Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day +2 in Bisbee

Today was a truly perfect day. We woke up late (7-- ha!) got ready and ate breakfast at the hotel next door, the Copper Queen. After several coffees to get us going, Laura, Barb's daughter, met us. We followed her to Xo's property in the outskirts of Bisbee. Xo is an artist that Laura and her boyfriend, Timothy, know. They are interested in her property, and are here to see if they'd like to buy it. It's 40 incredible acres off the grid. Power is by solar panels and a backup generator, water from a well. It's quite rustic but charming. There are two houses on the property, one is a two roomed place now used for a guest room and studio (Xo is an artist.) It's a wonderful space with great light, and would be perfect for Barb when she retires. We were greated by dogs, as there are four here right now. Laura and Timothy's two, Xo's dog, and her partner, Rita's dog. All were really wonderful (and i have quite a soft spot for dogs!) I also love cats and there were two, including a feisty little calico, and a gorgeous, HUGE hunky orange and white tabby boy. Oh, my favorite!! Xo's dog, Roscoe, is a big hunky boy, and what i think is a rottie golden mix. He's gorgeous and really sweet. I'm wondering if I can sneak him away with me!

We were joined by another couple that live nearby, Marti and Larry. Jera, Timothy's mom, who lives in Tucson, also joined. It was one of those perfect meshes of people. Everyone was just wonderful and we had a really teriffic time. We all helped prepare either cooking, setting up, or whatever, drank wine, ran with the dogs and had a fun time. Everyone was really interesting and we traded stories.

Not much for sightseeing today, but a perfect Christmas here in Bisbee! It was just a perfect day!!

Did I mention the fabulous hippie mobile we saw last night? Oh my God, it was fabulous. A wagon that was painted from end to end, and covered with different colored bottlecaps. There were pez dispensers glued to the top, caps on the wheels, and stuff all over the inside too. Well beyond anything I've ever seen, and amazing. We saw it at night, so I'm hoping to see it again during the day. You certainly can't miss it!!!
Day 3 started with a fabulous breakfast at the Bisbee Breakfast Club then a guided tour of Bisbee from Timothy, who grew up there. We saw another of the Bisbee Art Cars, which includes the fabulously funky car that we saw on our first day with the bottle caps all over it. Apparently there are around 20 around town, each unique. We drove by the big Lavender Pit mined by Phelps Dodge, and drove through each of the little neighborhoods that formerly consisted of the mine workers and their families. The supervisors, or bosses and their family lived in the larger homes by the mines, and each of the neighborhoods was named after the mine it was by. We saw the house Timothy grew up in, and the places he used to play as a kid. There are large canals by many of the roads that used to be runoff and pumped from the mines. The water once supplied the parks, which, in their former glory were full of plants and trees. The canals are now dry, as are the parks. We drove through these huge pipes that were the only way in and out from one of the mine areas.

On our way back into town we stopped at the Shady Dell, a trailer park consisting of an adorable tiny diner called Dot's Diner, and 1950's RVs. They were really incredible and we walked around a bit. The place had a tiki bus, and also a yacht that people can stay in! Many were tiny but the place was really quaint.

We then drove back into town, which is so incredibly quaint and well kept. Many of the houses are just propped on the mountains, and we parked and walked up a few of the large hills. Bisbee is supposed to have over 1,000 stairs, and we walked a bunch of them on our way up and up and up! It's amazing when you think that the stairs were put in over 100 years ago, before there were cars or machinery to do the work! Some of the houses towards the top were really cute, and many are brightly painted. We walked around above the town for a while, taking in the beautiful views carved in the hills and mountainsides below us. We went back across the town to the church we went to on Christmas Eve to admire the beautiful stained glass that was inside. It was really gorgeous. There is a little bit of snow on the ground-- I do love visiting snow, then leaving it!!

Timothy and Laura left us, and Barb and I decided to browse in the shops and galleries in town. It was surprisingly expensive, but a lot of fun to walk around. We had planned to go back to Dot's Diner for lunch, however, we weren't hungry after our breakfast until 2:30, which is when Dot's closes. So we found a cute little sandwich place called Cafe Cornucopia. I got a cup of soup and half sandwich and Barb got a salad and half sandwich. We got pots of tea, and split the most amazing lemon tart I've ever had!

