JenSop: The Singing Traveler!

Idealist. Dreamer. Singer. Explorer.


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In memory of a wonderful teacher… Dr. David Sprenkle

 

(I’m waiting to publish this post until an official obituary is released, as I don’t want to put anything out there before the family does…  And the obituary is now posted. CLICK HERE to read.)

 

I just found out this morning that a beloved professor/choir director from undergrad just passed away last night: Dr. David Sprenkle.

I’ve had other favorite professors pass away in recent years – Mr. Pearson (my voice teacher at NEC), Dr. Schmidt (my music history teacher at WCU.) But today’s news of Dr. Sprenkle’s passing intensely effected me – so much so, that I felt I needed to share some thoughts here.

I spent four years singing in the Renaissance Chamber Choir at West Chester University, and three of those years were under Dr. Sprenkle’s leadership.  He was also my professor for my first semester of choral conducting class, was my advisor for part of my time at WCU, and was probably a teacher of mine for another class/seminar or two that I’m forgetting about right now.  (It has been a long time since I finished my Bachelor’s degree; one does forget a detail here and there.)

Chamber Choir was life-changing for me. I had already had an interest in “early music” before participating in the choir, but through Doc Sprenkle, I learned so much music from the Renaissance period – and it became a true musical passion of mine.  It still remains probably my favorite period of time in music history. Chamber Choir was the perfect combination of creating beautiful music, learning the style and history, AND having fun.  So many rehearsals ended with English country dances, where the entire choir danced, and laughed, and sang. (“Gathering Peascods” anyone?)

We put on Madrigal Feasts and organized Renaissance Faires.  We sang in traditional concerts in Swope Hall.  And we performed in beautiful Renaissance costumes!   We were often joined by the Collegium Musicum, which was the Renaissance instrumental ensemble at WCU.  It’s where I first learned (and heard) what crumhorns and sackbuts were!  (Still love that sound!)

In Chamber Choir, I got to hone my leadership skills and grow as an individual and team member.  (During my senior year, I was president of the choir, and I couldn’t have been prouder!)

I made amazing friends, and got to sing with them a few days every week! I learned motets, madrigals, and songs that I’d later go on to perform and/or record as a professional singer.  All because of Doc Sprenkle.

I often thought of Dr. Sprenkle as the years went on.  When I recorded my Early Music Christmas CD (“Echoes of Christmas Past”) back in 2009, a good deal of it was influenced in part from what I learned from Doc.  He had a direct influence on so much of the music I made in my life after WCU.

David Sprenkle was kind, infinitely patient, knowledgable, and always had a smile on his face.  I can only imagine the countless other students that he also impacted – just like myself.

He will be truly missed and remembered for the wonderful teacher and person that he was.  My deepest condolences go out to his family and friends, and everyone else that was touched and inspired by him.

 

Here are some photos I’ve been able to put together.  I’ll add additional pics if I (or former classmates) can find more.  (Thanks to Steph Buchert for sharing these photos.)

 

 

 

 

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Adventures in Kindness

 

Yesterday, I encountered another series of delayed flights in my efforts to get home between tours for some much-needed rest and relaxation.  (The way airlines are scheduling flights nowadays with hardly ANY layover time is ridiculous, but that’s a discussion for another day…) Anyway, after two delayed flights, it was quite clear that I was going to miss the direct shuttle from the Zagreb airport to Rijeka.  Which would mean shuttles to the bus station, long bus rides, needing to schlep heavy luggage all over the place. I was not looking forward to all of that while already so exhausted.

We were still in the plane waiting to disembark, when three of us women at the front of the plane began to talk.

One woman was from Croatia coming home, one woman was from Saudi Arabia here on vacation, and then there was me – the American who lives in Croatia, but who’s usually all over central Europe most of the time.

