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November 12, 2006

Eight Hours and Counting

Well, we made what I hope will be our final contributions to the Israeli economy this morning. A short walk down Ben Yehuda street produced a bracelet for me, a mezzuzah and scroll for Sammi, chocolate eggs, a necklace for Becky, some gifts for Chris's dad and aunt, a Bible for Chris, and another necklace for Sammi. We topped it off with some delicious gelato.

Oh and the sun burned off the haze so we have another beautiful day. Now, we're finishing our packing - surprisingly we don't need the extra suitcase, then we're off for some falafel and a few hours on the beach.

Unless Chris logs on later to do some work this probably will really be the last update until tomorrow. Yeah, I know I've said that before.

Have a good day all.

August 20, 2007

Way Cool - A Pleasant Distraction

I saw this on Leslie's Blog this morning and thought I want to do it too. Hope it works.

  • Blue is where I've been
  • Red is where I've lived
  • Green is where I want to go

Get Your Own MapView Larger Map

August 21, 2007

We've Arrived

We're here. Luckily didn't hit any major rain on the way up, just some drizzles. A tiny, tiny bit of traffic around Hartford getting onto 91. And a bit more just before we arrived in Vermont due to construction. Got to the house about 7:00 (more on the house later today). After we unloaded the car, we headed into town to Mr. Pickwick's for dinner (more on that later too).

Home to sleep, and now we're getting ready to do a bike ride (40 miles); the hills here look pretty daunting and I'm a bit nervous. Will let you know how that goes.

Oh and it's cool here! Need to buy some sweatshirts today. Okay - off to get dressed and get my oatmeal. Will check in later today (tonight we're hanging out at home so should have plenty of time).

Have a good day all!

August 22, 2007

I'll Take a Century Any Day

Yesterday morning Chris and I went for our first Vermont bike ride. We had decided to do the Stowe City Weekend ride first published by the Green Mountain Bike Club. We found the route on bikely.com, which lists maps and sometimes cue sheets for the suggested rides. When I first found this route, I posted a comment asking about the hills, to try to get a feel for how bad the climbs were/are.

Well, I'm here to tell you they're bad!

Continue reading "I'll Take a Century Any Day" »

August 23, 2007

The Chef's Table - NECI

Last night we drove to Montpellier, Vermont’s capita (and the smallest state capital in the US, by the way), to have dinner at the New England Culinary Institute. The Institute has two campuses, one in Essex and one in Montpellier and each campus has associated restaurants. In Montpellier, they have Brioche Bakery and Café, The Main Street Grill, and The Chef’s Table, their fine dining establishment. We opted for the last one, The Chef’s Table.

Continue reading "The Chef's Table - NECI" »

The Night the Lights Went Out

So there we were, Tuesday night, hovering over my laptop, looking at how far we climbed on our bike ride that morning and trying to figure out an alternate route for Thursday when poof, the lights went out! Now night is night, and it was black out there but I’m here to tell you, Vermont night is way blacker than New Jersey night.

Using the light from my laptop screen (battery powered), Chris found the flashlight we brought with us (good thing). We stumbled around, trying to find a fuse box, but couldn’t. We walked outside, to see if our neighbors had power, but they’re not here and so no lights were on. Some landscape lights were on across the street, but they could have been solar powered. What to do?

I guess it’s times like these where you might think that renting a property has it’s deficiencies compared to staying in a hotel but then I thought, what would you, could you do if you were in a hotel? Think about it?

Anyway, we found the caretaker’s phone number, and Chris called. AJ, the caretaker was great, he made some phone calls but couldn’t find out if it was just our house or others in the area. While he was doing that, the power company showed up. Can you believe it? I mean we’re not talking hours later but minutes, like within twenty minutes of our lights going out, the power company was outside, checking to see our status. They told Chris it was a problem on the line, and they were trying to determine the cause. When Chris spoke to AJ again, he insisted on coming out though Chris told him it wasn’t necessary, the power company was on top of things.

Within the fifteen minutes or so it took AJ to arrive, we found another flashlight (so I wasn’t stuck in one location) and lit some candles, which actually made everything seem romantic, and we admired the multitude of stars in the night sky. AJ pulled up and told us the power company was working down the street but wasn’t sure how long it would take. He had brought with him though a generator, just in case. We went inside, and talked (and had a beer) by candlelight and before we could even finish half the beer (okay I had a Sprite zero), the lights came back on.

So much for our adventure. I have to say though how impressed I was with AJ and his commitment to looking out for the guests (he manages over 60 properties, some rentals, some weekend residents, and some permanent residents), and the local power company. I think start to finish, we were without power for less than 90 minutes – kudos to all.

Fala, We're Not in New Jersey Any More

One of a multitude of road these types of road signs (I'll have to try to get a picture of a bear crossing one too)!

Moose Crossing Sign


Other Things We’ve Done (Shopping Pretty Much)

So you know on Tuesday we did that 40+ mile bike ride (we’re supposed to do another one today but it looks gross outside, and I personally, could get into a day of movie watching and/or book reading). Anyway, here’s some things we did the rest of Tuesday and Wednesday.

After we wolfed down our lunch at Pie in the Sky, it was time to do some provision shopping. We had decided before we arrived that we would do one meal out a day, so lunch out dinner in, dinner out lunch in, so we needed to get some provisions. I had read about Harvest Market and it sounded interesting, so first stop, we headed up Mountain Road (aka 108) for a visit.

It’s smaller than I expected but has a nice bakery and makes a decent espresso. They also have the standard “gourmet” food stuff items (e.g., Stonewall Kitchen jams and stuff) but Chris wasn’t too impressed with their cheese selection. So we ended up buying some pappardelle, a couple of jars of Chris’s favorite hot pepper jelly, some rosemary foccacia, a couple of Cabot yogurts (when in Rome and all), good olive oil, a frozen potato bacon soup (dinner tonight or lunch tomorrow perhaps), and a couple of cookies for munching. We didn’t bother looking at the wine they sold; it seemed more an afterthought.

Next, we headed up to Mountain Wine and Cheese. They had a decent wine selection but I think the mark-ups were a bit extreme. I like to find a bottle of something I know, to see the price differential in different stores. They had Palazzo della Torre for $22. We pay about $13 for it at home. There cheese selection looked good though, and we left there with some fresh Vermont cheddar, a duck liver pate and some chevre for Chris (not to mention some kinder eggs for Sammi – who knew)?

We still needed wine though and our options weren’t looking great. Last chance, we went in search of Fine Wine Cellars. They had a tag line, something like “you should be able to get good wine at both $10 and $100” our kind of place.

We found them, closer to the village, also on Mountain Road. This place is actually more of an Internet operation, that I think the owner runs out of the basement of his home. There’s a sign on the door that says, “Open, ring bell and we’ll let you in.” And sure enough he does. And basically, you walk down into his crate-packed basement with some wines on display but way too overwhelming to browse. We described for him what we like, and our price point (the $10 to $20 range), and he came up with some suggestions – it was actually great fun, he was so enthusiastic about wines and had some real unknown things.

First, we walked away with two bottles of the Monkey Barrel Shiraz that Chris tried on Monday night at Mr. Pickwick’s. Then he recommended a merlot to us. A merlot? We had just been saying earlier how we’re not merlot drinkers but okay – this guy swears buy it. He promises it’s not the generic fruity, smooth stuff that’s been mass manufactured but something akin to how the French produce/use their merlot grapes, so powerful that it’s been in the bottle for eight years and he’s just selling/drinking it now. It’s from Kiona Vineyards in Washington and we decide to buy a bottle. He also recommends a Pinot called O’Reillys and a Prosecco. We spent a bit more time talking wines with him, got our purchases and headed out, telling him we’ll be back before we return to Jersey on Monday.

Now we’re heading back to the house, where Chris has to take a conference call, and I do some writing but it doesn’t take long and we’re back out shopping. We park the car behind the Swiss Pot, check out it’s menu (fondues are their thing), the menu of the Blue Moon Café across the street (I can definitely eat there), and pop into Col D’Lizard so I can buy my Stowe Bike shirt. Talking to the woman who owns the shop, makes me feel better because she tells me how she learned to ride the hills around here and that there’s no shame in stopping for a rest going up them. Good, I feel better about my accomplishment as we head out the door to check out more of the town.

We pop into some other stores, a sundry place, the mercantile (where we buy a martini glass, and some mustards – a chipotle maple mustard kicks butt and I’m going to have to get some more). Finally, about five or so, after hitting Shaws for the basics (e.g., eggs, milk, oatmeal) we return to the cabin to hang.

We make up a little cheese and cracker plate, pop open that Merlot (which also kicks butt by the way, we’re so going back there today to buy 1/2 a case and get some of his restaurant reccomendations), and just enjoy the peace and quiet. I watch all the bikers riding down our road and insist to Chris, I’m not going inside until I see if these bikers return up the road. I want to make sure there’s no secret passage that avoids this hill. Eventually some do and that and the cold night air forces us indoors where we start to look at elevations of the ride scheduled for today (Thursday) to make sure it’s not too strenuous (it is but that’s another story).

Anyway, while we’re sitting there – the lights go out! Ah heck, I’m going to make that a separate entry.

Okay – so that wraps up Tuesday.

On Wednesday, after our hike, we hop into the car and head down to Cold Hollow Cider Mill to get some donuts, do some more shopping and to taste some wines – Grand View Winery has a tasting room across the parking lot from the cider mill.

The donuts rock – still warm when we buy them, we scarf down to many – that and a glass of milk and I’m in hog heaven. I don’t think Delicious Orchards or Emory’s has a thing on these guys. We also buy some hug tins of maple syrup before we head across the lot to taste some wines.

They charge you a buck to do the tasting but so what. It’s funny they have some wines made with grapes (e.g., seyval) but many of their products are made from other fruits (e.g., pear). So instead of having a grape wine that has the essence of pear, you could just buy pear wine and save the trouble. And honestly it wasn’t that bad.

We tried:

  • Hard Cider
  • Pear Wine
  • Seyval
  • Some red wine with a name that escapes me (I’ll go look), but they described it as the red wine for people who don’t like red wines. It wasn’t my favorite.
  • Cranberry wine – made mistakenly from juice that they thought was cherry juice but ended up being from Cranberries.
  • Raspberry Apple wine, which smelled and tasted like cough syrup to me until he spooned some ground bittersweet chocolate into it and then it wasn’t bad.

We ended up buying some Hard Cider, some funny cocktail napkins, and the Cranberry wine. Call me crazy, but besides the fact that it would actually go well with Thanksgiving dinner (well, except with sweet potatoes, I don’t think it would go well with them), I have visions of making a pork loin, stuffed with dried cranberries and goat cheese; I think it will work.

Into the gift shop where we bought a couple of funny cow t-shirts for the girls and then back home. Chris fidgeted with my bike, trying to get the granny gears to work, and I vegged on the computer. Then he went for a run, and I vegged some more, until finally, he returned and it was time to get ready to go to dinner.

The Stowe Pinnacle

Kim Before the Hike

Yesterday was hike day. For our first hike, we chose the Stowe Pinnacle, which to some of the locals, who do it regularly, is probably nothing more than a casual afternoon stroll (I come to this assumption based upon the few of them we saw on the trail, wearing pretty much everyday clothing), but for those of us who do not hike regularly, turned out to be a moderate hike.

Continue reading "The Stowe Pinnacle" »

August 24, 2007

A Limoncello Kinda Day

When Chris is in a hokey mood he likes to say, "When life hands you lemons, make limoncello." Well, yesterday we got a couple of lemons - three to be exact. They're the tires on my car. We slept in a bit (read that as Chris slept in; I was up at my usual 6:15) and Chris went to The Bagel for bagels (surprisingly good bagels for being outside the NY Metro area - yes I am a bagel snob). Anyway, upon his return he stated, "Your tires are bulging; we need new ones, now." Great. We knew I was going to need new tires soon but had hoped they could make this trip but there were bubbles on three of them and there was no way, I felt comfortable driving home with those tires.

So first we looked on Super Pages but then Chris followed by suggestion and called AJ to see if he could recommend someone. He recommended Palmer's in Morrisville, a few miles up the road.

Chris called Dave at Palmer's and told him our problem and that AJ recommended him. Dave made some phone calls and found four tires for my car that he said he would have at the shop on Friday afternoon (today) and what time would we like to come by? So we have a 2:00 appointment for today. The tires are going to cost about $450 which is great because our Volvo dealer had quoted us a much higher price. Oh and before you think poorly of my car or Volvo, I have over 37K on these current tires so it was time for new ones.

Continue reading "A Limoncello Kinda Day" »

August 26, 2007

Sterling Pond

Trail Going Up
On Friday morning, since Chris slept in, we decided to bag the Mount Hunger hike and opted for Sterling Pond instead. Sterling Pond is also considered a "moderate" hike and since no elevation was given on the list of hikes provided by the tourist information office we assumed it was relatively flat ... wrong!

I took this shot of the path as we were leaving; it doesn't do just to the initial climb up the stone steps.

Continue reading "Sterling Pond" »

Limoncello Day - Part Two

Just an update on the car situation. So after our hike to Sterling Pond, we visited Stowe Dogs (1669 Mountain Road) for some lunch. Just a quick shout out to them because if you're looking for a good hot dog, with a myriad of toppings look no further. We each had a Stowe Dog (the local treat - hot dog smothered in meat and cheese) and shared some Stowe Fries (fries smothered in meat and cheese). Along with some diet Pepsi (I finally get the concept of a fattening meal but diet soda).

After lunch, we headed to Morrisville and our appointment with Palmer Automotive on Brooklyn Street. Another shout out to them - they put four new tires on my car in an hour - damage, $475 - considering when we bought the car the Volvo guy said it could be about $1000 to replace my tires, I think we did pretty good.

While they worked on the car, we walked over to Rock Art Brewery for our tour with Zeb. Zeb's a nice guy - not very vivacious though but he knows his stuff. It's a tiny operation, maybe one or two steps up from someone brewing beer in their garage but pretty darn cool. I've decided that brewing beer is the answer to making wine for those with ADD since it's less than 2.5 weeks from start to finished product. They have multiple varieties of beer (unfortunately no test tasting) and we found out they do sell in Jersey (time to call Glendale to see if they can get it for us). We bought a case of the Ridge Runner, and a 12-pack sampler for our friends, who are taking in our mail (to go along with the Vermont Maple Syrup we bought them). Now I'm sorry I didn't get the Rock Art t-shirt - oh well.

We also learned there's a Brewery Tour thing in Vermont called the Vermont Brewery Challenge. You get this little passport card, and at each Vermont Brewery you visit, you get it stamped. There are 18 breweries on the card. When you get 4 breweries, you get a bottle opener magnet that says, "Drink Vermont Beer." When you get 10 breweries, you get a "Drink Vermont Beer" t-shirt. When you get all the breweries, you get a Collector's Set of Vermont Beer Gear. We've got two stamps so far (visited another pub/brewery for dinner last night), but next summer, we're going to do a tour (we can get 3 in Burlington alone). If only we'd known about this earlier, it could have changed the entire tenor of the vacation.

After our tour, we headed over to Munchies for some ice cream - i got a creamee, what they call soft ice cream. Asked for a small, and got what I would consider to be an x-large (ended up throwing most of it out). I'd hate to see what a large is.

Then it was back home to rest before dinner. So the car thing worked out well in the end.

Bike Ride From Hell

The next time someone from Vermont tells you that a bike ride has rolling hills, don't believe them! Those hills are mountains to you and me.

So yesterday was our 1/2 Century Ride that we were doing through the Mad River Valley. Chris found the ride on-line when we were planning our Vermont trip and signed us up. I mean after all, the feedback was positive, it sounded mostly flat, through valleys - how bad could it be? Bad!

But let me back up for just a moment because funny, small world story time, before the ride, we were having breakfast at the Dutch Pancake House when I'm looking out the window and I see this guy walking down the street. I say to Chris, "Hey, that looks like David M." He says, maybe it is but I'm thinking nah. Well then I look to the entrance of the dining room and I see his daughter and then my friend Jody, his wife. Jody and I served/worked together on the synagogue board a few years ago and while we don't socialize outside of the synagogue, we do stop to chat there still whenever we see each other. Funny to run into them here - and as it turns out, they visit Stowe and stay at Smugglers Notch every summer for a week. Funnier part of the story, while we were hugging and catching up in the lobby for a minute, the bus boy started to clear our table, thinking we had skipped out on the check.

Anyway, after our hearty breakfast of pancakes, we hit the road to the Waitsfield for our bike ride. Now I was pretty damn nervous after Tuesday's ride about the hills. I felt demoralized in my biking skills, so when we found the check-in point (1.6 miles away from the finish line - more on that later), the first thing Chris asked was, "How hilly is the ride?" To which the check-in ladies replied, not bad, it's rolling hills. Liar, liar pants on fire.

Continue reading "Bike Ride From Hell" »

And on the Seventh Day She Rested

I've decided I put my body through enough punishment this week - though my left calf finally feels a bit better, I'm taking it easy today. Hanging out reading my book, a walk into town to check out the Farmer's Market and maybe some last minute shopping and then we've decided on dinner at home tonight - we're thinking steaks, salad and some bruschetta with some left over bread.

I still need to write some entries for restaurants, Michael's on the Hill, The Shed, Pie in the Sky and the Dutch Country Pancake House but that's it. Maybe I'll do those today and we'll close out Vermont.

Tomorrow, we hit the road about 9, hoping to stop at the cider mill for one last round of donuts, and arrive home by 4.

So page down for the last few entries, and check back later, if restaurants are your thing.

Then it will be on to Paris!

August 28, 2007

Packing List - Part 1

Wearing
Black Jeans (maybe, maybe not)
Black Shoe Boots
Black Blazer
Which top? Pumpkin Sweater? Olive Green?

Clothing
Black Pants
Stone Pants
Chamois Pants (maybe - maybe not)
Pumpkin Top
Eggplant Top
Red Top
Black Top
Tan sweater and tank
Raincoat
underwear
Socks
bras
PJs
Black Sneakers

Electronics
French Cell Phone (thanks Amy)
Phone Charger
Adapter
Lap Top
Lap Top Plug
Lap Top airline adapter
Lap Top Ethernet cord (just in case)
Camera
Camera Charger
Camera cord (to hook up to laptop)
Ipod
Ipod Charger
US Cell phone (fully charged but off for return)
Head Phones

Accessories
Sun Glasses
Healthy Bag
Pens
Fold-up Duffle
Jewelry (maybe)

Books
My Sister's Keeper
Blue Guide Paris
Paris Walks
Journal
Plan De Paris
Rounding the Mark (Camilleri)
The Patience of the Spider (Camilleri)

Hygeine
Tooth Brush
Shampoo
Cold Medicine (just in case)
Tooth Paste
Deoderant
Makeup (maybe)
Blister Blockers
Advil
Sleepy Time

And after packing (still need Sleepy Time and US Cell Phone but did manage to get my workout clothes in there too):

Kim's Luggage.
The boots, I'm wearing on the plane (I think).

Paris Hit List

Things to Do
Climb to the top of Notre Dame
The Abbey of St. Denis (Tombs of French Kings)
Hotel des Invalides - Napolean's Tomb (seeing a theme here), hmm maybe also the Museum of Liberation too.
The Views of Paris Bar Tour
Louvre - Dutch Painters
Sacre Couer
Pantheon - Frescoes of Sainte Genevieve and Foucault's Pendulum
Musee de l'erotisme
Instit du Monde Arabe
Deportation Memorial
Holocaust Memorial
Walk around Isle de Cite
Walk around Isle Saint Louis
Markets, markets and more markets
Sip some decent wine
Watch People
Sun Dial - Place de la Concorde
Opera House - Chagall Windows
Notre Dame at Night - heck Paris at Night!
Les Halles
Picasso Museum

Food I Want to Eat/Try
Those pork things Shannon keeps talking about
Falafel
Crepes (nutella and ham and cheese)
Macaron (and possibly the Macaron comparison tour)
Oysters
Moule (Mussels baby)
Bertillon's
Steak Frites
pain aux chocolat
croissants aux amandes

Things to Buy
Mustard
Bike shirt for Chris
Chocolate Eggs for Sammi
Something funky/cool for Becky (hopefully Shannon and Colleen can help)
Chocolates for Mom and Stephanie
Magellan Gin for Chris (at airport only)
Gifts for Katlyn and Lindsey
Calandre by Paco Rabanne for Maureen

The Great Macaron Taste Test

There was some discussion a while back about which place made the best Macaron. If we have some time this week, I thought it would be fun to visit as many of them as we can and do a comparison - you know if the name of research.