We then decided to stop by the Bisbee Blue turquoise place on the side of the lavender pit. We had high expectations, as we'd heard that it was family run for several generations, but it was really small, not quaint at all, and didn't have great merchandise. So, we went back into town. Since we had dinner reservations for 6 and it was 4, it wasn't worth going all the way back to the house we were staying at for the evening. We decided to go to St. Elmo's, which is supposed to be the oldest continuously operating bar in the US (early 1900s), however it looked like a place of rather ill repute. So, we headed back to the Bisbee Grande Hotel and Saloon for some wine and people watching. We were joined by Timothy, Laura and Timothy's son, Bud, and headed over to Cafe Roka for our reservation.

Cafe Roka is a five star restaurant. It was beautifully decorated for the holiday, and we were walked up to the third floor. Dinner was quite good- Barb and I had duck, Laura and Timothy seafood (scallops, lobster ravioli, and sea bass) and Bud got short ribs. We got a gingerbread cake and tiramisu for desert. Wonderful dinner, great service and I'd highly recommend it!

We went back to Xo's house, where we stayed for the evening. The cats were bothering Barb's allergies, so we stayed in the guest house instead of the main house. In the morning, we got up and had a snacky breakfast, picking at fruit, cranberry bread, bagels, etc. We put food out for the birds in the garden, and watched them for a while. There were amazing colors in blues, reds, yellows, and lots of quail. Apparently the mountains we were looking at in the distance are actually in Mexico!! Xo came back at around 10 so we watched Roscoe, her gorgeous dog, playing with Laura's two, Karma and Ernie. They were so cute!!

Around 11 we headed out, with a stop in Tombstone. Tombstone, AZ is known for the OK Corral and gunfights with famous people like Wyatt Earp. I'll confess that the old western stuff doesn't really have much appeal to me, but it was cute, well kept and fun to walk around. There was the Shady Lady store, a house of 'ill repute', lots of fun little places and reenactors who were hilarious!!

It was a great trip, and Bisbee lived up to expectations! It's a very cute, quaint little town and worth the visit!! As much as I love traveling, I'm glad to be home with my furry critters.
Bye, until the next trip!!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Will Santa find me in Bisbee?

It's been two whole weeks since traveling, so I was starting to itch for a trip. [you know me!] What the heck? Let's do some Arizona travel! So, instead of chinese food and a movie this year for Christmas, my friend Barb and I decided to do something a little different and took a ride south to Bisbee, AZ. It's a really cute little old town near the Mexico border.

We drove over three hours, passing some beautiful mountains and snow, and arrived late afternoon. We checked into our hotel right in the center of town and it's quite cute (San Ramon.) We're taking a short break, then walking down main street to check out the town and catch a bite of dinner at High Desert Market and Cafe. This down is just over 5,000 feet, which is much higher than what we're used to in Phoenix (which is at sea level!)

Looking forward to exploring a bit. We have Christmas dinner tomorrow with a friend of Barb's daughter's boyfriend. We headed out for dinner at a great little place called High Desert Market and Cafe. A cool chick in dreadlocks served up a fabulous feast! We got two dishes and shared: cornish game hens with polenta and broccoli and schnitzel with a cheesy pasta and veggies. yum! The polenta was the hit, for sure. They had a little market and we got a fabulous bottle of wine called Hey Mambo, which was great. It had an amazing little twist off plastic cork which was fun and interesting. The baked goods looks fabulous, so we had a decadent chocolate cake which was incredibly moist, with a banana peanut butter frosting. In a word: yum!!!

We left and saw a church across the street. Never one to pass up exploring a church (I know, I know!) we went in to catch the end of Christmas Eve mass. We joined in singing 'Joy to the World', kissed the priest wishing him a wonderful Christmas, shook a few hands, and left. Yes, two good jewish girls and all that!! ha!! We started walking back to the hotel and came upon what we thought would be the perfect follow up to going to church: a bar. We saddled in to the bar and got a drink from one of Santa's elves. She had a funky hat that twitched in a rather suggestive manner (added by my friend Barb as of course, I would never!!) and a great red jacket. Then, who do know think walks in?!? The big guy himself, Santa. Oh yeah. He came by and gave us each a candy cane in return for a kiss. Great deal, huh? I guess he found us in Bisbee after all.

Walking back to the hotel was a hoot, watching all the drunkards singing, yelling, and walking home. We found a fabulous hippie mobile, unlike any that I've seen. Now, at the shelter I volunteer at, there's a fabuloso 'Alice in Wonderland' hippie themed mobile. This one blew it away. It had paint all over it, bottle caps everywhere, and pez dispensers glued to the top. Every inch had a new special surprise. I took lots of pictures, of course.

