


We headed toward The Central Market,  which is composed of both a covered market and an open-air market, in a space between the Triple Bridge and the Dragon Bridge. Starting at the open-air market, we inspected a flurry of flowers, colorful  glassware,  beautiful leather goods,  art prints, and other tempting offerings.


Flower vendors with merchandise vendors in the background


Marcia chose a lovely red wallet bought directly from the artisan who made it, and I became enthralled with the story of the beehive prints and bought two of those. Folk artists began painting the front of beehives’ wooden panels in the mid-18th century.  The artists produced more than 600 religious and secular motifs.  The belief was that if each hive had is own individual art work, then this would help the bees’ orientation.  They would always be able to identify their home.The prints show slices of 18th and 19th-century Slovenian life that are still relevant today.  While the religious motifs are serious motifs, there are light-hearted, humorous one like the one I bought.  We have beehives in our yard, but we aren’t the beekeepers.  Our friends, Steve and Fran, are. I bought them a print of a couple dancing next to the beehives.  I  then saw this print and immediately thought, “Oh, there’s Bruce and Connie bearishly eating the honey, and Beekeeper Steve is behind the tree.”  Gotta have it!



I also was on the lookout for something to take home to share with my herb group friends. I found dried lavender products, but those are ubiquitous all over the world; I wanted something different. We sought out Rustika, a gallery which features the country’s largest selection of high-quality Slovenian handicrafts. Delicate lace linens, hand painted wooden products, kitchen witches, and corncob dolls tempted me, but the artisan chocolate grabbed my attention.  There were several options with unique combinations of chocolate, herbs, and fruit.  I settled on an exotic one I had never seen before, Chocolate with Apples & Tarragon, which I will happily serve at a future luncheon for my friends.



We were lucky to be there on a Friday when Pogačarjev Square  hosts scores of food vendors serving all sorts of international delicacies. I had seen pork dishes, like stir-fried pork and pulled pork, served on the street, but I had never seen a whole pig staring at me.

La Caja China

La Caja China

We strolled past Chinese food, Thai food, and African food, deciding to choose traditional Slovenian food instead–kinda.


We didn’t have the courage to try the tripe stew.


Veal with peas, truffles, and vegetables (yes, truffles from a street vendor) tapped Marcia on the shoulder, and stuffed pepper with mashed potatoes and tomato sauce wrapped me in its comfortable arms.

fullsizeoutput_1d8dThus captured, we ordered glasses of excellent Slovenian wine for only three euros each.Time slipped seamlessly by while we ate our lunch, people watched, and enjoyed our hostess Ljubljana, a gracious, modern lady.


One of the many wine vendors


It was then time to return to our lodging. Marcia bought some red and amber votive holders as we left the open-air market. Unfortunately, we never had time to visit the covered market.  Return trip?  I hope so.


Prešeren Square

Lake Bled, Slovenia: Of Churches, Castles, Cream Cake, and Cessnas


Lake Bled, Beautiful Lake Bled! There are a few ways to see this glistening aquatic gem.  You can lazily glide over the lake in a rented rowboat or picturesque plenta to visit the tiny island that is home to the baroque 17th century Church of the Assumption. This church showcases ancient fresco fragments and an iconic restored belfry.  If you walk the 99 steps up to the church and ring the “wishing bell,” your wish will come true.  Local custom dictates that a groom carries his bride up those steps to ring in the couple’s wish.  Lucky for you, there are less strenuous ways to see this attraction.


You can bike or stroll around the lake’s perimeter, always in sight of the church and the medieval Castle Bled.  At the latter, you can take time out to visit a museum showcasing the lake’s history.


When you get weary,  you can stop at one of the eateries for the famous Lake Bled cream cake, which nestles  whipped cream and rich vanilla custard between flaky  puff pastry crusts.  This version of cream cake was born at Lake Bled’s Park Hotel in the 1960s.  (Photo below from )

We ate ours at the Restavracija Penzion Mlino.  While the meals at the restaurant earn varied reviews, the cream cake consistently gets accolades. We took a respite on the lovely lakeside patio to savor sweet silkiness followed by a pungent sip of espresso.



