Cooperstown to Connecticut….

A Girl, Her Hubs and a Suitcase
June 5, 2015
Day 1

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 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 – 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 , 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

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 – 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 . 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 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 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.

Day 2

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 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 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 . 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 . 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-


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Milan Trip Report March 2015

Greetings from Milan
March 12, 2015
Trip Report

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

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

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

The sun beamed down on us intently and the cold weather I was expecting (and frankly looking forward to) was not to be. A pleasant 60 degrees welcomed us as we schlepped luggage in tow, wearily through the bustling eager crowd. The confusing city structure, as well as a stubborn GPS, got us slightly turned around but eventually we made it to our refuge for the next 6 days- The Gran Duca Di York hotel . 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 . 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 . 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
Day 2

After 3 hours of sleep, day 2 of trip kicks off. We had a yummy, pleasant breakfast provided by the hotel. Then, we literally took 10 steps and went to the Pinacoteca Ambrosiana -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 – Milan’s disappointing version of Starbuck’s for a short respite. From there we walked through Sempione Park 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 – 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 – 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.

Trip Report
Day 3

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

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

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

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

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

From there, we dined at an unbelievably lavish restaurant Virtuoso . 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 – 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 . 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 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 – a young energetic hip area. We eventually made it to our destination for dinner Rangoli for Indian food. As much as I love Italian food, I was getting “pasta-ed” out, so we opted for something a little different. The place was hopping and appeared quite popular. We ordered the vegetarian feast, which consisted of 10 or so vegetarian items in a 4 course setting. The food was delicious-but probably not the wisest thing to eat at 10pm.

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

Milan Trip Report
Day 5

My sleep was full of Indian food infused hallucinations mixed with a significant case of reflux. We slept in a bit this morning due to a change of plans. We were set to visit Lake Como (you know George Clooney’s summer home). But, it was grey and rainy and not ideal for visiting that region. So, instead, we woke up a little later, consumed our breakfast and set off on foot to Poldi Pezzoli museum!/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 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 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
Day 6
Last day (sad face)….

Last night we ventured close to the hotel for a late supper. We walked down the narrow sidewalks, umbrellas in hand, sidestepping cavernous puddles. We ate locally at Trattoria Milanese . 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, 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 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 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 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………………..

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New Orleans November 2014

New Orleans in a Nutshell—-
November 2014
New Orleans has been on our bucket list for a long time. So, we chose this 4 day weekend to take the leap. 10 hrs. later and 17 chapters of a juicy audio book and here we are. We are staying at the Cornstalk Fence Hotel . 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 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 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 . 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 . 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 . 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 . A throwback of a 50’s joint, with barstools and a counter was the perfect epicurean ending for a day of over indulgence and gluttony! Our lively waiter gave us individualized, friendly service. A hot plate of greasy fare, finger lickin’ good- I might add- hit the spot. It was economical, popular and we may certainly frequent this spot again.
Full, exhausted and completely content we made our way back to the hotel. Currently, there are screaming drunks 5 feet from our window. I am certain the “Captain” will visit me again this evening-but were on vacation- so I will go with it.
Tune in for more tales and tribulations as we make our way through NOLA.
~B &F~
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 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 . 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 . 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 . 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 -an elegant Italian restaurant. This dining choice was recommended by our hotel. Greeting us as we entered the inviting establishment was an open kitchen with fragrant smells of garlic. I had a creamy, lush butternut squash soup, while Frank enjoyed a bowl of mussels in a wine sauce. My next course was a very filling vegetable risotto, full of fresh vegetables and incredibly tasty. Frank had meatballs and spaghetti that had a unique Cajun flavor to it that kept him guessing through the whole meal. The service was good, the prices were appropriate and all in all a good ending to a great trip.
After dinner, we continued to wind our way around the same area. The crowd was a bit feistier, the homeless a bit more aggressive and street traffic was inert. Full, tired, and watching our bank account dwindle (this is one expensive city) – we called it a night.
Well, some welcoming surprises for me with this one of a kind city:
1. Clean! And, I mean CLEAN. They wash the streets with soap and water daily. The streets actually gleam in the morning.

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

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

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

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

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

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Portugal Trip Report October 2014

Greetings from Portugal
October 2014
Day 1&2
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 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 . 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 . 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 . 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 . 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 . 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. 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 ….
~B &F~

Portugal Trip Report 2014
Day 3
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 . 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 . 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 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.
Take care

Portugal Trip Report
October 2014
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 . 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 , where we would be enjoying a Fado concert. Fado music 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 , 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 -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.
~B &F~

Portugal Trip Report 2014
Day 6
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 . 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 . 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 .
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 restaurantça-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
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) . 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 Esquinaà-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
Day 7

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
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 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 .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
Day 8
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 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 . 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 . 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 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

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Krakow, Poland Trip Report March 2014

Greetings from Krakow, Poland
Trip Report March 2014
Hello friends from deep in the Eastern block of Europe. After 24 hrs. of travel, a minor airplane malfunction and an impromptu hotel switch- here we are! Arriving dreary in a valium induced hangover- brought on by airplane anxiety, Krakow greeted us with an overcast sky and a balmy coolness. A silent cabby drove us to our destination as cute, idyllic farmhouses whizzed by my periphery adjacent to oddly modern, and peculiarly out of place homes.
Our hotel which Frank had extensively researched – strangely misplaced our reservation with a computer glitch. As my ugly American threatened to emerge-the lovely receptionist explained, there is another room at their sister hotel waiting for us. Another silent cabbie, chauffeured us to our new establishment Hotel Kossak (; a beautiful 4 star hotel overlooking the main epicenter of Cracow- Wawel Castle ( We are situated on the 5th floor, with expanse views, and all the luxuries one would be so grateful for after jet lag, exhaustion and the wears of international travel. We showered and took a heavenly nap as daylight drifted into darkness. Droplets of rain softly pelted the window lightly tapping us awake.
We explored our surroundings, walking down the wet cobblestone; eventually, leading us to the central hub- Main Market Square. ( Interesting architecture representing various time periods- Gothic, Romanesque, and Baroque served as marble landscape. We found ourselves in St. Mary’s church ( just by chance as a service was underway. We quietly sat down at a pew, as Military and State Police officers lined the church, shoulders touching, 2×2, 100 men deep. Unclear as to what was going on, we sat mesmerized, as the priest, in Polish conducted the service. An Operatic angel delivered hypnotic hymns as the crowd kneeled, sat and stood on cue. Still unclear the ceremony that took place, or what was spoken, it was captivating, unplanned and a complete unexpected delight. The church itself is from the 15th century and the altarpiece was an artistic, religious work of art.
The weather began to deteriorate at this point, windy, cold and rainy- but we were prepared for this and it did not affect our enthusiasm for getting to know this city. We found ourselves outside a charming restaurant Restauracija Farina (, specializing in traditional Polish dishes and fresh seafood. We had a very affordable “soup to nuts” meal – that was delicious, amazing service and a beautiful setting. Tulips and candles on candelabras adorned the cozy dwelling. Petite, dainty waitresses provided incredible service with impeccable English. I started with a creamy mushroom soup with a velvety texture and chuck full of earthy and hearty mushrooms and Frank had a seafood soup. Our next course was trout with crispy tasty potatoes and a pasta dish with fresh vegetables for me. We ended the meal with a tasty sweet desert. It was an indulgent meal, enjoyable and truly represented Krakow. We continued to walk through the city, as the rain lightly dotted the earth.
Love and tasty morsels of Polish Mushrooms~
~B & F~

