Waiting for my niece to get married entailed a countdown, much buildup, and the false hopes and crushed dreams of a potential flower girl possibility. I was a close contender but alas, plus size gals born 4 decades ago do not fit the bill for a summer wedding these days. Once the despair and rejection dissipated, the excitement of the upcoming nuptials settled in.
The date was set. June 7, 2015. A plan was formulated and Auntie B and Uncle F would be representing the Southwest corridor of Florida. A couple of bucket lists items were added on the itinerary and on June 6th the traveling duo known in some parts as “Edells gone wild” arrived with eager hearts and gusto to good ole’ Danbury Connecticut.
First bill of business, dinner at Chucks http://www.chucksdanbury.com/ – the guest list-The Hills-Peter and Carol and the soon to be bride and groom. Trying to engage in the celebratory moment, yours truly had a margarita. This was bad choice, as perspiration began to erupt from every crevice, leaving a dewy glistening sheen and a visible “sweat-stache”. In addition, a certain napkin dropping scenario broke out. Waving and dropping my white napkin, reenacting a war-time surrender scene, or as my darling niece would say- I was practicing magic tricks.
The salad bar was ample and without even a chick pea lost in the cleavage-I would say this was a true success. Good conversation and some bootleg wedding shots (hidden by the groom) were shared. The hubs began telling tales of a “Danbury fair”, and got it in his head, he wanted to go there (for pie). Ironically and coincidentally, the Danbury fair was in town.
An impromptu plan emerged and off we all went, the bride and groom and those wild and crazy Edell’s, across the street to the Danbury Fair Mall http://www.danburyfairmall.com/. This fair was pretty classy as far as fairs go. Situated smack in the mall parking lot, complete with toothless carnies, horny teenagers and parents eager to blow away their hard earned cash on crap.
The air was crisp and cool and we wondered the grounds. The screams reverberated of terrified youth dangling inverted in frightening contractions put together by pimply juniors in high school. Unctuous smells of greasy elephant ears and buttery popcorn permeated the air. We looped around the madness, feeling most comfortable in the kiddie section. The hubs equally disappointed by the lack of “pie” and missing the nightly puppet show-but, consoled ourselves with chocolate dipped ice-cream cones. Although, the fair was not as the hubs had envisioned-the night was very special. First, because the bride and groom had carved out exclusive time with just us, and second because they are one damn fun couple.
Less than 12 hours to the wedding clock countdown, we parted ways at our hotel-where all wedding guests (minus the bride) were staying. The hotel http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/dxrri-residence-inn-danbury/ had all the comforts of home, excluding the dollhouse size bed that barely fit us.
The morning of the wedding-excitement was in the air. An abundance of breakfast treats awaited us in the lobby. A micro reunion was held between the bride’s brother Kevin from California, fresh from a 2 am arrival, the groom (cool as a cucumber) and parents of the bride. We filled our guts in preparation of the day’s events over lively conversation as the sun streamed in the breakfast area. Again, a spontaneous plan was devised to take some of that bottled up energy and walk through the http://tarrywile.com/ park.
A dear friend of mine, I had not seen in 10 years, incidentally-lives in this park. A quick facebook correspondence and a plan to meet in the “hayfield” developed. The hubs, the groom and I walked past Sunday yuppie yoga-ers on their trendy mats in pretzel positions on our way to our destination. The park was beautiful, with colorful flowers, chirping birds and a confused and disinterested deer.
We arrived at a glassy lake that shimmered in the sunlight. As I approached this picturesque scene, my friend appeared. Pleasantries were exchanged as she introduced me to her Minnie me (her baby). We caught each other up quickly on the last decade. The groom, eager to expel some of his nervous energy ambled the grounds squeezing in a quick run.
Running short on time and the groom contemplating the importance of fresh boxers for his big day – as he had forgotten them- decided it best to venture home for this item. Back in the car, boxers in hand and a much needed Starbuck’s run, mission complete. The crew split up at this point as the groom reunited with his bros’ pounding on his chest, drinking beers and gearing up for the pending festivities.
The venue of the ceremony and reception was at the lovely http://www.theamberroom.net/ . A charming dwelling, with a quaint gazebo was the destination of the ceremony. The sun beamed down on the enthusiastic guests, many reacquainting after decades. Eventually, the bride emerged on the backseat of a golf cart. Her white gown and train trailing behind, her blond flowing locks pulled loosely with an ornate hair clip and the Maid of honor in tow, in a scarlet red mirage.
The vows were presented by an animated JOP lending juicy tips, such as -Never go to bed mad, and always let her get her way… As the sun set, the kiss was smooched and the party began. In a toasty tent, cocktail hour awaited us. Salty calamari, a plethora of cheeses, salads and salmon greeted us. Polite waiters offered guests shrimp cocktail, impressive sliders and other tasty morsels. Tucked in a corner, the bartender boozed up the patrons, loosening up the crowd.
As the guests started to proceed to the main dining room, the mother of the bride, tripped over a taunting curb, wine glass in hand. Just inches from me, I witnessed the whole event in slow motion. Arms flew in the air to brace the impact, eye glasses crushed in pieces and the wine goblet crystalized into sharp shards. Her chin bobbed up and down on the firm concrete, instantly creating a bruise worthy of Rocky Balboa.
The silence was deafening, a pit crew spontaneously materialized, a broom, a bucket, ice, and mysteriously an enormous throne like chair appeared as the wedding planner shouted out commands –impressively all within seconds. Matthew, one of the brides cousin, front and center began a neurological exam, in his best New York accent-“Yous guys, back up, I’m an EMT.” The mother of the bride, more embarrassed than hurt shooed all concerned parties away, including the Pit Master, scurrying away with the bucket of ice to an undisclosed place. Moments later, she appeared band aid on chin, a skip in her step, inexplicably brand new glasses and I believe a fresh cocktail. It was a modern day Christmas Miracle.
In the main dining room, wedding celebrations began. The bride and groom were announced, the maid of honor letting loose and the parents of the bride, fresh from the fall, strutting to the beat. The feeding frenzy continued with a tasty and hearty salad and followed by choices of prime rib or chicken, and even a vegetarian option for me- that was exceptionally tasty. Looping pink hearts adorned the tables, as well adorable embroidered burlap sacks filled with chocolate coffee beans (which were quite yummy) as a parting gift.
The champagne toasts began with the maid of honor, becoming tearful and reaching into the bosom of the bride for conveniently placed tissues. The crowd erupted in giggles as the groom and the best man attempted the same shenanigans. The best man, who potentially planned his speech during the cocktail hour, had a heartfelt and eloquent speech complete with a New York drawl “I love yous”.
