Milan Trip Report From Start to Finish….Encore Presentation

Greetings from Milan
March 12, 2015
Trip Report

Milanese salutations from wondrous Milan- the financial epicenter of Italy and paradise for Euro fashionistas. Neither of which is the reason this traveling twosome is here. After 23 trips to Europe, we decided to go back to our traveling roots and return to the country that ignited our love and passion for travel. Italy’s culture is captivating, its food sinfully enticing and the people are just good old fashioned friendly.

As the plane glided gracefully over the jagged Alpine Mountains, the fluffy clouds lazily clung to them. The juxtaposition of fragility and softness created a stillness in the plane as all the sleep deprived passengers romantically gazed out the window in amazement. It was breathtaking and instantly brought me back to the first time I had seen the grandeur of the Alps. Even though it was but just a short glimpse, it was a good sign for the beginning of this trip.

Bleary eyed and jet lagged- we made our way to the train and took a hypnotic passageway into the heart of Milan. I recommend this affordable and convenient alternative versus a car service due to the exorbitant 100 Euro cost. For us, it’s an indulgence that is unnecessary.

The sun beamed down on us intently and the cold weather I was expecting (and frankly looking forward to) was not to be. A pleasant 60 degrees welcomed us as we schlepped luggage in tow, wearily through the bustling eager crowd. The confusing city structure, as well as a stubborn GPS, got us slightly turned around but eventually we made it to our refuge for the next 6 days- The Gran Duca Di York hotel http://www.ducadiyork.com/ . Our hotel is a 19th century palace tucked away on the corner of a quiet street. We have a lovely room, with a splendid view and the best part –free mini bar that is refilled daily!!! The only drawback is the shower entry was designed for a Kate Moss style figure and requires some aggressive wedging and maneuvering to enter. But, once inside –all systems are a go.

After the shower wrangling and decontamination of airplane funk was complete, a solid nap was required. With the windows open, we napped as Italian dialogue from the street below wove in and out of my dreams.
As usual, hunger and curiosity awoke me, tapping my shoulder like an inpatient child. We ventured out in our new city fervent to unwrap like a kid on Christmas morning. With our finicky GPS we made our way on foot, trying to get a lay of the land. As the husband and the feisty GPS battled, we looped around the city, back and forth coiling us like a tilt a whirl ride. Eventually, we made our way to the Duomo http://www.duomomilano.it/en/ . The towering cathedral started construction in 1387, but eventually finished in the 1930s. Outside it is a meeting hotspot, selfie taking breeding ground and unexplainably antagonistic creepy gentleman trying to sell worthless string bracelets from “Africa”. The square which the cathedral is in resembles the backdrop of “it’s a small world”, picturesque and perfect. As the sun began to set, the twinkling city lights added a special touch to the already scenic set up.

I was grateful for the hubby’s tenacity and eventual obedience gained from the GPS struggle as we weaseled our way into the church 5 minutes before closing. The church is one of the three biggest in the world –right there next to St Peter’s in Rome, St Paul’s in London and Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The style is mostly Gothic, with impressive high arches and jaw dropping stained glass. We moseyed our way through, as usual I said my silent prayer of appreciation and allowed myself one brief moment of calmness to settle over me and blanket me with travel armor for the next couple of hectic days.

We left the church and made our way over to what Milan is known for-its fashions. Set up in an art deco colonnade is the famous Galleria http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/galleriavittorioemanueleii.htm . A glass arcade comprised of high end shops such as Prada and Louis Vuitton ping pong the walkway, teasing the sapless window-shopper with unaffordable, superfluous luxuries.

The friendly receptionist at the hotel had suggested a restaurant for dinner right down the block. We ate at a charming restaurant called Piazza Borromeo. It was a warm and inviting restaurant with candles melting over wine bottles. We gorged on fresh baked bread from the pizza oven as we waited for my arugula and olive pizza (Yum!) and the hubby’s very strange (and disturbing for this vegetarian) version of spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were marble size and there were many of them. I would be more apt to call them meat “nuggets”. As our meal progressed, the restaurant swelled with diners, all apparently clearly enjoying themselves. We finished the meal on an especially high note with a tantalizing dessert.

The husband is in a heap, snoring away as I type my labor of love to my few and faithful. I now must rest for the excitement this incredible city has awaiting me.

Tune in for more Milanese mischief…
~B&F~

Milan Trip report
Day 2

After 3 hours of sleep, day 2 of trip kicks off. We had a yummy, pleasant breakfast provided by the hotel. Then, we literally took 10 steps and went to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana http://www.ambrosiana.eu/jsp/index.jsp -conveniently adjacent to our hotel. The museum is an ancient building established in 1618 from a generous, wealthy Cardinal who donated his collection of impressive paintings. Inside this magnificent building are 24 rooms containing great masterpieces from artists Leonardo de Vinci, Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian and my personal favorite Botticelli. We spent several hours working our way through the remarkable collection. Of particular note is an interesting exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci and all his numerous contributions to the scientific community.

After the museum, we walked through the heart of the city, stopping at Arnold’s coffee http://www.arnoldcoffee.it/ – Milan’s disappointing version of Starbuck’s for a short respite. From there we walked through Sempione Park http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/parcosempione.htm Milan’s central park. The weather was spectacular; I would almost say-Perfection. Potent Italian sunshine with a refreshing cool breeze. As we strolled leisurely, we passed other couples, school kids, and families enjoying the beautiful day too. We stopped for a gelato, sat on a bench and rested our feet.

From there we made our way to Sforza Castle http://www.milanocastello.it/ing/home.html – Milan’s most famous and much beloved monument. Once again, those pesky men desperately trying to sell yarn bracelets from Africa were abundant. (** If you are interested read the story below explaining these fools) Between them, the harassing pigeons, and annoying people trying to sell selfie sticks, we were swatting them away like hungry mosquitoes on a summer’s night.

This 15th century castle monopolizes many city blocks and the whole area is pedestrian friendly with no car traffic. The area was hopping with energetic school kids and masses of peppy tourists. The castle grounds itself is vast and open and houses 3 unique museums- an Egyptian one, Ancient art and furniture. We opted out of the Egyptian one due to overwhelming bladder needs and fatigue. But, the other 2 were quite entertaining and time well spent. The highlight of the Ancient art museum was a Michelangelo unfinished Pieta -the original one is the single most astounding piece of art that I have ever seen which is in St. Peters basilica in Rome.

We went back to the hotel and rested momentarily. The receptionist once again was quite helpful recommending a local restaurant for dinner and was kind enough to make a reservation. Walking distance from our hotel was Santamarta http://www.santamartamilano.it/index.html – a restaurant known for their fish dishes.
The restaurant is very cozy and welcoming as well as was the waiter. Frank and I had a mouthwatering Onion soup that was the best I had ever had. Every component was incredible and together it made for a flawless soup. With this, I had a ho-hum risotto and Frank had a potato crusted sea bass. On the websites reviews many patrons had recommended the Lemoncello liquor. I remembered this fondly from a previous trip to Italy, so I also had this with my dinner. Poured in a shot glass chilled to an artic freeze, this bitter and sugary nectar is a cross between lemon meringue pie and lighter fuel. I am glad I tried it. And, will never need to again. The other thing they are known for is their “biscuits and cream.” We ordered this for dessert, which took over 30 minutes. This is because the “biscuits”, were more like cookies made fresh and served in the bakeware they were cooked in. They were accompanied by an orange cream sauce. This was not particularly my cup of tea, as I was taking the interpretation literally, expecting flaky homemade biscuits and real heavy whipping cream. Regardless, more for the hubby who eagerly consumed them all greedily. Before you judge, let it be known that between yesterday and today over 35,000 steps were accumulated.