While boating, biking, and walking may be the best ways to explore the museums and restaurants, the best way to experience the beauty of Lake Bled is to  take off to the blue skies with the Karavanke Alps and Julian Alps beckoning in the distance. But . . . I am getting ahead of myself.



October 6 found our traveling companions and us at the Lesce-Bled Airport. This homey little field tucked in the Radovljica Plain of the Alps hosts a myriad of opportunities for their flying family: fixed wing planes, gliders, parasailing, skydiving, and panoramic flights.  And everyone is treated like family.  We walked in without a prior reservation, wanting to know if we could book a plane ride at this busy airport.  The manager said that nothing was immediately available, but we were to return in a couple of hours to give him time to try to work something out.  Before we could even get to our car, he called us back.  He had gotten in touch with his son, an Airbus pilot on vacation who was hiking nearby.



Gaspar kindly hiked out of the woods and into the cockpit of a Cessna 172 with a diesel engine.  This engine provided a smoother ride with less noise and three times the fuel efficiency than a standard engine.  Gaspar is an experienced pilot who has traveled extensively and flown all over the world.  So what was the drawback to this plane ride ?  Nothing, according to my husband Bruce.  For me, the plane’s size: a small, four-place Cessna that was going high, literally sky-high, over the awesome Alps. Gulp!



I put on a confident face and climbed into the back seat.  Bruce, the pilot in command, was in the left seat, with instructor-pilot Gaspar in the right seat.  I buckled my courage in and off we went, heading toward Triglavski Narodni Park, the only national park in Slovenia. It is tucked into the north-west corner of the country, bordering Italy and Austria, named after the highest Slavic deity, Triglav,  who according to legend, had his throne at 9396 feet,on the highest mountain top.


We climbed, we climbed, and we climbed, our reward being pristine views of Alpine lakes and craggy summits.My heart was thump, thump, thumping, as we continued our ascent to fly over the mountain range. Our little Cessna was buffeted to and fro and up and down by the winds, but continued to push itself upward and forward with the heart of the Little Engine That Could. “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can,” I heard in the whir of the engine. As I began to relax, believing, “We got this,” our upward momentum ceased and we plummeted downward, my stomach experiencing the sinking of stepping off an unexpected ledge. Well, the Cessna did “have this”; it’s made to maneuver in updrafts and downdrafts.  We continued onward, skirting over the snow-dappled mountain tops and onto the other side. Surprisingly, I found myself calm and enjoying every bumpy moment.


The antidote to the poison of fear is obviously beauty. More mountains greeted us, their green forests topped with a white cape of clouds and a netting of filmy fog.



Leaving the park, we then headed east to see Lake Bled from the air. The church floats almost mysteriously on its tiny island in a vibrant blue lake reflecting the verdant vegetation and cumulus clouds. Buildings are scattered about, wearing white faces and terra-cotta or gray hats, basking in the sunshine. People flock to Lake Bled to experience this beauty, most by land, and a gaggle of tourists can crowd the town. Since Lesce-Bled Airport offers panoramic flights, anyone can enjoy the scenery, quietly and serenely, flying above as the swans do that inhabit the lake.


On landing, we found that the Radovljica Plain offers its own prettiness: a kaleidoscope of patterns reflecting myriad hues of greens and blues.


Back on the ground with bragging rights and pumping adrenalin, we joined our friends, Bob and Marcia, who had flown the same route. It was time to settle in for lunch at the airport’s restaurant, Na Kležnk, so the two pilots and the two crew members could compare stories over seafood soup and salads with roasted vegetables and shrimp. We logged more than time in the pilots’ log books; we logged an experience fitting to be on anyone’s “Bucket List.”



Leaving the restaurant, we were surprised to see two friends from Kittyhawk, North Carolina:  Orville and Wilbur Wright.  It seemed fitting to take Bruce and Bob’s photo with these two men looking over their shoulders, men who have inspired their long careers in aviation.



Yes, I was there, too, castle behind me, my handsome prince beside me, feeling like a princess for a day.  We were only one week into our almost month-long trip.  It was now time to step out of this fairy tale to experience other adventures that lie ahead.