There was a picture booth, which was quite popular, complete with accessories and novelties. The rambunctious bride enthusiastically photo bombing her guests’.The music began to get louder and the guests started losing their minds. Some sort of Indian tribal dance began; compete with chanting and seizure like activity.
A conga line snaked around the dance floor, grabbing any poor sap in its path, no one was exempt. The rowdy crowd continued the revelries, splitting up in clusters. Ladies half hazardly threw their expensive shoes, men loosening their ties as the merriments continued well into the night.
Tired, full, satiated, buzzed and slightly disabled from a knee/step injury earlier in the evening, as well a 430 am wakeup call approaching-we called it a night. I would say The Seeman Wedding Extravaganza was a huge success. Congrats, Seeman’s- we love you both. Thank you for letting us share in your big day. I wish you all the happiness in the world. Even though, the flower girl plan fell apart, in my heart- I will always be your little flower girl- sprinkling your world with petals of love and the seeds of a happy life.
A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase
June 5, 2015
Well, howdy and a rousing “how ya doin’?” from this former Jersey girl, slightly out of her element in Upstate New York. This trip was originated quite organically around the wedding of my dear niece Nancy. I had several items on my bucket list and threw them in the itinerary, making one fine travel plan I must say.
Yesterday we arrived in Westchester, New York after a lovely 2 hr. and 20 minute flight. This is peanuts next to the 16 hr. flight I will endure to Hong Kong in November. The airport is lovely and the whole process from start to finish was less than 10 minutes. We made our way to the lively Avis rental salesman who greeted us in a jovial manner, trying to sell us on Niagara Falls. No, sirree, we got a plan and Canada is not in there. Sprinting away in our little economical Ford Focus we made our way through the beautiful greenery of Westchester. The weather was a cool 65 degrees, practically winter for this Floridian. The rolling hills and plush trees were sheer viewing pleasure and brought me back to my Northern roots.
On a whim, we called my husband’s sister (mother of the bride) to conjure up the name of a delicious German restaurant her and her husband had taken us to. And, surprise, surprise, she suggested that we meet for dinner there. Only a hr. away and in the right direction, strudel and pig knuckles here we come.
Driving up to the quaint little German Alpine dwelling http://www.mountainbrauhaus.com/ one does not realize the Bavarian bounty which awaits you. As you enter the wooden, rustic restaurant which is in the shadow of a scaling mountain, the smell of hearty meat sauces and doughy dumplings fill the air. We were greeted with enthusiasm by a waitress in traditional German attire- a dirndl, braids and all. Dark, robust pumpernickel bread, chewy and salty held our attention as the pungent smells and mouthwatering plates teased us.
We caught up with the in laws, with flowing conversation and a “hot toddy” (apple cider & rum) that soothed my hoarse throat, as I was recovering from a bout of illness. I had the Veggie Gunksburger- a veggie burger thick and satisfying with Muenster cheese and savory onions. Alongside this was crispy, yummy potato pancakes-begging to be dunked in the sweet applesauce. My eating companions partook in traditional German cuisine- Sauerbraten and Wiener schnitzel. If you are ever in Gardiner, New York and find yourself having a little German craving- search no further!
After an amazing dinner (Oh, did I not mention the hubs Strudel???) we parted ways and made our way up into the Catskill mountains-destinations Cooperstown, New York http://www.thisiscooperstown.com/ – Home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. First item on me bucket list….
We were the only ones on the road, with the ever present mountain at our side the entire way. The sky was a cobalt blue, with stars twinkling their luminescence –helping guide our way in the darkness. 3 hrs. later, we made our way into the one traffic light bucolic town of Cooperstown. We had a reservation at http://www.innatcooperstown.com/ , which was wise as there were no vacancies. The Inn is a mid-19th century plantation style house with an inviting porch and lazy rocking chairs. It is 3 stories high, furnished in antiques, each room unique with its own character. Our room was cozy and clean and provided us with the rest we badly needed.
In the morning, we were greeted in the breakfast area with freshly baked muffins, a mushroom egg frittata and hot coffee. From there, after a few rocks on the rocking chair and some lazy daydreaming – we made our way to the National Baseball Hall of Fame http://baseballhall.org/.
Now, first- let me just tell you-this main street is straight out of a movie set. Screaming Americana and apple pie. The locals are friendly and talkative, and quite helpful. The whole village area is all centered around- you guessed it-baseball-baseball everything-baseball souvenirs and baseball trinkets, baseball t- shirts and yep- more baseball Knick knacks.
The Museum is a bit pricey at $23 a person, with no student discounts, but is essentially an afternoon of full entertainment. There is a 13 minute video that tugs on the heartstrings of any true patriot and a lively bit of Who’s on First by Abbott and Costello https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kTcRRaXV-fg – which I highly recommend for a good chuckle. There is a nice tribute to Babe Ruth and some of the other legends and wrapping up the tour with a pretty impressive Hall of Fame. My hubs is a big Yankees fan-born and bred- I sort of fell into this through marriage. Seeing his joy brought much happiness to my heart.
After a morning full of baseball utopia, one builds up quite an appetite. We strolled down the tree lined street, literally frozen in 1950, browsing store front windows with funny names like “Shoeless Joe’s” and an ice cream joint named “Brain Freeze”. Nothing particularly struck our fancy, but the window shopping was entertaining enough. In front of a restaurant browsing the menu, a lovely lady approached us and engaged in a very friendly conversation and gave us some food suggestions. We took her up on one and went to a hip place called Mel’s at 22 http://www.melsat22.com/ . It appeared popular with the locals. We sat in a quiet little corner and ordered some sandwiches. Lunch was mediocre, but at least we took a local’s advice.
From there, we had another moment on the porch in the rockers, listening to the whispering breeze and literally nothing else. We then said adios to Cooperstown. Bye, you will forever live in our hearts. Reminding us that there is a place in this world, where people are still good, cars let you walk across the street and strangers greet you. God Bless you, Cooperstown, New York.
We got back in our little Ford Focus and winded down the rolling hills and curvy streets tracing the edges of the Catskills. We had no reservation and at first there was a little freedom in this fact. But, as the minutes turned into hours and our options all had no vacancy signs, unease began to settle in -especially, when two of the options resembled Bates Motel.
Thanks to the savvy hubs and internet, and voila – reservation booked at The Sullivan http://www.the-sullivan.com/. Apparently, this is a “luxury hotel”. For $182 (oh and by the way, 30% tax—really—New York??) I expected a 4 star kind of deal. Well, granted it is clean, air conditioned and comfortable, as well as free Wi-Fi and breakfast. But, it is a drive right- up motel.