Trip Report 2014
Day 2
We woke up this morning with blinding sun slicing through the window, like a laser gun. As last night ended with dreary rain, this was an unexpected pleasant surprise. We had to pack our items, as we were switching hotels. Last night’s peaceful respite was temporary as our reserved hotel was ready for us. We ate the complimentary breakfast in a modern, bright eating area. Breakfast items included sausage, eggs, fancy cheeses and tempting pastries. There were also some very unusual, slightly exotic foreign items if one was looking for a traditional Polish breakfast- such as bananas floating in some sort of liquid, and “mayonaisy”- strange compilations of curiosity. I kept it pretty simple, meeting my weekly quota of carbs all in one sitting.
The hotel kindly and generously paid for our taxi to take us to our new lodging. We are staying at Senaki Hotel We are literally central to everything and our view is of a 13th century church. It is clean, comfortable and close to everywhere we want to go. The staff at both hotels have been so polite, accommodating and helpful. I really have to say – being 2 days in- I dig the Polish peeps. They are a fun group of people, formidable to being the brunt of many jokes. I would equate it to the efficiency of the Germans and the spunk of the Irish. These are just my observations in my short experience of worldly affairs.
So, we made our way back to the main market and met a group for a walking tour throughout the city There were about 15 of us, with a lively Polish gal who provided interesting commentary on the major sites. She was quick and I did my best to keep up, as there was much to see and a lot of helpful tidbits, facts and little nuggets of info crampacked in 2 hrs. Included in our tour we saw: St Mary ‘s Cathedral (from last night’s post) Cloth Hall (“the world’s oldest shopping center” ) over 700 years old. We moseyed by some famous statues and sculptures then we ascended up the famous Wawel Hill , which has a castle, cathedral, museum and magnificent panoramic views. The tour as the name indicates it is free and really provided us with a nice lay of the land. We gave her a well-earned tip (which was optional).
After the tour we lingered on the hill, ate some light sandwiches we had packed as the bright sun warmed the midafternoon air. It was a beautiful day-68 degrees with bright sun and some gusty wind. Then we made a quick stop to see the famous Lady with the Ermine – a Leonardo da Vinci painting from 1489. It is located in the Czartoryski Museum A lone picture, all by itself- that took 5 flights of stairs to get to. It is about the size of the Mona Lisa, surrounded by 4 body guards. An awkward 5 minutes, with 8 eyeballs staring at us- as we were the only ones in the room.
From there, we went to the cathedral Its history spans 1000 years and is chuck full of saints, royalty and religious memorabilia. We toured the crypts below, with the eerie silence and serene stillness.
We made our way, weary with fatigue- a full 6 hrs. after we started out –back to the hotel to rest. After a brief hr. rest- we took a taxi to the Jewish section for a Klezmer concert in the famous Isaac Synagogue Klezmer music is traditional Jewish music, for me evoking memories of weddings and joyous celebration from my culture. Isaac synagogue, the original structure was destroyed by the Nazis during WWII. The simple building stands in defiance- as a sign of strength. There were roughly 20 people in the audience, but the music was heartfelt and filled with emotion. The concert lasted an hour and was very enjoyable.
From there, we went to Ariel Restaurant This establishment was reminiscent of my dear late Bubbe’s (“Jewish Grandmother) living room. It even smelled like her kitchen! Its specialty is Traditional Jewish cuisine. Lace tablecloths adorn the mismatched tables with paintings and random tchotchkes strewn throughout. Frank and I both had matzo ball soup- which oddly was not a ball at all, but misshaped triangles. This disturbed me- but not Frank; also, the ratio of broth to ball- very off. Frank had a duck of hearty proportions, and I had the potato lakes. My Jewish peeps (Neenee if you are reading this- shout out to you!) set the bar too high, so for me- this restaurant receives a B- (Frank gave them an A).
I must at this point address this- Krakow has really been quite affordable; actually, cheaper than home. I am loving the Zloty’s- the Polish currency. Euros are at their all-time high, so to have the allure and romance of Europe and the fiscal loveliness of the Zloty- is a win-win for me. (No offense Euro using countries)…..
We ventured back to hotel by cab- An early night as a big day ahead of us tomorrow.
Love and big ole’ Round Matzo Balls………..
~B & F~

Krakow Trip Report
Day 3
19,268 Steps

Today was a plan B kind of day. Plan A completely fell through, which in retrospect was a good thing……. Today we were to go to a brewery 2 ½ hrs. away with a driver. I am not much of a drinker and it was quite costly, but it was rated high in trip advisor. We arose quite early for this aborted adventure. The sun was intensely bright and beautiful day weather wise was clearly emerging. The thought of being stuck in a car for ½ the morning with a stranger on such a fine day seemed so ludicrous. After we scarfed down our eggs, we went to wait for our ride. On a whim, Frank had the receptionist call the company to ensure they were coming. Our receptionist translated to us from the company they never received our reservation and in no way were coming. Relief swept over us as a new plan developed.
We set off in the glorious spring air with an improvised plan. First, we snuck in St. Francis church It was dark inside and no one in site, but an angelic voice accompanied by an organ serenaded us. We sat in a pew, as the hustle bustle of work life commenced on outside the door. I sat and quietly reflected in gratitude, thankful for this moment of peaceful respite.
Next, we walked through the Planty Park The early morning air still had a crisp cool to it, but it was warming up and layers were quickly being pulled off. Dogs and their distracted owners were abundant, late stragglers hurrying off to work and school scurried off, and people just like us with nowhere to go, and no one to see strolled on by. After a dreary, wet cold season (as many of my peeps back home in the States know) Spring resurrects a rebirth and ignites an energy from the kindling of Winter’s embers.
After an invigorating walk through the park, we briefly stopped at the box office for the theatre in which we will be seeing two shows- one Saturday night and the other Sunday night. I will not disclose any more than this as this will be material for my future blogs…..
Next, we did something I had never done and always wanted to do. We took a horse drawn carriage ride through the main square and up Wawel hill , through many of the tourist sites It was about a 20 minute ride, cost 100 pln = $32. It was well worth it. We clumped down the cobble stone streets as the two horses in full colorful regalia escorted us through the promenade. I felt like royalty as I waved to the onlookers. The weather was perfect for such a special treat. Some minimal memorized facts were touted off by the rider to fill in some of the blanks on this interesting city.
After our exhilarating ride, we stopped off at Cloth Hall as mentioned in yesterday’s blog- one big ass market of sorts, with knickknacks, bric-a-bracs, and souvenirs. I purchased a beautiful pair of cobalt blue earrings.
Hunger started to trickle in at this point, so we chose a mediocre Italian restaurant called Grazie a pretty restaurant, with garlic permeating the air. But, the pizza was pretty unmemorable, undercooked, unseasoned and very disappointing.
We started walking towards some sites, debating what to do next when a squirrely looking gentleman in a goofy golf cart offered to take us through the Jewish Quarter- with complete English translation. Sadly, my voice of reason Frank- was in a carb coma induced state from hideous pizza ingestion and permitted me to consent to this nonsense. For the same price of the majestic, memorable carriage ride- we putted around town, dodging trams, cars and preoccupied pedestrians. The “translator” was an annoying lady in a speaker, barking in our ear, a pre- recorded “Jewish Quarters for Dummies” version operated by remote control.
As he pointed vigorously to the first synagogue, or where they filmed Schindler’s list, Frank fervently clicked away with his camera trying to keep up with the aggressive digit trajectory. This is one of the many reasons I love this man, as he put up with these “Disney World – esque” antics, just to save some wear and tear on my sadly blistered toes. It was an adventure, but as the same as the pizza- not recommended, and just like the pizza- a bitter, nasty aftertaste.
We walked through some colorful markets, selling various versions of crap. We had a yummy gelato ice cream cone and stopped for a coffee to rest for a much needed break. After, we bought some unique pottery at a store called Gallery It was full of interesting, fragile and, vibrant ceramics. We trudged on back to the hotel for a much needed nap.
We awoke with the sounds of church bells, malingering crowds and Polish chatter from outside. We went for Indian at Indus Tandoor I was not overly impressed. First off- Frank got soup so spicy I saw steam shooting out his ears. He was rendered speechless, slightly disoriented and somewhat impaired. The waitress forbid us from free tap water (I know, you have all heard this pet peeve of mine). The verboten complimentary water and exceedingly spicy food are a bad combination. In addition, the restaurant’s bathroom was outside the restaurant in an intimidating night club. The waitress was dismissive and somewhat rude-all in all, not my best meal.
We did some walking around the city to burn off some of that bloating Indian grub- warding off an aggressive homeless man, drunken Krakovians,and a fist fight or 2. Now, after a couple of tums, I shall rest my exhausted bones.
Tune in for more tales of adventure…
Love and Spicy Indian induced Heartburn………..
~B & F~