A brief side note and update. Bank released hold on our bank account so now we got money! And, Yahoo can suck it-because now I am a Gmail gal.

For those of you unaware of yesterday’s events, yahoo mail accused me of sending suspicious mail and blocked all in and outgoing mails and my bank suspended us for fraudulent activity.

All is well, though. Except the shower dilemma remains the same. We asked the receptionist for a bigger shower and apparently all patrons in this hotel have to suck it in, slide in sideways and pray that no hanging parts (sorry for visual) get snagged.

We are back in the hotel now recharging for tomorrow’s adventure.

Love and sweet biscuits-(which are not really biscuits but COOKIES, people!)
~B&F

**The string scam: One of the “‘string men” walks up to you and engages you in innocent conversation and will usually say that they want to show you a magic trick. Before you know it, a “string man” has grabbed your wrist or one or two fingers and encircled it with a homemade bracelet of colored string.
Typically the string men will say something to you like “it’s for the church” or “a gift.” Sometimes the string men are more polite (they’ll ask the visitor to hold a string) and before you know it, the string men will somehow manage to grab your wrist or fingers and encircle it with a homemade bracelet of colored string, yarn, or other crafty-looking item.

Next, when the string men finish making your new “local Paris string bracelet souvenir,” they will demand payment of around €20 which is quite obviously not what the bracelet is worth. If you fail to pay them, they will doggedly follow you and be VERY insistent that you provide some amount of payment. These “con-merchants” are so demanding, they succeed in intimidating many tourists into paying them because it’s the only way to get rid of them.

Trip Report
Milan
Day 3

Bon Journo! I write this blog with a belly full of pizza and a brain full of goodies I want to share with you. Today was downright magical. If you are reading this blog and you are beginning to despise me– I do understand. But, really here’s the thing….I work like everybody else. I live a life of solitude and sacrifice (sometimes) except for 4 weeks a year. The fall and the spring when the hubs drags me schlepping around Europe- I use up all my vacation time as I pray for good health the remainder of the year. So, if the flowery verbiage and soliloquy is too much- I get it. I share this with you in the hopes of adding some mindless entertainment and indulge in a little company, as I see new things. One more thing to add….On any day, I would much prefer an afternoon marathon of the Kardashians and a bowl of popcorn sitting on my couch. But, by going outside my comfort zone- challenging my patience, endurance and sanity at times-it is truly a test and ultimately has formed the gal I am today.

Now, enough of that nonsense….On with the show…. After only 4 hours of sleep we awoke bright & early and took a taxi to the train station in the dark, quiet morning. We took the 715 am train to Bologna, which is 1 hr. south of here from high speed train. You ask why Bologna? I say why not? For me & the hubs, Bologna conjures up thoughts of thick, red inviting sauce. We knew very little and unlike us did very little research –so it really was an adventure.

After sleeping the entire way, we arrived rested and ready to tackle this unknown land. I have to admit, one of my favorite things to do on vacation is explore a city as it is waking up. Shop owners opening their doors, sidewalks freshly wet and hosed down-as if to signify a new start, washing away the slough of the previous night. I suppose this is my thing and difficult to explain, but it truly is a love and fond fascination.

So, as we set out on foot, signs of life were beginning to emerge. We walked along the cobble stone streets, finding ourselves in a church-as it was the only place open. The stone walls insulated the chilly air. Again, I began my prayer of gratitude and thanks and kick started this day with an extra abundance of appreciation.

We stopped in a lovely café, bustling with activity and enjoyed a delicate sweet treat and coffee. From there, we found ourselves herded into masses of people and a street market. A potpourri of fish, gargantuan hams swung from the ceiling, cheeses, and fragrant bright flowers saluted the passerbys. Shuffling our way along as the city began to explode with energy we found ourselves at Basilica Santaurio. It is a massive religious complex dating back from the 12th century. Being there is a spiritual experience and for me evoked feelings of peace and tranquility. We toured the grounds and eventually made our way to a gift shop of sorts. In there, was the monastery’s finest items such as honey, wine and rosary beads. We contributed a little to their economic revenue, with an additional special treat – the priest blessing my purchased items.

From there, we dined at an unbelievably lavish restaurant Virtuoso http://grandhotelmajestic.duetorrihotels.com/ . We sat in 15th century salon and were waiting on like royalty. Frank had a 4 course meal that was a traditional Bolognese feast. I had homemade pasta that was perfect in every way. We were treated in a way I had never been and really with all the opulence and fanciness-the meal was relatively affordable.

Our last stop in Bologna was the Pinacotecha Nazionale Bologna http://www.pinacotecabologna.beniculturali.it/ – Bologna’s art museum. It had an abundance of pre-renaissance and medieval art from many unknowns. It was a bizarre museum mixing media’s such as a puppet show about terrorism playing in a room with frescos from the 14th century. Way too experimental for me. As a result, a cat nap was had during the puppet show that did not please the staff very much.

We had a lot of time to kill, but with bellies full and not much to do; we trudged back to the train station several hours early. We waited for our train, took that back and returned to the restaurant from the first night Piazza Borromeo for some late night dinner of delicious pizza.

It is late, I am tired and again, hubby is asleep. Tomorrow has many moving parts to it and a lot is planned, so I must rest up.

Sorry if I went a bit long tonight.

Tune in tomorrow for more Italian adventures…
Love and Italian Lullabies….
~B&F~

Milan Trip Report
Day 4 & Day 5

News alert: I have a blogging injury. My left hand is throbbing. It is because I love my fans (ha) that I push through the pain to deliver you my masterpiece. Today we awoke to a quiet city. We ate our breakfast and took a taxi to Brera Museum http://www.brera.beniculturali.it/ . The collection dates back as far as 1776 and is situated in a palace from 1859. We arrived bright and early-one of the first ones in the door. This is another love of mine-having a whole museum to yourself, without someone breathing down your back, talking on their phone or blocking the picture. Without those nuisances it provides for optimal viewing pleasure.

We purchased an audio guide which was full of easy to understand information and helped to focus on the details in the art. The museum mostly has pre-Renaissance and medieval art, but also a nice collection of 16th and 17th century paintings. There were many prolific masters there such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens and Tintoretto. We spent over 3 hours there nonstop with no breaks.

From there we walked around the city. The sun was out, the weather was beautiful. It was a Sunday afternoon and everybody was out enjoying the day. We ate a light lunch, picnic style and made our way back to our hotel to rest as we had a big night at the opera later.

After a brief power nap, dressed in our finest attire we took a taxi to the world famous La Scala opera house http://www.teatroallascala.org/en/ to see Aida. For those of you who do not know, the hubs has a major passion for opera. These tickets had been purchased months ago-every day the hubs would troll the internet hoping the tickets would be released. So, just being in this grand opera house was enough for the man. Witnessing an opera in this majestic setting that dates back to 1778 was certainly on the hubs bucket list.
The opera house is as beautiful as you can expect. It is plush red with gold ornate accents everywhere. The acoustics are heavenly. Now, let’s get to the good stuff…our seats-well, our seats were in a box. A balcony of sorts with a door- our “seats” were good old fashioned bar stools (in plush red) with no back and were behind two individuals in real seats. My view was centered at the wall. My stool was about a foot higher than the hubs. Even odder was the other person who was facing us, knees almost touching.