Regardless, the hubs was exhausted from all the driving and we were grateful to have a room- so no complaints here- just keepin’ it real, folks. After arriving, the hubs was soon snoring like a bear (very fitting in these parts) while I kept myself occupied entertaining the troops (you- my audience). After his hibernation ended, we went out to the drizzling night at a local pizza place http://pizzatherock.net/ that was quite popular with the Generation Z gang. The pizza was not up to my New York standards-pretty unforgettable. From there, back to the hotel to rest for tomorrow’s activities.
This morning we arose and set out on our journey to Bethel Woods, which is the site of Woodstock. The hubs back in 1969 as a young, innocent boy went to Woodstock. This has always been on the bucket list for him, and therefore -it has too, for me. Back in that feisty Ford Focus, we set out. A quick 20 minute drive from the hotel and we might as well been in another country. The rolling hills dipped and plunged, flanked by emerald green pastures on both sides. Cute, quaint houses with big peace signs welcomed us as we made our entry. Bethel Woods is also the home of many Orthodox Jews, as we saw many in their traditional attire- a sort of unique scene with this country backdrop.
Bethel Woods Museum http://www.bethelwoodscenter.org/the-museum is situated on the site of the Woodstock 3 day concert of love and peace back in August of 1969. Just in case, you have been living under a rock or in a time capsule prior to the summer of love….. The hubs has spoken fondly of this time, over the years, piece by piece sharing his experience with me. I have heard the story so many times, that I feel as if I lived it. Because of this, it was that much more special sharing this with him.
The museum opens at 10 am and is closed for a majority of the winter. It is situated on a massive field and from the outside is pretty unmemorable. I received a couple bucks off for being a student (I knew that MSN would pay off one day!) Immediately, as you enter you are greeted by the vivid colors, prints, photography and sounds. There is much going on, but it is very structured the flow of the exhibition. There are little alcoves with big screen TV monitors going through the history and events that led up to the concert. It is as much a history lesson as it is a music lover’s dream. Piping through the speakers are songs, taking one back instantly 4 ½ decades. The displays are unique and attention grabbing, and really encompassing all of one’s senses. I especially liked the magic bus, full with benches and a driver’s seat. The windshield was a TV screen that described further certain details, including actual footage.
At one point, you enter another room with a starlight sky and bean bag chairs. I reclined back, and let the nostalgic music wash over me. It was a total multi-sensory experience, fully capturing (minus the mud and hallucinogenics) a night on the farmer’s field back in 1969. Several times, along the way, volunteers approached us, happy to tell their stories and share their vivid memories. This additional piece was a treat and truly added to the comprehension and magnitude of this event in a young person’s life.
In a big theater was a 30 minute film that really brought everything to life. Current day musical artists shared their own thoughts on the talented musicians that impacted them and helped form their own accomplishments. Lastly, as we were leaving a lovely volunteer named Glenn escorted us to the actual field to point out some landmarks. It was here, where the hubs transported in time, a young teen on the cusp of adulthood, I could see it in his eyes, a reminiscent glaze, of a time where 3 days of his life was suspended and the only focus was good music, friendships and peace. Glenn gave us his accounts and insight and added once again another layer of this experience.
On the field, the hubs and I sat as the fluffy clouds overhead formed Rorschach prints. We sat in the center of the field and I quickly snapshot this moment in my brain- wishing it to last forever. The daisies waltzed to the cool breeze, swaying and swooning as they too, understood the allure of this sacred land. A tender moment was shared between the hubs and I as I realized life is hurdling by at an alarming pace, days turn into weeks, weeks turn into months and before you know it- the moment is gone. So, we sat on that grass, for what seemed like forever, but really just a blink of the eye. And, I shared all that was in my heart, as I did not want to waste another minute….
Glenn, our helpful volunteer suggested a lovely area for lunch. Not knowing the area, this was good advice. Just a couple minutes away was the beautiful area of Kauneonga Lake http://www.tripadvisor.com/Tourism-g47985-Kauneonga_Lake_New_York-Vacations.html. An absolutely hidden pearl, this street had several restaurants all on this beautiful lake. We pulled right up (easy free parking) and dined at Barrio Kitchen http://barriokitchen.com/ . We sat outside on the covered deck overlooking the shimmering lake. We were entertained by ducks gracefully swimming by with the occasional boat scooting through. We faced the water, feasting on salty tortilla chips, fresh salsa and a darn good quesadilla. The service was exceptional, prices a little high, but the view made it all worth it.
From there, back in our little Focus we drove to Danbury, Connecticut- the main purpose of this trip to begin the wedding festivities of my niece. A quick hour and thirty minutes riding along the lovely I-84, we arrived to our home for the next 2 days Residence Inn Marriott http://www.marriott.com/hotels/travel/dxrri-residence-inn-danbury/ . We were greeted with enthusiasm and a hearty welcome from Hanne Hogberg Raby, the director. She was so accommodating and friendly offering to extend our check out, and even coming to our room to ensure we were taken care of. I mention this, because in all my travels, I have never been extended this much offering of assistance. I even mentioned the hubs had a nagging cough and off she went providing him with an entire bag of cough drops.
The room is very spacious and has absolutely every comfort of home, down to a full working kitchen and popcorn. The rest of my time here is exclusive to family obligation (this is a good thing) and wedding hoopla. So, I am ending my blog now as I am certain, you do not want to hear about my sister in law’s electric slide debut or the best man’s speech (or maybe you will, in that case- email me and I will gladly supply you with the deets).
This trip, although short in time was jammed packed with goodies, long awaited wish list experiences and lots of good family love. I highly recommend either one of these museums as well as the charming cities and nice folk we encountered. This trip has renewed my faith in mankind and showed me that there are still amazing people out there, wanting to share their stories. It is up to you and me to listen.
And, on that note…thanks for listening to mine….
Tune in for Hong Kong, November 2015-
Greetings from Milan
March 12, 2015
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…
Milan Trip report
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!)
**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.
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….
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
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
P.S. For those interested, wrist has made a full miraculous recovery. Must be all those churches we have been to.
Milan Trip Report
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,
PS See you in October. Somewhere, Somehow………………..
New Orleans in a Nutshell—-
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.