Gérard Mulot
76 Rue de Seine, 6th
Tel: 33-1-46-33-49-27

Pierre Herme
72, rue Bonaparte
75006 PARIS
Tel : +33 (1) 43 54 47 77
Ouvert du lundi au dimanche de 10 heures à 19 heures
Le samedi jusqu’à 19h30

Fauchon
24-26 place de la Madeleine, Paris 8ème
Tél : 01.70.39.38.00
8:00am - 9pm Monday - Saturday

Jean-Paul Hevin
231, rue Saint-Honoré - Paris 1er
from Monday to Saturday from 10am to 7:30pm
Closed : Sunday and holidays

23 bis, avenue de la Motte Picquet - Paris 7ème
from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 7:30pm
Closed : Sunday and Monday

3, rue Vavin - Paris 6ème
Opening hours : from Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 7.00 pm
Closed : Sunday, monday and holidays

Hévin2 - 16, avenue de la Motte Picquet - Paris 7ème
Opening hours : from Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 7pm
Closed : Sunday and Monday
Closed annually : from July 2 to September 4, 2006, opening Tuesday September 5.

Stand Hévin - Printemps Haussmann - 64, boulevard Haussmann - Paris 9ème
Opening hours : from Mondayday to Saturday from 9H35 am to 7 pm
Nocturne : late-night opening : thursday to 10 pm
Closed : Sunday and holidays

Laduree
Ladurée Royale
16, rue Royale - 75008 Paris
Tél : 01 42 60 21 79 - Fax : 01 49 27 01 95
Open Monday to Saturday, 8.30am to 7pm & Sunday, 10am to 7pm

Ladurée Champs Elysées
75, avenue des Champs Elysées - 75008 Paris
Tel : 01.40.75.08.75 - Fax : 01.40.75.06.75

The Restaurant is open daily from 7.30am to 12.30am - The shop is open daily from 7.30am to 11pm except on Saturday 8.30am to midnight and on Sunday 8.30am to 10.00pm

Ladurée Printemps
62, boulevard Haussmann - 75009 Paris
Tel : 01.42.82.40.10 - Fax : 01.42.82.62.00

Open daily except Sunday, 9.35am to 7pm, with late opening on Thursdays until 10pm

La Maison du Chocolat

- 225 rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré: Monday to Saturday from 10.30am to 7pm - Sunday from 10am to 1pm
BE CAREFUL: Due to the refurbishment of this boutique, it is closed until the end of semptember 2007

- 52 rue François 1er : Monday to Saturday from 10am to 7.30pm

- 8 boulevard de la Madeleine : Monday to Saturday from 10am to 8.00pm

- 19 rue de Sèvres: Monday to Saturday from 9.30am to 8.00pm - Sunday from 10am to 2pm

- 120 avenue Victor Hugo: Monday to Saturday from 10am to 7.30pm - Sunday from 10am to 1pm

- Printemps Haussman (2nd floor of the Printemps de la Maison) :
Monday to Saturday from 9.35am to 7pm (until 10 pm on Thursday)

- Carrousel du Louvre : Monday to Sunday from 10am to 8 pm

August 30, 2007

Cappucino Tuna Caper

Minor language barrier this morning. Shannon, the first to arrive, went to the Quais des Seine in Terminal 2F (our designated meeting area) and ordered a cappucino. What she got was tuna salad. How does that happen?

August 31, 2007

A Rest Stop

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Drinks at the Tuilleries

We had some expensive but crappy table wine while enjoying the ambiance of the Tuilleries after a forced march that Colleen put us on yesterday - how many miles did we go? If our friend, David, was with us, we would have probably been able to order a better wine. He's very knowledgable about wines.

The Center of the Universe

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The Girls in the Center of Paris

Is there some religious significnace to standing on this spot? People seemed to do it, and hang there like they were praying to Notre Dame - totally didn't get that. Maybe, our friend, David, can explain it to us.

September 1, 2007

Three Arches

Yesterday we went from Arch

Arch de Triomphe
View of Arch de Triomphe from La Defense

To arch

Grand Arche
Grand Arche de la Defense from the Arche de Triomphe


Continue reading "Three Arches" »

Oh and Lest You Think ...

Napolean's Tomb
Napolean's Tomb

... that all we're doing is eating and drinking, in addition to climbing the 300+ steps to the top of the Arch de Triomphe (we didn't go to the top of the Grande Arch because they wanted 8€ for the privaledge and wouldn't even credit it to our drink order - there's a bar at the top), yesterday morning we visited Invalides.

Continue reading "Oh and Lest You Think ..." »

Don't You Wish You Were Here

Snack
Our Evening Snack

September 2, 2007

A Seething Mass of Humanity

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The Subway Station at Porte de Clignancourt

We went up to the flea market at Porte de Clignacourt and such a seething mass of humanity I have never seen. Once you get through the typical junky fare, the tourista stuff and the clothing, you do hit some cool albeit expensive antique shops. Though we did find some cool, inexpensive costume jewelry at one store in that area and had to buy one, well, maybe two bracelets.

Word of warning, buy your metro tickets before you reach Clignancourt.

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Skip the Tourist Place with the Woman Singing to an Accordian

Instead if you can find it, there's this cool little Italian place on Rue Rosiers, where they have decent but pricey (in the teens) pizza, good table wine and some nice salads and pasta.

Colleen and Kim
Colleen and Kim, first drink of the day, no really

Continue reading "Skip the Tourist Place with the Woman Singing to an Accordian" »

The End of Civilization as We Know It

the_end.jpg
Fauchon Paper Cup

Well, at least judging by some. Today we were served Noisette (I think that's what the French call a machiato) in paper cups at Fauchon. What is this world coming to?

We Lost Our Heads in Paris

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The Mod Squad at Concorde

We think this is where Marie Antionette bit it, but none of us read French, so we can't be sure.

September 4, 2007

Walking in Paris

Blooms
Blooms in the Garden

Paris is a walking city - truer words probably haven't been spoken and yesterday we proved it. To the point, that by the end of the day (after 9:00 pm at this point), Colleen, called, "Uncle" and we hopped on the nearest metro (the 7 to the 10) to head home. We had gotten a late start but man did we cover some ground in our 10 hours out.

After snacking on some pain au chocolate (I made an early morning pastry run), and some coffee we hit the road for the Luxemborg Gardens. Just so you know, my grand ideas of getting up and walking early never panned out; I've been sleeping until 7:30 or so and it didn't make sense.

So, in a bit of drizzle, we headed off to the gardens but before making it in, we realized we needed a bit of sustenance first and popped into Dalloyau Pons on 2 Place Edmond Rostand where Colleen picked up some mini quiches, little puff-pastry wrapped sausage and these prunes wrapped in caramelized bacon, while I added to the ever growing macaron collection.

Those things didn't suck.

Continue reading "Walking in Paris" »

November 1, 2007

Here's the Plan

In NJ, we have this thing called Teacher's Convention. It's a basically a boondoggle for teachers where they get together in Atlantic City each year. The thing about this convention though, is that it isn't during the summer when teachers and therefore pupils are off from school. It's in November. And it's not on the weekend; it's on a Thursday, Friday, and I think part of Saturday. So once you get past the whole inaneness of the scheduling of this "convention," you realize it's a pretty good time to take your kids on a trip somewhere - off season, and the only other people you may run into are fellow "Jerseyians" or is that "Jerseyites?"

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November 2, 2007

Change of Plans

Well, that didn't take long - set the plan yesterday morning and by yesterday afternoon, it changes. Such is life.

So here's what happened. Yesterday Representative Rush Holt's office called me. That's who I contacted about arranging a White House tour. They wanted to get my travel information to see if they could set up something for us. I explained to the nice aide, that my husband was able to arrange a tour of the West Wing on Saturday (again, long story, short) to which he replied, "Well you can't be that."

But then he asked, "So do you have any interest in touring the Capitol while you're here?" Turns out they're setting up some tours on Friday and he could get us on the 3:00 tour (maximum 15 people). I said, "Sure!"

So now it will be zoo in the morning, then head over to the Capitol in the afternoon for the tour. Still not sure when we'll squeeze in the National Archives but we'll do it. Three days just isn't long enough!

November 9, 2007

Homewood Suites

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Chris and Sammi lounging on the couch/bed

I'm sitting in our room at the Homewood Suites on Massachusetts Avenue. I opted for this hotel because of the good rate ($169), the kitchen and the fact that it's two rooms. I like two rooms when traveling with the girls because it gives us the opportunity to spread out. I like the idea of the kitchen because it gives us the option of meals (at least breakfast in the room).

As it turns out though, breakfast in the room is not necessary as the hotel offers a full breakfast in the lobby seven mornings a week. On weekdays from 7am until 9am and on weekends until 10am. The breakfast buffet includes, eggs, bacon/sausage, biscuits, toast, bagels, donuts, muffins, hot and cold cereal, yogurt and fruit along with coffee, tea, juice and water. Seating didn't seem to be a problem as the tables turned pretty quickly, filled with families taking advantage of the offerings.

Four nights a week (Monday - Thursday), the hotel also offers a "light meal" for dinner from 5pm until 7pm. It's one offering and according to the schedule in our room, they have things like deli subs, grilled chicken, tacos, hot dogs, and more. They do not appear to repeat during the entire month. We opted to skip these offerings on our Thursday night stay, and instead, walked over to the Whole Foods Market on P street (about a 5 minute walk), and picked up sushi (for Becky), pasta (for Sammi), and soup and salad for Chris and I. Along with some beer, snack foods, fruit, and various cookies for dessert, we had a little picnic in our room once Chris arrived (after 8:30). Oh I should also mention that during the light meal, the hotel also offers small cans of soda (sprite, coke, diet coke and ginger ale) in addition to wine and beer.

Oh and let me mention, our "kitchen" consists of a wall with a dishwasher, sink, microwave, full size refrigerator and two-burner stove. There are a basic amount (four) of plates, glasses, bowls, utensils etc. No wine bottle opener, no beer bottle opener that we found and some glass bowls and a couple of metal pots for reheating. We were able to get a wine bottle opener from the front desk.

In the same room as the kitchen is a TV, two-person couch, and chair with ottoman, in addition to a little "bar" at which sits my laptop (because it's where the free hard-wire Internet access is), that has two seats. Our bedroom (separate room), consists of two full-sized beds, sink, shower/tub and toilet room. There are five drawers, and one closet in the suite.

Chris and I ended up sleeping on the couch, which folds out into a bed, so that each girl could have their own bed. We found it satisfactory - not as comfortable as the beds but not horrible. The girls found the beds to be extremely comfortable (also note, the bedroom has its own TV).

It took us about 15-20 minutes (maybe more because we stopped at Au Bon Pain along the way) to reach the Washington Monument on foot - probably about 25 minutes to reach the National Archives, and the Smithsonian Air and Space would probably be another 10 minutes beyond the archives.

Unless something drastic happens in the next twenty four hours, I would definitely recommend this hotel.

November 10, 2007

Gordon Biersch

When we were in San Francisco some ten years ago, we stopped for lunch, or was it dinner, one day at Gordon Biersch and were introduced to their addicting garlic fries (which we later chowed down upon at a Giants' game). Not realizing they're a chain now, Chris grew quite excited when we walked past one of their restaurants on 9th street yesterday, on our way to the National Archives. No matter what else happened the rest of the morning, he made up his mind that we were having lunch there that afternoon.

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Sette Osteria

Last night we went for dinner at Sette Osteria, recommeded by Chiocciola on the Slow Travel Talk Forums. I was looking for an inexpensive place, near our hotel, where both the kids and adults could find something good to eat and this fit the bill just fine.

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The West Wing

More later, but I just wanted to throw these pictures up that I took with my cell phone from our West Wing Tour today.

Sammi and Becky Rose Garden
Sammi and Becky in the Rose Garden
.

We have a bunch of other shots on the cameras but forgot to bring a cord with us to upload to the PCs.

Sammi Press Room
Sammi in the Press Room

Hope they come out okay. The West Wing is much more compact than I would have guessed and not nearly as busy as depicted in the movies and on TV (of course the President wasn't there today, so that might have something to do with it).

Oh, and the eagle's head always points to the olive branches now - since we're always striving for peace.

More later.

January 13, 2008

We Won!

Had to start a new category for this. After all we're going to Paso Robles in a few weeks (need to put some more info up about that), but also because we won! Yep, last night the sisterhood of our synagogue sponsored Passover Poker. Yes, I know, it's not Passover but the game really isn't Poker either. It's just last year when we had the event, we did have it during Passover, and we liked the alliteration (okay, we couldn't come up with a better tag line), so we kept it. Actually, here's the slide we used for information in the synagogue lobby (I created it).

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Anyway, as part of the event, we also had a silent auction and a tricky tray. One of the silent auction items was for a weekend stay (two nights), including breakfast and two spa treatments (or two rounds of golf but we don't play, so massages for us), at The New Rancho Las Palmas.

And our bid won! Not a steal, but definitely not the advertised value and heck, the proceeds go to charity, win, win!

Rancho Las Palmas

So now we need to figure out when we can go. Chris wants to go soon, like March because he has carry-over vacation he needs to use up by March 31st. I was thinking October, since we'll be in Paso Robles in February and Savannah in April but heck, twist my arm, not, and I'm up for March as well. Time to call Mom for some begging and pleading!

January 17, 2008

Airfare Booked!

Well, it's done. We booked our airfare for Palm Springs yesterday. There's something so exciting about taking that step, that commitment. We're leaving on March 19 flying into LAX on a 6:45 am flight. We originally had wanted to fly into Orange County but it was a later flight and about $40 more expensive, so we opted for LAX. We return on Saturday March 22 on a 3:45 flight. Now I need to find out if there's any hiking in the area as Chris really wants to do that. Me, I'm up for sitting by a pool, reading some good books.

Also on the California travel front, we booked our rental car for our Paso Robles weekend - $35 a day for a Ford Taurus or equivalent, not too bad. I had started looking into booking a car for Palm Springs and out of curiosity looked at the convertibles, but they wanted $95 a day - way too much considering I can drive one at home for free.

January 18, 2008

Hiking in Palm Springs

Thanks to Jerry's suggestion here, I contacted Kaydee who mentioned that she went hiking with Terry in the Slow Travel Talk forums here. Follow that? Anyway, Kaydee sent me the link to Palm Springs Aerial Tramways (click on Things to Do for hiking information), which looks really cool. Lots of trails to choose from so now we need to remember to bring some warmer clothing. Very excited. Of course, Chris is already planning a morning hike followed by lunch in one of the restaurants up there.

Cannot wait.

January 31, 2008

Paso - To Dos and Packing

Yes, it's freak out time - time that I realize, I'm leaving in less than 24 hours and need to get ready for this trip. I have the added wrinkle that Chris's Dad, George, is watching the girls on this trip. It's not like when my Mom watches them. I can't leave with laundry that needs to get done, knowing she'll do it. I can't leave without food in the house, knowing she'll buy it. I can't leave without making sure every single detail is written down because she'll figure it out. George has a good heart but he's fairly clueless so every detail must be handled ahead of time, otherwise there will be endless phone calls explaining everything over and over and over again, probably at 5:00am because he'll forget there's a three-hour time difference.

These lists will updated as the day goes along

So here's the to dos.

  • write-up girls' schedule for George
  • cook baked ziti
  • take chili out of freezer - leaving for Becky on Saturday
  • food shop
  • finish laundry
  • pack
  • straighten up house
  • put towels in guest bathroom
  • get cash (still owe Shannon $50)
  • print directions to Albertson's
  • print directions to house
  • put cell phone numbers into cell phone, Shannon's Marian's and Gloria's
  • Gym - get cards signed
  • Gym - directions to gym in next town
  • Feed birds
  • Refill Fala's food
  • Call Rena - carpools for Sunday
  • Haircut
  • WW
  • Work
  • Pump iron - I'd really like to slam some faces but this will have to do
  • Farm pickup - or see if Lisa wants this week CSA share
  • recycles

And here comes packing...

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February 1, 2008

Paso - Itinerary

So this is the second year for the Paso Robles Slow Bowl. Unfortunately, Chris and I missed out last year but when we heard about the great time had by all, we knew we had to go this year. Shannon has worked out an incredible itinerary for us, check it out:

Friday: Gathering at the house - mac and cheese cook-off

I think everyone is scheduled to arrive around 6:00 for a mac and cheese cook-off (I'm making a vat of chili in case anyone wants some chili-mac - plus it's a little easier on the WW points than the mac and cheese). I imagine there will be much chilling, and socializing throughout the evening.

Saturday

10:30 coffee and pastries at the cottage
11:30 Trolley Pickup at the cottage
11:45 Trolley Pickup at the Melody Ranch
12:00 – 1:00 Castoro Cellars (rumor has it they make a fantastic tempranillo)

Trolley riders – the trolley will drop you off and pick you up at all of the next three stops. Drivers - I will bring some maps for you.

1:30 – 1:50 arrival at Tablas Creek more wine tasting - yum.
2:30 – 2:50 pickup at Tablas Creek
3:30 Trolley drop off at the cottage

4:30 - 5:30 book swap at the Melody Ranch (I think we're going to pass on this and veg)

6:00 party at the cottage

Sunday

10:00 brunch at Artisan
1:00 Wine tasting at Justin Winery
3:00 - ? Super Bowl/Veranda sitting at the Paso Robles Inn for whoever is interested. The veranda is a fairly football free zone, while the bar just inside has all your big screens and yelling. I was going to hang in the football free zone but now that the Giants are in....

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Monday

Chris and I hit the road for the journey back to SFO and our flight home. Sounds pretty cool doesn't it?

February 12, 2008

The Soldiers that Came Marching Home

I don't know where in my life I heard empty beer and wine bottles referred to as dead soldiers but that's what we call them. And many a brave "soldier" gave its life for us at Paso, 24 on Friday night and plenty more than that on Saturday night (we lost count because we kept discovering them around the house, all day Sunday). But at this point, I'd like to note, the "soldiers" that came home with us.

soldiers.jpg

We started our tastings at Castoro Cellars on Saturday and I don't know if it was working out at the gym, or not eating enough breakfast, but halfway through that first round of tasting, I needed a break and my notes lost, remember very little. Yet, a package showed up yesterday, containing six bottles of Castoro wines, three Due Mila Sei 2004 and three Venti Quattro Anni. I'll trust to Chris's taste whether these were good or not because, unfortunately, I do not remember and can't find my notes.

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February 27, 2008

Australia Bound

No ... not me, though I wish. It's Becky! Can you believe that? My daughter is going to Australia before me. All at once I'm excited, jealous, nervous and a bit scared. I'm excited at the prospect of traveling so far (until of course I remember, I'm not going). I'm jealous - well because she is. But nervous and scared because I'm her mom and that's just a natural reaction to the thought of your fifteen year-old travelling half-way around the world without you.

She's heading overseas with People to People, which I had been vaguely aware of before she received her invitation letter. Now, I've come to realize it's a huge organization. I can't believe how many kids I know that went on one of their trips and I just didn't realize it.

The process goes, first you get your invitation letter. Then you attend a 60-minute informational meeting. Then you must apply. As part of that, you have to submit three letters of recommendation, two from teachers, one from someone else. Finally, you have an interview (which turned out to be a group interview - with 9 other kids), and then you're in. It sounds more involved than it actually was.

Once you're accepted you have between four and six meetings where the kids learn about each other and about the country (or countries) of their destination. These meetings last from two to three hours each. Last night we had our first one and parents were encouraged to stay (we're not required to stay for the second or third but must return for the fourth). We didn't do much other than organize into committees (food - three hour meetings - there must be food, bon voyage party, reunion party, and then some research committees). The research committees need to get information on cell phone rentals and purchase, Visa buxx cards, and hiring a bus to get the kids to the airport on departure day. I didn't sign up for any of those, choosing reunion instead - hey what can I say it sounded like more fun. Though I will do some research on my own using SlowTrav into the cell phone thing. We're still not sure if she's taking one or not.

Since Becky was in the first round of interviews, I (along with the other parents at that interview), got snagged into bringing snacks for last night's meeting. I thought I'd go with the theme.

australia_cookies.jpg

We served kangaroos, crocodiles and sheep. People got a kick out of them, but man they were a lot of work. Next time, maybe airplanes.