Arwa from Saudi Arabia was headed to the island of Krk to meet her children who were already there.  Krk is the island just across the water from where Miloš and I live.  She offered to take me along with her – she just needed to hire a car.  The third woman looked at the address where Arwa was headed, and indeed, I could easily be dropped off along the way.  As we waited for our luggage, we all chatted about our lives and why we were there.  The third woman (who’s name I couldn’t remember, but who I later found online, as she’s a successful tennis umpire) was heading home. She was really inspirational and gave me a lot of hope about some things going on in my life.  I was really glad to have met her –  even for a very short time.

And Arwa insisted on taking me along with her, so we went up to find a car.  Alas, she needed more of a car service kind of thing, not a rental car. BUT the woman at the rental car desk said she knew someone who might be able drive us! She called her childhood friend who was available and would be able to charge a good price. We experienced such generosity from the woman at the rental counter AND her friend who drove us.

As a result, I was able to get home quicker than the bus, and I met some lovely inspirational people.  Arwa would not accept any money for the ride, and let me know that in her culture, it is a true honor to help someone when they need it. How refreshing on such an exhausting day to encounter kindness after kindness after kindness.  Every person was a blessing.

Some people think life is a series of coincidental chances, events just being thrown around in random chaos.  However, I believe that nothing happens by chance – it’s all meant to be and has it’s own reason for happening.  When we meet people, they are there to impact our lives in some way – maybe a big way, maybe a small way, but they all have a reason for joining us on our journey.

From the way I met my Croatian husband while on vacation, to meeting someone who would become a best friend (who also happened to be an American opera singer) at a random Vienna Starbucks, to my most recent tale of getting home from the airport yesterday – there is no such thing as coincidence!

Wishing all of you , dear readers, good fortune and kindness on your own journeys!


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Art Nouveau Magnificence at the Municipal House – Prague

The Municipal House in Prague is a quintessential example of the height of the Art Nouveau movement in Central Europe.

It’s located next to the old Powder Tower in the former location of the Royal Court Palace, and is the home of Smetana Hall.  The building serves primarily as a concert venue and a place to hold special events. There is a large traditional Czech restaurant inside on the basement level, serving delicious and filling Czech specialties.  Many rooms in the building are only accessible by private tour, and are truly worth seeing!

For those not familiar, Art Nouveau was a popular movement that made its way throughout all of central Europe at the turn of the twentieth century.  The movement believed that art should be a part of everyday life, and it became infused in architecture, textiles, paintings, furniture, clothes, and jewelry.  It was characterized by flower and leaf motifs, along with curving flowy lines and lovely ladies.  Prague’s Art Nouveau master was Mucha, whose Sarah Bernhardt posters became famous world-wide.

I recently had the opportunity to tour the Municipal House in Prague and wanted to share some photos with you of some of its gorgeousness!

 

Enjoy!


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My NEW Youtube Travel Channel!

Hi there everyone!

 

I’m super excited to announce that I’ve created a brand new Youtube channel dedicated to all my travels and adventures.  I’ll keep posting new videos from all over and everywhere, so I hope that you’ll subscribe and travel along with me!

 

You’ll still be able to read all about our adventures here, but now you’ll have a way to actually WATCH them and feel more like you’re there!

 

Just click the pic below to see our first big project – Croatia: Facts and Fun Stuff.

(And again, please remember to subscribe to the channel!)

 


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Dubrovnik, Croatia

Hello dear readers!  If you’re a regular here, you know Miloš and I have traveled extensively all around his home country of Croatia. We’ve been almost everywhere.  BUT – I had still never been to Dubrovnik!  (Yes, I know!) The primary reason for not getting to this wonderful city sooner was simply logistical.  It’s pretty much the farthest away place IN Croatia, from where we live in Croatia. (An almost six hour drive if you take the highway AND don’t stop for breaks.)

However, it was finally time to see this amazing city, so we planned a visit for the last weekend of March, as we had to get our personal traveling in before our own working tour seasons began.  (We also visited Trogir on our way down to Dubrovnik.  Blog about that coming soon!)

 

Let me say right off the bat – Dubrovnik is a MUST SEE city.  It most certainly lived up to its fantastic reputation.  If you are a fan of history, architecture, the sea, good food, and cats – this is your place!