Day 3/Final day in New Orleans
This 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~
Greetings from Portugal
Grab a glass of Port and let me fill you in on the most recent excerpt of “A girl and her hubs gone wild”, otherwise known as -A girl, her hubs and a suitcase. After 24 hours of torturous air travel surrounded by hacking lungs, germs and exposure to possible future Ebola carriers we picked up our adorable black and white Euro car, a 5 speed with just enough room for one of us to rest an arm between the seats. The sky was a dreary scene with pockets of torrential rain storms plowing through. Frank had every possible deficit thrown at him: lack of sleep, jet lag, an unfamiliar car and country (oh and language), terrible visibility, a cranky wife and a temperamental navigational system. Despite all that we made our way through the city center of Lisbon in bumper to bumper traffic without incident.
After many U-turns, mismanaged roundabouts and crisscrossing missed exits, turns and stops we made our way to the address in our Tom Tom. We arrived at many big, tall towering high rise tenements circa 1973 covered in graffiti and according to the navigational system this was our hotel. Ready to run in with our bags I was stopped by Frank announcing –“this is not it!” But-yet the address matched the confirmation. He then entered the name of the hotel. This took us in a different location buying us another 25 more minutes of travel. We later found out by the hotel clerk that there are 3 other locations in Sintra-all with the same address!
Entering the town of Sintra, I now understood the confusion on Frank’s behalf. It is a beautiful, tight wound labyrinth of streets configured in dizzying crazy eights and loopy turns. The roads are narrow and wind up in a vertically challenged 90 degree fashion. There is Moorish architecture, dotting the tangle of lush greens, ample plush growth, fertile and pungent of rain and earth. Castles play hide and seek in the distance, as if they are a giant peering its intimidating head. A random waterfall on the side of the road stands out like an overdressed girl on a casual date. 12 foot stone walls bookend the slender streets forcing cars to almost hold their breath as they pass each other. Thick, square rocks create a cacophony of sounds as car wheels clunk over them, pedestrians plod their way down them and bicyclists daringly propel down them in whirlwind speed. At one point- we hugged the stone walls as pedestrians, cars and buses all negotiated for equal space and right of way. An impossible situation that only one person ever wins. Our hotel http://www.tivolihotels.com/en/our-hotels/sintra-hotels/tivoli-palacio-de-seteais/the-hotel.aspx off to the side of one such narrow road – is a delightful surprise, mammoth in size, screaming grandeur and timeless elegance. A pleasant doorman ran to my attention, umbrella in hand eager to help in any way as we drove up. The hotel is an 18th century palace with fine furnishings, antiques, and impressive art and décor. We were greeted by a complimentary bottle of Port and some authentic flaky Portuguese pastry that was waiting for us in our beautiful room which had stunning views of the castle. Fighting the overwhelming urge to nap, we instead showered and took advantage of the weather turn as the sun began to emerge. We set out on foot –the weather was mild, with the smell of rain and wet soil in the air. We made our way into the main village took in the scene and just people watched.
We settled on a restaurant called Laurence http://www.lawrenceshotel.com/ . As far as food goes in Sintra, it tends to be rather touristy and overpriced. This restaurant is part of a hotel. The hotel is nestled in a lush forest with beautiful gardens. The building is well preserved and is full of character. The service was good. The portions were somewhat on the measly side. I had gazpacho, which was spicy and could easily pass for V8, if not in a soup terrine. Frank had a fish soup, that appeared a little on the watery side. My meal was a very unmemorable tortellini dish. The vegetarian options were disappointing and few to choose from. Frank had a fish dish that he seemed quite pleased with. Unsatisfied with my meal, the restaurant did redeem itself with a lemon tart and lemon sorbet that was sublime.
We made it back to our room, just in time as the heavens opened and the rain down poured all night.
This morning we awoke with the faintest of birds singing and sun streaming through our floor to ceiling windows. This room is so spectacular that it not only has 1 but 2 showers in the bathroom and 2 sinks. Pretty swanky, huh?
We arrived for breakfast in the large open dining room, with a beautiful spread of delicacies. There were tantalizing sliced fruits in every shape, color and size, exotic and indulgent, mouthwatering pastries and hot filling eggs, bacon and breads. No one else was there yet and the waiter treated us like royalty, awaiting our every need. From there, bellies full we took a hop on-hop off bus to The Castle of the Moors http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/parques-jardins-e-monumentos/castelo-dos-mouros/ . Perched up on a mountain top are 1000 year old ruins of a Moorish castle. Now, I must admit, although I have a lifetime membership at LA fitness and may even walk that treadmill 4 times a week like it is nobody’s business- these hills have really challenged my endurance . My belief was that the bus drops us off at the top of the mountain. WRONG! The bus disembarks you at the bus stop, and then it is quite a walk up jagged rocks and uneven stone, with beautiful views of the Atlantic Ocean all along the way. Old people, smokers and mothers pushing strollers passed by me as I gasped my way up to the top.
Next, we took the bus to Pena Palace http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/parks-and-monuments/park-and-national-palace-of-pena/ . This was even higher and more strenuous to walk than the castle. It’s a “Disney-esque” palace built by “crazy” King Ludwig’s cousin. Nestled high up on the mountain, so high it has its own weather system. Bright sunshine, clouds so close you can almost touch them. The views from there are spectacular. Again, getting there was taxing on the joints, straining on bones and a lesson in persistence for me. As expected, I may (or may not- you decide) have complained the entire length of the walk. But, the moral of the story is- all good things must be earned. This I did in fact deserve. Once up there, we took a self-guided tour through the palace. On our way down we sat at a picnic table in the shade and enjoyed a light sandwich we had packed.
Our next stop was the National Palace http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/parks-and-monuments/national-palace-of-sintra/ . An 18th century palace with your usual set of suspects, ball room, chapel, gardens, etc.…. By this time, I was all “toured” out, a full day of walking, climbing “oohing and ahhing.” My brain was mush, my feet shot.
We worked our way back to the hotel and along the route was a place called Cintra Magic http://taylormoorephoto.com/new-works/ . A photo gallery comprised of all photos of Sintra from a very pleasant gentleman who left Canada to live his dream of photographing Sintra in all its beauty. A pretty gutsy dream if you ask me. His studio was situated around beautiful greenery and abundance of vegetation and foliage. If nothing else, he and his assistant were a friendly bunch and good conversation was had.