Krakow Trip Report
Day 4
Ok, Let me preface by saying firmly that Auschwitz Concentration Camp is no joke- not funny at all- and I would never, ever insinuate that it is. But, a funny thing happened on the way to the concentration camp…………..We will call this the Concentration Camp Kerfuffle.
Let me explain…..Frank and I have been to Sachsenhausen Concentration Camp outside Berlin several years ago. It was an emotional experience for us both; it forever changed me. On a human level it was unbelievable and as a Jew, it was frightening. A couple years ago, we went to Dachau outside Munich- it was a similar experience. Being such a short distance right outside Auschwitz, I felt it was necessary to make this a part of our journey here.
Last night, we purchased tickets through our hotel, through a private agency called see Krakow The tour guide picked us up outside our hotel and brought us to a van which held 3 British Prince Harry wannabe’s, boasting their previous night’s conquests with the ladies. They permeated the tight enclosed space with their onion reeking sub, munching away their hangover as they discussed loudly in detail, all the gals they conquered.
The next stop- we picked up no less than 20 sorority type girls, clacking their gum, their waifey little bodies, squeezing 2 and 3 girls in one seat, as Frank and I were crammed against a window, trying not to inhale the loves baby soft and onion concoction. This tuna can on wheels turned into a night club/hook up scene- that in no way represented the sacredness and sobering tone going to a death camp should inhabit. In the end, this was the main reason I chose to leave this excursion.
When the tour guide realized the tour was overbooked, I chirped up and volunteered to forfeit our seats for a refund, because honestly- I felt trapped in a bad teen movie. Some negotiations over a walkie- talkie in aggressive Polish began. In the end, we were booted off the van (graciously) with promise of full reimbursement. As I coolly wished Prince Harry and his brigade good luck- I wacked my head on the roof of the van, knocking my glasses off-all in a totally “cool cat- 40 something AARP card carrying way.”
*By the way, I can’t comment one way or another regarding the tour company as they did oblige to our wishes. In addition, our hotel was completely professional and actually apologetic and gave us a full refund.
In the end, we chose mutually that memorializing the ways the Jews lived, rather than how they were murdered is how we chose to spend the rest of the day- so please read on….
So, yesterday I mentioned having a Plan B on standby, and I am nothing if not a woman of my word. This is in fact, what we did. We went to The Bishop Erazm Ciołek Palace The palace is from the 1500’s and has a mild smattering of Renaissance paintings and artifacts. It was a pretty small collection as half the museum was under construction. But, it was enjoyable and only took a short time to work our way through them.
Next, we stopped at our new favorite coffee/cupcake joint- cupcake corner It’s all organic, has yummy flavors and good coffee- as we have not found a Starbuck’s yet here in Krakow. We collected our thoughts, made a plan and moved on to our next stop.
We made our way on foot to the Jewish Quarter as we had yesterday, minus the golf cart and the creepy guy. The same tour company we used on our first day- Free walking tour,city,1,9,10,40.html also has a tour of the Jewish Quarter. Well, let me tell you, we got our money’s worth on this one! It is a 2 ½ hr. tour that takes through the Jewish Quarter, many of the major historic hotspots, the Jewish Ghetto and lastly Schindler’s factory from Schindler’s list.
The guide was a lively young guy, who barely took a breath- reciting interesting facts, and an intimate spin on things from a real Krakovian. Outside the famous and oldest synagogue- Remuh Synagogue
Which was where the tour started- was a festive Shabbat service was underway. A circle was formed, 100 people with arms wrapped around each other singing Jewish hymns. A mutual love and camaraderie flowed from this group. We made our way to many memorials, famous restaurants and historic areas.
After the tour, we took a taxi back to the center of the Jewish Quarter to an old slaughter house that ironically is now a thriving market. But, the real focus is on a zapiekanka It basically is all the rage here (at least for tourists or drunk 20 somethingers) but it is a “Stouffers type” French bread pizza with numerous possibilities and additions. You wait for 5-10 minutes for this little creation. Everybody eats standing up, with eager begging pigeons, nibbling on the zapienkanka droppings that fall from the overly eager “diners”. It was somewhat satisfying, somewhat disappointing. My combination was slightly unsettling, especially because I personally chose it— green onions, pickles and ketchup. My belly flip flops just reminiscing….
After our strange food consumption, we scurried back to the hotel to change quickly for the symphony at Philharmonic It was a lovely concert, performed to perfection.
After the concert, we walked through the main square, purchasing some gifts for the peeps back home and a few little trinkets for ourselves. The pottery is exquisite here and we have picked up some unique pieces.
At this point, hunger was nudging again. Yes, I am sorry- food is a major part of a vacation. And, if I must eat it, you must hear about it. That is just the way this blog thing works. Remember, come one week- protein shakes and salad are my friend… But for now, we are eating our way through Krakow…..
We stopped back at the hotel for some food recommendations and had a very entertaining, informative conversation with Jan- our receptionist at Senacki Hotel Him and his colleague Lucas have gone out of their way to answer all our questions (and there are numerous) and has been extremely accommodating. If ever in Krakow, I highly recommend this hotel. They have truly made the experience a memorable one.
I digress…. Back to eating- we dined at an Italian establishment just behind our hotel called la Campana We had a light dinner, out in the courtyard, by candlelight, under the stars. There were some technical issues and logistics, like reading a menu in the dark and dropping one’s fork several times and such, but it was a romantic setting, good food- not to filling, but satisfying all the same. And, being that this was our 8th meal of the day (just kidding)………….
So, that’s our concentration camp story- sad but true….
Love and strange French bread tasting- unable to pronounce- weird concoctions that drive the tourists wild ………..
~B & F~