March 8, 2008

We Have a Departure Date

Stupid MT! I had this entire entry typed, went to publish, found an error and lost the entire entry. This is why you should always save as unpublished first - urgh!

Okay - finally Saturday night, after waiting, and waiting, Becky finally received her departure date. They were supposed to let us know 45 days after our initial meeting (back on January 13). They had indicated, it would probably be earlier. But 45 days came and went and nothing.

Parents called, and they'd promise a few more days, a few more days. Then this past week, after I spoke to someone on Monday and he promised Friday. Then I spoke to someone Friday and he promised Saturday, the date came through.

It irked me a bit because one, they had already hit my credit card with the first payment (which they shouldn't have done without a departure date). What if the dates didn't end up working for us? I should only be out my deposit (if that), not 1/3 the cost of the trip. Plus, they were holding us up planning our own summer vacation. As it is, one of our leaders (aka chaperons) had to back out because the departure date conflicts with family commitments she has during that period of time.

Anyway, cool thing, there's a count down clock on the website (days, hours, minutes). So Beck's out of here in 121 days! (July 8th to you and me).

So very exciting.

March 15, 2008

Weather Report - Palm Dessert

Yipee!

palm_desert.jpg

March 16, 2008

What to Do, What to Do?

So our plan for this brief respite, is to sleep, hike a little, sit by the pool and read, and some nice dinners out. That's it. We just want a quick recharge. But before that can happen, we first must get some things done at home.

  • As always - laundry!
  • Send in Becky's health form for her trip
  • pack
  • leave check for Anna
  • arrange carpool for Wednesday
  • arrange ride home from school for Becky Wednesday (worse case - she can take the late bus)
  • go over schedule with Mom (or lack there of)
  • clean house for Anna
  • trash cans to curb Tuesday night/or make sure Becky can handle them Wednesday - they're huge and I don't want George, with his bad back moving them
  • taxes!!!!! - forgot about these - everything's organized, so hopefully it won't be hard
  • make hamentashen
  • make sure extra sheets/towels are ready for Mom in guest room
  • pay bills
  • blog missing days - no need, bringing laptop.
  • call haircut appointments - girls
  • Mail package to Deborah
  • Mail Goldilocks contract.

Better get cracking.

March 21, 2008

The Bump and Grind

Okay - wipe your dirty minds. I'm not giving you details of that activity but instead tell you about the hike we did today, here in Rancho Mirage, called the Bump and Grind. At first, after I had slept late, we thought we'd bag it for another day of sitting by the pool but feeling like slugs, we changed out of our bathing suits, and hit the road (with a stop first at Starbucks for breakfast) before beginning our climb up some stark but beautiful hills.

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April 6, 2008

Savannah - Initial Thoughts

I’ve been meaning to blog about Savannah every day since we’ve been here but just haven’t had the time. Staying in the house with Shannon, Marcia, David (and Chris who joined us very late Friday night), there’s always someone to talk to, hang with (not to mention having the planners right around the corner), so writing gets pushed to the back burner. Plus, writing that Blue Screen of Death saga, took a lot out of me and I needed to recharge. Being here definitely gave me an opportunity to do that. Plus, this morning, after another late night (to bed after 1:00am), I’m the early riser, with everyone still sleeping, so the perfect time to start organizing my thoughts.

I have to admit, to be perfectly honest (as opposed to semi-honest?), that I wasn’t 100% looking forward to this trip. We’ve been taking so many of these short hops over the last two months, that I’m a bit frayed around the edges, and wanted to just plant at home for a while. But man, I’m glad I came.

First off, one never turns down the opportunity to hang with Shannon. Besides the fact, that she’s the ONLY person, I’ve ever vacationed with who gets the coffee going before me, she also does dishes (yes, that was me guiltily slinking off last night to bed while she washed our champagne glasses and other assorted items – I just couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. Guess I’m more of a morning cleaning person). Plus, she’s so laid back and mellow, you’d be hard-pressed to hang with her and not relax and have a good time.

Let’s talk about David for a moment too. He’s the hero of the trip. First he figured out how to get the a/c going downstairs (although cloudy much of the time we’ve been here, it has been warm and a bit muggy), then he figured out the a/c upstairs, and finally, got the hot water heater going enough so that we all had hot (as opposed to lukewarm) showers! Go David!

Marcia’s another mellow yellow. Just sit back, chat and drink some wine. Although, I think we wore her out a bit. Yes, Marcia, I saw you doing a bit of rubber-necking on the ghost tour last night. :D!

Now there’s everyone else – and I mean everyone. It’s a strange sensation, to arrive in a city which you’ve never been, start to unload your car, and run into not two, or three or even four people you know but a dozen! With the planning committee staying around the corner, and Jane, Ken and the famous Casey, across the square, we had met all our “neighbors” within the first 10 minutes of our arrival. Because of that, I immediately felt at home in this foreign city. (I remember living in St. Louis, it’s one of the things I hated, going out, and never running into anyone I knew – because I knew so few. I like this feeling, it makes me feel connected. My Mom and Dad seem to be able to run into people they know no matter where they are in the world; I think that’s cool).

Now, here I sit on the last morning of this whirlwind trip, as I hear the others stirring, and I want to organize all my thoughts and get them down, so I’ll always remember them. Luckily, I face the possibility of about 4.5 hours in the JAX airport (unless I get stand-by on the earlier flight), to do some serious writing. Hopefully I can find a place to plug-in.

June 4, 2008

Potential Bike Rides

When we head up to Vermont next month, we're hoping to do three or four bike rides over the course of the week. One we know we'll do is a repeat of the first ride from last summer's vacation, the Stowe City Ride. If you remember, this one killed me; it's where I realized they don't have hills in Vermont, they have mountains.

The other ride we definitely want to do is the one I chickened out on last year, the Ferry to Ferry ride.



ferry_to_ferry.jpg

Yes, it's got 2200 feet of climbs, with that one big hill, but heck, you do get the break of the ferry in there (twice), and there's something cool about riding in two different states.

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July 8, 2008

My Baby Has Flown the Coop

becky_departure_2.jpg
Waiting to Board the Bus

becky_departure_1.jpg
One More So You Can See the Luggage

July 9, 2008

1:30am Phone Chain

One of the things the chaperons on Becky's trip do is initiate a phone chain whenever they fly and touchdown in their destination. Yesterday, Becky left for LAX where she'll catch a connecting flight to Sydney. What does that mean? At 1:30am (flight was an hour late) my phone rang but it wasn't Allison, the chaperon, it was Becky! It seems Natalia let Becky use her phone. Beck didn't know if she should call because she didn't know if it would make her feel bad. She felt better but I felt a bit sad after talking to her. Though, still good to hear her voice (even at that crazy hour) and know she's okay. Five minutes later, my cell phone rang (that's my designated reach number), and it was Allison telling me everyone was good, the flight was a bit delayed and to initiate the phone chain.

It looks like her flight to Sydney may have departed late, so I should get another phone chain call in about 11 hours.

July 10, 2008

Vermont Itinerary - Sort of

Stowe Pinnacle View
Stowe Pinnacle View

With all the commotion over Becky's departure, I totally haven't focused on my own departure Saturday to Vermont! Chris has really stepped up and done a bunch of planning (in regards to hikes and bike rides) for this trip, and having this as our second time to the area, makes it easier too because we know what to expect (and where we want to eat out).

We're doing a couple of things different this year. One, since we're not going while the girls are at encampment, we can leave on Saturday morning and take advantage of the Stowe Farmer's market on Sunday to stock the cabin. Two, since we don't have to leave in the afternoon, and can hit the road early, we're going to make some stops along the way. Three, we're extending our visit by one day going Saturday - to Sunday as opposed to Saturday to Saturday.

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July 11, 2008

Stowe Weather

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Packing List

Back at it - lots to do today and I'm in pre-trip panic. At least I get to copy last year's packing list and tweak it.

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July 13, 2008

Hiking, Biking and Bears - Not Really

So what do you do when you wake up at 5:00 in the morning and your husband is snoring cheerfully beside you? Get out of bed, turn on the computer and see if your daughter has updated her blog from Australia.

She hadn’t and after taking care of some things (like checking the weather forecast, it was supposed to be miserable), I decided to go for a bike ride. Nothing too complicated, but I really wanted to go down the road our house was on to see where all those cars were going to and from the night before.

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July 14, 2008

A Fledgling Disaster - Not!

Some of you may remember this entry from our last trip to Vermont, I'll Take a Century any Day. It describes the first ride we did in Vermont. Well, this year, we decided to do it again - sort of a gauge to see how are training was going. And I have to say, it's going well!

The long and the short of it - I had to get off my bike twice on Ferry, once to rest on the steep uphill (but I never walked) and once to answer my cell phone, as it was the phone call from Becky's chaperon, telling me they had landed safely in Darwin and I needed to call the next parent in the phone chain. Panting, I listened and then dialed. But after that, I didn't stop on any of the hills! Not on those two hills on Stagecoach and not going up Stowe Hollow road either! Slow and steady but I did them!!

Now for the almost Fledgling disaster ... while we were on Randolph Road, we saw a fledgling in the middle of the road who couldn't fly. We could hear the parents above us going bonkers as we approached (experienced from our time with the Robins earlier in the spring, told us that this little gal must have leapt from the nest a day or two early.

We couldn't just leave her there and Chris got off his bike trying to figure out a way to pick her up (without touching her - though Becky later said that we could have touched her, it would have been okay). The mother swooped down near us but knew she was no match for Chris. As he came back to his bike though, thinking he could use his route holder to scoop her up, the fledgling managed to hop from the middle of the road into the grass under her tree where her parents waited. Phrew.

I love how Chris rescues animals we see in distress on our bike rides (I told you about that turtle last year, right?).

Anyway, after the ride, we hit pie in the sky, did a bunch of shopping, and headed down to Waterbury for another Brew pub but more on that stuff in another entry.

Fine Wine Cellars

I've mentioned this store before but I just want to give a little shout out to these guys. One of the things we looked forward to on this trip, was stopping by this store and getting wine? Why? Not because it's a cool looking store (it's literally in someone's basement, crammed floor to ceiling with racks and crates of wine), not because of the great prices (though I think these guys are really good and snooping out close outs and deals on unknowns if you're open to trying new things) but because they're just some really cool guys to talk to that know their wine and with a little information as to what you're looking for can make some great suggestions, at least we think.

Last year they turned us on to a Merlot we actually liked (the Kiona from 1998) and we're not typically Merlot drinkers. They also gave us some O'Reilly's Pinot Noir that we enjoyed and now we have three Burgundies in our cellar waiting for us to open that they recommended.

This year, we went in on Monday, looking for something from the Rhone region, a white to go with a spicy lobster dish, and something fun to sip whilst sitting outside in the summer sun.

We came home with a Patrick Lesec 2005 Gigondas (we'll give this a go tonight), a Charles Koehly Riesling (for the Lobster), Weingut Michlits a mildly fizzante rose from pinot noir grapes out of Austria (I'm sipping it now as I type and it's very refreshing for a summer drink - not too fizzy, not too sweet), and lastly a Kiona Cabernet that we'll try (and perhaps compare to the Merlot when we're home).

Oh and the last reason, they deserve a shout out, they told us the Gigondas isn't really ready to drink yet, but they wanted us to try it. So they sent us home with a Riedel decanter, told us to let it sit for an hour and then drink it and to just bring the decanter back later in the week. I love that type of service!

Here's their contact info if you're interested: Fine Wine Cellars

July 15, 2008

Biker Kills Husband on Highlands Road

It came pretty darn close to that on our ride yesterday. Humbled again and forced off the bike. Though Chris likes to say, it's because we did two hard rides, two days in a row, so we were tired. Whatev, as Sammi says. All I know is they have flipping mountains over in NY State too.

Other than those six miles on Highland Road, the ride was pretty cool and pretty fun. I'll have more updates, and pictures to come (as soon as Chris gets our stuff out of the car). We were so tired when we got home, we picked up a pizza, took the bikes of the car, left everything else, opened more beer and ate and went to bed.

Oh, and keep checking for random updates because I'm going to post date them as I do them now (so remember to page down and check for dates), but for now, I need to get going b/c I'm freezing here and getting hungry (supposed to get hot later though - back in to the 80s with 90s tomorrow and no a/c - yikes)!

An Epiphany

Yesterday, after our bike ride, we continued our trek through the Breweries of Vermont, on our quest to get 10 stamps on our passports and obtain the coveted Vermont Breweries t-shirt for free. So after we returned from our ride, changed out of our grubby biking clothes (and freshened up with some baby wipes in a local bathroom), we walked into the town of Burlington (yes, I know it's a city - but hey - the population of Burlington matches my home town, so I find it hard to call it a city). Up a hill and a few blocks and we stopped first at Three Needs on 207 College Street.

Now I have to say, I think if my friend Shannon drank beer, this is the type of place in which Shannon would hang. We arrived about five minutes after opening (at 4:00pm), and the place was already hopping (by the time we left 20 minutes later, almost all the tables and bar stools were filled and there was a line six deep for the pool table). The place had a definite funky vibe with the friendliest and perkiest bar maid I've yet to meet.

And it was she that provided me with my epiphany. Beer brewed with coffee - yep you read that right, coffee! First she offered us tastes and I had to go for the pint. And boy did that go down well. Chris had the IPA and enjoyed that too. Two more great things about the place, one, with that coffee beer, I didn't get my usual sleepiness during the rest of our stops (more to follow on that) and when the bar maid found out we had just ridden 43 miles on our bikes, she comped us!!! Can't go wrong with that.

Double Ferry Ride

Last year when we came to Vermont, Chris and I scoured www.bikely.com, looking for potential bike rides. We came across the GMBC Double Ferry ride



And we thought that would be fun. But then I got a look at the hills on that route, and decided against it. But this year we opted to do it, and although, a biker almost killed her husband on Highlands Road, I'm here to tell you we both survived and saw some incredible scenery along the way.

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Burlington Brewery Tour

As I've mentioned several times already, we're trying to get 10 brewery visits on our Brewer's Association passports, so we can get a free t-shirt on Saturday at the Vermont Brewer's festival. We had five so far (after realizing we missed a chance at one in Norwich, near King Arthur's Flour), but Burlington afforded us the chance to hit five more in a single afternoon!

So, after changing from our bike ride, we climbed up College Street and hit Three Needs, after enjoying an IPA (Chris) and a Coffee-Porter of some sort (me), we headed back down College Street to visit the Vermont Pub and Brewery where I had their red ale (can't remember what Chris had) and we enjoyed some sustenance (aka nachos).


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Notice the biker tan line on my leg!

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July 16, 2008

Nebraska Notch

We had a hard time getting our act together this morning but finally ended up at The Bagel for breakfast (a NJ for Chris and a NY for me), then decided to hike up to Nebraska Notch.

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Trout Lake (which is Private) - From the Trail

We used the book Day Hikes in Vermont for this one, and I have to say, I'm not thrilled with this book. I just find the information in it sketchy and/or inaccurate. A couple of examples from this hike:

1. It tells you to drive to the parking lot by the Trout Club. What it doesn't tell you, is as you're going along the road you'll see a sign in front of you that says Private Property Trout Club and another that points to public long term parking on your right (in an open field just to the left after you make the right). Well, don't park there. That's for people hiking the long trail (i.e., gone over night). Yes, there's a trailhead there (but no sign-in sheet) and you can follow a trail that goes through the woods (which we did), but it goes through the woods at the edge, about five feet from the road and I felt totally silly walking along there as two woman, walking on the road, passed us.

Instead, stay straight on the road until you actually see the Trout Club, which is private property, straight ahead. There will be a lot to your right and the trailhead with the sign in sheet.

2. The other piece of missing information, they don't often tell you what color blaze sign to look for. Given many of these trails are marked for snow shoeing, hiking, cross country skiing, with different blazes, it would be helpful to know the color. By the way, for Nebraska Notch, use the blue signs.

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July 17, 2008

Why I Ride/Hike

Brad commented a few days ago that our trip with all the hard rides, and sliding down mountains doesn't sound like much of vacation and he wondered why I do it. There are a few reasons, but first let me start off with a bit of an analogy.

For me, hiking and/or biking is sort of like giving birth. You're in pain , uncomfortable, maybe even fearful but eventually that ends and you forget those moments and are left (eventually) with the joy and elation. I feel the same when I hike or bike. There may be moments when I'm uncomfortable, or in pain or afraid, but eventually, I succeed, the other emotions, and sensations are gone, and I'm left with a sense of elation and pride and looking for my next hike or bike ride.

But as for reasons, well, first, for me, the more active I am, the more I can eat and drink without gaining weight - huge, huge reason.

The second, well it's to see things like this.

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Falls in the Woods towards Nebraska Notch

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View From Taylor Lodge atop Nebraska Notch

And that's just yesterday's hike. There are some things we've seen that a camera just couldn't even capture.

Now, all that said, as I sit here sipping on my morning coffee and chomping on a blueberry muffin, we're trying to figure out what we're doing this morning (we're going kayaking in the afternoon), and the idea of a lazy morning sounds very appealing. :)

July 18, 2008

Mount Mansfield

mount_mansfield.jpgOriginally, Chris wanted to do a complete hike of Mount Mansfield, up the Sunset Ridge Trail but that takes about five hours and is rated difficult and let's face it, I didn't think I was up to it. So as a compromise for Thursday morning, he suggested driving up the Toll Road (which takes you up to about 3850 feet and walking along the ridge-line to chin (Mount Mansfield's profile is like a man's face lying on his back, face-up, with the chin being the highest point at 4,393 feet. The ridge trail basically follows the Long Trail, marked by a series of White Blazes.

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August 15, 2008

On The Road Again

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Pantheon - Rome 2003

Yep, things are coming together for our fall trip to Italy! It's been 3.5 years since we've been and I'm looking forward to it.

First off, we booked our airfare last week. I had wanted to fly out on November 5th so we'd have two free nights before being joined by my bro and sil on Saturday, plus I wanted a longer vacation. But crazy airlines, flying out on Wednesday was producing fairs of $1300 while leaving on Thursday was producing fairs of $700. Yes, I could have gotten cheaper routings on Thursday on airlines other than Continental (but it was Alitalia, and I'm done with them for now), or if I had flown through multiple destinations (one stop I could handle but given the choice between a 45 minute layover at CDG - impossible - and a six hour layover at CDG - well, it was going to eat up the time we got for our earlier departure. Oh, on the return the 12 hour layover at CDG could have been fun - can you say trip into Paris but I didn't think we could foster the girls on to George that long). Anyway, last week there were rumors of fair drops (finally), so I popped on and sure enough, the flights I wanted on Continental had dropped from $1300 to $800 (still twice as much as I paid 5 years ago) but only $100 more than flying out the next day and worth it, so I snagged it.

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October 15, 2008

Itinerary - One Week in Montalcino - Background and Arrival

I'm putting together a high level packet of informatin for Andy and Katy, who will be joining us on our trip in November to Montalcino. So I figured I might as well copy the info here too in case anyone else can use some of the reference. I'll also have this in pdf format, so if anyone is interested in a copy, just let me know. Remember though, I'm just copying and pasting the stuff I'm sending it to them, so it's written as if they're my audience.

Let me start by saying that Andy really has no idea where we're staying so I started with that information. I think Katy's probably more on the ball, but she's just so excited to have a vacation where she can just show up, without any planning, I haven't felt like I needed to bore her with the details.

Where We’re Staying
We’ve rented a house outside of Montalcino in Tuscany.


View Larger Map

Montalcino is about 2.5 hours northwest of Rome and about 1.8 hours southeast of Florence. It’s a walled, hilltop town known for its production of Brunello di Montalcino wine in the surrounding areas.

We’ve rented the house through Italian Journeys via Isabella and Luigi Dusi, an Australian couple that relocated to Montalcino several years ago. The house though actually sits just outside the walls of Montalcino on the property of Enzo Tiezzi’s winery.

By the way, Chris and I drove up to Stirling NJ on Friday night, to visit Stirling Fine Wines and buy some Tiezzi wines. We got a bottle of the Rosso di Montalcino and the Brunello and enjoyed the Rosso later that evening with dinner.

If you’re interested, you can read more about Montalcino through these links:

.

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October 17, 2008

Itinerary - One Week in Montalcino - Sunday Nov 9

San Giovanni D’Asso

This small town is about twenty five minutes from Montalcino. We passed by it on our way from Castelmuzio to Siena during our 2003 trip. They’re known for a Tuscan white truffle (the town has more truffle hunters per capita than any other place in Italy). On Nov 8 and 9 and Nov 15 and 16, the town celebrates their White Truffle Festival. You can check out Paradox Place, for some pictures of the 2002 and 2007 festival.