We made it back to the hotel, rested a bit and decided to have dinner at our hotel. http://www.tivolihotels.com/en/our-hotels/sintra-hotels/tivoli-palacio-de-seteais/the-hotel.aspx was a true dining experience. Once again, the service was impeccable. That 5th star really makes all the difference here and they go that extra mile that most places don’t. A gentleman was playing beautiful melodies on a piano as we dined by candlelight. We were given a complimentary bottle of Portugal red wine which made the meal all that more enjoyable. I had a Caesar salad with all the right components-creamy dressing, buttery croutons and crisp lettuce. Frank enjoyed a creamy oyster soup, presented to him in a dramatic way, as the waiter poured it to him over one sad and lonely-but yummy little oyster. This was followed by an amuse buche- a teaser of sorts. Nothing all that impressive for me, but Frank had some interesting indulgent items on a spoon. Next course was a special made vegetarian risotto for me. It had crunchy, neon green asparagus and a sinfully creamy texture. Bravo, Bravo! Frank had duck. He said Portuguese duck tastes different than USA ducks. Hmmmm, makes sense. We ended on an interesting note recommended by the waiter of pears poached in Sherry and Star Anise; pretty in presentation- again interesting. The verdict is not out on this one. Still debating….
Well, that’s it so far.
Tune in for exciting travels ….
Portugal Trip Report 2014
This morning we awoke to gloomy skies and the pelting of continuous rain. Last night, we had the “pleasure” of hearing our neighbor- I like to lovingly refer to her by “Typhoid Mary”, hacking her lungs out into the wee hours. This same delightful germ carrying gal accompanied us to the breakfast bar and proceeded to touch every item. With the fear of Ebola and the constant threat of maintaining a healthy environment within my system- made this that much more concerning. I also found out that she will be here until tomorrow. So, note to my fellow traveling peeps out there and just people in general…. There is a common courtesy in which should be practiced—when you are sick, send the hubs for your breakfast. Sequester yourself from my presence. In fact, let’s just quarantine you. I was quite tempted to leave her a complimentary face mask, but I felt the damage was already done.
After our antibacterial laced breakfast, we drove to Monserrate http://www.parquesdesintra.pt/en/parks-and-monuments/park-and-palace-of-monserrate/ . Monserrate is an exotic botanical gardens and palace. Visiting this place is an experience that truly incorporates every sense. The greenery is rambling with colorful and ample lush plants, trees and flowers. We started at the top and worked our way down, level by level. As one descends this magical wonderland, every turn brings out a new visual delight. There were so many different species of plants and trees that at times I felt I was in an enchanted rain forest. The air was damp, the rocks were treacherous, and navigating the jagged stones was a precarious undertaking.
We were there with maybe a handful of other tourists and pretty much had the whole place to ourselves. The path took us to a palace built in the 19th century, with unique Moorish details. The whole excursion, including numerous complaints from yours truly was roughly 3 hrs. I must admit this was one of my top 5 things I have EVER done in my travels. If I had brought a hair tie, it may have moved up a notch or two.
From there we drove over to Cabo da Roca https://www.visitportugal.com/en/NR/exeres/B1743B31-3190-4769-9EFD-9E911FF4C813 . It is the most Western part of Europe. Getting there was a nail-biting, holding your breath experience. First, the roads are so narrow that barely one small car can fit. Yet, these are 2 lane roadways. Speeding buses, trailers and cars zipped by us as Frank gripped the wheel scooting to an imaginary shoulder. Each side of the road is flanked by concrete walls, creating even more of an issue. As if that was not scary enough-our navigational system sent us on what I can only refer to as maybe a donkey path. Colossal, pointy shaped rocks piercing our suspension system, big gaping puddles, and nowhere to turn around. Once we chose this route we were fully committed. Some of you have had the pleasure of witnessing my anxiety infused video.
The pathetic “road” spit us out onto a major thorough fare that had us praising hallelujah! We walked up to the edge and took all the splendor of the Atlantic ocean in. I find a certain romance in the notion that just on the other side of that glorious ocean is my homeland. We were perched high up on a perilous cliff, with only the support of an anemic looking fence that would give way with just the slightest effort. The die-hard tourists clung to the fence, dangling dangerously for that perfect selfie.
We had a small treat in the café and a light lunch overlooking the impressiveness and awe of that great big body of water. We safely made our way back to the hotel and had a much deserved nap.
When we awoke, hunger had settled in and we did some research for some fine food in Sintra. Sintra is a tourist destination and is known for lack luster food and overpriced meals. We drove a short distance to a lovely establishment Nau Palatina http://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g189164-d5111405-Reviews-Nau_Palatina-Sintra_Sintra_Municipality_Lisbon_District_Central_Portugal.html. It is a darling little Tapas restaurant operated by Joyz and Yolanda Vieira. We were the only patrons in there as it was later and a weekday. Joyz was eager to accommodate my vegetarian requirements and suggested many unique authentic Portuguese delights. We had a tasty garbanzo bean soup followed by a cheese platter consisting of sheep’s and goat cheeses with quince marmalade, exclusive only to Portugal. This was served with homemade bread full of texture and full yeasty nooks and crannies. Frank had some shrimp with a pumpkin chile sauce and I had a mushroom omelet, unlike any mushroom I had tasted before. We ended with a small sweet treat unique only to this region that was made with lemon custard and cinnamon.
After dinner, Joyz sat and talked with us sharing interesting stories about his proud culture. It was a cozy meal and felt as if I was in this couple’s dining room of their house. The best part was it was affordable. No hidden fees or “covert” charges for bread. It was a truly enjoyable evening and being it was our last night in Sintra I was glad we did our research.
So, that’s it for tonight. My hubs is snoring next to me, and in a few minutes I will be doing the same. Stay healthy, wash your hands, take your airborne and stay away from disease carrying individuals that spread their germs.
Portugal Trip Report
Day 4 &5
Up & awake bright this morning to pack and move to our next location. We enjoyed our last breakfast at the hotel and the waiters and staff treated us in a fashion I had never been treated before. We took this time to take advantage of exploring the grounds and gardens at the hotel. They were beautifully, skillfully trimmed topiary and the hotel backs up right into a national forest. Modern art is placed randomly throughout the gardens-out of place, but strangely fit right in. We bid our goodbyes and me-silently cursing Frank for setting the bar so high. How can I ever go back to a Days Inn after luxuriating at a Palace!
We drove into town and did my favorite thing that I love to do on vacation—LAUNDRY! Yes, you heard me right. I love me a good suddsing. Packing for 10 days is problematic and difficult to get right. We went to the Lavandaria Self-Service Laundromat and truly immersed ourselves as locals. We witnessed a lively debate/argument/ altercation all in Portuguese over a dryer. In the end, someone had to take out there wet clothes and loud murmurings, eye rolling and Portuguese cursing in full force. It was a Portuguese soap opera. I tell you, where can you find entertainment like that? Clean clothes in tow we left the lovely city of Sintra with mist in our eyes and love in our hearts for such a captivating town.