Krakow Trip Report
Day 5
Our trip is dwindling down, but it really has been amazing. I have enjoyed Poland thoroughly and feel we have truly absorbed the culture, the FOOD, and the spirit of the people. It is always good to go away and learn new things, experience new adventures and see how other people live. It is also good to return to reality, live in the present, earn money and then plan the next gig!
This morning we went back to St. Mary’s Basilica for morning mass. It was standing room only – a full house- all there for the same purpose. As I sat in the pew, with my husband at my side, many thoughts circulated in my brain. Listening to the priest‘s steady voice as it echoed off the ornate walls and the opulent ceiling-in a foreign language in a foreign land- I felt a total complete calmness down to the center of my being. For someone, who is at most times-in a constant state of anxiety and whirling thoughts and tasks, this serenity was welcome. In addition to the tranquility I was feeling, an overwhelming feeling of love enveloped me. I prayed for the people not as fortunate as I am who have financial burdens, emotional demons and are in crisis. It was a moving experience that left me tearful and very moved. Later as I shared this with Frank, he voiced a similar feeling and summarized it in a logical way that being in church (or however one connects to their “GOD”) forces one to slow down their thoughts, focus on the beauty surrounding you and take a deeper look at oneself. To summarize this experience, people ask me all the time-“why do you go to Church if this is not your born faith?” My answer is clear –in this whole paragraph.
After the church, we went on a mission back to the Jewish Quarter, to search out this famous ice cream establishment called Lody apparently, people go insane over this. It is quite popular. The line was not bad at all, maybe 10 minutes. In the summer, it wraps around the entire block. With much anticipation, we got our ice cream cones- coffee flavored and blueberry. I was not overly impressed; in fact I favor Dairy Queen vs. Lody. Frank (I think just to annoy me) LOVED it. As the same as the Great Matzah Ball debate of 2014, this may follow the same course.
After the lack luster sweet treat, we made our way to Schindler’s Factory which is actually a World War II museum called Muzeum Hystoryczne Miasta Krakowa. It was a very interesting exhibition that captured all the senses. As it takes you through events in a time sequence, leading you down claustrophobic dark hallways, confined cattle cars, commentary from survivors and emotional accounts of horrific atrocities. It was intimidatingly crowded with masses of school groups, obnoxious indifferent teenagers and multi-language tours creating frustration and congestion. But, once you get past these benign annoyances, it really is a fascinating museum that any person interested in WW II should see. Interestingly enough, Schindler from the movie Schindler’s list has not much to do with it, other than the site of the original factory. We spent 3 fact filled hrs. there.
From the museum, we made our way back to the center of the Jewish Quarter called Kazimierz . We ate at a traditional Polish Restaurant called Szara Kazimierz It was a beautiful restaurant (Michelin rated) with excellent service. I ordered the special which was White Beet Soup( not beets at all) a fermented (yes-fermented) vegetable soup that had hardboiled eggs in it. I took one taste of the sour concoction- and gave it right to Frank. He was having his own little strange feast with Black pudding (ummmmmmmmm, duck blood and a kasha like grain!) The next course was pierogis for me- which is essentially a Polish ravioli. It was quite tasty and Frank had a Loin of something or other. The sparkling water was more expensive than my dinner! The dinner was extremely affordable and other than the strangely, unfamiliar dishes to me, it was very enjoyable.
We rushed back to hotel for the evening’s event at the Philharmonic, the same place as last night’s symphony. We saw a symphonic production of a tribute to the rock band Queen. There was a small but mighty orchestra, a sublime choir and even a Freddie Mercury –like singer, with the addition of a strong Polish accent. There were 4 encores, an amazing “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a stellar “We are the Champions.” We had great seats and jammed out for 2 hrs.
We are calling it an early evening as it is rainy outside and fatigue is accumulating in my bones.
Love and fermented veggies…..

Krakow Trip Report
Day 6
Last Day
Today is our final day in lovely Krakow. It has been a great trip and I have really enjoyed chronicling it. This morning was wet, cold and gloomy. Just as the same weather that greeted us-so it only seemed fitting to send us off with the same conditions. We went for a walk along Wawel Hill as the early morning dew settled on jagged rocks. Wanting to make the most of our last day here- rain was no deterrent. Frank made spontaneous plans for a tour called Communism Tours
Our “crazy guide” named Peter picked us up, and loaded us in his Vintage Trabant car (aka- “the soap box”) – for our deluxe communism tour- a 4 hr. tour complete with lunch at an authentic “commie” restaurant. A bright orange “Mr. Bean-esque” automobile was waiting for us. It was entirely made of plastic with an engine of a fancy lawnmower that requires a cocktail of oil and gas to run it, that continually stalled and required at times prayer and finger crossing to restart (and some Polish swearing). As he drove, with me in the front seat and Frank crammed into the back seat, he told us of the communist history and the community which was the main subject of the tour- Nowa Huta.
Our first stop was at the only restaurant that existed during communism. We had some hot beverages and Peter described what it was like to live life as a communist. Although, he was only in his late 20’s his parents lived through communism and spoke of the struggles of the Polish people during this time.
The next stop was at the Steel Factory that was the main work source for the community. He told us stories with passion and gave us his spin, living life in Poland during communism. After the factory, he took us to an apartment (“museum”) that showed what it was like to live in a communist residence. He showed us a short movie that illustrated the propaganda that was fed to the Polish people. He served us several different flavors of vodka. Between the scratchy fabric couch, the entertaining film and the alcohol, I was thoroughly brainwashed and ready to sign up! (jk) It was very interesting and even more so persuasive. Of course, we all know how this story ends, with the fall of communism in 1989. (Mr. Gorbechev- tear down this wall!”)
Our last stop was at a government owned restaurant- to get an authentic feel for a “no frills” kind of meal. The restaurant is called a “milk bar”. It is homemade, nothing fancy, but wholesome food. There is no bathroom, no waitress, limited selection-but again- good wholesome CHEAP food. I wish we had found this day 1! Peter ordered us all potato pancakes in a creamy mushroom sauce, served with sauerkraut, beets and carrots. We had some “compote”- juice with it. All three of us ate for less than the equivalent of $7!!!!!
The tour was a fun filled 4 hrs. Peter dropped us off at the Galleria Mall/Train station where we did some light shopping. Frank had his first Starbucks coffee in 7 days. The cost of the coffee was half the price of our whole meal for 3 of us combined!
We walked back to our hotel, with a pit stop in the main square for some more shopping. We bought a beautiful, luxurious Polish linen tablecloth with colorful flowers embroidered and some souvenirs for the “peeps” back home.
I am ending the blog a little early as we will be calling it an early night for a 6am flight tomorrow back home. Krakow has been like finding a pearl in an oyster. Having been all over Europe, I had never considered Krakow. But, spending 1 week here, I have grown to love the spirit of the Poles. They are a feisty bunch, that have been on the fighting (and losing) end of many battles. Their history is vast; they are proud, strong, and independent. They are not Russia, they are not Germany- they are distinct in their culture and have strong traditions. The Jews live in solidarity with the Catholics, both so individual-but both have strong faith-faith that had been challenged them time and time again. For all these reasons, I leave Krakow with a renewed love and spirit for all beings. I will fight a little bit harder and practice a bit more tenacity- all in the spirit of Poland.
Krakow TOP 10:
10. Wawel Hill
9. Hotel Senaki and the wonderful reception desk!
8. Masses first night & Sunday AM @ St. Mary’s Basilica
7. Jewish Quarter Tour/ City Center Tour
6. Klezmer concert in Kazimierz
5. Symphony at Philharmonic
4. Schindler Museum
3. Communism Tour with Crazy Guides
2. Queen concert at Philharmonic
1. Horse and carriage ride through Main square

P.S. See you in the fall-maybe Lisbon?
Love and all glorious Polish things….


