But first – a map!  (You know I love maps!  And on this one, I’ve highlighted our driving route.)  As you can see, Dubrovnik lies along the Adriatic Sea, all the way near the southern-most part of Croatia.  This southern coastal region of Croatia is called Dalmatia.  (Yup – just like the dogs! That’s where they get their name.)

Our route from Crikvenica to Dubrovnik

 

This historic city was founded in the 7th century, when the first wave of Croats migrated to Dalmatia.  Some also speculate the town may have been founded by Greek refugees or sailors.  Originally named Ragusa, Dubrovnik is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Excavations also include evidence of a pre-Christian era settlement.  The city was a strong maritime port during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance.  It suffered damage during a terrible earthquake in 1667, but was still able to preserve its Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque historic buildings.  The city again suffered extensive damage in the 1990s during the Croatian War for Independence.  Today’s Dubrovnik is one of the Mediterranean’s most popular tourist destinations; its inherent charm is the ability to make visitors feel as if they are being transported back in time.

If you choose to drive to Dubrovnik from most places in Croatia, you will have to pass through a 10 kilometer stretch of land that is controlled by Bosnia and Herzegovina.  Borders at both sides have passport controls. We had no hold ups getting through, but I travel inside Europe with my Hungarian passport.  It may take a little longer with a non-EU passport.  I also suspect there could be traffic issues during the busy summer months.

 

We stayed for two nights, but should have made it three.  It just wasn’t enough time. From the first moment we saw the city, we were blown away by its sheer majesty.  Just entering through the Pile Gate into the old city made me feel like we were entering some kind of fantasy world.

We stayed right in the middle of the old city at the Villa Sigurata, where we were made to feel right at home.  Our room was comfortable, clean, and had everything we needed.  I definitely give it my highest recommendation!

 

Here are a few highlights we experienced during our time in Dubrovnik:

Walking along the Stradun
Stradun is the main promenade that runs along the entire inside length of the old city.  This wide thoroughfare is full of shops and restaurants, as well as historic churches, monasteries, and residences.  You can see the Onofrio Fountain, the Fransiscan Monestary, Europe’s oldest pharmacy (since 1391), the Orlando Column, the Church of St. Blaise, and the Rector’s Palace.

Old City Walls
Despite it being a pricier option (150 kuna per person/approx. 20 euro), walking the Old City Walls is an absolute must-do experience in Dubrovnik.  The walls encircle the entire city, complete with lookouts, forts, and cannons.  The views that await you are simply breath-taking.  Be ready to walk and climb lots of stairs.  Give yourself a good solid two hours to get all the way around, more if you want to take your time.  Your ticket is good for one circle around the wall, and also allows you into the Lovrijenac Fortress, across from the old city.  (We climbed up to the fortress, but it had already closed for the day, so we didn’t make it inside.  This one is featured in Game of Thrones as the Red Keep in King’s Landing.)

Today’s city walls were mostly constructed between the 12th and 17th centuries, although construction on the original walls started in the 8th century.  They measure almost 2 kilometers in length, all the way around.  They reach a maximum height of 25 meters, and the main walls on the land side are 4 to 6 meters thick.  Highlights along the wall are the Minčeta Tower, rising above the city on the land side, and Fort Bokar, which  juts into the sea, guarding the area of the Pile Gate.

Lovrijenac Fortress
As I mentioned above, we didn’t get the opportunity to go inside the fortress, but we did hike up there and took in the amazing views.  Then we went down the stairs that lead to the pier between the two fortresses.

 

 

Pile Gate (pronounced “pee-leh”)
The Pile Gate is nearly 500 years old – it lets you enter the old city over an ancient draw bridge that used to be lifted every evening.  It’s covered with a Renaissance arch, where St. Blaise (the city’s patron saint) looks down upon everyone coming and going from the city.  Our accommodations were located close to this entrance.
Just walking through the city itself is an activity that can’t be beat.  The streets are set up mostly in a grid pattern, and are pedestrian-only.  The streets running perpendicular to the Stradun are only level for a block or two, then continue up many many stairs.


