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Bruce Bialosky

Cruisin’ Europe

Once again, it is that time of year when I know I am on vacation. There are no keys in my pocket, no TV on all day and no cellphone invading my life because it is locked in the safe. This year we are doing what most people would not think of doing. Arguably most people think of going to Europe as Paris, London, Amsterdam, and Florence. No, we are touring the Balkans. So far, we have had a marvelous time.

We started in two familiar spots. First Prague, which is a uniquely beautiful city and a joy to visit. Worthy of a return visit. So was Vienna, one of the most sophisticated places on the planet. It was there we encountered our first challenge. Just two days before arriving we received notice from our hotel that the Vienna marathon was going to block most roads to our hotel.

Our plans, which had been in place for months, were being put in jeopardy — especially since the evening of our arrival we had opera tickets. You mustn’t be late for the opera. They will not allow you in until intermission.
We cancelled our rental car and hired a driver. We then had to arrange another rental car for our departure from Vienna onward. We did get to the hotel in time and made it to the show, but a discussion with the General Manager was planned for the morning.

We have spoken to GMs of many fine hotels across the world. They are an interesting breed of people. They are typically from far away (from their current post) and are all very sophisticated. We have created some lasting relationships with them.

I met with the General Manager, Roland, who happened to be a native of Vienna. I started off by complimenting him on how well his staff handled our arrival. I told him there were so many people in our room and at one point I asked if they were having a staff meeting. Then I laid out the facts of how the late notice had caused disruption to our lives. He was horrified. He was delighted we had informed him because he was setting out to make sure that did not occur to anyone else arriving on “marathon day” in the future or any other like events. I never asked him for anything.

But then he comped our breakfasts which were not included in our plan and sent us a bottle of wine to have with some friends of friends, who are Austrians, at a beloved local restaurant. The Beautiful Wife sent Roland a thank you email afterward for the delicious wine, and he said he was almost brought to the edge of tears. Apparently, people don’t have most simple social graces any longer and he was just delighted to receive the note.

When we left, we took pictures with Roland and there were hugs and kisses all around. He also delivered us another bottle of wine which we consumed in Ljubljana at a restaurant, but that is another story.

Always pays to be gracious even when you are filing a complaint.
We arrived in Bratislava with a plan in our back pocket. It is a nice city with a wonderful riverfront along the Danube, but not much to do or see. We made a spur-of-the-moment change, as managing one’s itinerary allows one to do. We were informed of a mountain resort by our dear L.A. friend from Montenegro who runs a fine Italian restaurant in Brentwood, CA. The resort is in the Julian Alps. We moved on from Bratislava, Slovakia, and what a brilliant choice it was.

As we drove up to the resort, which is just over the border in Slovenia, on a winding one-lane road, we spoke about how most people would think we were nuts. But then we arrived at our destination. A five-room chalet, built by a man who had run restaurants in Ljubljana for 37 years. Poppy is 74 years old and still as big and strong as an ox. He sweated over every detail as he directed the building himself for some 18 months. This was his life’s dream.

The place is magnificent, and the vistas are even more spectacular. The mountains were still snow capped at the very end of the season and it provided irreplaceable views. The facility is run by the master chef and his much younger wife and their adorable dog, Tracy. We had the sheer luck of being there by ourselves as it was truly their offseason. The next week they were fully booked. The rooms were breathtaking with the same majestic views and laid out as fine as any hotel in the world. Our host had thought of everything. And then there were the spectacular meals and the special talks about our lives and our common friend.

People often wonder why we travel with our own plans by ourselves. This was a perfect reason. To Ljubljana and beyond.