I had every element and reason not to enjoy the opera, including poor view, no subtitles and maintaining proper posture for over 3 hours. Come to think of it, I had never sat in a bar stool for 3 hours and been sober! But, because of these obstacles or in spite of them I had an amazing time. I stayed awake (which is usually the hardest part) in fear I would slide off my bar stool. I was captivated by the story. The orchestra was sublime. Our “boxmates” during intermission struck up some lively conversation and by act II we were all best buds.

After 7 standing ovations, we unpeeled ourselves from our stools and headed out for dinner. We walked through the Brera neighborhood http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/wandering-milans-brera-and-navigli-neighborhoods.html – a young energetic hip area. We eventually made it to our destination for dinner Rangoli http://www.rangoli.it/web/ for Indian food. As much as I love Italian food, I was getting “pasta-ed” out, so we opted for something a little different. The place was hopping and appeared quite popular. We ordered the vegetarian feast, which consisted of 10 or so vegetarian items in a 4 course setting. The food was delicious-but probably not the wisest thing to eat at 10pm.

We walked a bit in the general direction of the hotel, but at this point the weather had deteriorated. Up until then, the weather had been fantastic. The whole time we have been here, rain had been forecasted. And, somehow every day we escaped it. But, last night it caught up to us. With about a mile to go, we relented and took a taxi back. All in all- it was a splendid day and a pretty awesome night.

Milan Trip Report
Day 5

My sleep was full of Indian food infused hallucinations mixed with a significant case of reflux. We slept in a bit this morning due to a change of plans. We were set to visit Lake Como (you know George Clooney’s summer home). But, it was grey and rainy and not ideal for visiting that region. So, instead, we woke up a little later, consumed our breakfast and set off on foot to Poldi Pezzoli museum http://www.museopoldipezzoli.it/#!/en/discover – a 17th century Neo-Classical Palace and former private residence of Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli. It is jam packed with art, bric-a-brac and all sorts of splendid goodies. There is a pretty intriguing room full of ornate guns and weaponry surprisingly fascinating. Of note, the art there is possibly the most important I have seen on this trip (with the exception of what I see tomorrow-just you wait…). We spent a good 2 hours traipsing the through the rooms. It was time well spent.

After, we walked through the Duomo area with the lunch rush in full swing. The small of garlic permeating in the air beckoned our stomachs, demanding nourishment. Mobs of worker bees with long queues were abundant. The rain steady and resilient exacerbated our hunger. Trying unsuccessfully to stay out of the “rip off” tourist zone, we found ourselves outside Santa Lucia http://www.asantalucia.it/en/home.html- apparently according to the web page the first pizzeria in Milan established in 1929.

The wall is adorned with pictures of famous actors and well-known people-an Italian Sardi’s of sorts. It was very busy and the crowd seemed very enthusiastic about their food. The waiter was a jovial Italian guy perfunctory and animated. The menu was in Italian and a lot of guessing was going on between me and the hub. In my confusion and fluster, I ordered basically the same thing for appetizer and meal, Caprice-which is mozzarella and tomato for an appetizer and fried mozzarella for the “primi” first course. Needless to say, this was a bad week to decide to go off dairy. The more I try to restrict myself, the more I seem to crave. This meal though was the nail in the coffin-the old timeless story of “too much of a good thing”. Meanwhile, Frank had traditional tortellini in a Bolognese sauce.

After reading this back to the hubs, he mentioned rather nonchalantly, I may add, that the waiter pinched my “keister” twice!!!! In reflection, I did feel something goose me, but I thought I was in the way. Hmmmmph. Speechless on that one….

After my cheese overload, I waddled back to the Doumo http://www.duomomilano.it/en/ to get one more look as tomorrow is our last official day. The cold and rainy weather had brought out more church lovers than usual and the crowds were huddled for warmth verses worship. But, as the cheese attempted to digest my energy levels and interest waned. So, we returned to the hotel to rest and stay dry.
No big plans this evening-but tomorrow is the Hubs birthday as well as St. Patrick’s Day. This requires double celebration. So, I must rest up in preparation.

Thanks for tuning in
Love and cheesy gluttony
~B&F~

P.S. For those interested, wrist has made a full miraculous recovery. Must be all those churches we have been to.

Milan Trip Report
Day 6
Last day (sad face)….

Last night we ventured close to the hotel for a late supper. We walked down the narrow sidewalks, umbrellas in hand, sidestepping cavernous puddles. We ate locally at Trattoria Milanese http://www.trattoria-milanese.quandoo.it . An inviting, crowded restaurant with every seat taken, even strangers sitting with other patrons. An accordion player and saxophonist popped in briefly for some entertainment livening up the place.

Both of us were not overly hungry so a meal of potato gnocci in butter and sage and a beef stew with creamy polenta was our choice. The meal was good, the service good and the price about standard with what we have been paying. We were tired and the rain continued to pelt down so we called it a relatively early night.
This morning we had our ordinary breakfast with a surprise, complimentary glass of Prosecco to celebrate the hub’s birthday. From there we took a taxi to Santa Maria delle Grazie Church
http://www.grazieop.it/grazie_op/00000064_Grazie_OP.html, the church the fresco The Last Supper painted by Leonardo DaVinci in 1498 is located. To see the painting, one needs to make a reservation and purchase the tickets 3-4 months in advance. To view the painting is a process. First, they call your time and you line up. No pictures, no cell phones. You go in a room and they close both doors and you are dehumidified for several minutes. Then, they open the doors and there she is in all her glory. For an art enthusiast The Last Supper is the holy grail of paintings. This has been on my to- do list for a long time- long before Tom Hanks was in The Da Vinci Code. The painting has seen better days, but was restored in 1999. They say 6 years after it was painted it began to deteriorate badly.

The room was still and upon entering everyone silently took snapshots in their head. I stared at the painting for the entire 15 minutes we were given, mentally soaking in every detail. I tried to imagine Leonardo frantically dipping his brush in the then vibrant colors, saturating the wall with splendid color and bringing this biblical tale to life.

At some point, I was a little emotional from the whole thing- Just the thought that I was lucky enough to see something that I studied in art class. Fortunate enough to see all these beautiful things that other cultures have. It was at that moment, as I looked onto the image on the wall, I realized how very blessed I am.

After we left there slightly drunk on happiness, we wondered over to the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio http://www.basilicasantambrogio.it/- one of the oldest churches in Milan dated back to the 4th century. It was full of beautiful paintings and chuck full of history. We walked all around and sat at a pew, reading Rick Steves and schooling ourselves.

From there, we moved on to Church of San Maurizio http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/sanmaurizio.htm constructed in the 16th century and also part of the Archaeological Museum. As soon as we entered the church masses of school age children swarmed the area, chattering and giggling as school kids do, putting a sort of kibosh on any spiritual encounter. There were some rather beautiful paintings, free entry and not even a flock of 50- 9 year olds blathering in Italian could impede my amusement.

We walked through a lovely park where locals were gearing for their lunch time interlude. As the church bells rang, our bellies signified a lunch time alert. Suffering from pasta and pizza overload- we chose a hopping Sushi place called Parco http://www.parcosushi.it/html/ecommerce.php. We gorged happily on sushi, content over the absence of a traditional Italian lunch. There were no available seats and it appeared that it was just as popular with the locals.

After lunch, we moseyed through town, stopping for a creamy gelato, picked up some knick –knacks-one for you, two or three for me….

Now, we must rest up as we have yet another opera this evening at 8pm. We return to La Scala Theater for Lucio Silla, an opera by Mozart. Frank has informed me that the previous night’s seat’s (Ummmmmm, the bar stool facing the wall –if you recall) are much better than this evening’s. Could I be sitting on the floor, a yoga mat, an inner tube? What? I can’t imagine….

