Tuesday, October 25, 2011

If I can't travel, at least I can pretend!

So you know my dictum, the title of my blog: I live to travel. And when I'm not traveling, I am often planning the next trip. Like right now I am putting together preliminary ideas for a trip next September to Belgium with my girlfriend and her mom, and planning out a trip to Florida next spring to see a baseball game and visit friends.

But that's not enough. So... since I live in New York City, a place that thousands if not millions of travelers come to every year, I figure I can treat my own hometown as if it were some place I was traveling in. I can turn my tourist's eyes on what is already familiar, look on things with a fresh perspective, as things to be discovered, as places to be explored.

Like last Thursday. Friends of mine gave me tickets to a concert at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall. Therese and I were excited to go, and decided to have dinner beforehand.

Therese's first idea was to go to Shelly's Trattoria on 57th Street, one of her favorite restaurants. She had taken me there the last time we went to a concert at Carnegie Hall (which, sad to say, was more than a year ago), and I remember the king crab legs being amazing, so that sounded great to me. However, when I started nailing down exactly where Shelly's is on 57th Street, I found out that it has closed!

So now what? Well, I remembered that a partner at a law firm I worked for a few years ago, whenever he would take clients to concerts at Carnegie Hall, would always have me make reservations at Trattoria dell' arte, which is on Seventh Avenue between 56th and 57th street, just across the street from Carnegie Hall. I took Therese and some of her work colleagues there several months ago, and everybody loved it. Plus, I remembered that the bar area was pretty cozy, so I figured we could meet there and have a quick dinner before our concert.

It worked out fabulously. We just ordered antipastos, but at Trattoria dell' arte, that is not a terrible thing. They actually have an antipasto bar, with more than a dozen options. We had shrimp and scallop cocktail, olives, roasted red beets, eggplant caponata and fennel sausage. And we were good to go! The next time we go there, we will have to sit at the actual antipasto bar, with all the bowls of vegetables and seafood and so forth displayed on beds of ice.

On to our concert! It was the English Concert directed by Harry Bicket with special guest, countertenor Andreas Scholl, performing music of Henry Purcell, Heinrich Biber and Georg Muffat. Now, I am not scared off by early music by composers who are outside the standard A list of composers that everyone knows - and I hope that doesn't scare you off, either. Truth be told, I am at home in all kinds of music, but I am particularly enamored of the obscure music of the European Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods.

And I have loved the music of Henry Purcell for many many years. To hear it sung by Andreas Scholl was a special opportunity. And the concert did not disappoint. There was plenty of sublime music making going on here. Not just Mr. Scholl's singing, but also the playing of this small orchestra with its trio of woodwinds - two oboists alternating as needed on recorders and bassoon - and duo of trumpeters. All extremely satisfying. And Zankel Hall is lovely: bright blond wood, intimate, acoustically sound from what I could tell.

Ironic that it was my first time hearing English Concert, since they have been around for 30 plus years. And Mr. Bicket and Mr. Scholl made good music together, a great sign since they are to be reunited in December at the Metropolitan Opera for their production of Handel's "Rodelinda". There Mr. Scholl will play Bertarido, the lead male character and husband to the title character portrayed by Renee Fleming. I hope Mr. Scholl holds his own there - his voice is delicate and I hope he won't get drowned out by the combined forces of the Met Orchestra and Ms. Fleming.

Therese and I left Zankel Hall feeling as if we had been transported to another place. We crossed 57th Street to have a snack and some tea at Europa Cafe before hopping on the M57 bus home to our apartment on the Upper Westside. The one benefit of not being a tourist in New York City is being able to sleep in our own beds after our wonderful night on the town.