We drove approximately 2 hrs. to the town of Fatima. Now, this is quite an interesting story…. Here it is in a synopsis- The Virgin Mary appeared six times to three peasant children between May 13 and October 13, 1917. On her last visit she disclosed to the one child that three things will happen- (1) Communism in Russia will end and they will worship religion again (2) She recounted visions of hell and made references to World War II (3) The third revelation was not made public until years later, but it was the attempted assignation of Pope John Paul II.
The area we visited consisted of a sanctuary and a cathedral placed on the grounds where the last encounter was. It is a pretty big widespread area-even larger than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome! Driving up to the place the sky was grey, raining and cold. I made a vain prayer aloud asking GOD to shine some sun on us during our visit. Within minutes, sun erupted warming up our faces and a cool breeze blew through the air. The remainder of the day stayed in this fashion. Coincidence? I think not.
There was a mass going on in Portuguese and a woman was saying her “Hail Marys”, except it was called “Santa Marias”. Rhythmically she began each line the same, hypnotizing me into a meditative state. Individuals crawled on their knees, a common practice to show devotion. People with true medical afflictions hobbled there way faithfully to light a candle. Just 2 days before a pilgrimage had occurred bringing out the most devoted of worshippers for the anniversary of the last appearance of the Virgin Mary. A certain somnolence and peacefulness hung over the air. It was an enjoyable journey and well worth it.
From there we traveled another hour to our hotel in Coimbra http://www.quintadaslagrimas.pt/ . It is a lovely resort with numerous amenities such as golf, a spa, a Japanese garden and sprawling grounds in a pretty congested city-none of which we took advantage of since we were only spending the night. We settled in and around 8pm and ventured out. The weather is very similar to Florida with a nice breeze. We walked to our destination Acapella http://www.acapella.com.pt/ , where we would be enjoying a Fado concert. Fado music http://www.portugal.com/information/fado is a soulful melody, full of emotion and expression. It is sensual and melodic. The music is further complimented by evocative guitar playing. The concert was in a dimly lit church- an intimate gathering of rather enthusiastic sophisticated people. The church was perched high up on a 90 degree angle and took some major calf action to get there. We sat rather closely to the stage and ordered some lovely light Tapas and wine. They were very obliging to invent a vegetarian meal for me which was superb. We had an amazing bowl of flan to end the meal, crispy burnt sugar tantalizing our taste buds.
The music started during dinner service and it truly is an experience. The mournful serenade in combination with the sublime food made for a very memorable evening. The concert was roughly an hour and a half, so it was after midnight before we even made our way back to the hotel.
Now, let me mention Coimbra is a major college town! It is known for its university http://www.uc.pt/ , being it the second oldest university in Europe (Bologna is the oldest). Having said that, we all know what college kids like to do….
So, you can just imagine the madness we walked out into at midnight-traipsing through the streets of Coimbra. These guys seem to have partying down to a science. My 40 something year old bones felt very old, as we maneuvered our way through screaming, screeching girls, testosterone infused boys and the thump of loud music echoing through the streets. Youth and endless energy permeated the air.
We came back to our room exhausted, after 1 am and so ready for sleep-except our room was pouring out heat through the ac system. We were drenched in sweat and fatigued from all the walking. Fortunately, the gentleman at the front desk moved our room to a deluxe suite with working air and off we slumbered for the next 8 hours.
When we awoke- we made our way to a lovely breakfast, refueled our bellies and set off for the day. We went by taxi up to the University to view the library, which is what it is most famous for. The university, which was founded in 1290 hovers over the city- a mammoth group of ancient buildings. We toured the elaborate library ornate with gold and a massive volume of books. We were limited to where we could go and no pictures were permitted-so that was a bummer. We then went to the academic prison that was active back in 1974 during their revolution. This was very interesting. You could be placed there with the mere infraction of asking too many questions! Boy, do I know some past fellow students that belong there! Then, lastly we made a quick pit stop in the cathedral. There were massive throngs of annoying tour groups that littered the complex which was a bit of a kill joy.
We made our way slowly down the high elevation by steps, with a few interruptions of me complaining and intermittent bursts of shopping. Eventually, we made it back to the car and ventured off for our last stop- Lisbon.
We are staying at the Torel Palace http://www.torelpalace.com/ -a darling periwinkle colored real life looking dollhouse. We have sweeping views of the whole city. The clerk met us at the door, gave us complimentary drinks and helped us get a lay of the land. Our room is very nice, with beautiful views and all the comforts of home.
Well, that’s it for now….
I will leave you with this random Portuguese proverb…
A good word quenches more than a cauldron of water.
Portugal Trip Report 2014
Last night after arriving at our hotel, the lovely Torel Palace, we went for some unmemorable Indian food. We went by taxi, as we were unacquainted with this overwhelming city. The restaurant was located in a hopping area, crowds of people everywhere. The energy was high and almost palpable, 20 “somethingers” drinking alcohol right on the street, cabs and cars fighting for space, drunks loud and spilling out into the streets.
After dinner, we walked a bit. The farther away from the center we got, the landscape of individuals changed to a more composed population. We took a taxi back to the hotel and tucked in bed by 1am.
This morning we had a pleasant breakfast provided by our hotel consisting of pastries and fresh squeezed orange juice. Then we made our way down the many steps that descend down into the city http://www.tripadvisor.com/LocationPhotoDirectLink-g189158-i18225866-Lisbon_Estremadura.html . A thing or two about Lisbon….It is a large city that is intimidating with its many levels of streets. In a book or even on screen, the depth cannot be translated. Our hotel is sort of nestled up at the top, like a cake topper on a multi-layer cake. This is good for aesthetics, but for practical purposes for a novice to this area-it does create some strategic planning. Fortunately, we are steps from the “elevator” / funicular http://www.lisbon-tourism.com/en/lisbon-attractions/historical-edifices-and-monuments-in-lisbon/funicular-system-of-lisbon.html . There also is a great subway system, easy to understand. But, what Lisbon is famous for is the tram system. Later on you will hear about this adventure…
So, we purchased a 3 day pass for all the public transportation and made our way to Museu Calouste Gulbenkian http://museu.gulbenkian.pt/Museu/pt/Inicio .
It is a lovely museum full of priceless brick- a- brack, prolific artists such as Rembrandt, Monet, Manet and a Sargent that I wanted to take off the wall and bring home. It is a manageable museum that moves rather easily and was not too congested. We spent roughly 3 hours there and then dined in their restaurant https://www.zomato.com/pt/grande-lisboa/cafetaria-do-museu-gulbenkian-praça-de-espanha-lisboa . We sat on the patio and had a delicious meal as the sun made its midday appearance after a gray, humid morning. Feisty birds hovered over us as they waited anxiously for morsels of food. The terrace was situated in a charming park, which we later walked as we exited the grounds.