Then, we have an early morning flight tomorrow, so this is it gang….
I would like to do my Top 10 list:

Here we go…
10. Duoma & Sforza Castle
9. La Scala Opera
8. The art, the art, the art!!!
7. The lovely people of Italy
6. Gelato, Gelato, Gelato-especially stracciatella
5. The amazing Euro at its all-time low–$1.06
4. Our hotel The Grand Duca Di York
3. My olive and capers pizza
2. Bologna-the whole adventure
1. The Last Supper

Thanks all for tuning in…

Love and all things Italian,
~B&F~
PS See you in October. Somewhere, Somehow………………..

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Milan Trip Report Day 6-Final entry

Milan Trip Report
Day 6

Last day (sad face)….

Last night we ventured close to the hotel for a late supper. We walked down the narrow side walks, umbrellas in hand, sidestepping cavernous puddles. We ate locally at Trattoria Milanese http://www.trattoria-milanese.quandoo.it . An inviting, crowded restaurant with every seat taken, even strangers sitting with other patrons. An accordion player and saxophonist popped in briefly for some entertainment livening up the place.

Both of us were not overly hungry so a meal of potato gnocci in butter and sage and a beef stew with creamy polenta was our choice. The meal was good, the service good and the price about standard with what we have been paying. We were tired and the rain continued to pelt down so we called it a relatively early night.
This morning we had our ordinary breakfast with a surprise, complimentary glass of Prosecco to celebrate the hub’s birthday. From there we took a taxi to Santa Maria delle Grazie Church http://www.grazieop.it/grazie_op/00000064_Grazie_OP.html, the church the fresco The Last Supper painted by Leonardo DaVinci in 1498 is located. To see the painting, one needs to make a reservation and purchase the tickets 3-4 months in advance. To view the painting is a process. First, they call your time and you line up. No pictures, no cell phones. You go in a room and they close both doors and you are dehumidified for several minutes. Then, they open the doors and there she is in all her glory. For an art enthusiast The Last Supper is the holy grail of paintings. This has been on my to- do list for a long time- long before Tom Hanks was in The Da Vinci Code. The painting has seen better days, but was restored in 1999. They say 6 years after it was painted it began to deteriorate badly.

The room was still and upon entering everyone silently took snapshots in their head. I stared at the painting for the entire 15 minutes we were given, mentally soaking in every detail. I tried to imagine Leonardo frantically dipping his brush in the then vibrant colors, saturating the wall with splendid color and bringing this biblical tale to life.

At some point, I was a little emotional from the whole thing- Just the thought that I was lucky enough to see something that I studied in art class. Fortunate enough to see all these beautiful things that other cultures have. It was at that moment, as I looked onto the image on the wall, I realized how very blessed I am.

After we left there slightly drunk on happiness, we wondered over to the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio http://www.basilicasantambrogio.it/- one of the oldest churches in Milan dated back to the 4th century. It was full of beautiful paintings and chuck full of history. We walked all around and sat at a pew, reading Rick Steves and schooling ourselves.

From there, we moved on to Church of San Maurizio http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/sanmaurizio.htm constructed in the 16th century and also part of the Archaeological Museum. As soon as we entered the church masses of school age children swarmed the area, chattering and giggling as school kids do, putting a sort of kibosh on any spiritual encounter. There were some rather beautiful paintings, free entry and not even a flock of 50- 9 year olds blathering in Italian could impede my amusement.

We walked through a lovely park where locals were gearing for their lunch time interlude. As the church bells rang, our bellies signified a lunch time alert. Suffering from pasta and pizza overload- we chose a hopping Sushi place called Parco http://www.parcosushi.it/html/ecommerce.php. We gorged happily on sushi, content over the absence of a traditional Italian lunch. There were no available seats and it appeared that it was just as popular with the locals.

After lunch, we moseyed through town, stopping for a creamy gelato, picked up some knick –knacks-one for you, two or three for me….

Now, we must rest up as we have yet another opera this evening at 8pm. We return to La Scala Theater for Lucio Silla, an opera by Mozart. Frank has informed me that the previous night’s seat’s (Ummmmmm, the bar stool facing the wall –if you recall) are much better than this evening’s. Could I be sitting on the floor, a yoga mat, an inner tube? What? I can’t imagine….

Then, we have an early morning flight tomorrow, so this is it gang….

I would like to do my Top 10 list:

Here we go…
10. Duoma & Sforza Castle
9. La Scala Opera
8. The art, the art, the art!!!
7. The lovely people of Italy
6. Gelato, Gelato, Gelato-especially stracciatella
5. The amazing Euro at its all-time low–$1.06
4. Our hotel The Grand Duca Di York
3. My olive and capers pizza
2. Bologna-the whole adventure
1. The Last Supper

Thanks all for tuning in…

Love and all things Italian,
~B&F~

PS See you in October. Somewhere, Somehow………………..

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trip Report Milan Day 4&5


Milan Trip Report
Day 4 & Day 5

News alert: I have a blogging injury. My left hand is throbbing. It is because I love my fans (ha) that I push through the pain to deliver you my masterpiece. Today we awoke to a quiet city. We ate our breakfast and took a taxi to Brera Museum http://www.brera.beniculturali.it/ . The collection dates back as far as 1776 and is situated in a palace from 1859. We arrived bright and early-one of the first ones in the door. This is another love of mine-having a whole museum to yourself, without someone breathing down your back, talking on their phone or blocking the picture. Without those nuisances it provides for optimal viewing pleasure.

We purchased an audio guide which was full of easy to understand information and helped to focus on the details in the art. The museum mostly has pre-Renaissance and medieval art, but also a nice collection of 16th and 17th century paintings. There were many prolific masters there such as Raphael, Caravaggio, Rubens and Tintoretto. We spent over 3 hours there nonstop with no breaks.

From there we walked around the city. The sun was out, the weather was beautiful. It was a Sunday afternoon and everybody was out enjoying the day. We ate a light lunch, picnic style and made our way back to our hotel to rest as we had a big night at the opera later.

After a brief power nap, dressed in our finest attire we took a taxi to the world famous La Scala opera house http://www.teatroallascala.org/en/ to see Aida. For those of you who do not know, the hubs has a major passion for opera. These tickets had been purchased months ago-every day the hubs would troll the internet hoping the tickets would be released. So, just being in this grand opera house was enough for the man. Witnessing an opera in this majestic setting that dates back to 1778 was certainly on the hubs bucket list.
The opera house is as beautiful as you can expect. It is plush red with gold ornate accents everywhere. The acoustics are heavenly. Now, let’s get to the good stuff…our seats-well, our seats were in a box. A balcony of sorts with a door- our “seats” were good old fashioned bar stools (in plush red) with no back and were behind two individuals in real seats. My view was centered at the wall. My stool was about a foot higher than the hubs. Even odder was the other person who was facing us, knees almost touching.

I had every element and reason not to enjoy the opera, including poor view, no subtitles and maintaining proper posture for over 3 hours. Come to think of it, I had never sat in a bar stool for 3 hours and been sober! But, because of these obstacles or in spite of them I had an amazing time. I stayed awake (which is usually the hardest part) in fear I would slide off my bar stool. I was captivated by the story. The orchestra was sublime. Our “boxmates” during intermission struck up some lively conversation and by act II we were all best buds.