Dubrovnik Old Port
Located at the eastern side of the city, the old port was once an important part of Dubrovnik’s maritime history.  It’s a busy area of restaurants and local boats.  The ship that runs to the island of Lokrum departs from here.

 

We also had a couple really amazing dining/drinking experiences that I just HAVE to share with you.

Nautika
Our first evening in Dubrovnik, we had reservations at Nautika, located right outside the Pile Gate.  The restaurant is located inside the former Dubrovnik School of Maritime Studies, which dates back to 1881.  One of the highlights of this wonderful restaurant is its outdoor terrace, where diners can look out onto one of the world’s most amazing views.  Nautika’s location is on the seaside, between the Lovrijenac Fortress and Fort Bokar.  I don’t think I’ve ever dined with a more spectacular view in my entire life.

The food and service are at the top end of the spectrum. Every dish was meticulously created to be something truly special. The staff takes care of your every need, ensuring your visit is unforgettable.

The prices are rather high, but it’s worth every penny.  I highly encourage you to make a reservation – request the outdoor terrace.

We will be back for sure!

Buza Bar
We happened upon this bar by accident on our first day, but we were sure to return for another visit the next day!  This hidden gem is actually built out onto the rocks outside the city walls, overlooking the sea.  They only serve cold drinks, as per the signs leading you there.  The view is amazing – especially at sunset.  Go to enjoy some relaxing time in the sea breeze.

To find this bar, go up the Game of Thrones staircase, then cut across left up top until you see the sign directing you to the “Cold drinks with the most beautiful view.”  Continue walking along that path for a bit until you get to the “hole in the wall” entrance to the bar.

 

CATS….

Okay, I mentioned it briefly earlier, but Dubrovnik is FULL of cats!  There were cats everywhere. I never saw so many stray cats. I guess since the old city is pedestrian-only, they don’t have to worry so much about cars.  And if you know me, you know I LOVE cats!  Of course I took lots of cat pics.  Here are some of them!

A few thoughts about Dubrovnik:

-It’s an expensive city.  (Popular tourist destinations usually are.)  Don’t cheap out on a once-in-a-lifetime experience just because it’s a few more dollars than you expected to spend.  Budget yourself a little higher in this city.

-Crowds can get super crazy in the high season.  If you can travel during shoulder season, you’ll be able to experience this wonderful place without the insane crowd levels.

– If you’re staying long enough, you can take some nice day trips from Dubrovnik.  I would recommend getting out to some of the islands.  (I’m so eager to go to Korčula!)

-Stay at least three nights to be able to see and do more.

 

 

We loved our visit and can’t wait to return!

Here are some more miscellaneous photos from our trip to Dubrovnik!

Enjoy!


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Palma de Mallorca, Spain

Earlier this month, Miloš and I headed to Palma de Mallorca, a Spanish island in the Mediterranean Sea.  We’d been meaning to go for the past few years now, but never were able to make it work.  After hearing such wonderful things about this historically rich and lovely city – we had to see if for ourselves.  We have friends/colleagues who spend part of each winter in Palma, and we wanted to make sure our visit overlapped with their time there as well.

(A big thanks to Barbara, Marco, Robert, and Chiara for sharing your time with us while we were in Palma! We had such a splendid time!)

Here’s a brief summary of our time in Palma de Mallorca and some of the major sites we experienced.  Some restaurant reviews, too!

First – a handy map to show us where to find Palma – and just because I love maps! 🙂

Mallorca is the largest of Spain’s Balearic Islands, and recorded history of the island officially dates from the year of 123 BC, when it became part of the Roman Empire.  In the 6th century, it was controlled by the Byzantine Empire, and later it was under Moorish rule.  It then came under the Crown of Aragon, and throughout the ages, it had quite the history of falling victim to piracy.  Such a varied background lends itself to a city with beautifully diverse architecture and rich culture.  The old town is made up of narrow streets, full of cafes and shops.  The old private homes have ornate inner courtyards, and the majestic cathedral lies along the town’s imposing city walls.