Nothing like Christmas in a small town like Bisbee. Here, I thought I wouldn't have much to type about tonight. How wrong I was!!

Have a wonderful Christmas eve and Christmas. I've already done better than coal, I have a candy cane from Santa himself. :o)


Sunday, December 13, 2009

LA- pics and favorites

The Standard Hotel in downtown LA was absolutely fabulous and had everything you could possibly want. Great central location, nice amenities and very fun and quirky.

Square One- breakfast
Sushi Zo
Casa Del Tacos- Whittier- great little taco stand
Don't remember the name, but there's a great and very nice Italian restaurant in the Promenade in Santa Monica

Things to do:
Getty Museum and Villa- both are really wonderful. The Villa is designed to be like an excavation site, and is packed full with Greek and Roman sculptures and reproductions.
-Watts towers- interesting and unusual artwork sculpture in the middle of a neighborhood
-LaBrea tarpits- amazing finds of ancient bones. Fabulous little museum with a great history lesson, and so very interesting!
-A trip to LA wouldn't be complete with a drive through the neighborhoods of where the other half lives in Beverly Hills!
-Exposition park Rose garden

Here's a great map that Jason created of our adventure:

And of course, some pictures (unsure why they are out of order again, but anyways, enjoy!!):

LA- Day 4

Day 4 started with a wonderful sight: sun! The ground was still wet but it was bright and sunny. Woohoo! I decided to search the room to see if I missed any of the funny and quirky things there. I think I mentioned the 'directions' on the toilet paper (of when to use it!) and the picture at the bottom of the trash can of a person with their head in it vomiting. Jason mentioned the pencil in the room, which I hadn't looked at. His said 'shave me' and mine actually said "@#$% me!" (including the symbols!!) I cracked up when I saw that. And did I mention the box of condoms in the room's food and convenience bar with the examples of when you may want to use them? It included three demonstrations which the writer of the Karma Sutra would have been quite proud of! Hilarious!

We ate breakfast in the hotel then headed out for greater adventures! First we stopped by this great little sculpture garden in the middle of a college campus. We wandered through it then headed back to Venice Beach to check out the scene. Quite a few more people today so great people watching!! They also have a great little skater park and it was fun watching the skateboarders making the circuits. We walked down the length of the beach checking out all the interesting people and shops. There was another great little place called the Kush Clubhouse CannaMerchant Inc. Lot's of dreads, tie dye, and a ton of people with pitbulls roaming the strip by the water! There was a guy with a great sign that read "Parents eaten by pigeons". When he caught my eye, he flipped it and the other sign read 'Why lie? Need a beer."

Last we drove over to the neighborhood where Jason grew up called Whittier, maybe 30 minutes east of downtown LA. It's a very cute middle class neighborhood with lots of families. We stopped by a taco shop (horsemeat taco stand, as he calls them) and got burritos. There was an older couple there- the woman took our order, and the guy was sitting in a chair by the register. He was very friendly, asked how our weekend was and we got to chatting with him. Apparently they own it and have been there since at least when Jason was a kid. I'm sure the guy has sat in that chair for a long, long time! We took our burritos to a park to enjoy the beautiful weather. I of course had to ride the swing, which was really high and quite narrow! We then played on some of the cool different things in this park then headed out for the ride home.

I've definitely gained much more of an appreciation of LA and had a really great time. This trip was really great too as we got to see so much, both touristy things and some others probably more known to locals. Thanks to my wonderful friend for such a great trip! Until the next..

LA- Day 3

We took a ride to go for breakfast at an amazing little place (which was in the Silver Lake neighborhood, I think.) We passed this huge smurf blue building which was the original Scientology building, not far from L Ron Hubbard road. On the way we saw a one legged cyclist whipping down the street at an impressive clip! It was raining steadily, though not too hard, which only made his balance more impressive. Square One is an amazing place! The ceiling is covered with large egg cartons, and the wait staff is kind of fun and quirky. We sat down next to Willis, who was hilarious and quite chatty. He apparently lives in the neighborhood and is a regular. He chatted us up for a bit, then settled in to make phone calls, and more phone calls!

The one legged cyclist made an appearance every 5 minutes or so, doing a circuit for a good half hour that we were there at least! It was truly impressive to see and I found myself watching out for him! We had an amazing and fresh breakfast- Jason an omelete and I got an egg dish cooked in a little cast iron skillet with chorizo, cheese, tortilla, peppers and onions. Willis had to leave, and the waitresses all said goodbye to him by name, thus cementing the mystique of Willis!