After 7 standing ovations, we unpeeled ourselves from our stools and headed out for dinner. We walked through the Brera neighborhood http://www.italylogue.com/things-to-do/wandering-milans-brera-and-navigli-neighborhoods.html – a young energetic hip area. We eventually made it to our destination for dinner Rangoli http://www.rangoli.it/web/ for Indian food. As much as I love Italian food, I was getting “pasta-ed” out, so we opted for something a little different. The place was hopping and appeared quite popular. We ordered the vegetarian feast, which consisted of 10 or so vegetarian items in a 4 course setting. The food was delicious-but probably not the wisest thing to eat at 10pm.

We walked a bit in the general direction of the hotel, but at this point the weather had deteriorated. Up until then, the weather had been fantastic. The whole time we have been here, rain had been forecasted. And, somehow every day we escaped it. But, last night it caught up to us. With about a mile to go, we relented and took a taxi back. All in all- it was a splendid day and a pretty awesome night.

Milan Trip Report
Day 5

My sleep was full of Indian food infused hallucinations mixed with a significant case of reflux. We slept in a bit this morning due to a change of plans. We were set to visit Lake Como (you know George Clooney’s summer home). But, it was grey and rainy and not ideal for visiting that region. So, instead, we woke up a little later, consumed our breakfast and set off on foot to Poldi Pezzoli museum http://www.museopoldipezzoli.it/#!/en/discover – a 17th century Neo-Classical Palace and former private residence of Giacomo Poldi Pezzoli. It is jam packed with art, bric-a-brac and all sorts of splendid goodies. There is a pretty intriguing room full of ornate guns and weaponry surprisingly fascinating. Of note, the art there is possibly the most important I have seen on this trip (with the exception of what I see tomorrow-just you wait…). We spent a good 2 hours traipsing the through the rooms. It was time well spent.

After, we walked through the Duomo area with the lunch rush in full swing. The small of garlic permeating in the air beckoned our stomachs, demanding nourishment. Mobs of worker bees with long queues were abundant. The rain steady and resilient exacerbated our hunger. Trying unsuccessfully to stay out of the “rip off” tourist zone, we found ourselves outside Santa Lucia http://www.asantalucia.it/en/home.html- apparently according to the web page the first pizzeria in Milan established in 1929.

The wall is adorned with pictures of famous actors and well-known people-an Italian Sardi’s of sorts. It was very busy and the crowd seemed very enthusiastic about their food. The waiter was a jovial Italian guy perfunctory and animated. The menu was in Italian and a lot of guessing was going on between me and the hub. In my confusion and fluster, I ordered basically the same thing for appetizer and meal, Caprice-which is mozzarella and tomato for an appetizer and fried mozzarella for the “primi” first course. Needless to say, this was a bad week to decide to go off dairy. The more I try to restrict myself, the more I seem to crave. This meal though was the nail in the coffin-the old timeless story of “too much of a good thing”. Meanwhile, Frank had traditional tortellini in a Bolognese sauce.

After reading this back to the hubs, he mentioned rather nonchalantly, I may add, that the waiter pinched my “keister” twice!!!! In reflection, I did feel something goose me, but I thought I was in the way. Hmmmmph. Speechless on that one….

After my cheese overload, I waddled back to the Doumo http://www.duomomilano.it/en/ to get one more look as tomorrow is our last official day. The cold and rainy weather had brought out more church lovers than usual and the crowds were huddled for warmth verses worship. But, as the cheese attempted to digest my energy levels and interest waned. So, we returned to the hotel to rest and stay dry.

No big plans this evening-but tomorrow is the Hubs birthday as well as St. Patrick’s Day. This requires double celebration. So, I must rest up in preparation.

Thanks for tuning in
Love and cheesy gluttony
~B&F~

P.S. For those interested, the wrist has made a full miraculous recovery. Must be all those churches we have been to.

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Milan Trip Report Day 3

Trip Report
Milan
Day 3

Bon Journo! I write this blog with a belly full of pizza and a brain full of goodies I want to share with you. Today was downright magical. If you are reading this blog and you are beginning to despise me– I do understand. But, really here’s the thing….I work like everybody else. I live a life of solitude and sacrifice (sometimes) except for 4 weeks a year. The fall and the spring when the hubs drags me schlepping around Europe- I use up all my vacation time as I pray for good health the remainder of the year. So, if the flowery verbiage and soliloquy is too much- I get it. I share this with you in the hopes of adding some mindless entertainment and indulge in a little company, as I see new things. One more thing to add….On any day, I would much prefer an afternoon marathon of the Kardashians and a bowl of popcorn sitting on my couch. But, by going outside my comfort zone- challenging my patience, endurance and sanity at times-it is truly a test and ultimately has formed the gal I am today.

Now, enough of that nonsense….On with the show…. After only 4 hours of sleep we awoke bright & early and took a taxi to the train station in the dark, quiet morning. We took the 715 am train to Bologna, which is 1 hr. south of here from high speed train. You ask why Bologna? I say why not? For me & the hubs, Bologna conjures up thoughts of thick, red inviting sauce. We knew very little and unlike us did very little research –so it really was an adventure.

After sleeping the entire way, we arrived rested and ready to tackle this unknown land. I have to admit, one of my favorite things to do on vacation is explore a city as it is waking up. Shop owners opening their doors, sidewalks freshly wet and hosed down-as if to signify a new start, washing away the slough of the previous night. I suppose this is my thing and difficult to explain, but it truly is a love and fond fascination.

So, as we set out on foot, signs of life were beginning to emerge. We walked along the cobble stone streets, finding ourselves in a church-as it was the only place open. The stone walls insulated the chilly air. Again, I began my prayer of gratitude and thanks and kick started this day with an extra abundance of appreciation.

We stopped in a lovely café, bustling with activity and enjoyed a delicate sweet treat and coffee. From there, we found ourselves herded into masses of people and a street market. A potpourri of fish, gargantuan hams swung from the ceiling, cheeses, and fragrant bright flowers saluted the passerbys. Shuffling our way along as the city began to explode with energy we found ourselves at Basilica Santaurio. It is a massive religious complex dating back from the 12th century. Being there is a spiritual experience and for evoked feelings of peace and tranquility. We toured the grounds and eventually made our way to a gift shop of sorts. In there, was the monastery’s finest items such as honey, wine and rosary beads. We contributed a little to their economic revenue, with a very special treat of the priest blessing my purchased items.
From there, we dined at an unbelievably lavish restaurant Virtuoso http://grandhotelmajestic.duetorrihotels.com/ . We sat in 15th century salon and were waiting on like royalty. Frank had a 4 course meal that was a traditional Bolognese feast. I had homemade pasta that was perfect in every way. We were treated in a way I had never been and really with all the opulence and fanciness-the meal was relatively affordable.

Our last stop in Bologna was the Pinacotecha Nazionale Bologna http://www.pinacotecabologna.beniculturali.it/ – Bologna’s art museum. It had an abundance of pre-renaissance and medieval art from many unknowns. It was a bizarre museum mixing media’s such as a puppet chow about terrorism playing in room with frescos from the 14th century. Way too experimental for me. As a result, a cat nap was had during the puppet show that did not please the staff very much.

We had a lot of time to kill, but with bellies full and not much to do; we trudged back to the train station several hours early. We waited for our train, took that back and returned to the restaurant from the first night Piazza Borromeo for some late night dinner of delicious pizza.

It is late, I am tired and again, hubby is asleep. Tomorrow has many moving parts to it and a lot is planned, so I must rest up.

Sorry if I went a bit long tonight.
Tune in tomorrow for more Italian adventures…
Love and Italian Lullabies….