We could start this day with a walk in the area of San Giovanni d’Asso. We have two choices, both from the Sunflower Guide for Tuscany.

San Giovanni – Monterongriffiolo – San Giovanni (5km/3miles/1.5 hours)

Or

San Giovanni – San Marcellino – San Giovanni (7km/4 miles/2 hours)

If we don’t feel like walking, this might be a good morning to visit Monte Oliveto Maggiore famous for its circuit of Il Sodoma frescoes as well as their shop, selling soaps, honey and wine for example, manned by the monks who still live at the monastery.

Afterwards, we can explore the White Truffle Festival and then, I’d suggest a 1:00pm lunch reservation at Ristorante del Castello. If you look at the 2007 pages on the website above, you can get an idea on the type of lunch served at the Ristorante during the truffle festival. Another alternative, we could just wing it – I do not know if there will be food booths or not at the festa.

I would say we should play dinner by ear, especially if we have that large lunch at the Castello. My suggestion, picky foods (e.g., sausage, cheese, olives), or eggs or something easy at the house in front of a fire with plenty of wine.

November 5, 2008

10-Day Forecast

I know that the forecasters are drastically bad at predicting the weather but I hope this forecast is right. The first two days in Rome, we don't care if we get rain but look how gorgeous it's supposed to be in Siena next week (1 hour north of Montalcino).

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November 6, 2008

We Have Arrived

Just waiting to check in. There is Internet in the lobby!

November 7, 2008

Rome Day 1

On lobby computer and do not know when, or if, they will kick me off. So highlights and remember, different keyboard so forgive any typos.

Flight - uneventful. I slept from dinner until breakfast (thank you Simply Sleep). Chris did not.

Got to hotel about 930 but room not ready. Headed over to Piazza della Rotunda for our first cappucini and cornetti con crema. Paid 12e but sat on the piazza. Chris got fidgety so we headed to pantheon. still cool. Then to see if our favorite wine bar, Nicks, was still there. It is not. Then got some charms for Sammi and Becky (which it turns out they may already own). Then to AS Roma store and then to the Ara Pacis. Both a bit bleery-eyed by then and we did not stay too long - wonder what we missed.

Headed to pasquales for lunch ... mmm... then our first gelato (I think grom in nyc was better) back to hotel. Chris fell asleep mistakenly, for about 15 minutes, then we hit the road again, up to the Borghese for our 3 oclock reserveration. Got lost in park but eventually found map at zoo and made it to museum at 2:50 to get our tickets and get in. Such a great museum - love Berninis David, Chris loved the Rape of Persephone (had to tell him the story behind it).

Later, found a new wine bar to hang, also enjoyed a drink (actually a water for me) on the Cesaris roof-top deck. Very nice.

Then off to dinner, where we got ripped off by cab (more later) but enjoyed another good meal at Checchino dal 1887 (I think that is the year). Got another Buon Riccordo plate - yeah.

Returned back to piazza della rotunda, had one more gelato - pistachi and bacio for me, fiore de latte for Chris - got it at Nice Ice near Hotel Pantheon. More expensive e3 each but darn good. Then returned to Cesari and collapsed into bed.

November 12, 2008

Day 4 – Dinner – L’Agnolo


In years past, one of our favorite restaurants to visit was Trattoria Sciame. We stumbled upon it during our 2003 trip and returned a couple of times during our 2005 trip. Since then though, it has changed names, now going by L’Agnolo. There’s a salumeria just down the street from the restaurant with the same name. I’m not sure if they changed owners, or just passed it on to the next generation, because we saw the original owner (from 2003, 2005), in the salumeria and again, later in the evening at the restaurant. Anyway, we popped in here on the early side – about 7:40 for dinner. (Oh that reminds me, we asked Isabella what would be an appropriate time to have dinner out in Montalcino this time of year, and she said 8:00 – later in the summer).

We started with an order of aciughe con pesto (anchovies in a sauce of garlic, oil, and parsley) which were amazing – these also had some crushed red pepper for a little kick – real good.

Then, we each started with a primi followed by a secondi – for me, a vegetable and bean soup, for the other three – tagliattele with a truffle mushroom sauce that they all loved – the portions were huge – much bigger than we expected and filling. Yet, we all had secondi coming too. For Chris and I, wild boar stew with polenta (we could have shared a single order), for Katy, roast chicken and for Andrew, a fillet with a mushroom sauce – his steak was cooked perfectly but he wasn’t expecting the “gravy” and said because of that, he wouldn’t order it again. The rest of us were all satisfied. We also made the mistake of ordering some fries, which we had remembered as being fantastic in previous years, but were now just fries. Washed this down with some vino della casa (think we had enough brunello today), some aqua fizzante, and three limoncelos (Katy passed), and I believe the bill came to about 110euro. As always, good, basic food, in a simple restaurant, nothing fancy. I’d return, but I wouldn’t order as much.

Day 4 – Cocktails

After we returned to Montalcino, we walked over to the café next to the restaurant Porto al Cassero (think that’s the name), and decided to share a bottle of wine and some snacks. It took Chris a moment to communicate to them what we wanted, and at first the girl seemed a bit snippy as we struggled, but when they didn’t have the wine we originally wanted in the year we wanted (2001), Chris chose another, from a smaller producer, in 2001, she seemed to warm to us (who knows maybe she liked the producer we chose). Anyway, they brought our wine, and a plate of salami and cheese on which we snacked.

Eventually returned, and asked in Italian, if we would like to try some different Brunellos from some smaller producers from some different geographic zones around the area – of course we agreed! She brought a glass each of four different brunellos, all from 2003, and we passed them around, noting the differences. Then she returned again, asking if any of us spoke Italian, to which I replied a little. She spoke slowly and clearly to me, using their wine list as a guide, explaining about the smaller producers in the area, and how, because they are small, and aren’t exported to other countries, their wines are not as well known, nor marked up as much but still good wines. It was very interesting and I was glad I was able to understand her. Eventually though it was time to move on, and we thanked them for our education (they didn’t charge us for the tastings), knowing we’d be returning there.

Next, we did a bit of our own “passegiatta” but you all should know where our focus lies and it wasn’t long before we ended up at another wine store just off the piazza (Enotecca di Piazza I believe). Great selection and at least one of the sales girls spoke English, and after asking a few questions, she showed us where they had another location at which we could try 75 different wines from Tuscany.

We made our way over there, stopping at a ceramic store along the way where Andy tried to purchase a ceramic chandelier, thinking it was a bowl in which he could serve chips and dip. :D. We’re returning there though Wednesday, because they did have a wine canister I want.

The other location of the wine store, reminded me of Union Square wines. They have tons of different types, hooked up to machines. You get a card, and put it in the machine and press a button, selecting which wine you like, the card makes a tally, as each grouping of wine can have a different price. At the end, they know what to charge you based upon what is on your card.

Andy and Chris partook in the tasting but Katy and I just plopped on a couple of stools, taking sips of wines they thought particularly interesting. At the end, Andrew ended up buying a Brunello Reserva from 1997 (can’t remember the producer), and one from Pian Macina (I think), which are funky because they only make 2500 a year, don’t export, and each bottle is numbered (like a work of art). We may go back for more of these because it’s such an interesting concept.

San Giovanni d’Asso or Bust (well, really just a bust)

Chris had been hyped to go to this truffle festival ever since our 2003 trip when we missed it by a day. He loves truffles and it’s one of the reasons why he enjoys coming to Italy this time of year. So after finishing our tour, we hiked back up the hill to the top of the town, then back down the hill to our house, hopped in the car and decided to head over there late in the day. Isabella thought the activities would still be going on into the evening, so we thought we’d give it a go.

Navigating over there wasn’t too difficult, again, used the dot-to-dot method, and while we were worried about parking, it wasn’t bad. We didn’t park anywhere near the festa, but at the base of San Giovann’s hill, near the train station, along a side road.

Now the question was, how to get to the top of the hill. Chris approached an officer directing traffic and surprisingly to me, he spoke English, and told us there was a shuttle bus running from the circle to the town, cool. We headed over there and hopped on just as it arrived (turns out it went down, past our car, and to the train station for pick-ups along the way, so we didn’t have to walk to the circle, but who knew – at least that way, we had a seat).

It was all of a five minute journey (including the aforementioned stops) to the top, and he let us out in the middle of the town, as there was a “parade” going on in front of us, with flag tossers and music.

Now basically, at one end of the town is an exhibition tent where you can buy jewelry, cloth items, taste and buy olive oil and wine – basically an eclectic assortment. Just outside this tent was another “covered” area, where there were chafing dishes, and dishes with antipasti, crostini, and wine that you could also purchase, but no where did we see any truffles or smell any truffles, and honestly, while there were tons of people milling about, walking up and down the street, it felt as if we arrived too late for lunch and too early for dinner. There was someone selling these huge fried dough thingy’s (giant, giant zeppoles or donuts) but Chris of course, found the only other English speaking woman there and she had no idea what they were either when we asked.

After checking out that area, we walked through town which was maybe only a bit bigger than Castelmuzio (i.e., pretty small), but every shop was open, with their wares spilling out on to the street, oil, honey, cheese shops, house wares, a gelato place and a couple of small trattoria closing up from lunch. There was one little stand (outside a salumeria), selling porchetta, so we bought a sandwich that Chris and I shared (Andy thought it needed mustard). Finally, we found the association, and Chris popped in (actually we all took turns), where they were selling truffles, just truffles, and it seemed everyone was doing as we were, just popping in, seeing the prices (starting at 280 euro for a small one) and leaving. I wonder if anyone bought any?

Andrew ended up buying a soft pecorino con tartufo and that was it. Chris was disappointed that he didn’t see random food vendors selling pasta with truffles but I don’t think that’s how this works, and it wasn’t long before we decided to hit the road. Following the crowd a this point, we found a path and some stairs that dropped us pretty much at our car, without having to walk on the winding road down the hill. The old steam train was there, getting ready to leave it seemed.

As we were leaving, we noticed that it had gotten more crowded, with parking becoming a premium as people were arriving in a steady stream. Not sure if we just timed it bad or if we missed something, or if we just don’t get it, but while it seemed a bust to us, people were flocking to it.

Day 4 – Montalcino Tour

Originally, the plan for this day was to head to San Giovanni d’Asso for the white truffle festival. Then Chris decided he would like to see the Church of San Pietro in Pianello, home of the UFO painting. So before we left, I contacted Isabella Dusi, author of Vanilla Beans and Brodo as well as Bel Vino (by the way she’s working on a third book now), and asked if she still gave tours. She does, but requires a donation to the church to help pay for the restoration – no brainer. So we arranged to meet her at Fiaschaterria between 9:30 and 10:00, and then figured we’d head over to San Giovanni afterwards for lunch (but if you saw previous entry about complete loss of focus, you should know at this point, I forgot to make a lunch reservation, which ended up being a good thing).

Anyway, at about 9:25, we headed up our hill, into town, and then down the hill to the garden square, hang a right and into the Piazza del Popolo (we’re pretty familiar with this route now).

We noticed a small group (of four people), sitting in the corner, chatting, but since we expected Isabella to be on her own, didn’t expect one of those people to be her (of course one was). Anyway, we went outside and had some cornetto and cappuccino all around. Shortly later, a gentleman approached us after hearing us speak English, asked if we were waiting for Isabella, said his wife knew me and said that was Isabella inside, and they would be joining us on our tour today – no problem. Oh, and as I’ve now discovered on this trip, if someone says they “know me” it’s got to be from SlowTrav. His wife turned out to be Fur Kids Mom from the SlowTrav forums, www.slowtalk.com. They had moved to Pienza in August.

We finished our breakfast and took off. Now our tour did not just consist of Pianello or the church, but Isabella does a complete program in which she gives a fabulous introduction to life in Montalcino, a bit of its history, and describes the life as a member of one of the four quatiere in town. It really was a fabulous experience as we slowly walked around town, listening and asking questions. Eventually, we did find ourselves at San Pietro, and lucky for us at the exact right moment and here’s why. You see, there are three huge paintings in the church, who’s artist escapes me now, but when I get home, I’ll let you know. One of those paintings if famous for having a UFO in it. I kid you not. So you’re saying, okay a picture of a UFO – not so strange. A picture of a UFO in a Catholic church, maybe a bit more strange. But how about a picture of a UFO in a Catholic Church and this picture was painted in the early 1600s? How about that UFO looks remarkably liked Sputnick launched by the Russians in the 1950s? How about the fact that the UFO is being held by Jesus on one side and God on the other? I kid you not!

Now here’s why we were there at the most fortuitous time. Last week, they removed those three paintings from the walls in order to begin restoration. In a few more days, visitors will probably not get to see them but not only did we get to see them, we got to see them as they were lying on their sides, on the floor, up close and personal – I’ve never been so close to any type of artwork (well, that wasn’t hanging in my parents’ house), let alone one that has such mystery behind it – pretty cool. Oh, and another strange tidbit about this painting – there are five others, done by different artists, all around Italy, all painted within 20 years of each other and they all have some sort of UFO in them (not necessarily our Sputnick clone). Isabella swears there’s even one, that when you look closely, looks like it has a window and a little face inside of it – funky!

After we finished the tour, we stopped by Bar Alle Loge, for a glass of Carparzo 2003 Brunello and some snacks and a bit more discussion – it really was a great morning that led into afternoon, as we finally departed about 2:30pm. So it was a good thing I forgot to make lunch reservations for us at San Giovanni d’Asso because we would have left this tour early.

November 17, 2008

We're Home

Strange as it seems and feels, we're back. You know, it was weird, while we were in Italy, the world on this side of the ocean seemed like a dream (all be it, a bad one right now). And the world over there seemed real (like if I just stayed in Italy, nothing bad was happening or would happen). Now we're back, and it feels like Italy was all the dream already.

Anyway, flight home was easy peasy though long (watched three shows on Chris's computer, a CSI, a Closer and the pilot episode of Fringe, which by the way was real intense). Got through immigration (no problems), Customs (almost problem), and home (no problems). Went out for Mexican last night (yummy spicy food and margaritas), then to book club, and managed to sleep from about 9:45 until just about 5, then dozed to six.

Seeing the oncologist today at 11:00 but until then, I'm sifting through mails, catching up on e-mails, paying bills, laundry - you know the drill.

I'll be posting more stories and pictures during the week, so stay tuned!

November 18, 2008

Day 5 - Avignonesi

Well, there's nothing like some incredibly horrible news (not related to my health, don't worry), and jet lag to get you up at 3:00am. So I took Pauline's advice, and wrote up another entry to take my minds off things. I still need to upload my photos (and Chris's and Andrew's) from the cameras but will do that later today and may go back and pepper some of these posts with them. Anyway, here's part of Day 5 at Avignonesi.

After meeting Dorit and her friend, who had been staying in San Quirico, for breakfast at Bar Alle Logge (by the way, Dorit, you missed Chris by five minutes), we hit the road for Avignonesi. Now, I have to say, we left a bit late as two of our party, who shall remain nameless (A&K), slept in, just a bit – let’s call it delayed jet lag.

I actually arranged today’s activity through our SlowTrav Classified (#3311) which I no longer see listed (but I’ve contacted IB to see why it’s no longer there). Anyway, you can get the info off Avignonesi’s web site – Common Table. We headed out in the direction of Montepulciano, and me, not realizing how far out the Fattoria, Le Cappezzine is (it’s past Montepulciano Stazione and Valiano), we arrived about 15 minutes late. But no worries, the other couples (two other Americans staying near Siena), got lost in the “Black Hole of Siena” and arrived late too.

Shoot – see this is what happens when you don’t take notes, I do not remember our guide's name but she was a lovely young woman who speaks excellent English (well, her and the big white sheep dog from the Maremma that tagged along as well. Her name I remember, Bella).

We started first in the vineyards between the property and the main house, identifying two different methods for growing the vines, the more traditional and a newer method that allows the vines to grow almost like an individual bush. They produce less grapes this way, though more concentrated, but can have more vines within the same area, allowing for the same yield in production.

After the vineyards, we hit the wine cellars, saw the lovely oak caskets (yes, I now know the difference between Slovenian oak and French Oak - the big ones are Slovenian ; D – though this may also be the winery we visited that used American oak, yeah I think it is), then we saw the room where they dry the Vin Santo grapes. Avignonesi is a bit famous for its Vin Santo but we’ve never tried it (can you say expensive? It goes for over $100 for a 1/2 size bottle) and had hopes for a sip today, but no such luck. Anyway, after learning about the 10 year process it takes to make their Vin Santo, I guess I do get why the high price tag. That’s an awful lot of time and space invested in something that won’t pay off for ten years.

After our tour, we got down to the serious business, lunch. Let me just go on record, right here, right now, this was one of the best wine-meal experiences I’ve ever had, no let me correct that, probably the best.

We entered the small dining room, where two long tables were set for four each (our two groups toured together but after the antipasti, dined separate). At one end of the room, a fire roared, and there were some chairs gathered all around it. There we sat, enjoying a cool fruity sauvignon blanc (who knew an Italian winery made a sauvignon blanc – oh, and I really enjoyed it; it would be great in summer), while we munched on salami made from Cinta Sinese pigs, Pecorino cheese from Pienza, some of the best foccacia ever (a nice change from the saltless Tuscan breast), and a bruschetta topped with some just harvested greens that were amazing.

Now, let me tell you a pet peeve I have about some wine dinners, the tiny, un-refilled pour. I’ve been to a few where the glass gets barely a two-ounce pour and never shall the wine be seen again. Okay – I get the whole moderation thing, but don’t charge me over $100 for a wine dinner, and barely give me eight ounces of wine over the course of the evening.

Happy to say, not so here, almost to the point where it was too much. The moment someone emptied a glass, it seemed as if the Chef (chef and server all in one), was back, refilling – poor Chris, of course, he being the driver, had to pace himself, but I’d say the other three enjoyed a bit much.

Anyway, after our co-mingled antipasti in front of the fire, we went to our separate tables where we were served a pasta dish along with their Chardonnay – sort of strange pairing but that was a strong Chardonnay and could handle the tomato and cauliflower sauce on the pasta (cooked perfectly by the way). About halfway through the pasta course, the Montepulciano Nobile made an appearance. Now Chris and I love the Nobile, a blend predominately of Prugnolo Gentile (aka Sangiovese) but as we learned over the course of the week, Andy and Katy prefer the “Super Tuscans” or cabernet blends, though we’re anxious for them to visit next week so we can introduce them to an older Brunello (now that they’ve been drinking young ones for a week, we want them to see what they can become).

After the pasta course, we were served a pork roast dish, along with some of the best roast potatoes (large chunks of caramelized potatoes) and a salad that were all good. With this course, they served another bottle, their Desiderio, a Merlot-Cabernet blend, grown in the “Cortona” province (literally though, right across a dirt road from the Montepulciano province where the nobile grapes are grown).

For dessert, they served an espresso-flavored crème caramel along with a dessert wine, not produced by Avignonesi but distributed by them (bummer again on the lack of Vin Santo but I get it). The dessert wine was pretty good though, an orange-honey flavor that I enjoyed.

Lastly, we had espresso and some of their grappa made from the remains of the vin santo grape, that I had hoped would be a bit sweet or that we would like, but again, no such luck on the grappa. It still is not my favorite beverage though I can stomach it now.

Finally, over four hours after arriving, we rolled out of there, stopped by the store to make some purchases (bummer, no olive oil yet, they’re just starting to harvest), and after playing with two of the local basset hounds (adorable), we hit the road. We all felt this entire afternoon was well worth what we paid and probably one of the best experiences of the trip.

November 24, 2008

Day 2 - Rome

I think I totally forgot about day two.

So after a pretty exhausting day on Thursday, I was feeling it when we woke Friday. We did manage to sleep in though. I have to say the double-shudder system at the Cesari (shudders outside the windows, closed windows and then another set of shudders inside) not only blocked out noise but light. When we woke past eight, we thought it must still be around five in the morning, it was so dark in our room.

We showered, dressed, and headed to the rooftop bar where we enjoyed a nice, if standard (at least it seems to us) Rome hotel breakfast of assorted meats, cheeses, yogurts, pastries, cereal, juice and cappuccino or espresso upon request. Chris needed to check his e-mail from work, so I was more than happy to sit and rest and write in my journal in the breakfast room (it was a bit too chilly to sit outside this morning), and then I too headed down to the hotel lobby’s computer to check my e-mail.