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Belgium October 2013

Trip Report

Belgium October 2013          

A girl, her hubs and a suitcase…………..

Day 1 Gent

Grab your favorite Belgium beer, pull up a chair and join me for Day One of Brooke and Frank’s Belgium Extravaganza. We arrived here today after an absolutely flawless and uneventful flight on Jet airlines. I highly recommend this Indian Airline. They could not have been friendlier and more efficient. We picked up our cute little Astro  5 speed vehicle and Frankster assumed duties as chauffer.  We were greeted into the wonderful world of Belgium with dreary grey skies and a balmy 57 degrees. It has been raining here for over a month-so we were grateful to be spared from that as Frank acquainted himself to the trafficy roadways.

    We are staying at Europa Hotel ( ) . It is a little off from the city center, a brisk 20-30 minute walk, but it is located right on the canal. It is on a bucolic, quiet suburban street, right next to an elementary school. It is modern, clean, comfortable and has free parking. Driving through the labyrinths of city streets was very confusing as we entered this historic city. But with Frank’s keen driving and our trusty Garmen we arrived in one piece. 

When we arrived at the hotel, quite early, 4 hrs. earlier than check in-the hotel accommodated us  and allowed us to go to our room. Both of us exhausted by the fatigue of  travel we pulled the shades and slept for several hours. When we awoke, we made our way leisurely towards the city center.  We followed the canal, walking along the water. Dodging bike riders, tram cars and automobiles. We sat waterside, taking in the briny smelling -glass like water, shimmering with lights of the Friday night bustle.  College kids nearby drinking cheap wine and smoking funny cigarettes, blowing off week long stress.  We made a daring move and decided to eat at a crowded charming Fondue restaurant called gent’s fonduehuisje ( We were escorted upstairs through a narrow treacherous staircase that I would not want to negotiate after one beer.   We dunked our crusty French bread into the bubbling vat of cheesy loveliness alongside  deliciously, delicately sliced fresh fruit.  Accompanying my meal of sloth was a tasty sparkling, alcohol free apple cider. Frank had the traditional Belgium beer. It was a unique meal, in a lovely setting. Having said that, we have mutually agreed we would only partake in this type of activity once a decade. 

After maneuvering our way down the staircase of death, we ventured out into the streets of Gent ( Gent is a historic city rich in modern beauty and architecture. The tree lined streets, with leaf covered sidewalks are quiet with the exception of a speedy bicycler whizzing by. The 3 story townhouses with unique architecture, tease the observer with open windows-showing off the splendors of these modern beauties. Alongside an occasional castle shadows the street. It is truly a surreal environment, and I was not really prepared for the cultural eye candy. 

Day 2

It’s story time my traveling comrades. This morning Frankster and I were experiencing time zone confusion and awoke somewhere between the hours of 4 and 5 am. It is 6 hrs.  ahead here (tomorrow is actually Daylight savings-score one extra vaca hr.-wahoo) We felt it best to seize the day, although it was still dark outside. Our hotel has provided breakfast for us, so we began our early morning with some fresh, tasty Belgium breakfast. A still life picture awaited us of fresh fruits, delicate pastries and all the usual accompaniments. We walked into the damp still morning as the blue sky started to emerge.  We walked to Citadel Park ( a beautiful park, nestled in the city. We were the only ones in the park with the exception of AFLAC’s Belgium’s cousins quacking away. We sat on a bench pond side, and as if on cue, the reddish and gold hue leaves sprinkled down in a silent air raid, littering the moist earth. There was a Hue Heffner-esque grotto which prompted Frank and his monkey climbing ways to scale the funky shaped rock. But, alas after a swift bump to the noggin-those escapades ended quickly. We were taking our time waiting for the museum to open. First ones in the door-That’s how the Edells play the game.

As it happens-sadly we were the second ones in the door. But, no fret- no other patrons were seen during our Museum shuffle. The museum we were visiting is Museum Voore Schone Kunsten, or as the locals call it MSK. ( A lovely museum on the grounds of the park, vastly large, with massive open space, comfortable seats in every room, and more importantly, very enjoyable art. A significant portion of the museum consisted of Flemish masters-artists from this region. There is a restoration in progress in the museum of the Gent Altarpiece-which you will hear more about tomorrow. But, it is an important religious and historical work of art that holds great significance. We used an audio guide to assist with the tour and found it easy and informative. Exhaustion, jet lag and mind mush began to settle in, so we took a much needed coffee break in their lovely café and sat on the terrace outside. The weather was absolutely glorious and we were informed that it is unseasonably warm and unusually sunny. Um, thank you and yes-I will have some more, sir. After the much needed caffeine injection (which I never, ever drink, except in rare emergencies-and YES- this was one) I was running up those museum steps like Rocky, ready to tackle some early 19th century .

We left the museum-thoroughly satisfied and leisurely walked back to the hotel. We took a light nap in preparation of this evening’s main event- A Night at The Opera.  We took a taxi to the opera house. (!/) The production we were seeing was Tristan and Isolde.  The one detail that prevented us from truly following the production was it was sang in German and translated in Dutch. I was very lost on the story line, but I closed my eyes, let the music settle over me. It was a stellar orchestra as well as a sopranic delight.  After the opera, we went to a local Italian restaurant called Pane and Vinno. ( It was packed to capacity and apparently very popular. We slid in a table and took in the young, hip crowd. Frank had Lobster with pasta – a bib would have been quite helpful (and a hose). And, I had pizza with eggplant.  The meal was delicious, not greatly expensive and very satisfying.  We walked back to the hotel, in the cool autumn night, reminiscing about the fine evening.


Day 3

Hello-it’s Brooke your friendly blogger reporting for duty.  Let’s discuss the amount of steps my poor tootsies did today. According to my pedometer 23,696 steps. As we speak, they are propped up, throbbing, even with the 4 Motrin coursing through my veins. But, never you mind- I am on vaca, living life to the fullest, and if a little foot pain is my crisis of the day, I think we are in good shape. So, this morning we awoke with the wind howling, the sky black and the rain pelting down. No sunny skies today-but again, a minor annoyance in the scheme of things. After an enjoyable breakfast we drove in our cute little Astro to Bruges. Bruges ( )is an adorable little medieval town stuck in a time capsule. It is also swarming with camera snapping tourists, tour groups hogging the sidewalks, and throngs of people congesting the streets. Fortunately,  for us, this was our second time there and our visit was very purposeful. On our last visit, there was a museum  we wanted to go to-but it was closed for restoration during our stay. Being that we were only 40 minutes away-we had to put this on our to do list.

We arrived in Bruges in pouring rain. Armed with umbrellas did not help us as the strong winds were flipping them inside out. We made our way to the Groening Museum.  ( ) It is a moderate sized museum consisting of Flemish artists. It was very crowded, but the masses moved rather quickly. We spent a couple hours there satiating our previous disappointment from the closure. After the museum, we picked a nice scenic spot overlooking the canal and had a light lunch of sandwiches. The sun popped out for a couple minutes-just enough to make our picnic perfect. We made a quick stop at a chocolatier shop, indulging in Belgium’s version of crack- battling our stubborn umbrellas against the assaulting weather.