Our next such excursion is on November 5th, when we will taxi to the Brooklyn Academy of Music to see and hear the Met's Live in HD broadcast of Wagner's "Siegfried." Going to Brooklyn is almost like going on a trip - and I say that even though I lived in Brooklyn from 2001 to 2010. So I will have my tourist's eyes tuned that day, and tell you all about it. And in the meantime, hopefully if I am not lazy I will start to fill you in on some of the traveling that I have done in recent months and years.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Our Mediterranean cruise's "low-points": Kotor, Montenegro

St. Luke's Church

The Cathedral Labyrinth in St. Tryphon's Cathedral

Well, as I told you before, our cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Splendour of the Seas back in late August included many highlights. And I promised to give you some in-depth descriptions of what those were. But I thought it might be useful to tell you about the rest, the stops and places we saw that I have chosen to call the "low-points."

Now, it is unfortunate that, in designating some particular feature of a trip as being the highlight, other features of the same trip may be seen as just not that exciting or worth seeing. Certainly, that is not the case with the low-points here. Even on the days when we were not wowed beyond belief, we saw much that we enjoyed. And every stop was worthwhile. But some didn't stick in our minds as being the first thing we wanted to tell everyone about when we got back home.

And that's part of the reason that I want to tell you about the low-points first. There may be some things here that WILL be the thing that you'll treasure when you make your way to the Eastern Mediterranean. Or these places may appeal to you for some reason that has little value or appeal to us ("Wow, that island had the best stewed sheep's guts I've ever tasted!"). And here without any further ado I will present to you our cruise's low-points (and then we can get to the really great stuff in some posts to come).

Our first stop after leaving Venice was the old city of Kotor, Montenegro. Kotor is set in a very dramatic geographic setting, on a little triangle of land sticking out into a harbor surrounded by great rocky hills. The old city is your typical medieval city, surrounded by walls built by the Venetians during the time that Kotor was part of the Venetian empire. After entering the old city, we consulted our map which we just got from the tourism office, and planned out our walk through the historic center. It was very very hot that day, so we prized whatever shade we could find, which was not a lot.

Thankfully, again as typical with old medieval cities, everything was pretty close together. We first went to the Cathedral of St. Tryphon, an 11th century white building (well, everything in Kotor was pretty much white) which has been rebuilt many times through the centuries, and includes lots of touches of all those centuries along with many ancient surviving touches. I liked it, I think, much more than Therese and Eileen. It was of a modest size for a cathedral, but I loved the gray stone and the cathedral-style labyrinth in the floor tiles in the middle of the floor.

There was also a cathedral museum which included lots of artifacts from the earliest days. And a nice portico gave us a nice vista over the square in front of the cathedral and the tiniest of breezes. Aaaaah!

Not far from the cathedral was the Maritime Museum. Filling 3 floors of what almost looked like a schoolhouse were paintings and wooden model ships and all kinds of other momentos to Kotor's status as a port city. The highlight for me was a bas relief of St. Tryphon holding his cathedral in one hand while gesturing kindly toward the St. Mark's lion of Venice, indicatin the close relationship between the two cities during the Medieval and Renaissance eras.

The heat was starting to get to us, so we agreed that our next stop should be to eat lunch. We looked for a restaurant with some shade - the options were sitting outside terrace-style, or sitting inside of cramped restaurants with no air conditioning, so while neither of the options were ideal, we settled on the first. We chose the Scorpio restaurant, where the three of us feasted on yummy roasted meats and refreshing local beer and wine.

Full and somewhat rested, we moved on to the St. Luke's Church, really a chapel in terms of size, but a very old one, as old as the cathedral but one of the few town structures to have survived the 1979 earthquake.

Having seen the few things on our itinerary, and having eaten well, with the afternoon running away from us, we were conscious of the time and knew that we wanted to get back to our tender before too late. So after seeing one more church, a 19th century abbey I believe, we made our way back to the slip and waited for our tender boat back to Splendour of the Seas. We all agreed that while we enjoyed our day in Kotor, we didn't feel like we needed more time to see it, and did not feel like we would ever need to go back there.

In my next post, I will finish up the low-points with Santorini, Greece and Split, Croatia.