Eventually, we did make it outside and decided to walk down the Corso, to the Victorio Emanuele monument (aka the Wedding Cake), named such, I think, for the steps and stark white marble used to build it.

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February 3, 2009

Paris Apartments

I know I've talked about this but haven't really given much details so let's play a little catch up before jumping into the apartment discussion. Mom takes each grandchild on a trip after his/her b'nai mitzvah. Becky went to London. Kevin went to California for a surfing contest. Jake wanted to go to the All-Star game last summer but that became too problematic (can you say extremely ridiculous prices?), so he asked if he could join Sammi in Paris for her trip. Now Dad really has no desire to go to Paris again, so I said, if he's willing to watch Becky, I'd go in his place (I know, huge sacrifice). He jumped at the chance and everyone was happy (oh, and of course we said Jake could go - I think it will be way fun).

Originally, we had planned an April trip but then "It" happened, so we postponed (luckily no deposits had been made). Well, last week the doctor gave me the go ahead to start planning summer trips and of course, I jumped right in with apartment searches.

Since now, we're planning on going in the summer, I had to start from scratch. You see for an April trip air-conditioning wasn't required but now, in the summer, it is (and please don't try to change my mind unless you're willing to listen to my mother and daughter whine during a heat wave in Paris - and heck who are we kidding - really for the rest of their lives).

So here's where I stand so far. I have yet to contact any owners/agencies but all the apartments I've found to date are plotted below. If you continue reading, you'll also find links and some notes I made on each.

What I did not factor in are the Paris Perfect apartments, which are of course, lovely, and from past experience with London Perfect, have wonderful amenities, but are downright expensive, starting at €2415 for a two bedroom and rapidly rising in to the threes. I didn't include them, but Mom may decide she wants the splurge - who knows. I also want to double check with an agency I was in contact with before, just to make sure they don't have any air-conditioned apartments I overlooked.


View Larger Map

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June 17, 2009

Packing List (continued)

C'mon did you all really think I was just bringing workout clothing and books to Hawaii?

Okay - let's see what else:

Packing

3 - 4 pairs of capris
3 - 4 pairs of shorts
Tops - hmmm....5 - 6 (need to go through closet and see what fits and looks good)
1-2 cover-up
1 dress
underwear
bras
sandals (which ones still up for debate)
pjs (2 silk tops perhaps)
sun glasses
reading glasses
toiletries (tooth brush, toothpaste, deodorant, I'll use the hotel shampoo)
makeup
brush - NOT (still don't need one, which is kind of cool)
travel scrabble
travel rummy cube
suntan lotion
Tylenol Extra Strength
Simply Sleep (for the flight home)
Instant Oatmeal
Vitamuffins (for snacks)
Father's Day cards

Things to Buy Still

Suntan lotion (we went through almost four bottles in the Bahamas for 5 of us)
Cold Medication (all this rain and Sammi's illness has me feeling a bit sinusy)
Cough syrup (for Sammi)
Toothbrush (must throw out Sammi's old one)
Contact Lens case (must throw out Sammi's old one)

Is that it? I feel like I'm missing stuff.

June 22, 2009

Images from Hawaii

I don't have a lot of time to write at the moment (we're supposed to go snorkeling in 30 minutes) but I wanted to upload some pictures so far.

We arrived on Thursday night and immediately got laidleid.

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After arriving at the hotel and checking in, we headed to the pool bar for our first round of drinks.

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Don't worry - that's a virgin drink for Sammi.

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June 25, 2009

This Morning's Ride

Hawaii Bike Ride

This morning Chris and I went for a bike ride. We rode past Lahaina for a few miles, and then turned up towards the mountains. Rumor had it that after a climb (911 feet), there's a path that runs along the midpoint between ocean and the mountain base. About 3/4 of the way up the hill, I had to break but we met a biker coming down and asked about the path and he gave us the best directions, so after a bit more climbing (and another break), we found the path which you had to take slowly (lots of dips, sharp climbs and some hairpin turns) but had some incredible vistas. We took it down to the sugar cane road, and then from there back to the main highway into Lahaina where we stopped for breakfast before returning to the hotel. Not a long ride (a bit over 20 miles), but great fun and I felt great at the finish.

Hawaiian Bike Ride

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July 25, 2009

Paris - Flight

Once we boarded, we had the usual 60 minute wait at Newark airport before we took off. There was a young girl, traveling solo, in the row behind Mom and I (Sammi and Jake sat together in a different row). I felt so bad for her because as soon as the doors closed and we pushed away, she started to cry that she wanted her mommy. Thank god for the man sitting in the row with her. He started talking to her, distracted her and calmed her down and I believe the rest of the flight went uneventful for her, as I slept a good chunk of the way.

By the way, the plane was a 757-200 series with those cool, seat-back, personal entertainment systems - over 40 movies to choose from, games, television shows plus plug access for two in each row. I wish we had that for the flight home, but I don't think we'll have that kind of luck.

Oh, and though we had our one hour delay, we still landed on time, through immigration, got our bags (a wait similar to Newark), and then we met our driver from Paris Shuttle Inter with no problems. There was an accident on the highway into Paris but our driver navigated through the local roads and we still made pretty decent time. He showed us where to meet him on Saturday for our return trip, as the area in front of our building is a pedestrian zone.

July 26, 2009

Le Tour

I have over 40 videos I took today but I wanted to get this one uploaded quickly. Our view of the Tour.

July 30, 2009

Versailles

We headed out to Versailles on Wednesday, hoping that the opulence of the palace and grounds would wow our teens and impress them. We were partially wrong. Jake seemed impressed (at least by all the gold, Sammi - not so much).

Getting to Versailles wasn't as easy as I hoped. We walked over the RER Station for the C line (C5 to be exact), on the road on the left bank, opposite Isle St. Louis, only to find it closed. A glace down the street a bit led us to a crowd and a nice, young lady, with an information vest (yellow), who told us the that a shuttle bus would be along in a bit to take us to the Invalides station as the line between Invalides and ... shoot will need to look it up ... is closed from mid-July to mid-August. The bus did come, packed, and we squeezed on and road it for two stops before arriving at Invalides. That was the only hiccup of our travels.

Once in the station, we approached the ticket booth and I said Chateau Versailles, and held up four fingers. To which he replied by making a back and forth motion with his hand to which I nodded. In a few moments I received eight tickets (or four round trip), tickets for RER line. He told us quai B and we went through the machines with our tickets and found the train.

After a few minutes of waiting, the train took off and maybe a dozen or so stops later we pulled into the last station, and our stop at Versaille, us along, with the hundreds of other people left the train and took the five minute walk to the palace. I don't recall signs, but there were maps, but basically we followed the crowds like lemmings.

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July 31, 2009

Galeries Lafayette Fashion Show

Every Friday afternoon from 3:00 (arrive at 2:45) until 3:30pm the Galeries have a fashion show on the 7th floor (8th American - take the escalator up), in their private salon. The fashion show is free but you need to make a reservation ahead of time by e-mailing them (address on their website). I booked about four weeks out - maybe less and had no problem. It was definitely an interesting experience - one I'd say any fashion conscious teen would enjoy.

August 1, 2009

Paris Walks - Catacomb Tour

On Tuesday we did the Paris Walks Catacomb Tour. This two-hour tour, offered a couple of times a month, takes a small group (I think we had about 19), down into the catacombs giving the history not only behind their creation (as limestone quarries) but how they were turned into one of the largest burial grounds ever (6 million people - three times more than the current population of Paris). Oh, and I should note, this is one of the few Paris Walks Tours that you must pre-book and pay (€15) for ahead of time.

catacomb sculpture
Underground Sculpture in Catacombs

We met our guide, Chris, at 11:00 at the entrance to the catacombs at the Denfert Rochero metro station. Actually, we were a few minutes early, so we gathered on a bench with the other Americans and Canadians waiting for Chris who apparently went for a cup of coffee. He did arrive on time though, pulled us into a group, checked us in, and collected our money for the entrance fee to the Catacomb (not included in the group tour price €6).

One extremely nice advantage of this tour (besides the humorous Chris and his history lessons) was the line-cutting aspect. The line for the entrance, snaked around the corner of the square and they only seemed to let about 10 people in at a time. After Chris gave us our above ground information, we cut the line and headed in.

The first few rooms are well lit and airy with pictures and information about the catacombs but eventually you get down into the tunnels, often walking single file as you snake your way through the darkened passages. Most of which are now twice the size in height than they were during the days of the limestone quarries.

You cover almost a mile underground, most of which is bone free (though fossils from 45 million years ago, and the sea that resided here then can sometimes be found/seen), before you hit the ossuary filled with bones. This was the part Sammi dreaded - the thought grossed and freaked her out, so she kept her eyes tightly closed from the time we passed under the sign that said, "Stop! This is the empire of the dead," until we emerged on the other side and made the climb out.

Did I mention this by the way? The climb? The catacombs lie lower than the cellars, metro lines and RER lines of Paris so be prepared for the steps. Oh, and as I said, when you leave the catacombs you're about a mile down the line from the metro station at which you arrived.

We said our good-byes to Chris, and headed over to a cafe for some lunch before we returned to the inner arrondissement.

This tour cost us €15 a person plus the €6 entrance fee and we found it fun and interesting and would definitely recommend it.

I shot some video of our time below but as you can imagine, it was quite dark, and hard to capture much on film. Of the 15 or so minutes, most of it was dark but I've got some clips below. Oh, and one other thought, some people brought pen lights with them on the tour - I thought this a bully idea.

August 2, 2009

The Towers of Notre Dame

On Thursday afternoon, we ticked another thing of the kids' to do lists, climbing the tower at Notre Dame. I don't remember exactly what time we arrived but if I had to guess I'd say between two and two thirty and the link snaked from the entrance (at the left side of the church, as you're facing the front), and into the plaza, not reaching the back corner where the crypts lie.

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Gargoyle atop Notre Dame

I feared it could be bad (like two hours), but by 3:10 we were at the entrance. Now here are some things to note, the museum pass gets you in free and children under 18 are free. At first, I thought I would climb with the teens, but I hit a wall sometime after our morning chocolate walk and was worried about my vertigo, so we decided to let them go on their own while Mom and I ducked across the street to an inviting cafe.

No sooner had mom ordered her wine and I ordered my beer, than Sammi came running across the street. They would not let them climb the tower without an adult so off I scooted, leaving the shade of the cafe for the winding, stone, confined staircase of the tower.

Something less than the 400 total steps later, we emerged mid-level for a bit of viewing (by the way, almost forgot to mention there's a gift shop halfway up), and to find the wooden steps to the actual bell area, which of course we climbed. We then queued up for our final ascent to the very top of the tower. At this point, Jake suggested we return to the ground but Sammi said, "We didn't start this to only go half-way," so on we climbed.

They limit your time at the top of the tower to about five minutes, which is just about perfect. I mean, after all, you walk around, you take some pictures, what else is there to do?

So once done, we queued up once again for a few moments, (they control the flow in the upper part as there's only one stairway for both up and down) and then we climbed the 400 stairs back down.

Luckily, my beer, though warm, was still waiting and I'm glad I did the climb after all.

August 4, 2009

Mona Lisa, Monalisa Men Have Named You

C'mon you all, sing it with me!

Okay - seriously, we traveled to Paris and I just felt it a shame if we went through our entire trip not visiting one of the major museums (yes, shoot me, I didn't count the Pompidou in the ranks of major museums - though it probably should be). In my mind, I was thinking Louvre or D'Orsay. So with that in mind, we asked the kids if they had any desire to see any work of art, to which they replied, "We could see the Mona Lisa."

Of course, that statement was quickly followed by, "But that's all we want to see in that museum."

So on Thursday afternoon, after climbing the Tower at Notre Dame, we didn't make an exact b-line for the Louvre, but instead, hopped on the Batobus (boat that travels up and down the Seine), and got off at the Louvre stop, where we arrived a few minutes late for entry (5:46 - the museum closes at 6:00pm).

So, after some photo-ops in the courtyard, we headed home.

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On Friday morning though, after letting the kids sleep in a bit, we headed back to the Louvre, taking the 1 metro line to the museum exit, walked through the Carousel (aka shopping mall underneath), with promises of post visit shopping, quickly through the underground security and right into the museum, flashing our museum passes along the way (love the no lines thing).

It was really almost a jog, past the ancient Greco-Roman sculptures, up the stairs, following the signs pointing us to the Mona Lisa all the way. Once we arrived, it was a matter of worming our way through the crowds, eight deep, for a few seconds thirty some odd feet from the painting. Honestly, I thought it a ripoff the first time and I'm still thinking it this time. I just don't get it.

Anyway, once we left the Mona Lisa's room, which, by the way, was the only area nicely air-conditioned, we managed to convince our charges to walk up and down the great hall outside, where we saw pictures of King David in various outfits and in various states before and after killing Goliath, John the Baptist, Jesus and assorted other saints. But once that was done, they were done, and we quickly made our way back to the carousel for some shopping (a few more gifts purchased) and then on to lunch.

December 26, 2009

Israel

Ha! This one snuck up on me! Seriously, we booked the tickets in September and I did nothing since then to prepare, except try to contact our former guide, who unfortunately, we could not hook up with. Then we thought, we'll do it all on our own, but again that time crunch and lack of time tod do any serious planning, left me in a pickle. So I contacted Allison at Best of Israel travel agency, and worked out an itinerary, along with a guide that I'm hoping floats everyone's boat. It certainly looks really good on paper, so I thought I'd share it with you (shoot, now I'm wishing I moved it from my other computer to my netbook). Let me go check and see if it's still online...

Okay it's not on-line, so I'm going to give you highlights. By the way, we went through a couple of iterations on this itinerary because originally we were moving a round a bit much (five hotel changes). Now we're down to three which we prefer.

To start, we're flying Continental. We'd been saving miles pretty much since our last trip to Israel and were able to snag four first class tickets. Going out we're flying non-stop from Newark to Tel Aviv but coming home is the snag - we leave Tel Aviv at 5:30am (so we have a 2:15am pickup at our hotel), and we fly to Amsterdam where we have an eight hour layover. Yes, we have access to their club (showers and all) and yes I hear it's a great airport to have a layover but eight hours is a bit much. Currently though we have a reservation at Anne Frank's house (from 11:30am to 12:30pm), so hopefully we'll feel up to it and that will work out. Then we depart Amsterdam about 5:30pm and land at JFK (the other fly in the cake batter), at 8:00pm. It will be over 24 hours of traveling by the time we get home. The price we pay though for first class. The good news though is it didn't break the frequent flier bank and we still have 400K miles in the account.

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December 29, 2009

Masada Monday

Ah, Monday morning, we woke refreshed … not! Chris, Becky and I woke about 1:30am and didn’t fall back to sleep until about 4:30, while Sammi woke at 4:30 and apparently never fell back to sleep (a fact she would not let us forget throughout the day). I woke the next time about 7:20. As breakfast is only served in the hotel until 9:00am, I figured I’d better get going as it could take the girls almost until 9 to get ready on a bad morning.

Out of the shower, Chris moves slowly as Sammi gets in the shower and Becky remains semi-comatose. Finally, we’re all out the door and down in the breakfast room by 8:15 or so, not too bad. We all scan the buffet and settle in with some simple selections (eggs for Kim, some sort of grit-like dish for Becky, some cookie cereal – can’t remember the name now – for Sammi, and a whole bunch of stuff for Chris). Three of us power through two pots of coffee (left on the table) and one fuels up with chocolate milk before we’re out the door and waiting in the lobby for our guide.

Yes, if I haven’t mentioned, we hired a guide again for this trip. We were going to do it on our own this time but neither of us had the time to put into the planning/research needed before hand and we didn’t want to “wing it” for fear of not giving Sammi the experience she deserved. Our instructions said our guide, Moshe, would arrive after breakfast – we weren’t sure what that meant but we waited.

I also have to tell you, Becky had an issue with us being in the desert and our guide being Moshe. Her thought, “the last time Moshe led people through the desert, they were lost for forty years.” Turns out though, our Moshe knows his way around (and if not, I can now tell you that route 90, goes all the way from Eilat to the northernmost reaches of Israel, so if you want out of the desert, follow I90 North (i.e., keep the dead sea to your right). Anyway, Moshe came in and introduced himself to us and we were off.
We headed north to Masada, getting acquainted as went. Moshe drove us around in a 7 passenger van, like the one we used on our last trip. It’s not far to Masada, and before you know it, we’re parked and heading upstairs to get our tickets. On our last trip, we took the tram to the top and Sammi wanted to climb the snake path this time, so that was first on our list.

Masada
Masada

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December 31, 2009

Camel Drinking Coca Cola

Thought I'd share this from our adventures Wednesday while I'm working on blog entries.

Tuesday - Part II

The girls were tired and Becky felt a bit off about visiting Bethlehem, so they opted to stay in the room while Chris and I went. For us to visit though, was a convoluted, not scary, not nerve-racking but maybe nerve jarring process.
Bethlehem is part of the Palestinian Territory, so our guide cannot go there. Instead, he drove us to one of the checkpoints in the wall separating the Territory from Israel. There, he called someone and a young man came through the checkpoint to get us. I’ve never been to Checkpoint Charlie but thoughts of that wall, and that checkpoint immediately came to mind (except here there were no guard towers with guards with guns, actually, now that I think about it, I didn’t see any solders – except the lone guy in the guard booth checking credentials, nor did I see anyone with guns). He whisked us past the credential checkpoint, down a long ramp and into an area filled with a few vendors (bread, some good looking fruit, and that Middle Eastern sweet I can never remember – Havla?), into his cab. From there he drove us into Bethlehem proper (never realized it was so close to Jerusalem), and parked at the bottom of a wide, set of stairs. We got out of the cab and he told us to climb as a guide was waiting for us at the top.

Again, this was a bit surreal, as now we’re being handed-off a second time, to a guide whom we do not know what he looks like or even his name. We climb though and soon, through the crowds, a man appears and waves to us. We are the people he has been waiting for, he was told seven, and he already had five (a family from California), so now we’re ready to start. I’m sorry I do not remember his name.

Let me back up here to talk about this for a minute. We were visiting the Church of the Nativity. I’d been 23 years ago when it was still under Israeli control and honestly, was not impressed. I found it unkept and manger square a bit cheesy. I warned Chris about this because my memory recalled the poor state of the church being blamed on the constant in-fighting between the Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Roman Catholic churches as to who got to do what with regard to control of the church. He still wanted to go.

Fast forward to the present. Let me tell you right now, December 29th is not a day you want to visit this church … ever. Here’s why – five days after the Catholic Christmas Eve is when they do an annual cleaning of the church, basically between the Roman Catholic Christmas and the Greek Orthodox Christmas (I think the Armenian one is later in January). Every year, apparently, a fight breaks out between the Greek Orthodox monks and the Armenian monks (so much so, that apparently both groups bring in reinforcements from other monasteries for this day) and on Tuesday, we walked right into the middle of the fray. No kidding, there were bloody monks, police and everything amongst huge crowds of pilgrims and tourists.

Catholic Church
Catholic Church/Sanctuary next to Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem

Continue reading "Tuesday - Part II" »

January 1, 2010

Wednesday - City of David

Wednesday is already a blur. Isn’t that pathetic? I know. But Tuesday night gave me such horrible sleep (Yes that was me on Facebook in the middle of the night) that I along with the rest of the troops were dragging most of the day. I do not know why the jetlag hit us all so hard this trip.

Anyway, we dragged our sorry asses down to breakfast, which again while plentiful, wasn’t anything to write here about, so I won’t. Oh, wait but they did have champagne.

Moshe arrived just before nine and we hit the road for the City of David. We didn’t visit the City on a previous trip, and Moshe mentioned it wasn’t one of his favorite sites but overall we’d give it a thumbs up. I think the site frustrates Moshe because there’s so much yet to be discovered but unable they are unable to access it because it stretches under people’s homes. And though they’ve been offered 10 times the worth of their houses to sell, they won’t.

view from city of david
View Across Valley from City of David

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January 2, 2010

Wednesday – Camel

Moshe and the camel
Moshe and the Camel

After leaving we left the City of David, we drove across the valley to the Mount of Olives. Although we had previously visited the Mount, Moshe promised us a site worth seeing. He wasn’t wrong. Along the way, he popped into a market and procured a litre bottle of Coca Cola. I posted this before but thought I’d share it again for consistency in the timeline Wednesday.