We drove back to Gent and succumbed to a short nap. After the nap, we walked back through the cobblestone streets to Saint Bavo’s  Cathedral. ( It is a cathedral erected in the 1200’s. It is not the most beautiful church I have been in-but it does hold the altarpiece I mentioned in yesterday’s blog.  The altarpiece was painted by Jan Van Eyck in 1432 purposely for this church. It has an extensive history that Frank researched at great length for months. Briefly, it was stolen many times-once by Napoleon, once by the Nazis (even hidden in a Polish mine shaft at one point!). After World War II it was returned to its rightful place and is the national pride of this country.  As we entered the church, a choir welcomed us like angels in harmony. It was short-lived , as the concert was ending-but very enjoyable.  

After visiting the altarpiece, we walked around the city center. It was Sunday evening, and there was a quiet hum in the city. Everybody tucked in for the weekend and getting ready for the start of a busy week.  We stopped at a place called Lucy Chang ( specializing in Noodle and Thai dishes. I had a mammoth sized bowl of Veggie Rice Noodle soup. Piping hot and chuck full of crunchy veggies, it was a yummy slurp fest. Frank had the traditional Pad Thai. It was an economical meal that was filling and healthy. The  only drawback –and actually this has been a common theme-is no credit cards-and, no tap water. Both of these issues-sorry to say- affect my tipping generosity. Just something to be mindful of if ever traveling to this region.

With bellies full of food, we made our way back in the dark evening. I am sorry I am lacking in any witty stories, tales of European histrionics, or Belgium hijinks. But, folks we are only on Day 3- and tomorrow we will be in France—–so one never knows…..

Day 4

19,702 steps (if you are keeping track) 7 miles!!!


Raindrops are such funny things.
They haven’t feet or haven’t wings.
Yet they sail through the air,
With the greatest of ease,
And dance on the street,
Wherever they please.

– Anon.

Reporting live from Lille, France (pronounced “LIL”) it’s your friendly blogging couple Brooke and Frank. This morning we wrapped things up in Gent, checking out of our lovely hotel. Some positive things I would like to report about Europa Hotel. Very good service, great breakfast and free parking. I was very pleased with everything regarding the hotel. So, we set off for Sanctuary Wood Museum in Ypres, Belgium. ( About an hour drive from Gent. The museum is a sobering reminder of the horrors of trench warfare that took place during World War I 1915-1917. On our journey to the museum, we traveled through farms and open fields of countryside. The museum was full of interesting facts, terrifying pictures and barbaric war weaponry. It was packed with indifferent school age kids loud and rowdy. The most interesting thing in this museum are the original trenches that were left there as an open air memorial. As I wondered the grounds, I could almost hear the battle cries. And, as the cold rain pelted down on my face, I could scarcely imagine the harsh conditions these brave young men endured.  The field we were traipsing through was sacred ground. The silent echoes of these courageous men lives on in this field where many of these men died. We left the museum in silent appreciation for the freedom we have.

The rain started to come down pretty heavy after that –as we made our way to our hotel in Lille, France. Other than circling the block no less than 17 times, our arrival was uneventful. The 17 times of circling the block was due to a major lack of parking spaces. But, fortunately for us I think we took the only last spot available.  Lille, France is right on the border of Belgium and France. We are staying at a lovely boutique hotel in the center of town called L’esplanade. ( It’s a 3 story brick townhouse with beautiful, modern studios. Our room is a spacious studio with all contemporary furnishings. We plopped off our things and made our way to Palais des Beaux-Arts Museum. ( It took us about a half hour to get there. The rain came in cool bursts then retreated. The wind at times was monsoon – like. The museum holds many works of art by Masters such as Goya and some lesser known artists. But, the real treat is the basement floor which was all German Medieval and Italian pre-renaissance art. It was very enjoyable and made the whole visit worth it. We took a small break in the café and had some coffee and spent 2 hours there.

After the museum, we went out into the wet, windy evening and walked through the bustling city streets. The smell of tempting street side waffles hung in the air. There was every store you could imagine, shoppers out in droves. We walked and walked and walked-looking for possible dinner options. Apparently, the amateurs we are forgot dinner does not happen until late in France. So, we searched and searched. After much debate, we finally found a café/brasserie called Le Square ( A nice eclectic pub with good service and FREE tap water J. Dinner was pub grub with the highpoint being a decadent appetizer of a deep fried ball of brie accompanied with tasty jam chutney but from there it kind of petered out. (No photographic evidence remains)

After dinner, we walked back in the cool wet air-a rain reprieve for now.

Day 5

No wifi !

So, I will continue to write, but you may receive this a little late.  Today we awoke at a ridiculously early hr.  due to a jacked up nervous system from coffee ingestion, biological geographical confusion and a snoring husband.  Well, sweetie-if I am up-then so must you. I took a scolding hot luxurious shower-leaving my beloved and probably the rest of the hotel with cold, anemic droplets. I heard cursing and angry yelps coming from the bathroom, feeling remorse but extremely refreshed. Our breakfast was offered in the room next door, colorfully decorated, with vivid paintings and interesting conversation pieces. The owner is an architect or designer of sorts. His furnishings and details were a fine example of his craft. Breakfast was an array of beautiful French pastries, freshly squeezed orange juice and baguettes of bread- with deep craters of flaky crust, buttery, salty dough and truly one of the finest gifts the French have shared with us. It is a prime example of simplicity at its finest.

We left Lille with grey skies and cold pelting rain. The sun has popped out momentarily during this trip, a meteorological tease of what could be. Again, it is a minor issue-but does complicate matters and creates a need for adaption. Which-if the Edell’s are anything-ADAPTABLE we are. We drove approximately an hr. to Crupet, Belgium.  Our journey now takes us to Southern Belgium.  The topography started to change as we entered this region. High, jagged mountain rock and winding, elevating narrow streets was our scenery. Massive trees with thick trunks –jetting out their interloping branches like Marines criss- crossing their swords in salutation.  We arrived at our hotel Le Moulin Des Ramiers.( ) It is an old mill factory-with an old mill bursting through the interior through a couple floors. It has quaint farmhouse charm with exposed stone walls. Our TOTALLY French hostess greeted us and we were left literally with a game of charades to carry on any kind of conversation. Frank was pulling his ear in a sounds like motion-as our hostess continued to carry on in French, oblivious to our clueless state.  

We drove to the next town over called Dinant. It was a harrowing drive-turning and weaving through cow pastures and zipping by farms.  We again found the last free parking spot and walked down towards the water. Dinant is a waterside village, picturesque with old world charm. Towering over the water is mountains with castles and turrets dotting the landscape. We dined at a restaurant called Chez Bouboule Le Roi des Moules.(  A darling restaurant, overlooking the water that specialized in Mussels. The menu was completely in French and the amateur that I am had an extremely difficult time negotiating what may be vegetarian. The sweet family sitting next to us-your typical French nuclear family, with 2 obedient adorable children sensed my difficulty and proceeded to order my vegetarian meal for me. Discussions were had between waiter, chef and my new friends-it was settled-I would have tomato soup and a salad. If it were not for them-I could possibly be eating terrain of duck liver.  Thank you sweet French Family. Frank got the mussels, which came in a huge pot-steamy and pungent. It came with a big bowl of French Fries-a standard pairing for this dish. Frank plucked those babies out of their garlicky shells, slurping and glugging with enthusiasm.