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(Scroll to the bottom for restaurant reviews!)

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Oddly, flights from Zagreb to Palma are limited, and of course require a layover.   Our only choice that did not involve an overnight layover (that’s right!), was an early morning flight.

We arrived in Palma in the afternoon, and were pleased to see our home for four nights – an airy loft in the center of the old town.  Here’s a view out of the window:

Our street in Palma

On our first night, we met up with Barbara and Marco, and their daughter Chiara.  They took us on a short walking tour of part of the city, culminating with a visit to Bar Abaco – one of the city’s most famous bars.  It’s bedecked in elaborate decor, while standard classical music hits play in the background, and a roaring fire keeps guests warm.  A visit to Abaco is a must-do for all new tourists in Palma.  We had a nice time enjoying our daiquiris and great conversation.

Bar Abaco

The next day, we wandered the town and explored part of the city and its fortress walls. It was an official holiday -Balearics Day.  As a result, there were craft and food tents all along the city.   We also took a long walk along the sprawling marina.  Many shops and restaurants were closed for the holiday, so we were lucky to find a well-reviewed restaurant that was still open that night. Here are some photo highlights from our day:

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On the next day, we started out with a short walk to the marina, then met up with Barbara, Marco, Chiara, and Robert at a coffee shop along the Passeig del Born. That was followed by a walk along the old streets, finishing at the Plaça d’Espanya.  We had a very late lunch, as our dinner was booked for later that night.  In this part of the world, it’s customary to eat a late lunch, as well as a very late dinner.  Many restaurants close between 4:30 and 8:30pm each day.

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On our third full day in Palma, the plan was to meet up again with Barbara, Marco, Chiara, and Robert by the fish market.  Here we were to pay a visit to the oyster bar for fresh oysters and champagne.  It was my first time trying oysters, and I admit that I was a bit apprehensive at first.  However, I’m always willing to try new things – and it was Robert’s first time trying oysters too, so I wasn’t alone in being a newbie.  Miloš’ stomach was a little iffy that morning, so he passed on the oysters.  I’m definitely glad I tried them, but I don’t think I’ll be having another one soon.  I think perhaps they’re an acquired taste.

After oysters, we went for a walk along the city walls.  We said good-bye to Robert at the edge of the city, and continued walking along the seaside with Barbara, Marco, and Chiara all the way to the next village in the El Molinar area.  It was a lovely sunny day, and after saying good-bye to our friends, we had lunch in the village.

When we finished our lunch, we walked back to the apartment and freshened up.  We grabbed a taxi up to Bellver Castle, and hiked down the hillside after exploring.   At just over 700 years old, this castle is definitely worth a visit!  Miloš and I have seen many castles throughout all of our travels, but this one was certainly a highlight.  Not only does a visit here offer amazing views of the city below, but the castle is extremely well maintained, with exhibits within the different rooms along its circular courtyard, providing some education along the way.   Entry into the castle is 4€  per person, and our taxi ride was about 10€.  Tickets are available at the far side of the castle.  If you’d like to hike down afterwards, there is a well-kept stairway that leads down the entire hillside right across from the castle entrance, with a beautiful church about half way down.  On our way back to the old town, we stopped for a drink at one of the restaurant bars along the marina.  The evening was getting cool, and we headed back to the apartment to pack for our early morning flight back to Croatia.

Here are some photos from our third full day in Palma:

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DINING HIGHLIGHTS

We had some excellent meals while in Palma – you can certainly eat well in this city.  Here’s a look at our dining experiences:

Cafe Murada

We had lunch here on our first full day in Palma.  The restaurant is built into the edge of the city walls.  We snagged the only non-reserved table left in the place.  Service was excellent, and the food was just as good.  We started with a pear and goat cheese salad that was beyond delicious.  We shared it, but after tasting it, we wished we had ordered one for each of us!  We also shared a pizza and some grilled scampi.  Overall a wonderful meal at a restaurant we would love to revisit!