Wednesday - Ammunition Hill, Lunch, Davidson Center

After Mount of Olives, we drove back across the valley, and visited Ammunition Hill. That’s another thing I have to note about this trip, while we’re seeing ancient history, we’re also learning a lot of recent Israeli history too. Ammunition Hill is no exception. During the 1967 war, the Jordanians occupied this hill in the north of Jerusalem – it was their police station. Apparently, it’s always been said that Jerusalem will fall from the north – not necessarily meaning the enemy will be from a northern nation, but from a northerly direction – it’s the least fortifiable area. So this area was highly strategic and many Israeli soldiers died during the battle to take it, and subsequently Jerusalem. I will be honest here, after the night we had, and given the cold, rainy weather we were enduring, I think we were all rubber-necking during the presentation.

Time for lunch. We were on day four in Israel and had yet to have a falafel sandwich, so Moshe took us to “the best” place in Jerusalem. Falafel is like pizza, everyone knows “the best.” Moshe’s place didn’t suck either. And surprisingly, they had really good pizza too (Sammi had that). Oh, and another funny thing has happened in the past few years, all the falafel sandwiches seem to have gone “fat.” What’s that mean, you wonder? Well by Rutgers you have these food carts (referred to as “roach coaches”) and they make a sandwich “fat” by putting French fries on them. And so it is here too, the falafel and shwarma sandwiches all seem to have fries on them.

Re-fortified, it was time to head over to the Davidson Center for our 2:00 appointment (and a much needed bathroom break. You know the axiom when traveling, if you see a bathroom, use it). The Davidson Center sits along the southern end of the temple mount (south of the Kotel), and gives you a glimpse into life during the second Temple period (up through the Roman conquest of Jerusalem), specifically we saw a computer simulation (think Sims City only for ancient times) that focused on what a person did/saw as they went to the second Temple to make a sacrifice. It was pretty cool. But what really solidified it for us was visiting the ruins afterward, and seeing the ruins yet knowing what they looked like some 2000 years ago.

view southern wall
View of the Southern Retaining Wall of the Temple Mount

Robinson's Arch
Robinson’s Arch, Southern end of the Western (aka Wailing) Wall

Wednesday - Church of the Holy Sepulchre & Baba

From the Davidson’s Center, we wound our way through the Arab quarter and market (a rabbit warren of streets filled with stall after stall of tee shirts, jewelry, chess sets, dried fruit, herbs, etc), to the Christian quarter and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Along the way, we noted several of the actual positions of the Stations of the Cross. Within the church itself, are several more stations, including the position where Jesus was crucified, laid down when removed from the cross, and buried.

Mosaic
Mosaic

Now we’d been here before, but Chris wanted to return, so we did. With him, he brought three crosses, one his father owns, one his aunt owns, and one his mom owns (I think all hang above their respective beds). There’s not a blessing per se, but people take their crosses and touch them to the stations and that’s what Chris did (oh, and luckily Moshe knows the man controlling access to burial section so he got Chris in quickly). Chris also prayed in the chapel while we were there.

Oh, I have to say too, that Moshe did a thorough tour of the inside of this church; we were in there for probably an hour. But one of the many cool things we saw was the burial place of the two thieves crucified on either side of Jesus, something that helps to confirm the location of Jesus’s burial.

After leaving the church, and navigating the market again, we emerged outside the walls to the old city and walked back to the van. At this point, we were supposed to visit the Mahane Yehuda market but my group was spent, between the lack of sleep and cold, damp weather, I feared they’d get sick, so we headed back to the hotel instead.

Baba

Chris went to lie down and the girls and I went to hang in the lobby. We spoke to the young man at the front desk about restaurant recommendation and he suggested Baba, in the German Colony, for some Israeli food. He made a reservation for us and after rousing Chris, we headed over there.
It’s not a far walk from our hotel, maybe 15 minutes, but it is cold and misty rain, so we walk quickly (of course we all forgot our umbrellas). The German Colony looks like a young, hip place with lots of restaurants. We find Baba easy enough and are seated right away. It’s nothing fancy but has a decent menu (like twenty different kinds of hummus toppings) and it’s warm, so we’re happy.

We order some hummus with minced lamb for the table (the pita bread is hot, thick and excellent by the way), and Chris and I order the spicy Moroccan sausage, Becky the Baba wings (a cross between sweet and spicy) and Sammi, well, they were out of chicken nuggets, so she just had the garlic flat bread (think garlic naan) and an order of French fries. That and some beer and I’ll have to see if I have the bill somewhere but we had good filling food for not so much money.

Lucky for us, the rain stopped just as we needed to walk back to the hotel. We had Thursday off, so we didn’t arrange any wake up calls to let everyone catch up on their sleep.

Ooh, almost forgot. Wednesday night we had been scheduled to see the light show at the Tower of David (just inside the old city by the Jaffa gate) but the rain made them cancel it. We did not try to reschedule.

January 3, 2010

And on the Fourth Day, They Rested

I know G-d rested on the Sabbath, but we rested on Thursday … sort of. Everyone but me (up at 7:30am) slept in until almost 10:00am. By the time we got out the door and moving it was probably after 11 (yes we missed breakfast but I did manage to snag a cup of coffee in a “to go” cup from the dining room before they shut down).

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View of Old City Toward Jaffa Gate

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Friday

Friday morning we woke on the early side as we had to pack, get breakfast and check out of the hotel. Other than having to wait about 10 minutes while a couple in front of me checked in, check-out went smoothly and we were able to use the one credit card left to our name.

Did I mention that? On Wednesday, I lost my wallet. It had less than 100 shekels ($25) in it but still having to contact the states and cancel credit cards was a pain the ass. Luckily Chris had the one credit card with him, I didn’t bring so we’re able to use that. In the future, we’ll each carry one card and leave some in the safe of the hotel or something. I’ll also leave the cards of the hotel in which I’m staying in the wallet in case someone finds it. Yes, I believe I lost it and it was not pilfered.

Anyway, all went smoothly and Moshe was there with the van, waiting. We loaded up and headed out to the archeological site (Tel Maresha) where we would do “Dig for the Day.” Along the way though, we made a quick pit stop at a gas station/diner where the owner has quite an Elvis Presley fetish.

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Elvis Presley Diner

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January 5, 2010

Saturday

We’re in a routine now. Getting up, heading to breakfast about 8:30 and meeting Moshe in the lobby of the hotel 9:00. Oh wait, though, this is Saturday, so let me backup a bit. We’re staying in the Hilton in Tel Aviv, which is about as American as you can get, including American price gouging (did I mention it costs $22 a day here for wireless Internet per computer – we have three with us, don’t ask and $6.50 a minute for calls to the US? Oh and prices are given in American dollars). Anyway, we stay here because we got two rooms for free for five nights and we get free breakfast and cocktails included with that. So, at 8:30, we meet in the Honors lounge (now on the Mezzanine level because of hotel renovation), have breakfast and then go.

So at 9:00 we piled into the van and were off. We were heading up the coast today, with plans to stop in Haifa at the Bahai Gardens, Akko at the Crusader fort and Caesarea at the ruins of Herod’s Roman city. Of course, all good plans… actually, we stuck to it pretty good except we bagged Akko and decided to stay in the car a bit further and head up to Rosh HaNiqra on the border of Lebanon (don’t worry Mom, everything was fine). Actually, Rosh HaNiqra was on our original plan but when we decided to stay in Tel Aviv rather than have a single overnight in Haifa, we bagged it as being too far a drive but Moshe thought it worthwhile, and I had never been. Since he was willing to drive it, we were willing to ride it.

One thing I want to note about Moshe, well really, he could be an entire entry alone, but one thing, is when we’re in the car, he gives a running commentary of things to see. The history in this area is so prolific (from Jaffa a city that existed 8000 years ago), to the recent (a battle during the 1967 war), there’s really always something to learn or to keep us engaged (well, except for Sammi who sits in the back of the van and has taken to bringing her computer with us and playing Sims because her DS died – they can’t be charged here).

As we were nearing Haifa, about 50 minutes into the ride, we heard from the back, “Are we there yet?” so rather than drive straight up to Rosh HaNiqra and working our way back, we decided to stop in Haifa first to break up the drive and visit the Baha’i Gardens first.

From what I understand (and I’m not taking the time to do some research now) the Baha’i are a relatively new religion, started in Iran (aka Persia) who believe in beauty and something else that escapes me at the moment. Let me tell you, they ain’t kidding. Those gardens are some of the most beautiful, most perfectly manicured, I’ve ever seen.

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Baha'i Gardens

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Sunday

Sunday, Sunday, what did we do on Sunday?

That’s the problem with these trips, days start to blur together. Okay, we know Moshe picked us up at 9:00 because he does so each morning. Ah, first we went to the Ayalon Institute. I was nervous about this as it was an underground bullet factory used by Jews pre-Independence (they had arms but needed ammunition for the upcoming war). I feared the girls would be bored.

About five minutes after we arrived in the small gift shop area, they led us to another building where we saw a movie on the factory and the War for Independence. Have I mentioned that the Israelis are really into the audio-video presentations? Every site we visit there seems to be a movie or computer presentation or something, which actually Sammi enjoys much more than walking through museums.

After the movie (which some late arrivers disturbed – the problem with audio visual presentations), we were led on a tour. Okay – let me tell you a bit of background. Prior to the War for Independence (not ours, Israel’s), the British controlled Palestine and were severely limiting the ability of the Jews from arming themselves for the war everyone knew was coming. That’s why they had secret facilities for building guns, and in this case bullets.
The machines used in this facility were purchased in Poland before WWII and actually sat in a warehouse in Lebanon until after the war when they could finally sneak them into the country. The factory itself was on a working, agricultural kibbutz located right near a British base. It took three weeks, but the Jews dug a hole atop the hill on which the kibbutz rested, lined the hole with cement walls and subdivided it. They then located a secret entrance under the laundry of the kibbutz, and another larger entrance under the oven of the bakery (they only used this latter entrance to get equipment down to the factory). Forty five former members of a Jewish scout group were recruited to run the factory. While they lived on the kibbutz (but pretended to work off-site), they would sneak down into the factory each morning and leave each evening. Two women worked in the laundry and only one knew of the existence of the factory below while the other didn’t. Actually most of the members of the kibbutz did not know about the factory under their feet. The factory workers referred to them as “Giraffe” because they could see what was high up but not what was right under their feet. As time went on though, more and more members did eventually find out about the clandestine and dangerous operation that existed beneath them. Once Israel declared its Independence, the factory was moved above ground to Tel Aviv and the scout members left to form their own agricultural kibbutz a short distance away.

Anyway, after the movie, we were taken down to the actual factory below ground, which was really cool to see after learning about it from the movie. I think the entire visit lasted about an hour.

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Underground Bullet Factory - Ayalon Institute

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January 7, 2010

Schipol, Iple, Glad I'm Home

Okay, we're out of order again, but I just need to write about yesterday's adventure (that's a nice word for it), while it's still fresh in my mind.

We had booked our tickets using Frequent Flier Miles that we have with Continental. As you know (if you've been following along), we had a non-stop flight from Newark to Tel Aviv on Continental on December 26. But for our return flight, we couldn't get a non-stop, and ended up with an eight hour stop over in Amsterdam. Not the best of alternatives, but we were flying First Class and we figured that was enough time to head into the city for lunch and to visit the Anne Frank House (I had purchased tickets ahead of time).

So on Wednesday January 6th at 2:00am Israel time (7:00pm January 5th for those of you on the east coast), we left our hotel in Tel Aviv (after getting about 3.5 hours of sleep), and headed to Ben Gurion airport. Security there was tight but really it seemed pretty much what it had been on our previous trip.

At 4:50am Israel time (9:50pm January 5th EDT), we boarded our KLM flight 462 from Tel Aviv to Amsterdam. But wait, we're supposed to be in first class, we're supposed to have big comfy seats in which we can sleep but there are no big comfy seats I can see. Just normal rows of coach class seats. Yes, first class on this flight would be normal coach seats (with the middle seat free), and a gauze curtain separating row 5 from row 6. This was not what was pictured on the plane map on the KLM site when we chose our seats! Oh well, after getting over my initial disappointment, I settled in for the flight. The service was still first class though, and my three travel companions managed to sleep. I did not, but they brought me this cute, portable entertainment device (there was no entertainment on this five hour flight), on which they had a selection of about a dozen movies. I watched Love Happens (don't waste your time), and, oh shoot, my brain is fried. It was a Bruce Willis movie ... got it Surrogate. Oh, but then they collected the device for landing and I had like five or 10 minutes left so I don't know how it ended!

We landed at Schipol early about 9:15 am Schipol time,10:15am Tel Aviv Time, and for those of you playing our game, 3:15 am January 6th EST. At this point, we'd been traveling 8.25 hours. We headed for the Crown lounge.

A note here, there are signs in Schipol for "lounges." These are not the first class lounges. We think these mean areas within the airport where people can sit and relax - and they're pretty nice (comfy chairs). So we had to follow the signs for airline lounges - it was a ten minute walk.

Another note, as I mentioned, we originally had planned to visit the city but when the crotch bomber attacked (thank you Colleen - love that name), and we heard stories of heightened security, we decided to not go. Of course, when we checked in at the lounge, the attendant there suggested we visit the city during our layover. When we commented on the timing because of security she said, "Oh, no. You could go. Nothing has changed." Huh? We glanced at Sammi though, who assuming we weren't going wore jeans with the hugest holes in them and flip flops on her feet. Not exactly conducive to walking around in 32 degree temps. So we decided to stay at the airport.

We shopped, we ate a bit, we drank, Becky slept in the quiet area of the lounge, we played Rummy cube and at 3:45pm Amsterdam time (4:45pm TA, 9:45am EST), we made our way to the gate for security check and boarding. That's another thing you should know about Schipol. I do not know if you go through security when you arrive at the airport (i.e., after check in but before boarding as in the US), but I do know at the very least, you go through security as part of your boarding procedure.

Of course, though we were there when they told us to be there, at 4:00pm, they did not start security until 4:25pm.

We were the first to go through, and let me tell you, I got more action from that security guard then I've seen from Chris lately. I don't think there was a spot on my body that she didn't touch. They also searched my bag. We limited ourselves to only one carry on (checking two bags each) and there were signs saying, only one carry-on would be allowed, but we did notice a handful of people with two - so not sure what is up with that.

After the four of us made it through security, we sat in another area (think bullpen) that's closed off from the rest of the airport and waited to board the plane. The girls and I watched the security and it seemed every single person was patted down and/or wanded and every bag was hand-searched.

At about 5:10pm Amseterdam time (6:10pm Tel Aviv, 11:10am EST), we boarded. At this point, we'd been traveling for about 15 hours.

Then we waited, and waited, and waited. Oh, I should tell you it started to snow about 3:45pm. On the plane, at about 6:00pm (we were scheduled to take off at 5:45pm), the cabin announced that the airport was closing for 3.5 hours because of the snow. There was, maybe, at most, two inches on the ground. Apparently the Netherlands do not get much snow, nor do they know what to do with it when they get it (this from the Dutch gentlemen behind us).

You have no idea how upset I was, but as the cockpit said, "It's okay though because it gives us time to finish boarding the plane!" Huh!!! We were supposed to take off at 5:45 and there were people still in security at 6:15pm.

At 7:00pm (1:00pm, EST), they announced that the airport had managed to open a runway and as we had just finished boarding (7:00pm!!!!!), we were going to push back from the gate and get de-iced and get in-line for take off but this could take a while, because so many planes were waiting to take off and land.

It went quick though, and we were hopeful (apparently they padded the flight times by 90 minutes, so there was still a chance we could get in close to on time). At 7:30pm, the snow had stopped, we were getting de-iced and things look good. Until...

We moved over to the line for the runway, and sat there. And sat, and other planes passed us by, and we sat some more.

At 8:00pm (2:00pm EST), the cockpit got on to tell us our Flight Navigation Computer had failed, and they needed to replace the computer and reload the software and that it would take an hour and we had to return to the terminal.

Oh, one plus to KLM (and only one), did I mention that they at least turned on the Entertainment System? So at least we had watched UP (again) while we were waiting. I think Beck can quote the entire movie.

At 8:15pm (2:15pm EST) the computer was fixed and the software was loading but uh oh....

Because of our delay, one of our pilots was going to go over his shift time and we needed to get a new one, but he was on his way. Chris thinks this was a lie. He thinks because of the problems with the navigation computer, they needed to get a navigator on the plane. I think, that at 6:00, when they told us the airport would be closed for 3.5 hours, they knew the pilot was going to be over his shift time, so why didn't the summon a new pilot then? Either way, things got squirrelly. He was at the airport and should be on the plane shortly.

At 9:00pm they told us he just arrived at the airport, and should be on the plane in 10 - 15 minutes.

At 9:25pm they told us he was on his way to the airport but because of the snow (stopped now for 2.5 hours), there was a lot of traffic and he had just arrived at the airport. Huh? How many times does it take a KLM pilot to arrive at the airport?

At 9:55pm (3:55pm EST), the pilot arrived and about 10:15pm, over five hours since we'd boarded the plane, 4.5 hours since we were supposed to depart, 21 hours into our travel day, we departed Amsterdam.

The flight was uneventful, luckily, from that point on. And at 11:15pm EST (6:15am Tel Aviv Time), 26 hours after we left our hotel, we landed at JFK. It took about 10 minutes to get off the plane, It took us about 10 minutes to get through immigration and another 10 - 15 minutes to get our luggage and get through Customs (there was actually a line) and about midnight, we piled into the van sent to pick us up.

At 1:15am EST (8:15am Tel Aviv time), on January 7th, after over 30 hours of travel, we walked into our home, to one happy dog, who proceeded to lick all of us and piddle on the floor.

It's good to be home.

January 13, 2010

Monday, Again

Mood
Type of Day

I think this picture of me, perfectly sums up our last “touring” day, unfortunately. I should have known when Beck snuck into the breakfast room ahead of Sammi, rolling her eyes, and whispering, “She’s in a mood” that today would not be a good day. But Sammi had woken in snits before and had managed to pull it out in time for our touring to start, so I had hopes; I was wrong.

Our day started with a visit to a Druze village atop Mount Carmel. We made the mistake though of taking some slower, back roads to our destination, which only dragged out the time we were in the van and accentuated Sammi’s foul mood. So bad, that even the prospect of shopping didn’t relieve her doldrums. Oh well, Becky and I got into it, purchasing two pashmina (one for each of us), and some Druze glass plates for us and friends, and a few other chotchkeys.

Druze Fabric
Druze Fabric

After strolling through the town, checking out most of the stores, it was time for lunch, some falafel and fries at a local establishment within the town filled us nicely before we piled in the van and headed for another non-Sammi friendly destination, Tishbi Estate Wineries. Ah, let’s face it, by this point in the trip, Sammi was just toured out, and no promise of hanging on the beach or walking around Tel Aviv (sans van) our last day, could convince her to cut us all a break.

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April 11, 2010

Spain

I'm a bad blogger. Yes, I know. I just haven't had hardly any time to blog about this trip to Galicia Spain. Right now we're in Santiago. If you want to get an idea about this GrapeHops trip, you can check out our photos on Facebook: Spain, April 2010 Photos.

October 9, 2010

She Said, She Said, She Said and He Said - My She Said

Okay - the train story.

It all started when Shannon and I missed the 9:17 train from Como to Milan - that should have been a warning as to our transportation Karma for the day but oh well...

Needless to say we made the next train, arriving at Milan Cadorna at about 10:30. From there it was an easy change to the Green line into Milano Centrale, where we emerged in the "basement." Let's all just agree that basement is a subjective term here.

At the "basement" bar of Centrale is where we were supposed to meet Jen and Chris. They were landing at Malpensa about 9:20am, and taking the Malpensa shuttle into Centrale - in my mind, I figured they'd arrive between 11 and 11:30.

So we left the metro, walked through the "basement" until we came upon a cafe. I said to Shannon, is that where we're supposed to meet? And she replied, "No at the bar." Hmmm....

With no "sign" of a bar, we went upstairs, honestly, I don't remember why - oh, I remember, we went upstairs to purchase my train ticket for my return trip from Venice to Milan on October 15th.