After lunch we debated whether to partake in rest time and indulge in a nice nap. Or take advantage of the time and go into town and do our laundry. 10 days is a long time and too much to pack-so we always incorporate this much needed task at our halfway point. We chose the latter and schlepped into town with a suitcase full of dirty clothes. We washed our clothes at the local Laundromat (W@ashin);even washing clothes on vacation is fun!

When we returned to the hotel, we enjoyed an in room picnic of fine French bread, Belgium cheese, olives and grapes. Frank enjoyed the local beer. It was a yummy meal, economical and enjoyable. After dinner, I indulged in a hot bath, followed by crummy French programs and now early to bed.

Day 6     


But, don’t you worry I ‘ve got your travel memoirs right here-ready for you when you desire. Today was a smorgasbord of remembrance and history, followed by some city sophistication, with a dollop of art and culture.

We woke up to the first sunny day on our trip. The sun streaming through our windows was our friendly wake up call. We had a tasty breakfast of some fine French pastries and then set out for our day. We drove to Marsdrasson memorial  in Bastogne, Belgium. It is a World War II memorial commemorating those who fought and lost their lives in the famous “Battle of the Bulge”. Our destination was approximately 40 minutes from our hotel. Bastogne is perched on a  big cliff of earth, suspended precariously. The monument itself is somewhat utilitarian but honors all the individual states within the U.S. There is a spiral staircase that leads to the top with beautiful views of the horizon and village below.  We wondered around the grounds, taking advantage of the sunshine and beautiful day.  Making an impromptu decision we chose to drive to Luxembourg. We had done a fair amount of research leading up to the vacation and resolved that in particular Luxembourg had to be cut out.

But, curiosity won over and according to our navigation system it was pretty close. We arrived in the city of Luxembourg a half hour later, and it was only midday. We parked our car without incident and made our way through a beautiful park.  The park zigzagged across the city and spit us out in the hub of the center. We walked around, visited the helpful tourist office, who suggested an Indian restaurant close by. The Star of Asia ( Upon entering the aromatic restaurant, with an overpowering bouquet of Indian spices our mouths started to water. As the lovely owner, shook his head sadly at us that they had just closed. I made my best sad face, asking for another restaurant suggestion-when the gentleman, waved his hands in a dismissive fashion and escorted to us to a table. We consumed delicious, hot spicy vegetarian dishes. After the meal, the owner shared with us some interesting facts about Luxembourg . This was one of the few conversations we have had on our trip, as the language barrier has been pervasive. Our lunch experience and friendly banter was very enjoyable.

After lunch we walked around the city and happened upon the Museum of National History and Art  ( My entrance was free due to my student status and Frank is a senior here-so our entry fee was peanuts! The museum itself is quite interesting architecturally, an open space 5 floors full of interesting scientific facts about civilization. We used audio tours which contributed to thought provoking details. There was a special exposition featuring a local artist from the impressionist period named Jean Schaack. The paintings were beautiful  and colorful. I especially enjoyed this portion of the  museum. In total, we spent about 2 hrs. there.

We left the museum and walked through the city, moving towards the water. The most spectacular view awaited us. There is a large wall fortifying the city back from medieval times. The cliff high walls circles the city and below, flickering in the evening light was Roman ruins, a beautiful garden and illuminated bridges from end to end. It was the highlight of my day, and possibly the trip so far. We lingered a while, swearing we would return to this city-someway-somehow. Reluctantly, we left knowing we had to drive 2 hrs. back to the hotel. (by the way, at this point our computer battery died and not one picture was captured for the majority of the day. LLL

We arrived back at the hotel, calling it a fairly early night.

Day 7

Some interesting facts about Belgium………

  • There are over 800 different kinds of beer in Belgium
  • Belgium claims to have invented the French fry
  • Belgium has the least amount of McDonald’s than any other country
  • Belgium has legalized euthanasia
  • Belgium has mandatory voting and education up to 18 years of age
  • The Belgium highway is the only man-made structure visible from the moon due to all the lights

This morning we left Crupet and drove towards our final destination Brussels-where we will spend the rest of our vacation until we leave Monday morning. Except we had one last stop we needed to make in the region. Somehow, I got it in my head I wanted to visit the Bister Mustard Company.( In my research I had read something regarding a tour of the Mustard factory, and in my delusional fantasy I pictured an abbey or a monastery deep in the woods of Belgium. Monks crushing mustards seeds with a mortar and pestle, walking barefoot with Gregorian chants harmonizing in the background, soothing waterfalls flowing with gardens of orchids and flamingos walking through the  sacred grounds. I pestered Frank to the point of harassment , whining and moaning until he relented. We drove our 7 miles to Namur Belgium-to the industrial park, that housed a red brick building that resembled an old school house. Workers wearing  hair nets, resembling Laverne and Shirley took smoke breaks. I knocked on the door, and a bewildered woman questioned what we needed (in French). I told her I was here for a tour. She said this was not possible-that only groups of 15 or more could obtain such a privilege. Groveling and disappointed I inquired about a gift shop, and she escorted about 5 feet where a shelf of mustard sat. Excited with my findings (even though there were no monks slaving over my  jar of liquid gold) I was still happy. 

After my enticing acquisition, we preceded our journey to Brussels. Entering Brussels around noon, the city was swelling with people, traffic horrendous and a very confused navigational system. The plan was for Frank to drop me off at the hotel with all the bags, Frank would drop off the car, and meet me at the hotel. During the car exchange, somehow the Garmin was lost. The good news is we had it during the much needed driving excursions. The bad news is some worker at Avis Rental Car is now driving around with our Garmin.  This cannot be proved, so we will not dwell on it. Plus, Christmas is right around the corner. A casualty of travel  , a minor one in the scheme of things. Having had a wallet stolen in Madrid, a jacket lost in Venice, a camera bag in Rome, and most recently a converter 2 days ago-it is the way of travel-it happens.

Our exquisite hotel Le Dixseptieme ( is located in the hub of the city. It is finely decorated, very cozy, centrally located, and has very friendly staff. We ventured out to explore the city, walking the cobblestone streets, with the scent of French fry grease wafting through the air. French fries and waffles are the bookend carbohydrate staples of this culture. Although, I have not seen any obese individuals-oddly enough. We attempted to stop for an indulgent waffle-tempting pictures of ice cream melting over the doughy sweet delight. But, the tacky tourist task seemed gluttonous. There was no food group we could place this-so with whatever discipline we had left we exited the overpriced crowded establishment. We stopped for coffee later on to refuel.

For dinner we took our hotel hostess recommendation and went to a lovely place named Restaurant de L’Ogenblik  (which translates to “The Moment”).  To get there,  we had to walk through an intimidating area-where restaurant owners groveled for patrons-like desperate car salesmen. Menus colorful and deceptive displaying all of Belgium’s finest delicacies. Pink tablecloths adorned the outside tables, as hungry tourists eager to throw these vultures their money -sat anticipating their $40 euro appetizer. We scurried past these money traps-  to our suggested restaurant. It was a beautiful establishment, Michelin rated and very popular. It had a Belgium charm, sand lay sprinkled on the floor –an old Flemish custom dating back to the days when patrons chewed tobacco and spit on the floor.