~B&F~

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Milan Trip Report Day 2

Milan Trip report

Day 2

After 3 hours of sleep, day 2 of trip kicks off. We had a yummy, pleasant breakfast provided by the hotel. Then, we literally took 10 steps and went to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana http://www.ambrosiana.eu/jsp/index.jsp -conveniently adjacent to our hotel. The museum is an ancient building established in 1618 from a generous, wealthy Cardinal who donated his collection of impressive paintings. Inside this magnificent building are 24 rooms containing great masterpieces from artists Leonardo de Vinci, Caravaggio, Raphael, Titian and my personal favorite Botticelli. We spent several hours working our way through the remarkable collection. Of particular note is an interesting exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci and all his numerous contributions to the scientific community.

After the museum, we walked through the heart of the city, stopping at Arnold’s coffee http://www.arnoldcoffee.it/ – Milan’s disappointing version of Starbuck’s for a short respite. From there we walked through Sempione Park http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/parcosempione.htm Milan’s central park. The weather was spectacular; I would almost say-Perfection. Potent Italian sunshine with a refreshing cool breeze. As we strolled leisurely, we passed other couples, school kids, and families enjoying the beautiful day too. We stopped for a gelato, sat on a bench and rested our feet.

From there we made our way to Sforza Castle http://www.milanocastello.it/ing/home.html – Milan’s most famous and much beloved monument. Once again, those pesky men desperately trying to sell yarn bracelets from Africa were abundant. (** If you are interested read the story below explaining these fools) Between them, the harassing pigeons, and annoying people trying to sell selfie sticks, we were swatting them away like hungry mosquitoes on a summer’s night.

This 15th century castle monopolizes many city blocks and the whole area is pedestrian friendly with no car traffic. The area was hopping with energetic school kids and masses of peppy tourists. The castle grounds itself is vast and open and houses 3 unique museums- an Egyptian one, Ancient art and furniture. We opted out of the Egyptian one due to overwhelming bladder needs and fatigue. But, the other 2 were quite entertaining and time well spent. The highlight of the Ancient art museum was a Michelangelo unfinished Pieta -the original one is the single most astounding piece of art that I have ever seen which is in St. Peters basilica in Rome.

We went back to the hotel and rested momentarily. The receptionist once again was quite helpful recommending a local restaurant for dinner and was kind enough to make a reservation. Walking distance from our hotel was Santamarta http://www.santamartamilano.it/index.html – a restaurant known for their fish dishes.
The restaurant is very cozy and welcoming as well as was the waiter. Frank and I had a mouthwatering Onion soup that was the best I had ever had. Every component was incredible and together it made for a flawless soup. With this, I had a ho-hum risotto and Frank had a potato crusted sea bass. On the websites reviews many patrons had recommended the Lemoncello liquor. I remembered this fondly from a previous trip to Italy, so I also had this with my dinner. Poured in a shot glass chilled to an artic freeze, this bitter and sugary nectar is a cross between lemon meringue pie and lighter fuel. I am glad I tried it. And, will never need to again. The other thing they are known for is their “biscuits and cream.” We ordered this for dessert, which took over 30 minutes. This is because the “biscuits”, were more like cookies made fresh and served in the bakeware they were cooked in. They were accompanied by an orange cream sauce. This was not particularly my cup of tea, as I was taking the interpretation literally, expecting flaky homemade biscuits and real heavy whipping cream. Regardless, more for the hubby who eagerly consumed them all greedily. Before you judge, let it be known that between yesterday and today over 35,000 steps were accumulated.

A brief side note and update. Bank released hold on our bank account so now we got money! And, Yahoo can suck it-because now I am a Gmail gal.
For those of you unaware of yesterday’s events, yahoo mail accused me of sending suspicious mail and blocked all in and outgoing mails and my bank suspended us for fraudulent activity.
All is well, though. Except the shower dilemma remains the same. We asked the receptionist for a bigger shower and apparently all patrons in this hotel have to suck it in, slide in sideways and pray that no hanging parts (sorry for visual) get snagged.

We are back in the hotel now recharging for tomorrow’s adventure.
Love and sweet biscuits-(which are not really biscuits but COOKIES, people!)
~B&F

**The string scam: One of the “‘string men” walks up to you and engages you in innocent conversation and will usually say that they want to show you a magic trick. Before you know it, a “string man” has grabbed your wrist or one or two fingers and encircled it with a homemade bracelet of colored string.
Typically the string men will say something to you like “it’s for the church” or “a gift.” Sometimes the string men are more polite (they’ll ask the visitor to hold a string) and before you know it, the string men will somehow manage to grab your wrist or fingers and encircle it with a homemade bracelet of colored string, yarn, or other crafty-looking item.
Next, when the string men finish making your new “local Paris string bracelet souvenir,” they will demand payment of around €20 which is quite obviously not what the bracelet is worth. If you fail to pay them, they will doggedly follow you and be VERY insistent that you provide some amount of payment. These “con-merchants” are so demanding, they succeed in intimidating many tourists into paying them because it’s the only way to get rid of them.

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Greetings From Milan Trip Report Day One

Greetings from Milan
March 12, 2015
Trip Report

Day One

Milanese salutations from wondrous Milan- the financial epicenter of Italy and paradise for Euro fashionistas. Neither of which is the reason this traveling twosome is here. After 23 trips to Europe, we decided to go back to our traveling roots and return to the country that ignited our love and passion for travel. Italy’s culture is captivating, its food sinfully enticing and the people are just good old fashioned friendly.

As the plane glided gracefully over the jagged Appalachian Mountains, the fluffy clouds lazily clung to them. The juxtaposition of fragility and softness created a stillness in the plane as all the sleep deprived passengers romantically gazed out the window in amazement. It was breathtaking and instantly brought me back to the first time I had seen the grandeur of the Alps. Even though it was but just a short glimpse, it was a good sign for the beginning of this trip.

Bleary eyed and jet lagged- we made our way to the train and took a hypnotic passageway into the heart of Milan. I recommend this affordable and convenient alternative versus a car service due to the exorbitant 100 Euro cost. For us, it’s an indulgence that is unnecessary.

The sun beamed down on us intently and the cold weather I was expecting (and frankly looking forward to) was not to be. A pleasant 60 degrees welcomed us as we schlepped luggage in tow, wearily through the bustling eager crowd. The confusing city structure, as well as a stubborn GPS, got us slightly turned around but eventually we made it to our refuge for the next 6 days- The Gran Duca Di York hotel http://www.ducadiyork.com/ . Our hotel is a 19th century palace tucked away on the corner of a quiet street. We have a lovely room, with a splendid view and the best part –free mini bar that is refilled daily!!! The only drawback is the shower entry was designed for a Kate Moss style figure and requires some aggressive wedging and maneuvering to enter. But, once inside –all systems are a go.

After the shower wrangling and decontamination of airplane funk was complete, a solid nap was required. With the windows open, we napped as Italian dialogue from the street below wove in and out of my dreams.
As usual, hunger and curiosity awoke me, tapping my shoulder like an inpatient child. We ventured out in our new city fervent to unwrap like a kid on Christmas morning. With our finicky GPS we made our way on foot, trying to get a lay of the land. As the husband and the feisty GPS battled, we looped around the city, back and forth coiling us like a tilt a whirl ride. Eventually, we made our way to the Duomo http://www.duomomilano.it/en/ . The towering cathedral started construction in 1387, but eventually finished in the 1930s. Outside it is a meeting hotspot, selfie taking breeding ground and unexplainably antagonistic creepy gentleman trying to sell worthless string bracelets from “Africa”. The square which the cathedral is in resembles the backdrop of “it’s a small world”, picturesque and perfect. As the sun began to set, the twinkling city lights added a special touch to the already scenic set up.