We walked a bit further and we stumbled upon an energetic area called the commercial square http://www.golisbon.com/sight-seeing/comercio-square.html
Throngs of lively people were out enjoying the afternoon sun. Gargantuan cruise ships were docked; school age kids were up to hijinks, while couples smooched. There was an entertaining man singing Bob Dylan and the like on guitar as people sang along and swayed to the soulful melody. Seagulls and pigeons fought like unruly siblings over miniscule scraps of edibles. We stayed there taking it in for a while, offering a well- earned respite from the morning’s activities.
We then took the #28 tram in hopes of getting up to the pinnacle of Lisbon’s city center to view castelo de sao Jorge (the castle) http://castelodesaojorge.pt/en . Well, we never quite got there….For those of you not familiar with riding on a tram in Lisbon, it is similar to being stuffed in a clown car, except with stinky armpits in your face while clutching onto a stranger’s belt loops so you don’t propel face first into the driver as he is negotiating a steep 180 degree incline. I was under the naïve impression that I would be leisurely sitting in the seat, breeze blowing my perfect curls (my fantasy-leave me alone) as I view all of Lisbon’s finest sights. At one point as we were piled in this sardine can, feet plastered to the floor to steady myself, I thought certainly not one more person can fit in this claustrophobic germ mobile. But, yet alas, 30 more people would pile on-wedging me between a 92 year old lady barking at the driver and a bunch of oblivious generation Y’ers . I would love to have showed you visual footage of this but my hands were zealously gripping the MRSA laced pole.
In the confusion we missed our stop, got off, disinfected ourselves and re-embarked the other direction just for “fun”. Finally, we got off having really not accomplished much –although I must mention- the husband had a grand time. Traveling takes a certain flexibility and “when in Rome” attitude that as I “age” becomes more of a challenge. So, please don’t let me shade your judgment on this activity. These in the end, are all my subjective views and it is meant in good fun.
We came back to the hotel and sat on the terrace with a mouth puckering glass of lemonade from the hotel. The sun was setting and into a picture-esque “gone with wind” sunset and all the day’s activities were all just a distant memory. It was nice to have nothing to do, and no one to see- just a cold glass of lemonade and a sunset.
Dinner was recommended by the helpful girls that man the desk here at Torel Palace. We dined at a cozy place that mainly the locals go to called 2 A Esquina https://www.zomato.com/pt/grande-lisboa/bica-à-esquina-bica-lisbon/menu . It is a delightful place with a friendly owner who was extremely accommodating. The meal starts with an artesian cheese plate, gourmet mustard and fresh bread. My main dish was a bit of an oddity for me, but I was being a risk taker and had an item called green eggs. I can’t even begin to explain this creation but essentially it is a hardboiled egg that has a crispy coating on top. It was good, but must be unique to this restaurant because I wanted to explain it better and can’t find anything on it. The vegetarian items were few, as this was actually the only option, otherwise I may have thought twice. With this I had a side of tempura green beans that were yummy. Frank had a Portuguese sausage spinach concoction that seemed like an odd combination. His main dish was a meaty, very rare, grisly steak. It was mainly left untouched. The atmosphere was enjoyable and festive, the prices were reasonable and the owner was very friendly.
Following dinner we schlepped our full bellies up the inclines, fighting gravity back to the hotel.
Tune in tomorrow for more Lisbon tales of mayhem…….
Portugal Trip Report
Each morning it is harder to rise, burning the candle at both ends… But, before we know it the trip will be over, just a distant memory and we don’t want to waste it sleeping in. Having said that — here are some tips from Big Momma while travelin’….Have a pen, are you ready? I will wait – because this is good stuff!
• ALWAYS, and I mean ALWAYS wear comfortable shoes.
• Always have a camera (or 2) available. You never know when that amazing shot will occur.
• Respect the culture. Sometimes, you cannot believe what is going on, and understood what is perceived as rudeness. But, just remember you are a guest and should act as one.
• Do your research people. Please. Know something. I have made the mistake of thinking Frank will teach me everything. It is good to have a minimal baseline of knowledge. It will enhance your experience while you are there.
• Always bring snacks, tissues, hand sanitizer, band aids and scissors. (For example, on our way from Coimbra to Fatima we stopped at a rest area to use the bathroom facilities. The woman’s “bathroom” was literally a hole in the ground. No TP, no soap. Do you see what I am saying? We are in the year 2014 and we are peeing in a hole in the ground, really?)
• Don’t pack more than you can lift. This can really be problematic when you are going through subways and small hotels with no lift. Keep it simple, plan on laundry, etc.… So, remember me when packing….
These are just a couple of tips that I have learned the hard way…by making all these painful mistakes. I am certain the husband has a list that he could rattle off in a minute. Again, I have learned along the way, but still continue to screw up. Aww, the joys of travel.
So, today was one of the most physically challenging days of my life. I went through every emotion from elation and joy to hopelessness and despair. A see-saw of “I can do this” to “I am never traveling again”. Let’s rewind, and I will take you through the excruciating details, so you can understand….
Crawled out of bed, hunched over like an old man, knees crunching, back spasming-nothing that Motrin, a hot shower and a flaky croissant can’t remedy. After eating, we set out on foot down the many, many numerous steps that descend down into the city. After this, we walked to the metro subway, down the steps (many), and waited in the oppressive sauna- like atmosphere for the cattle car packed to inhumane conditions to arrive. We then propelled ourselves forcefully through the cluster of other passengers. We swayed clinging to anything we could- counting down the seconds until I could exit. I had to transport myself to my “happy place”, as the sweaty, uncomfortable reality was almost intolerable.
We plopped off the train, switched over to another train (last verse same as the first) for one more stop and then more steps, more heat….We then walked quite a bit until we got to our destination Grupo Amigos Museu Nacional de Arte http://www.museudearteantiga.pt/
The museum is an unintimidating gallery with some amazing pieces of art. The art spans from 14th century European works to late 19th century. It goes in order and is based on one floor. We spent several hours there, enjoying the art in silence.
From there, we took a cab to Jeronimos Monastery http://www.golisbon.com/sight-seeing/jeronimos.html- an overwhelming architectural delight that was inhabited by monks of the Order of Saint Jerome in the 1500’s. The line was long and moved a bit slow, but was well worth the wait for the beautiful views inside. A huge open space awaited us, a cloister courtyard with ornate sculpture, decorative details and columns with elaborate carvings. We roamed around as the intense sun bore down on us.