Dinner started with crunchy, crispy French bread with an alarming size slab of butter. I ordered the “flower pot” which was a beautiful mosaic of vegetables seasoned to perfection, with potatoes au gratin- cooked to precision-that has caused me to raise the bar quite high. Frank had a steamy seafood bouillabaisse that he seemed to enjoy. It was an expensive meal- but very special and delicious. After dinner, we strolled the streets, kids and teenagers following the traditions of their U.S neighbors decked out in their Halloween duds.  

Day 8    

All Souls Day

Well, we are nearing the end of this fabulous trip. 2 days left….Today we awoke fairly early and stopped at a local café for coffee. We went to St. Michael and St. Gudula  Cathedral ( for morning mass. It shadows the block from where it stands. The church bells greeted us as we entered. It is a fairly simple cathedral with the exception of elaborate stained glass windows. There was a significantly large gathering as it is a religious holiday here. If you are unfamiliar with All Saints Day-or All Souls Day, it is a day basically to commemorate the dead. It is considered a day of obligation, where everyone that can should honor the dead in some way. The service was multilingual-French and German-neither which helped us. But, honoring the dead to me is a universal language, so not all was lost. The choir sang angelic hymns , hypnotic and  entrancing ; I thought of those whom I have lost and the ones near to me that hold my heart. As the Priest spoke his sermon, I made my own dialogue in my head. The traditions and practices that followed are all new to me, as Catholicism is not my religion (although-it is my husband’s).  But, I appreciate all religious differences and found the experience calming on my spirit and soothing to my soul.

After the hour long service, we ventured out getting to further know the lay of the land. We strolled through several beautiful, manicured parks. The city was still quiet and the peaceful walk was a nice transition after the reflective morning. We stopped at a popular lunch hangout called Traiteur Picnic Sandwhicherie   ( We enjoyed a  pizza-thankful for some rest and food.

After lunch, we found ourselves slightly turned around and lost. We wandered through a lovely area where it was all antique shops. Finally, a friendly gentleman helped redirect us as we headed back to the room. Our plan was to figure out our next adventure-but instead we took a luxurious 2 hr. nap.

Waking up refreshed we wondered out for some more exploring. Eventually leading us to dinner time. At this point it was close to 9pm. The city was hopping, the night just beginning for most. We decided on a Spanish Tapas place called Le Bar Tapas (  A cozy restaurant, adorned in hanging hams and comfy window seats we found a table amongst the crowded diners. The place was vibrant with activity, young people out with their friends, rowdy with laughter and giddy with alcohol. We ordered an array of vegetarian tapas for me and a fish assortment for Frank, as well a fruity sangria and a Belgium beer. The food was delicious, hot, human sized portions. Not overly filling-but more than satisfying. It was cramped quarters, noisy and congested-but that all added to the unique experience.

After dinner, we walked in the drizzling rain, stopping in a Belgium dark chocolate establishment.  Because as we all know-a little dark chocolate is good for the body……

Day 9

Story  time. ….Bring your pillow, grab your blankie and come close. Belgium has been rainy, grey and unpredictable as far as weather goes. For the most part, it has not interfered, but it has halted some of our plans. Today we awoke to the damp air, like a moist blanket over the city. We skipped breakfast and walked over to the Royal Fine Arts Museum of Belgium ( We arrived right as it was opening, with a small line assembling.  The museum is a huge open space, easy to manage and loaded with German Renaissance art. We used English audio guides which were quite helpful. The art was abundant, enjoyable and informative. We stopped at the halfway point and enjoyed a light sandwich and a sweet snack in the café. Frank purchased me a lovely pair of earrings as a sweet memento and we continued on the tour.  In total we spent 5 hrs. there. It took up the majority of the day and left us mentally tired and ready for rest.

We walked back to the hotel taking in the views from the higher grounds. Brussels is a multi- level city, with elevating tiers like a concrete wedding cake. From one level, you can eye another. It is an easy city to learn and our hotel is conveniently centrally located. We grabbed a light snack and took a much needed nap.

When we awoke, we ventured out to the city with a dinner recommendation from the helpful hotel concierge. We were craving Greek food, and Brussels seems to accommodate every desire and hankering  since it is a culturally diverse area.  We dined in a charming restaurant – on a picturesque street  in the Sablon area.( The neighborhood is more residential and lacks the riff raff of the French fry addicts and waffle eaters.  The host led us up a rickety set of narrow steps and pointed to a corner table. There was a mild language barrier going on, and some mild confusion but we were able to order with only  a couple snafus. I had a vegetarian platter, lacking the major Greek components, but it was tasty and enjoyable. Frank had a fish dishing swimming in a creamy  sauce.  We restrained from dessert and ventured out.

As we began walking, the rain came heavily down. We were unequipped with an umbrella and proper cover. We huddled under a restaurant covering as patrons gawked at us. We made our way back to the hotel, ending the evening early due to the weather.

I forgot to mention some of the tourist highlights we have seen in Brussels. Grand Place( is the center of town- the square where all the action is. It is surrounded on all sides with ornate buildings, pricy shops, chocolate stores from end to end, and the meeting hub for everybody. Another major attraction that baffles me to no end is the Manneken  Pis ( . The statue of the peeing boy brings out camera snapping tourists in droves. Chocolate shops with carved out statues, cork screws, and every novelty one can imagine with this untasteful little creature.  This is purely my opinion  and no offense intended- just a  confusing curiosity.


Day 10     


Well, it’s about that time folks when all the Euros are gone, full and bloated and ready to go home. It has been a lovely experience and a great country. Today we awoke crawled out into the damp morning darkness. We picked up a quick croissant and made our way back to the Belgium Fine Arts Museum. There are several parts to the museum, Ancient (which we did yesterday) Modern, the Margitte and a special show featuring Roger van der Weyden-an early Flemish painter from the 15th century. We paid for the special show and also the modern museum. Frank had studied these pictures for several months as he is an art buff and was enthusiastic to see the paintings first hand.

The van der Weyden show was exceptional. We used audio guides and wondered through the exhibit. It took about 2 hrs. We broke for lunch stopping in the museum café again. We had some nice hot split pea soup and quiche for Frank, a Panini for me.  We rested our feet and our minds, then took off for the remainder. We were disappointed to find out that almost ½ the museum’s paintings, and ALL the 19th century –impressionist paintings were in the basement locked up. They are opening another museum next month to incorporate these. So, we went back to the paintings we saw yesterday-seeing them with fresh eyes.  We became quite good friends with a helpful volunteer at the information desk who shared our same disappointment.

We ventured back to the hotel with the dreary rain coming down. Made a quick souvenir stop and back to the hotel to pack for tomorrow’s early AM flight back home. Tonight we will be going to the opera hall (  for a symphony- War Requiem.    

Some CHEERS & JEERS for the trip:


Gent at night

Our fondue extravaganza

Our awesome room in Lille,France

The French pastries!!!

the fresh squeezed orange juice in Lille, France

Palais-des Beaux Arts in Lille

The Trench Museum Sanctuary Woods


Luxembourg at night

Museum in Luxembourg

All Saints Day Mass

Spending time with my cutie pie Husband


Gas prices!

Weather! Rain!

Worthless U.S. dollars exchange 

Anyways, it was a lovely trip and I feel I thoroughly absorbed Belgium.

Love from your traveling twosome

~B & F~



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