Now, once we arrived upstairs via the slanted escalators, it seemed to me that we hadn't so much been so much in the "basement" of Centrale, as we had been in the Metro, which alights sort of next to Centrale, though under a roof that extends from Centrale, but kind of over an open corridor, hard to describe. Once in Centrale though and seeing the trains on levels above us, and after buying tickets, getting into an elevator and trying to go down, realizing the elevator didn't go lower (to said "basement") than the level we were on, I said to Shannon, "Do you think they'll think that this level is the basement?" To which she replied, "It's not the basement, it's obviously street level (which it was)," but to my squirrelly look she continued, "They'll figure it out."

They did.

Eventually.

So Shannon and I returned to the basement, past the "cafe" and into the Market (yes, there's a full market in the "basement" of Centrale) where there were signs for the elusive bar. We wound our way to the back of the store where we found said bar, and as Shannon ordered a cappuccino, I walked through the market purchasing some prosciutto, mortadello, rolls and chips for a little picnic we envisioned having on our two hour train ride from Milan to Sondrio. Then while I enjoyed a cappuccino (by the way this "basement" bar makes a good cappuccino), Shannon strolled through the market buying some wine and water for us also to enjoy on our picnic.

At about 11:30, we decided that perhaps our little "basement" bar was a little tucked away for them to find us in what we assumed would be their jet-lagged state, so we moved out to the aforementioned cafe. Then from there, I preceded to leave Shannon behind with our bags, as I made a circuit through the station, ending at the street where the Malpensa shuttles drop their passengers. By now it was almost noon, and not only was I a bit concerned about our missing travelers, I was beginning to realize we would not make the 12:20 train to Sondrio and would have to kill two hours in Milan waiting for the next train.

Shannon went to to check the tickets to see if they had to be bought for a specific train and time or if we could purchase them ahead of Chris and Jen's arrival, and just stamp them for whichever train we caught. When she returned at 12:10 we'd pretty much given up hope of catching that 12:20 train then just a couple of minutes later we spied Chris in the distance getting off the slanted escalator. We yelled to him, hugs all around and then Shannon said, "We have 7 minutes to catch the train, let's go!"

Have you all seen the Amazing Race? Yeah, this was a lot like that.

Shannon had her bags and made a dash for the ticket counter/machines. I had my bags and tried desperately to catch up to Chris who darted ahead in order to find Jen and grab their bags. Luckily as the three of us split up, Shannon yelled, "Bin 4, meet at bin 4!"

I'm running up the stairs with my bags, Chris is out of site, I have no idea where Shannon is ... ah Italy.

Within a moment, I see Chris and Jen ahead of me dashing for Binario 4. I catch up to them just past the stamping machine - more hugs and we wait, eying the crowd for Shannon as the PA makes the final boarding call for our train.

People dash past us - jumping on.

Jen says, "What is she wearing?" And I reply, "I don't remember!"

Then we see her and run towards her, urging her to run towards us.

She does, stopping at the conductor to get a squiggly put on our ticket (I guess the equivalent of a stamp, since she blew past the machine).

We run along side the train as the Conductor told us to go forward for seats. Eventually though, about half way up the train we decide not to risk the doors closing on us, and hop on, dripping sweat.

At this point, I'll tell you, that while Shannon and I have smaller pieces (like 21 inch bags) plus carry-on sizes and our purses, Jen and Chris are trailing some seriously large suitcases (red, hard to miss), plus an assortment of other baggage. I should also remind you that poor Jen and Chris, have been awake for close to 24 hours at this point, traveling for probably 21 hours of that time.

So there we were, standing in a crowded vestibule, between cars, looking ahead, and not seeing any seats, let alone four seats together or near each other.

Unencumbered Chris decides to go through the cars, looking for seats and I trail behind him with my bags, unfortunately wacking people as I go. Chris is moving though and doors are closing in front of me, the train is jerking, and I'm panting to keep up.

The Italians are gracious though, holding the door for me so I can get my luggage through, clearing their feet out of the aisle as I pass and helping me lift my carry-on over arm rests so it doesn't get snagged.

Eventually, we get to a car and I see four seats across, from window to window, facing the wrong way. Enough, I call to Chris to stop. I plop down in one of the seats spreading my stuff out on the other three. In front of one of them though is a piece of luggage, presumably belonging to the young girl sitting catty-corner to me. I figure when the time comes, and my friends return, we can ask her to put it in the overhead section then.

Chris returns through the crowded cars (we must have gone through four or five), to find Shannon and Jen and return with them and all the luggage. I sit, and wait, mopping sweat from my head, and as the train slows down (but luckily does not stop), I wonder, how will I keep someone from sitting in these seats we've snagged? I hate saving seats.

Hmm... "Per mia amiche" or "Mia Amiche e li; sediamo qui"

As I said though, the train only slows, it doesn't stop, so no worries for the moment.

Eventually though we do pull into a station. And I think, I wonder if they'll know to jump off the train and run alongside it to move forward rather than make their way up in the car? about a second before I see Chris and then Shannon sprinting down the station platform. I wave to them and start out of my seat to help as Chris jumps back on the train, the people around me chuckle, and the door shuts, leaving Shannon still standing on the station platform. I have no idea where Jen is at this point.

In the moment it seemed to last forever but it couldn't have been but a few seconds before Chris, with the help of an Italian teen standing in the vestibule literally pried open the doors to get Shannon on the train before it pulled out of the station. I didn't see this but they told me as they came into the car panting.

We loaded my stuff (that had been holding the seats) and Chris's stuff (those big red bags) that they dragged down the platform with them and threw back onto the train, into the overhead bins and Chris collapsed into the seat across the aisle from me as Shannon weaved her way back through the train cars, and to Jen who had waited there with the rest of the stuff.

Chris and I didn't know what they were doing. We waited and waited, looking down through the car doors for a glimpse of them making their way forward to us but no sign. Eventually my phone rang. It was Shannon, they were staying put, not risking another jump off the train unless we were going to pull into a station for like five minutes. She said they may try at Lecco (I think that was the stop) because it looked like a major transfer point. Oh and by the way, they conductor came by and checked our tickets I told him I had two for you near the front of the train and he seemed okay with that. I hung up, told Chris and he said, "They're probably into the wine now."

Yes, all the food, wine and water was with them - five cars away.

And the tickets. I started to practice, "Mi amica ha sui biglietti" I hoped.

At Lecco (about 40 minutes into our ride), Chris went to the train door and literally hung out the train, keeping the doors from closing with his body, to see if he could see them on the platform. He returned just before the doors closed and said, "They must have decided not to risk it. They're probably half-way through the wine now."

A few moments later, he commented, "and I'm getting hungry." That's when I remembered I still had a wedge of Parmegiano Reggiano in my bag that I had bought in Como. We broke that out, ripping off huge chunks just as we saw Shannon and Jen wending there way through the car behind us. They made it!

So for the second hour of the ride, we were finally all together, drinking some fizzy warm wine that tasted like carbonated Manishevitz Grape Concord (Shannon and I hadn't had much luck with wine so far), eating some cheese. We didn't bother breaking into the sandwich stuff we'd procured.

At about 2:15, we woke Chris, who had dozed a bit, started to get all our bags down, and were good to go when we pulled into Sondrio at 2:20 - except for the last second, Jen realizing her brown bag was still on the train. One last dash back on and Chris snagged it and got off before it pulled away.

Sondrio Train Station
Chris, Jen and Shannon with our wine at the Sondrio train station

Hotel Gembro - Sondrio

I have to say right off the start I was a bit concerned about booking this hotel, a one star. I was concerned because the rooms do not have en suite bathrooms, one per floor (about four rooms to a floor it seems). I was concerned because though I wrote several times, via email, inquiring about a booking, I never got a reply. I was concerned because when I finally broke down to call, the gentleman to whom I spoke did not understand my piss poor Italian and spoke no English, so I did not know if he understood my attempts to reserve a single (which they didn't have), so then change Shannon's reservation for a single to a double (which I think they did).

So when we arrived on October 8th, after getting off the train to Sondrio, and making my jet-lagged, baggage laden companions walk the four plus blocks from the station to the hotel (thank you Google maps), rather than getting into a taxi, and the only person working, a young girl mopping the floors, told us in Italian they had no rooms and we should come back at 6:00pm after the owners returned from a funeral, I honestly wasn't too surprised and surprisingly unconcerned.

But this is Italy and everything seems to work out.

After struggling with our Italian, the young girl agreed we could leave our bags, and we began to pile them up near the "reception area." Then a thought seemed to occur to her, and she checked the notes in the little boxes next to the room keys, and showed them to us, and sure enough, there were our reservations. So we did have rooms! To which we brought our bags.

Now if you read our train fiasco, you know we really hadn't eaten too much that day and we were hungry and it was closing in on three so no restaurants would be serving lunch. So we decided to have a picnic with our supplies. Only by this point in time, our young friend had locked up the downstairs tight!

Oh, I should mention here, the Gembro is really a restaurant with rooms above, more than hotel with a restaurant. So when I tell you she was downstairs mopping and cleaning, it was the restaurant to which she tended. And when I say we wanted to have a picnic, it was on a small patio outside the restaurant at which we had hoped to sit. But no luck, as it was all locked tight and she was gone.

So we commandeered Jen and Chris's matrimonial room, spread the food out on the window sill, used the shelf above the sink as a bar, sat and drank wine and ate sandwiches and chips and talked of completely random topics until it looked like Chris might nod off, so we decided it was time to head out for a passegiatta and explore the town.

Hotel Gembro
Chris at our smorgasbord

Hotel Gembro
Shannon reflected in our "bar"


When we went downstairs, Roberto the owner was there, and he speaks some English (I believe his wife/girlfriend, Lisa, who have yet to meet, is English or Australian), and we got the room straightened out too - getting another single for Shannon, and leaving me with my own room (a double which I'm using as a single).

The double goes for €45 and the single €30, and for the extra 15, I'm not complaining.

I'm still leaving my mind open as to the hotel facilities (we also dined in the restaurant last night but I'll make that a separate entry). The people are nice, and the price is cheap enough but the single bed is quite narrow, the hotel a bit loud (with restaurant downstairs) until about midnight, and some early morning noises which made me wonder what was afoot (and miss Chris ;D, ;D).

October 10, 2010

Restaurant (Ristorante) Gembro

As I mentioned when writing about the Hotel Gembro, it's more a restaurant with rooms than a hotel with a restaurant. So our first night in Sondrio, we opted to dine at the restaurant (and honestly as I sit and type this the next morning, we'll probably dine there our second night too).

We made the reservation for 7:30, on the early side, in deference to our jet-lagged companions who we were trying to keep awake until 9:30 (Chris made it until about 8:50, Jen until about 9:20 - not bad). We arrived right on time, after our passegiatta where we visited a couple of bars along the way (perhaps another entry). Seated promptly we perused the menu while Roberto, the owner, took Shannon to examine the wines.

When she returned, she explained to us that they grow the Nebbiolo grape in the area, the same grape used in the king of Italian wines Barolo, and his cousin, Barbaresco, only because it's grown in this region instead of in a specific area of Piemonte, it's called something else (as well as tastes differently and feels differently - can you say terroir?). Not realizing or even imagining that this mountain climate produced anything but white wines (I honestly expected to be drinking a lot of pinot grigio) the Grumello Valtellino Superior was a pleasant surprise and broke the bad streak of wine drinking we'd been experienced since my arrival (okay, really a wine Shannon served during our "picnic" was really good too but I don't recall what it was - a Barbera from Piemonte perhaps?). Anyway, the Grumello was flavorful but light in body and not overpowering like the alcohol bombs that seem to be coming out of California lately (13.5% versus the 15+% I've been seeing lately). Yet, it held up well to the food we enjoyed.

We started with an Antipasti Valtellinesi, a combination of salumi (three types), a fried cheese, and a relish tray of pickled eggplant, tiny onions (cippolini), and large green olives. In deference to Jen's vegetarian leanings, there was also some eggplant parmegiana and her plate contained only fried cheese. Now here was another miscommunication, we should have specified due per quattro (two to share for the four of us), instead we each got an individual plate (that probably would have been dinner for my mother). I still am not sure if we received four portions, or if they divided the two portions into four in the kitchen for us because we have yet to receive a bill (we'll pay all at once when we check out).

After our antipasti, was each ordered pasta. I think Shannon was the winner last night with a plate of fresh tagliolini and the richest, meatiest porcini mushrooms I've ever tasted. I had a local specialty (name escapes me at he moment) which is a whole wheat pasta with cabbage, potatoes, sage and lots of cheese - very good - ah pizzocheri valtellinesi. Chris had penne with prawns, tomatoes and arugula and Jen had potato gnocchi with spicy tomato sauce and sausage that she picked out. Everything was very good and very filling.

Ristorante Gembro
My Pasta Dish

At some point during the meal, we also opened another bottle of wine, same type Valtellino Superiore, but I do not remember the maker. We didn't finish it, so Shannon took the bottle back to her room. Perhaps I'll get the name from her before this entry publishes. No dessert or cafe for us as Shannon and I were the last to leave the table about 9:40pm.

Passeggiata Sondrio Style

So after our picnic in our room, we decided to get Jen and Chris some fresh air and explore the town a bit.

Roberto directed us to the centro (center of town), and it didn't take long to get there, five minutes. A new church sits in the square next to a very old tower. We figure that this town must have been hit hard during World War II because there are lots of new buildings next to much older ones (like the church and the tower). In the same square, we also saw some excavations separated from the pedestrian area by a chain link fence. Roman, newer, we have no idea but pretty cool to see.

So we wound our way through the streets, and alleyways, eying store windows, entering some shops, and basically getting a feel for the town. We stopped at two bars along the way to enjoy some prosecco, and things along the way. It seems a nice, if not too big a town. We'll explore more on Saturday, but I thought I'd share some pictures.

Sondrio
Blurry shot of a knitting store - for Amy

Poricini Mushrooms
Porcini!

Sondrio
Pedestrian Bridge

Sondrio Cheese
Cheese Store

Now you may be wondering how or why we chose to come to Sondrio. Chris's great grandfather is from this area and he wanted to see it. Towards the end of our walk we found a memorial to the soldiers (or something like that). On a wall, there was a plaque in remembrance of the partisans in the area who fought during WWII against the Nazis and there on the list of names was Donato Spini (how we believe Chris's name should be spelled). It was pretty cool.

October 14, 2010

It's Thursday, It Must Still be Venice

When last we left our intrepid traveler, it was Monday and she had just made a sandwich for herself and was writing in her blog...

Well, of course, Shannon called shortly thereafter and said, "Hey, what are you doing?"

Which with Shannon, means we're off to start on some new adventure. And we did. Basically doing a mini-cicchetti tour, stopping at three bars for cicchetti and wine - one in some ally somewhere (which really could describe most of Venice), one along the Fondamente Nova (or is it Nuova, I can never remember), and one across the small canal from the church of San Giovanni e Paolo (that last one just for a glass of wine).

By then it was time time to head to La Cantina and our wine tasting with Nan from the Living Venice Blog. If I can find my notes, I'll make this a separate entry. But something like 13 of us enjoyed six different (i.e., wines we don't find in the States) Italian wines (3 white, 3 red and some snacks), some interesting facts and good conversation before splitting up for a short while before our dinner reservation at ... oh shoot, can't remember the restaurant name. Anyway, that will be a separate post too.

In the break between wine tasting and dinner, a few of us popped over to my place so others could partake of the WiFi but Mindy struggled with my little netbook keyboard and screen though I think Chris managed to hook his iPhone into the network.

Then onto a dinner (we were there for about three hours and as I said, I'll write about that in a separate post), and then home after midnight to catch up on emails and such and watch an episode of Glee on my iPhone before turning in.

Tuesday

Originally I thought I'd have Tuesday free to wander around Venice. I didn't realize that Shannon had scheduled a brewery tour with an acquaintance of from when she lived in Venice. I'll probably do this as a separate post too, but we took a train (Shannon, Nan, Ian and I) out to Treviso to visit Andrea's brewery (Morgana) and have lunch.

We got back to Venice (and my apartment) about 4:20 or so, and within fifteen minutes of my "rest time" the phone rang again, "Hey, what are you doing?"

Jen and Chris were at their apartment, drinking, and Shannon wanted to know if I wanted to head down there to join them (they are staying in Dorsoduro and we are in Cannareggio).

Sure give me 10 minutes.

We met at the vaporetto at San Marcuola, and road down the Grand Canal (I love saying that) to their place. By the way, it can take about 25 - 30 minutes on the vaporetto to get there. Along the way, Jim, Colleen, and Mindy got on board with their new friend and tour guide, Antonio (you'll have to ask them about that; it's their story). Antonio, Jim and Colleen departed at San Toma though and Mindy returned with us to her pad (she's staying with Chris and Jen) and the drinking ensued.

Unbelievably, about 7:30 or so I looked at Shannon and said, "I can't believe I'm getting hungry." We had an awful big lunch. By now Colleen and Jim had joined us and all agreed we would go out somewhere for a bit to eat. Shannon tracked down Ian and we agreed to meet at Taverna San Trovaso for dinner (think I'll make that a separate post too). It was about a five minute walk from where we were, and on the way back to the Accademia vaporetto stop for our ride home (Chris, if you're reading this, it's just down the calle from that cicchetti place we liked near Pensione Accademia).

After dinner, Ian Shannon and I returned to Cannareggio and to our respective apartments for the night (again, close to midnight).

Wednesday

Yesterday, I intentionally awoke early because I wanted to wander around Piazza San Marco before the hoards of tourists and because we were meeting for a Secret Itinerary Tour of the Doges Palace at 8:50. You see a little bit of a different side of Venice if you ride the vaporetti before eight, I think. Lots of children with their parents, and teens, heading off to school and Italians heading to work.

I wandered around St. Marks, admiring the architecture and listening to my Perfect Traveller audio guide for a while before meeting the rest of the crew in front of the Doges palace (again, I think another entry - lots of teasing going on here, no?) Let's just say, it was a really good tour.

Afterward, Chris, Jen, Mindy and I snaked our way back toward their apartment, stopping for a quick bite of pizza along the way (Chris, if you're reading this, it was the same place we stopped when we were here with the girls in piazza San Stefano). After grabbing the shopping bags (and taking a quick break), we walked over to Zattere and caught the vapporetto to San Basilio and the Billa market.

Oh, and while we were snaking our way to the pizza place, I took a major tumble down a bridge (but not into a canal ;D). And no, I hadn't even had a drink yet! Anyway, bruised palm which already looks better, and ice on my knee seems to have fixed me up just fine.

Okay - so back to the Bila market, where we purchased items for our dinner that night. Shannon and I were cooking for the SlowTrav crew and then some (ended up being like 14 people), so we needed ingredients. Love the Italian markets and need to run over to my Bila, hopefully this morning, to get Kinder Eggs for Sammi. Back on to the vaporetto, one stop, and to the apartment, for another quick break before we headed out again.

This time we were in search of some jewelry. Colleen had bought this beautiful necklace the day before and we were in search of the store in San Polo. Unfortunately, the address we had, we just could not seem to find, as it all seemed residential and the calle was not well marked. I do not know though if it was because the address was bad, or my navigating...

Along the way though we stumbled upon Vizio Virtu for chocolates which are quite delish - like little potent explosions in your mouth. On the way back too (we decided to walk rather than get the Vapporetto again), we found a different jewelry store and made assorted purchases. We also ran into Susan (who we'd also run into at lunch), funny enough. Oh, and spoke to Gail Hecko of Gail's Great Escapes. She and her partner were in the area, so we made arrangements for them to stop by Jen, Chris and Mindy's for a drink (they already had dinner plans, so couldn't join us). Somewhere in here too, I got a text from Shannon, "Hey, what are you doing?" I couldn't reply though because I did something wrong when loading time on my phone (later figured out I'd transposed two numbers) but eventually she called, and arranged to meet us also.

So back to Party Central we went where we chilled, enjoyed a drink with Gail and Roberto and then Shannon and I cooked dinner. Shannon made this great baked pasta dish with radicchio from Treviso (though we're not sure it was the real stuff because technically it's early in the season) and I made a pasta, bean and sausage soup (can't call it pasta fagioli according to Nan because it's not traditional), we also put out some cheese and crackers to start, had a side salad with dinner and some assorted olives, mushrooms and artichokes and for dessert, Norma and Lou brought a tray of yummy cookies and Anne made her delicious tiramisu. With us being who we are, there was also plenty of wine, prosecco and beer flowing!

I hope everyone had a good time.