I was grateful for the hubby’s tenacity and eventual obedience gained from the GPS struggle as we weaseled our way into the church 5 minutes before closing. The church is one of the three biggest in the world –right there next to St Peter’s in Rome, St Paul’s in London and Washington National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. The style is mostly Gothic, with impressive high arches and jaw dropping stained glass. We moseyed our way through, as usual I said my silent prayer of appreciation and allowed myself one brief moment of calmness to settle over me and blanket me with travel armor for the next couple of hectic days.

We left the church and made our way over to what Milan is known for-its fashions. Set up in an art deco colonnade is the famous Galleria http://www.aviewoncities.com/milan/galleriavittorioemanueleii.htm . A glass arcade comprised of high end shops such as Prada and Louis Vuitton ping pong the walkway, teasing the sapless window-shopper with unaffordable, superfluous luxuries.

The friendly receptionist at the hotel had suggested a restaurant for dinner right down the block. We ate at a charming restaurant called Piazza Borromeo. It was a warm and inviting restaurant with candles melting over wine bottles. We gorged on fresh baked bread from the pizza oven as we waited for my arugula and olive pizza (Yum!) and the hubby’s very strange (and disturbing for this vegetarian) version of spaghetti and meatballs. The meatballs were marble size and there were many of them. I would be more apt to call them meat “nuggets”. As our meal progressed, the restaurant swelled with diners, all apparently clearly enjoying themselves. We finished the meal on an especially high note with a tantalizing dessert.

The husband is in a heap, snoring away as I type my labor of love to my few and faithful. I now must rest for the excitement this incredible city has awaiting me.

Tune in for more Milanese mischief…
~B&F~

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4 days Until Vacation. Wahooooooooooooooooo

And, better yet only 1 day of work left.

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2 weeks until Milan Italy!!!!!!!!!!

the last supper

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Day 3/Final day in New Orleans

1507930_10204947390551893_4972946643820102382_nThis morning I awoke by the sounds of drunken revelers at 630 am- followed by the loud dinging of the train, and lastly by a ship’s nasally horn. With all the gusto my carb overloaded body could muster, we ventured out. We found ourselves along the sludgey banks of the Mississippi River. It was warming up and the sun was intensely bright.
Tourists-the diehards like us-were conquering the streets of New Orleans before the swarms of people came in. Like a pilgrimage to a shrine, we found ourselves outside the Famous Café du Monde http://www.cafedumonde.com/ for more deep fried balls of doughiness smothered in a powdery sugary crack.
The place was packed with young, old, and every ethnic persuasion. Keep in mind-it was only 830 in the morning! We found a lonely table in the back, sprinting as if our very dear lives depended on it; we slid in the seats, proud of our stealth like take-over. The menu is simple. Beignets. Coffee, or Juice. And, did I mention Beignets?
A friendly waiter in a 1950’s white paper hat greeted us with lack luster enthusiasm, took our order and marched off to the precisional assembly line of coffee, juice, beignets. Keep in mind- if you ever come here, have cash. Shout out to my neighbor Marlene, or we would have been frantically running to an ATM.
Within minutes, our tray arrived. Now- tackling a beignet is challenging. To do this in a lady like way, but getting the most out of your powdered sugar consumption is complicated. One has to proceed carefully-because if you are too eager, powder sugar inhalation can ruin the whole experience.
After going to Café Beignet yesterday and experiencing their beignets, I can now properly have an opinion. Both are absolutely delicious and special in their own way. But, they are quite different. So, with my expertise I will give you a bit of my insight.
Café Beignet’s beignets are more solid, dense and square in shape. They are less generous with the powdered sugar but do give more than an ample amount. Also the orange juice and coffee were much better. On the other hand, Café du Monde’s are lighter, airier, crisp and similar to an Italian Zepoli. Price wise they were also cheaper..
So, there you go—the Beignet debate. You have all the facts, now.
After “breakfast”, we waddled over to St Louis 1 cemetery http://www.saveourcemeteries.org/st-louis-cemetery-no-1/ . It is the oldest cemetery in New Orleans, dating back to the 1700’s. The graves are all above ground and have seen better days. We were greeted by an energetic fellow selling lemonade for $2. Because, I don’t know about you all-but when venturing through a cemetery, I usually need a cool drink to help me soak in the experience. Apparently- an interesting tidbit, Nicholas Cage has his tomb waiting here for him (pre- bankruptcy).
We weaved in out of the crumbling tombstones, making up our own stories- taking a deep sigh of gratitude before we moved on to our next activity.
We made our way through the growing masses of crowds to Jackson Square http://www.experienceneworleans.com/jackson-square.html . This lively square is a meeting ground of sorts, attracting local artists, tarot card readers, and amateur musicians. We plopped on a bench, resting our feet and lazily took it all in. We stayed like this for a while, replaying our theme “nowhere to go, no one to see.”
We stayed in this fashion until the church bells rang, reminding us- time to feed the belly. We walked along Royal Avenue passing musicians, freaky spectacles swallowing swords, and other bizarre characters, all with the subtle hint of a tip hat.
We made our way to Fleur de lis cafe http://nolalovescoffee.com/cafe-fleur-de-lis/ . It was crowded with a youthful gathering; the restaurant faced the activity of the street, prime for people watching. We got hot, hearty omelets. The meal was affordable, filling and the service was great.
After lunch we stopped at a praline shop picking up some sweet delights for coworkers eventually making our way back to the room. We sat outside on the comfortable veranda of the hotel, watching horse drawn wagon tours stop and tell their varied versions of the lore of the Cornstalk Fence hotel-each excursion having a different account. We sat out there for a while, letting the world spin on by.
We made our way back in the room, settling down for some good football followed by well-deserved rest -except this was interrupted quite periodically by various less than mediocre singers, stuck in a continuous loop. It was a shoddy combination of American Idol and Groundhog Day as it cycled over and over again.
After our substandard rest, we made our way out to the artsy and eccentric Decator Street and Frenchmen Street. This area- very close to the hotel was full of dreadlock wearing ladies that apparently preferred not to bathe, a bounty of bong shops and a plethora of bars showing off their talent for the evening. In the pungent air of petuli, body odor and incents pounded notes of jazz, rock, piano, acoustic guitar and various other forms of vocal entertainment. We wandered around, curious what lies around the next corner.
After our hour of exploration, we dined at Maximo’s http://maximosgrill.com/ -an elegant Italian restaurant. This dining choice was recommended by our hotel. Greeting us as we entered the inviting establishment was an open kitchen with fragrant smells of garlic. I had a creamy, lush butternut squash soup, while Frank enjoyed a bowl of mussels in a wine sauce. My next course was a very filling vegetable risotto, full of fresh vegetables and incredibly tasty. Frank had meatballs and spaghetti that had a unique Cajun flavor to it that kept him guessing through the whole meal. The service was good, the prices were appropriate and all in all a good ending to a great trip.
After dinner, we continued to wind our way around the same area. The crowd was a bit feistier, the homeless a bit more aggressive and street traffic was inert. Full, tired, and watching our bank account dwindle (this is one expensive city) – we called it a night.
Well, some welcoming surprises for me with this one of a kind city:
(1) Clean! And, I mean CLEAN. They wash the streets with soap and water daily. The streets actually gleam in the morning.

(2) Like I said-expensive. I am used to European prices, but some of these costs were just downright unreasonable. And, don’t forget to include 9% tax on the already insane costs.