We took a rest and walked down the street to a Starbucks. We enjoyed some delicious much needed drinks and ate some hot chestnuts from the vendor. We sat in the shade, right in the hub people watching. We stayed there for a while getting lost in the activities of the crowd’s pandemonium.
We walked across the street, right on the sea is the Monument of Discovery http://www.padraodosdescobrimentos.pt/ .It is a large monument commemorating all the sea travel that originated from this very spot. At this point- the sun was at its most penetrating; as sunburn began to creep up our necks. We walked around took pictures and eventually found ourselves at a gelato shop. We enjoyed the cold creamy loveliness in sweet contrast to the burning glow of the sun. We savored the moment as well as the sweet gelato.
From there, slowly, we made our way back. Back to the many steps, back to the crowded tram, congested metro and up the elevator. Exhausted and out of the hotel for a total of 7 hours the thought of maneuvering down the hill for dinner was more than this tired gal could bare.
We reached the hotel chatting with the clerks who provided us with some much needed chilled water. They ordered a pizza for us that was delivered to our room. After a MUCH needed shower, we ate picnic style in our room watching the History channel (with Portuguese subtitles).
Now, we rest. We are in for the evening after a rather stimulating, action packed day. After what may sound like a gruesome tale of misery, I will say again-this is all part of travel. If I don’t want to battle the crowds, fight for a subway seat, run to catch a tram, trip like a fool on cobblestone, stand in lines for days, eat strange bizarre “green eggs” (what in the world was I thinking?) then I may as well sit home, turn on my “reality” TV, and let the world spin on by.
So, my point is-after a day of exertion, heat, sweating, hunger and bladder deprivation- there is also the joy I felt looking at a beautiful painting, the peace I experienced as I looked out at the same sea the explorers set out many centuries ago, the absolute gratitude I had for that first cold sip of water, and the appreciation that was felt as the taxi transported me and allowed me to rest my aching feet. Without all the annoying nonsense that accompanies travel, all those high moments would be lost. Make sense?
Tomorrow is our last day and then we leave bright & early, so this MAY or may not be my last entry.
Thanks for sharing the ride…
~B & F~
Portugal Trip Report
This is my last entry as it is our final day in Lisbon. After our yummy breakfast we headed towards our exciting plans for the day. We were meeting our guide Marta from Your friend in Lisbon http://www.yourfriendinlisbon.com/ for a private tour around Lisbon. (I must do a shout out to my dear pal Sarah –my lovely former neighbor who recommended this activity)
Marta met us in the commercial square with a big smile and hearty enthusiasm. She began by telling us some interesting history regarding Lisbon. In 1755, there was a catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that essentially ruined Lisbon. It took 10,000 lives and leveled the city. But, in true Portuguese spirit they rebuilt the city eventually into the metropolis it is today. Marta was easy to understand, her English impeccable and answered our many questions as they popped up without hesitation.
The beauty of this tour and having your own tour guide is the individual attention that was given to us. Marta, acting as our “Sherpa” led the way through the winding streets of Lisbon. On foot we slowly snaked our way through the city as she interweaved interesting details. She knew all the secrets and managed to get us up hills and massive inclines in the most mysterious of ways, taking an elevator from a train station then hopping over to another building and taking an escalator until before we knew it we were almost at the top.
No #28 cram sandwich, no hokey golf cart, no aching calf muscles….I could not replicate her unique navigational skills, but I was grateful for an activity that did not bring me close to tears due to exhaustion. We saw famous churches, historical squares, and interesting stories were recounted.
There were several high points of the tour but one very special thing Marta did was take us to Baltazar Castanheiro http://www.casabalthazarlisbon.com/en/confeitaria-nacional.html . This café decorated in ornate Art Nouveau is famous for their Pastel de nata, a custardy, flaky tart (that is unbelievably delicious). She treated us to coffee and a Pastel de nata as she continued to explain Portuguese culture.
Refueled and invigorated with a sugar high, we proceeded up the hill for amazing views, pictures and more info. At one point, we stopped in a store and she assisted in helping me pick out souvenirs for home. The tour ended in a wine store where she treated us to a glass of Tawny Port. The tour was 98 Euros total for 2 people, lasted over 3 hours and I feel was money well spent.
After we and Marta parted ways, we made our way to Starbucks. We had a light sandwich we had packed and some drinks. We rested our feet and planned the remainder of the day.
Cocky with our new found knowledge of the city, we found ourselves climbing the hill again. We did some economical recovery for the city of Lisbon, purchasing souvenirs and went on the hunt for some authentic Portuguese pottery. After some exploring, we finally found Santana http://www.santanna.com.pt/en . The factory that is off site in Lisbon has been making pottery since 1741. Finding the perfect piece and hoping it won’t be ceramic particles when we get home was nerve wracking. Eventually the most perfect piece was found-a beautiful, fragile bowl that is wedged somewhere between underwear and dirty jeans.
With a successful shopping expedition complete, it was time to wrap this baby up. Put a nice bow on it and bring it home, boys. By this time it was approaching dinner, and as lovely as Portuguese food as –we had a hankering for some good ole’ food from the USA. We stopped at the lively Hard Rock Café http://www.hardrock.com.pt/cafes/lisbon/ and enjoyed a nice happy hour with some beer and appetizers. Exhausted and having to pack for our flight back home tomorrow- we headed back.
B & F’s Portugal Top 10:
10. All the lovely hotels/palaces we stayed and the amazing people of Portugal
9. Museu Calouste Gulbenkian
8. The many, many sweet treats in Portugal especially the Pastel de nata
7. Grupo Amigos Museu Nacional de Arte (The National Museum of Ancient Art)
6. Cabo da Roco (The most Western part of Europe)
5. Fatima experience
4. Friends of Lisbon personal tour
3. Pena Palace in Sintra/ Moorish Castle in Sintra
2. Fado concert in Coimbra
1. Monserrat Botanical Gardens in Sintra
Some last words on Portugal….
Portugal is a real experience. To understand this culture and country is to immerse oneself into it. The regions we were in- were physically challenging, but well worth every foot step and charley horse. Tackling the cumbersome terrain from the plush gardens of Sintra, to the windy zig- zag roads of Lisbon was monumental at times to the point of over whelming exhaustion. But, I pushed myself-more than I ever had. I may have complained (a lot). But-in the end, I climbed that hill, I went that extra mile (literally) , I made myself focus on that one “last” painting-even though I thought I couldn’t go on.
To quote our great guide Marta “The people of Portugal are resilient. They are a kind people, tolerant and accepting of all diversities”. I witnessed this first hand. The spirit of Portugal will forever stay in my heart.
Thanks for tuning in…..
Next on the agenda-
New Orleans Thanksgiving