Got home about 11:20 and crawled into bed (oh, but watched the last episode of Glee that I brought with me. May try to download some more for the flight home now though).

October 17, 2010

Spini (Spene) Hunt

Everyone wonders why we went to Sondrio. I mean it’s not exactly on the tourist map, wedged between the Alps, close to the Swiss border, I imagine it’s more of a destination for skiers than anything else. But Jen and Chris wanted to visit, as immigration records (i.e., ship’s manifest) indicate that Carlo Spini, Chris’s great grandfather, came from Sondrio; they wanted to check it out.


View Larger Map

Now first off, I’m really telling their story and I hope I do it justice. I also hope once they get home from the rest of their travels, they’ll feel free to correct any facts or impressions I may have misrepresented or misinterpreted.

Background

It’s hard for me to know where to start with this, so I’m going to start with my understanding of the background of Carlo Spini (aka Spene).

Carlo came to America, alone, sometime in the mid to late 1800s (Chris and Jen can provide us with the year but it escapes me now – I think perhaps 1882). On the ship manifest it lists one Carlo Spini from Sondrio. There are two important facts though I need to mention here. The first is in regards to the spelling of the last name. Carlo came through, like so many others, Ellis Island. We can only assume what happened there is when asked to spell his name, he said “esse, pe, e, enne, e.” You see in Italian, the letter “I” is pronounced “E” and therefore that’s why Chris now spells his name Spene and not Spini. There are no families in Sondrio that spell Spini with an E. Chris does have a marriage announcement, from later years, from a local newspaper that does spell Carlo’s last name as Spini. I hope Chris will scan it in and let me post it; it’s actually very funny to read.

The second fact we learned upon arrival is that Sondrio is not just the town in which we stayed, it’s also used to refer to the area around the town. Kind of like we have Middlesex Borough in Middlesex County. So knowing that Carlo came from Sondrio, didn’t mean he came from the town but it could have encompassed a much larger area (and as we came to find out it did), which includes farmland and much smaller towns and villages.

Carlo somehow settled in central Missouri, not far from Columbia where he married a girl some 20 or 30 years his junior (again, Chris and Jen have the actual information and reading that wedding announcement was quite funny). Apparently, Carlo was very quiet (dare I say secretive) about his origins so more than this we do not know. We do not know his parents’ names, or why he left Italy, or if he ever communicated with anyone back in Italy once he arrived in America.

Continue reading "Spini (Spene) Hunt" »

October 18, 2010

Ristorante Gembro – Saturday Night (10/09/10)

There are certain moments that seem decidedly Italian to me. Like Friday, when I boarded the Malpensa Express from Centrale train station to return to the airport, there were two empty seats with a bag laying across them. I looked around, but no one seemed to claim it. It would not fit in the overhead (big backpack), nor was I inclined to lift it if it did, but I started to move it into only the window seat, so I could sit in the aisle, when the women across the aisle (not sure where they were from, definitely not Italian), tried to shoo me away, finally saying in English, “For our friends.” No problem. I moved a few rows back and found another seat. Within moments though several more people boarded the bus, and as those were the only two seats available and no friends were in sight, the bus driver told them to sit. What then ensued delayed our departure for some ten minutes, as these women were trying to explain they were waiting for their friends (who it had turned out went to get some gelato without ever giving the driver their tickets), and the driver wanted to leave, and then the friends arrived and chaos ensued because several of the Italian passengers got pissed and were yelling at these other foreigners, and others were trying to explain the friends could get the next bus… well you get the idea. It was definitely something I would imagine in a Roberto Benigni film.

Anyway, I digress with that example, but basically a quintessential Italy experience.

And so was the one we had Saturday night as we finished our dinner at Ristorante Gembro, where we’d also dined on Friday night.

Dinner was good, like the previous night, with Shannon having one of the best steaks ever, me enjoying the tagliallini with meaty, fresh porcini, Chris having the gnocchi and shoot me, but I can’t remember what Jen enjoyed. As we were finishing (Roberto had put a bottle of and a bottle of grappa on the table for us), an older gentleman approached to use the rest room (our table was next to it). Shannon greeted him (we had seen he and his wife earlier in the bar section) and he stopped to speak to us. He had limited but understandable English to match our extremely limited Italian and after he excused himself for a moment to relieve himself, he ended up sitting with us and enjoying drinks.

Eventually, his wife, Margarita, joined us too.

And there we sat, draining a bottle of limoncello, trying some blueberry flavored grappa, and chatting with our new friends well into the night. I think it was past midnight before we finally had to beg off to go to sleep (and you know it’s late and we drank a lot when Shannon excused herself earlier). I never did get his name but I’d swear that Marlon Brando based his portrayal of Vito Corleone upon this gentleman and his mannerisms and his wife, Margarita, was adorable. I still cannot believe how much we were able to communicate between ourselves (Jen and Margarita share a passion for perfume, so they were off to the races once that connection was made), and though Margarita does not do email (no computer) we did get her phone numbers (home and mobile) with instructions to call when we return to Sondrio. And we will.

October 19, 2010

San Marcuola Apartment

I first mentioned my apartment back in this post. Now that I've actually stayed in it, I thought I would update all of you (and include some video), and form the basis for my rental review for the site.

Location

The apartment is located in the Cannaregio Sestieri of Venice (there are six and you can read more about them here, Venice Sestieri - the neighborhoods and where to stay. Specifically, it's in this area on this Google map. It's just off the Rio Terra della Madelena which becomes the Strada Nova.


View Venice Apartment - San Marcuola in a larger map

The entrance was right onto the calle so there is foot traffic going by.

It's maybe 10 minute walk from the train station but be warned, the way gets very crowded with people so in the thick of the day, it's hard making good time, and you have at least two bridges to go over (though the larger one does have semi-ramps for wheeled luggage - though they're on one side for going up and the other side going down, which forces you to cross the bridge at the top - I didn't get it).

I loved the convenience of being able to walk to the train station and being close to the vaporetto. The main drag was slightly too touristy for me, but once you moved off it, not at all (probably true for most of Venice). I also liked the convenience of so many shops and things nearby.

Nearby Amenities

Really everything you need is within five minutes walk - wine bars, restaurants (though I didn't dine at any), a Billa Supermarket is on the Strada Nova, one bridge down, you're close to the San Marcuola vaporetto stop (Line 1) - maybe 3 minutes walk and if need be, a bit further to the Ca d'Oro vaporetto stop (also Line1), cafes, gelato, chotchkey shops, camera stores, bancomat. All within a few minutes.

The House

Gosh, I do not know if the building was historical, I'd imagine it was old though (i.e., not built within at least the past 100 years). Though inside, everything was updated. There were definitely other apartments in the building, as I heard people above me and next to me (typical apartment noises). I do not know how many though. The apartment is showing a little wear - in the kitchen for example, there was a gouge out of the counter top, and a piece of molding was pulling away from the closet doors. None of this bothered me however.

I did take a bit of video of the place with my Flip camera.

Patio

I had visions of sitting out on that patio, sipping coffee, writing in my blog. The reality was different in only that I was so on the move this trip, I never seemed to have time to do that. It does seem very nice and quiet. Unfortunately, I also forgot to check to see if the WiFi reaches to the patio.

Living Area

Overall, I did find the apartment clean. There was a bit of crumb (but I don't really think that's what it was - more like maybe paint flakes or stucco) on the dresser top but other than that I didn't notice anything else. I walk barefoot and totally didn't feel like there was dirt/dust on the floor and the countertops in the kitchen and bathroom were spotless so I'm inclined to believe that little bit of shmutz was an anomaly. The bed is really an open futon (it stays open) and there's no living space other than this and the small kitchen table and/or stools at the kitchen counter.

Bedroom

It's a studio apartment, so no bedroom per se. There's a separation between the kitchen area (opening) and the "bedroom" area but no doors to close. If my husband and I were both staying there, and I rose early, I'd have to sit at the kitchen table, counter or the patio to amuse myself (quietly) until he awoke. As I said, the bed is an open futon and I found it comfortable enough. You should know though, that your head rests against the wall that abuts the calle, and therefore, if people outside walk by loudly, or greet each other in the morning, you will hear it. When I wanted to sleep in, I wore my earplugs and it was fine.

On, and there's a media center on the opposite wall from the bed, large flat-screen TV and stereo system, but I never used them.

Lastly, there are drapes that cover the windows but not pull-down shades or shutters, so light does creep in around the cracks.

Bathroom

It's a good size with plenty of shelving for toiletries, a towel warmer, and decent towels (not those thin, scratchy ones) were provided. Two things to note about the bathroom though 1) there's no toilette paper holder (by the way, plenty of toilette paper was provided), so I just rested it on the bidet (this didn't bother me at all) 2) The ceiling over the shower is slanted. I'm short, so it was fine, but I wonder how Chris, with his six foot frame would manage.

Kitchen

The kitchen had a clothes washing machine, double sink, microwave, refrigerator, 5-burner stove top, oven, juicer, electric kettle and stove-top espresso maker (no American coffee machine that I saw). It had some fry pans, pots, a few wine glasses, regular glasses, plates, large mugs (good for my morning cafe latte and oatmeal). Other than scrambling some eggs, I really did not cook in the kitchen, so I can't comment as to its effectiveness. For my breakfasts, and some lunches, it worked just fine. The clothes washer seemed to work well too.

Bonus

Once I figured out the key for the WiFi, it worked great.

Agency

I found the apartment on HomeAway but I did not work with the owner. Instead, I ended up dealing with an agent at Immobiliare Rio Alto s.r.l. which was fine with me. But there were two things I had to deal with that a newbie traveler may be uncomfortable with (and were a slight inconvenience to me). 1) Paola, the agent, could not meet me when I arrived on Sunday (had she though, I would have had to pay an extra €30 for an off-hour pick up anyway), so instead I had to travel to Trattoria San Toma (in the San Polo sestieri) to get my key and map to the apartment. Luckily, I was able to drop my gear at Shannon's apartment (and called the trattoria to make sure they were open), before I headed over on the vaporetto. On a Sunday afternoon, it was very crowded and the trip took me about 20 minutes there and longer for the return because I had to wait about 15 minutes for another boat. If I had been more familiar I probably could have walked it but not in much less time. In total, it took me about an hour for this excursion. And if I didn't have Shannon there, it could have been a pain dealing with my luggage. 2) Rather than coming to the apartment to show me around, Paola asked me to drop by her office on Via Garibaldi in Castello on Monday to make the payment. Again, that's about a 30 minute vaporetto ride each way on the Number 1 (or if you're like me and walk it, and get a bit turned around, about a 45 minute walk). I did find some welcome information in the apartment that appears to be older as there were a lot of cross-outs and hand-written updates to it (it could use a retyping), so it was up to me to figure out how things worked, like the aforementioned WiFi. Again, this was fine, but it may not fly with other people.

I paid €470 for five nights. They did not require a deposit (only a credit card number) and I paid the total amount in cash (there was a surcharge for using credit cards).

Recommend?

So given everything I mentioned, would I stay here again? Absolutely! It's a nifty little place, very comfortable for me alone. I liked the location. I liked the WiFi. I liked that it had a washing machine and a patio. I'm not sure if I'd stay here with Chris though, only because of the shower height, though I would like to give it a try.

October 23, 2010

Live from Lancaster? Well, My Heart is in Venice

As I sit here in the lobby of the Hampton Inn, as Becky sleeps, waiting to go to her college open house in a couple of hours, I realize that I haven’t finished writing about my trip and I want to at least touch on more of the day-to-day stuff before I forget. Still hard for me to believe that a week ago I was in Italy (well, in actuality I guess I was on a flight home, but you get my drift).

Anyway, when last we left off, it was Thursday. Shannon was guiding a whole bunch of us through Venice today, showing us some of her “off the beaten path” favorites. Really, highlights, and that’s what I’m going to give you here.

We weren’t meeting until about 11:30am at a bar near the Rialto market where some of us kicked off the day with a Prosecco and others a caffe.

Let me note two things here though. Since we didn’t have to meet until 11:30, I dicked around the apartment a bit when I probably should have gone to get a SIM card. Oh well. The other, I was in a funk and everyone noticed and I felt bad.

Anyway, back to the Rialto where we gathered, enjoyed our Prosecco and then walked through the market. A few of us decided to try out the traghetto since it wasn’t crowded, and they did us proud, standing up for the crossing (in both directions). I know Anne did it, and I think Kendall did too – I can’t remember if Michelle joined them or not.

After the Rialto, we made our way over to the Frari, such an amazing church. Such beautiful artwork and such a serene setting – I can’t wait to go back and spend even more time. For a Jew, I do enjoy sitting in church. There is something calming about it, I think.

Hmm… from the Frari – where to? Shoot, I think there was a chiccheti stop in there somewhere but I don’t think I partook.

Okay – then we hopped on the vaporetto and I sat in the back while most of the others stood and admired the views – especially going past San Marco. It is beautiful.

We departed at the Giardino stop and now the order of things gets fuzzy again. I know we walked near/along the gardens. I know we walked to Isola San Pietro (very cool), and I know we stopped for another snack and break somewhere along Via Garibaldi but I do not remember in what order we did these things. I do know that it was while using the bathroom at the café on Via Garibaldi that I figured out my funk (I do some of my best thinking in the bathroom), the date – October 14th, it was two years to the day that I found that stupid lump in my breast. I don’t know about the rest of you, but once I figure out what’s causing the funk, that’s like a huge chunk of the battle to get rid of the funk.

Anyway, we wandered about Castello, glimpsed the Arsenale (you can’t enter) and then realized that we needed to book in order to meet Shannon’s friends and then meet Nan in time for our Arzana tour. I know, you think , well, it doesn’t seem like you covered a lot of time, but with 14 or so people, walking through Venice, with many “shiny things” (bit of an inside joke there) to distract them, these things take time. It reminds me of that saying, “I was on my way to conquer the world when I got distracted by something shiny.” Well, we were trying to conquer Venice but there was just so much shiny stuff to look at!

So after what some may now refer to as “the death march” – really just a fast walk from Castello back to Cannaregio, we met up with Shannon’s friends and then headed over to Arzana headquarters (I’m assuming that’s what it was – I can’t remember the Venetian word – maybe Nan will chime in but it’s a building used for building/maintaining boats), where we got to partake in an incredible tour.

I spliced together a bunch of the video from the tour (remember my camera broke so I was forced to resort to my Flip only), and posted it on YouTube.

It was an amazing tour, in that fifteen of us piled in to this old Venetian row boat which Nan and two of her friends used to guide us not only through the back canals of Cannaregio but out on to the Grand Canal where several of our party got to try their hand at rowing. It was very cool. And somewhere on the Grand Canal, tears came to my eyes. It was a beautiful day, and I was being rowed along Venice’s Grand Canal in an old Venetian boat, surrounded by friends. Two years earlier, I wasn’t sure I’d be alive let alone participating in this amazing event and I just felt … light, free, like I could breathe.

Enough of that.

After the tour, we returned to the boat place, watched the makings of a great documentary on the art of rowing in Venice and why it needs to be preserved and partook in some wine or Prosecco, cheese and salami and bread.

Then we were off again, this time over to the Ghetto for a brief look around and brief discussion about the history, then off to another bar for more wine and delicious cicchetti (finally got my baccala!) We hung out there for a while, but eventually decided it was time to move on.

A bunch of us returned to the “Party House” and finished off much of the wine from the previous evening, the pasta and the soup (soup was pretty good for the second day – luckily Jen thought to thin it a bit as she reheated). Then about 10:00, Shannon, Colleen, Jim and I made our way over to San Marco (after Ian met us to bring me my phone that I’d left behind), because I wanted to see the Piazza at night and hear the bands. Then it was more good-byes (I was departing the next day) and back home for some sleep.

Friday

I awoke pretty early and organized my gear, cleaned up the apartment (garbage needed to be out by 8:00am and they asked me to make sure I cleared out the refrigerator) then made my way to the Billa market to pick up some Kinder Eggs for Sammi (she still loves those things). While there, I popped into the attached café for a cappuccino and cornetto con crema (my farewell tour), and returned home to a dick around a bit more before Shannon arrived about 10:20 or so. I gave her some wine I had left, as well as some fruit and she brought that back to her place before accompanying me to the train station.

I’d already purchased my tickets for my 11:50 train to Milan and didn’t have to wait more than a few minutes before they posted the track. I boarded early, and stowed my stuff (I’d lightened my roller a bit which really only held a magnum of beer now surrounded by some dirty clothes), and sat and read. The train ride was uneventful other than I got mostly through our book club selection, Sarah’s Key, while riding.

Once at Centrale, I easily got my gear together, found the shuttle bus outside, stored my gear, and waited as the fiasco I mentioned here took place. Once one our way though, it was an easy ride to Malpensa where I got off at the first stop, which is Terminal 2. I called Carlo from I Castagni B&B and he was there in about 10 minutes to pick me up and bring me back to the B&B.

The B&B is really their house (I’ll write a review), that has what we would refer to as a “mother-in-law” apartment attached and that’s what they rent out to guests. It’s one bedroom, with two twin beds (I forgot to ask if they push these together for a couple), a living room area and a very large bathroom. In the morning, Carlo’s wife (name escapes me as I type), sets up breakfast in an adjoining room before your scheduled breakfast time, and they also take you to/from Malpensa all for the price of €50. Definitely worth it. Anyway, Carlo showed me around and then I settled in to do a bit of work for a few hours, munched on the sandwich I had originally planned to eat on the train and otherwise killed time until it was time to head to dinner.

Less than a five minute walk (one turn involved) down a somewhat dark road is another hotel (name escapes me but I have it at home and will write a review) that has a restaurant/brick oven pizza place attached. So about 7:30, I walked over there for dinner. There was one other group and one other solo traveler dining when I arrived but the place quickly filled. I enjoyed a salad, some pasta oglio olivo with aciughe (pasta with oil and anchovies), and profiteroles for dessert. This with a glass of red wine and a ½ litre of water came to €18. During dinner, I finished my book and then returned to the B&B to turn in.

Saturday

I awoke about 6 and heard Carlo’s wife setting up my breakfast, after a shower and dressing, I went into the kitchen expecting to see her there but no, the coffee (and hot milk – pre-arranged) was set up in carafe’s along with a spread on the table of some pre-packaged cornetto, crackers, jams and butter, plus bread for toast and some sort of homemade spice-type cake. That’s what I went for with my coffee and all was good.

Carlo was waiting outside for me at 7:15 as we had discussed, we loaded my gear into his car and he dropped me at Terminal 1 about 15 minutes later (T1 is a bit further from their home than T2). I went to Elite check-in (sweet), security and was at my gate probably within 30 minutes of arrival. Then it was time to read some Sherlock Homes and type some blog entries until departure.

Finally, we boarded (bulkhead seat with no one next to me – yeah), and then waited. The strikes in France were affecting air-space so we had about an hour delay on the ground which we made up for in the air (I think we landed maybe 15 minutes late).

I watched some TV and read and tried to nap (no such luck), and endured one of the worst landings in recent memories (total wind) after flying over my own home (love when that happens). Through immigration in less than five minutes, waited for my bags for about 15 minutes (it is Newark after all), through Customs with no issues, and reunited with my family and in the car home by 2:30pm.

This was an excellent trip and I am so glad I went!

I’ll have some more of those fill-in posts I hope to get up this week.

June 5, 2013

Wine Country Interludes

As I've mentioned, we're heading back to the big island this summer. On the way though, we're stopping in the San Francisco area for two nights. Rather than staying in the city this time, we're going to return to Santa Rosa for two nights. With reservations set again at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek in Santa Rosa. We'll be recreating a lot from that previous trips, with visits to Saint Francis (where we are now club members), Dutton-Goldfield, which we may join if they will ship to Jersey, J (another possible wine club to join as our friends are members so we know they ship here), Alexander Valley Vineyards (hoping to get some Cyrus), and Sausal (for their extremely old-vine zinfandels). We're also hoping for return meals at Bear Republic (lunch) and Petit Syrah (dinner).

View from St. Francis Winery
View from St. Francis Winery


I know, it's a lot to do/see but hey, it's a plan - it doesn't mean we have to do everything.

Oh, and some other things on the agenda:

Lastly, we may take advantage of Wine Country Shippers again (used them in Paso Robles), though in the summer heat, I'm not sure that will be best. We'll see.

This page contains an archive of all entries posted to What I Really Think in the Trips category. They are listed from oldest to newest.

GrapeHops is the previous category.

Many more can be found on the main index page or by looking through the archives.

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