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Restaurante Peix Vermell

We were very lucky to find this restaurant when so many others were closed for the holiday.  It had a great rating on Trip Advisor, and we  were so glad it was open!  We shared another goat cheese salad, which was very good. (Although the one at Cafe Murada was even better!)  Miloš had steak, and I had pasta with clams and garlic. The server made a fantastic wine recommendation, too.   The wine glasses were huge!  The overall service was top notch. Our server spoke several languages – not just English for me, but Croatian for Miloš! Very impressive.  We’d recommend this place to anyone!

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Cappucino Cafe 

This seems to be a high end chain located around the city.  We stopped at the Palau March location, along the city walls near the cathedral.  They are open during the siesta afternoon hours, serving food and beverages.  I wasn’t too hungry, so I just had dessert (banana and caramel pie), while Miloš had a chicken with quinoa risotto.  He raved about it – really excellent.  Plus, in all honesty, the ambience and setting are fantastic.

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Asador Bolixe Cocina Esencial

This steakhouse is a little bit of a walk outside the center of the old town, but it was rated highly on Trip Advisor, so we made a reservation.  Service was good, but our server didn’t seem to speak English well, so it was lucky that Miloš speaks some Spanish.  Miloš had steak, and I had the lamb chops.  Even though the chops had a good grill flavor, they were a bit gristle-y.  Not a poor meal, but our others were so great, that this paled a bit in comparison.

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Trattoria A Tarantella

This was the Italian restaurant where we ate in the little village just past Palma proper. We shared a mixed salad to start the meal – it was hearty and worthy of sharing.  We each had a pasta entree – mine was an excellent spaghetti aglio e oglio: simple, tasty, and a bit spicy.  Miloš had spaghetti with scampi.  We ate out on the outdoor terrace in the sunshine.  A nice place to eat!

We had a wonderful time in Palma, and would love to return!  (And other cities in Spain are also on the list!)


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Plitvice Lakes National Park, Croatia – Fall 2016

Many of my regular readers will know that Miloš and I have made a few visits to Plitvice Lakes National Park in Croatia; it’s definitely one of our favorite places!

Our previous visits were in winter, when the park was an amazing winter wonderland, and in spring when the weather was warming up and buds were starting to form.

(CLICK HERE FOR PLITVICE WINTER WONDERLAND)

(CLICK HERE FOR PLITVICE IN SPRING)

Our most recent visit was in October 2016. (I’m just getting a chance to post about it now!)

The weather was pleasant, and the entire park was open for exploration. (Parts of the park are closed off in the low season.) As I’ve mentioned before, Plitvice is about a two and a half hour drive from Miloš’ hometown, so it’s a very manageable day trip for us.  It was definitely the most crowded time of our three visits, with many tourists sharing the trails with us.

There were still a few colorful leaves on the trees, but most had already fallen.  I can’t help but think that if we had gone two or three weeks earlier, we might have witnessed more of fall’s spectacular colors.

There are a number of marked trails that you can follow, and we chose to take a walk all the way up to the farthest marked point of the lake area (map left), and then take the little shuttle back to the look out area that leads back to the starting point. (Starting point at map right.)

Map of Plitvice Lakes hiking trails

Map of Plitvice Lakes hiking trails

 

We started out at Entrance 1, and noticed some friendly local residents right away, trying to beg for treats at the little cafe…

 

Cats of Plitvice

Cats of Plitvice

 

When you first clear the entranceway and look upon the main falls, it’s truly a sight to behold: both majestic and delicately beautiful.

 

Main falls at Plitvice

Main falls at Plitvice

Posing with the main falls in the background.

Posing with the main falls in the background.

 

We walked some of the familiar trail segments we knew from previous visits, but also were happy to explore new sections of the park.  Posted below are some photos of our day’s adventures!

(Click on any of the photos to see an enlarged version.)

A few quick tips:
-Comfortable shoes are a must
-Bring water (definitely) and snacks. (A small bag or light-weight backpack is helpful.)
-Hike during the day, and clear the park after it closes
-Walk with caution, as there are no railings on most trails
-Dress accordingly for the weather – layers are recommended