(3) A major international tourist’s hotspot. I heard every language around me at all times. This is a good thing.

(4) I didn’t get meet to many locals, but the ones I did meet were very accommodating. I understand why they call it “The Big Easy”, as time really stands still. It’s not like any other metropolitan city I have been to where this is always a mad rush and a feverish energy.

(5) Noise pollution! Loud obnoxious music blasting out of vehicles unwelcomely. Please, people of New Orleans get a handle on this situation.

So, in summary-New Orleans is a great city. Come when it is cool as I can’t imagine being here in sweltering heat. Bring lots of cash, have an open schedule and bring some TUMS. Thanks for following our travels and hope to meet again in March as we travel to Milan, Italy.
Love and deep fried dough balls,
~B & F~

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New Orleans November 2014

New Orleans in a Nutshell—-
November 2014
New Orleans has been on our bucket list for a long time. So, we chose this 4 day weekend to take the leap. 10 hrs. later and 17 chapters of a juicy audio book and here we are. We are staying at the Cornstalk Fence Hotel http://www.cornstalkhotel.com . An architectural delight built in 1805. It is right off of the World famous Bourbon Street. It is in an artsy area with intimidating antique shops, and vintage establishments with expensive trinkets collected from Creole high society.

Our room- is a dressed up like an ornate Christmas package, complete with Scarlett O’Hara tapestry curtains, screaming to be repurposed into a ball gown. Flanking the floor to ceiling windows is fabric wallpaper with French gold patterns that matches the gold ceiling. Over the high perched bed (that required yours truly to make a running leap into) lies a chandelier, with baby cupids spinning around in dizzying playfulness.

What makes this unique hotel famous and a hot spot for the horse and carriage tour guide trail- is the one of a kind cast iron fence, with steely corn cobs placed within the body of a fence. There is a cute (mostly fictionalized) tale regarding the fence. The legend goes like this: A captain moves he and his wife from Iowa to New Orleans. To ease her homesickness, he had this fence specially made for her. It makes for a sappy story that has over the years been good fodder for naïve tourists.

On an interesting side note, the husband was here back in his heyday- a few decades back. Other than the cost exponentially increasing 10 fold, and an exorbitant daily parking fee of $35- he claims not too much has changed.

We arrived on a crisp, sunny afternoon-Thanksgiving- well rested and ready to explore this Cajun playground. The city was just kicking into second gear, families out in droves, escaping the confines of annoying relatives and waking from the carb coma of food overload.

We made our way to The Red Fish Grill http://www.redfishgrill.com smack in the pulsing madness of the French Quarter. We had made reservations, which was wise as it was hopping. A cornucopia of a buffet awaited us. Oysters and shrimp spilled out over ice, pretty as a still life (completely wasted on this vegetarian). A tantalizing salad bar satisfied me as well as some very interesting side dishes including creamy grits in which New Orleans is so famous for.

A small oversight such as thinking drinks were included (2 splendid Bloody Mary’s, a wine and 2 coffees later) brought this meal up to half of a car payment. Proving to be one of the highest priced meals I have ever had.

We luxuriated in our sloth for some time, digesting the mammoth meal of miscellaneous magnificence. After dinner, we stumbled out onto the active Bourbon Street, making our way to Canal Street- the main thoroughfare. It appeared to me everyone was waiting for a bus, which was odd. It was at this point that a loud trumpet sounded, followed by sirens and some marching men in uniform. We found ourselves front and center in a parade!

For the next hour or so, we jiggled, shook, ducked and swayed to the rowdy sounds of high school bands, baton throwing and hearty bead tossing. It was a pleasurable surprise and the jiggling and shaking may have burned off a forkful or two. Ha!

After the parade, we walked around, window shopped, leapfrogging our way through the rambunctious crowd. We eventually made our way back to the hotel. Remaining on Eastern Standard Time, we called it an early night.
This morning we awoke bright and early after a fitful, uneasy sleep. Did I mention this hotel is haunted???? I dreamt of the captain (remember the corn cob fellow) all night, only after I was abruptly awoken by the husband snapping his camera away-in the dark, trying to capture ghost activity. That was really reassuring and paved the way for an evening full of tossing, turning and praying.

We made our way down Royal Street in search of food. We dined at Café Beignet http://www.cafebeignet.com on hot filling omelets and powdery, sweet beignets. If you are not familiar with these tasty, deep fried balls of yumminess-you are not alone-either was I. They are similar to funnel cake and I believe they have the power to make everyone insanely happy, possibly even euphoric. I would be tempted to say if everyone ate these daily- the world would be a better place. Cholesterol levels, glucose values and obesity may be an issue-but we would all be happy- with our ever increasing obscene BMI levels. Just a suggestion…. I know it had me whistling and singing sweet lullabies.

After a breakfast of deliciousness, we hopped in a cab to the garden district. We had booked a tour through http://www.strangetruetours.com/ . Our tour guide Grey Sweeney, a one-time lawyer, who now conducts tours, met us at Starbucks. Trailing alongside her was her child and husband.

With the sun warming up the cool air, we set foot in the beautiful garden district. Just 3 miles outside of Bourbon Street, it was a world away from the hustle bustle chaos of the French Quarter. She wove lively stories with interesting architectural factual tidbits. We clomped our way on the uneven payment, gawking and peering into the fascinating homes and gardens of New Orleans rich and famous.

The tour ended in of all places -a cemetery; poking our way through, in a semi morbid fashion, tiptoeing amongst the resting souls. The tour was chuck full of fascinating tidbits and was well worth the 90 minutes.
After the tour, we rested our feet (the walking tour was roughly 2 miles of walking). Grabbed some coffee at Starbucks and just leisured in the thought of “nowhere to go and none to see”. With hunger sneaking in, we stopped in the Irish neighborhood and pulled up a barstool at Tracey’s http://traceysnola.com/ . It’s a divey, neighborhood bar complete with cigarette grime, loud cursing and hosting an eclectic assembly of characters. The football game was well under way, an enthusiastic gathering was emerging. We had some cold cider on tap, a shrimp po boy for the hubs and a sad grilled cheese sandwich for me. Hot, greasy fries redeemed the skimpy sandwich. We waited a ridiculous 35 minutes for this essentially unmemorable meal. But, going with the theme of nowhere to go- and no one to see- it was not a problem.

From there, we had a pretty long walk to our next destination. We walked a good 2 miles and reached the National World War II museum http://nationalww2museum.org/ . We made our way through the very sobering display of World War II history. Personal accounts, well made videos, and memorabilia created a complete experience. We stayed there until we literally closed the place down. I could have stayed there several more hours as it was full of so many facts and interesting information.

After the museum, we walked around town, making our way back to Bourbon Street. It was Friday night and the city was electric with excitement. By this time, my feet were aching, my brain exhausted and I was fully fatigued. The bars were hopping with people just getting started. Music and energy spilled out from the restaurants.

We found our way to a grease pit called The Grill http://thegrill.com/ . A throwback of a 50’s joint, with barstools and a counter was the perfect epicurean ending for a day of over indulgence and gluttony! Our lively waiter gave us individualized, friendly service. A hot plate of greasy fare, finger lickin’ good- I might add- hit the spot. It was economical, popular and we may certainly frequent this spot again.
Full, exhausted and completely content we made our way back to the hotel. Currently, there are screaming drunks 5 feet from our window. I am certain the “Captain” will visit me again this evening-but were on vacation- so I will go with it.

Tune in for more tales and tribulations as we make our way through NOLA.
~B &F~

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