We made our way over to the LaBrea Tar pits, which included an amazing little museum showcasing the discoveries from the tar pits over the last almost hundred years. Apparently a man owned the land and came across this incredible discovery of these huge tar pits including the remains of animals from tens of thousands of years ago. He was rumored to be the inspiration of the ‘Beverly Hillbillies’! They had excavated several pits and had rebuilt the complete skeletons of mammoths, saber tooth tigers, bears, wolves, and many other animals in this cool little museum. It was so interesting! We watched the scientists work in the ‘fishbowl’ on Zed, a huge mammoth, and laughed at the funny things up on the white board. Those crazy scientists!! They had a block of the tar with bones sticking out everywhere on display, which was truly amazing. We then walked out to check out the tar pits, which you could really smell on the approach. They had marked and left some bones for viewing.

We then drove over to Exposition park, where we saw the huge swimming building which housed the swimming events at the 1984 Olympics. We walked past the USC Colliseum and then drove over to the other side of the park. We then took a walk through the huge and beautiful Rose Garden which used to supply some of the Roses for the Parade of Roses. There was a huge fountain in the center, and while the weather didn’t hold out for us, it was still quite beautiful.

The next adventure was to the Watts Towers, which has been one of my favorite things on the trip. In the middle of this now rough little neighborhood, is an incredibly unusual, quirky little testament to a creative mind. An Italian immigrant and day laborer built these towers out of .. trash, essentially. They are supported by metal, which he covered with mortar and broken shards and remnants of things that he found: bottles and broken bottles, pottery, pieces of plates, anything really! There are plaques up that describe his building process of the higher tower portions, where he literally built it one rung at a time. It is rather large and quite impressive, especially when you think of a man building it in the middle of a modest housing community ‘just cuz!’ The more you look, the more interesting things you find in the small, broken up pieces that make this sculpture so impressive! Across the street was a fabulous little house brightly painted with large colored flowers, adding to the ambiance of the place!!

Next we made our way to the Farmer’s Market and the grove to walk around and grab lunch. Jason ate at a little Cajun stand which is incredible Zagat rated! He got fried alligator there. An ice cream stand there had peppermint, which is one of my favorites, so I got a little cone. I wasn’t all that hungry so ended up just getting a croissant to snack on, and we walked around a bit to check out all the different places. We walked by a bakery and I saw red velvet cupcakes! I commented to Jason, and a woman walking by leaned in and said ‘don’t buy it from there!’ ha! It was a very compact little area that was mostly covered, and smelled delightful! There was a huge fruit stand, and every food you could imagine!

It really started to pour so we decided to just drive around for a while. We made our way through Beverly Hills looking out for some open houses, which sadly, we didn’t come by. Surprisingly, very few of the houses were for sale! I think we each picked maybe a dozen that we’d like to buy [in our dreams!] as we made our way through the neighborhood. We drove past the gated community of Bel Air, which put up the guard gate when they got tired of people driving through the neighborhood! We drove through Hollywood, past the start of the area at Hollywood and Vine, Kodak and Gromund’s (sp?) Chinese Theater. Jason was tired of driving, so we made our way down to Venice Beach to walk around and people-watch.

Unfortunately mother nature had other plans, and few people were around due to the rain. Most of the shops were even closed, but we walked a bit down the beach anyways. As we were walking, we saw a sign for medicinal marijuana, and right around then we heard a guy bellow out ‘Hey, does anyone have papers!?’ We saw several people smoking joints, right out on the walk. There were lots of little souvenier and tourist shops, a few of which were open. We decided to duck into a place to get out of the rain which was a bookstore and restaurant, and checked out the bookstore for a bit. They had some funny books, including a Twinkie cookbook, and a book of “Douchebag Quotes” which was much funnier in concept than the actual book!

I had met a gal from LA on my wine tour in Italy, and we had kept in touch when I got back. When we planned this trip I let her know, and she met us in the restaurant. We stayed there for a few hours talking with her, and it was lots of fun! She’s great! We then made our way over to a sushi place that she recommended for dinner. The first one she recommended, Fat Fish (where you can get a ‘fat ass’ roll!) was packed, with a line pouring onto the street. Instead we went to her second recommendation of Sushi Zo. It was a cute little place tucked right behind a strip mall, and delicious! They don’t have a menu but do a tasting of whatever they prepare. They ask what you don’t like, and then just keep bringing fish out to you. We had tuna, salmon, halibut, snapper, toro, and lots of other things. Jason had an octopus dish, as well as sea urchin and salmon roe, which I don’t eat and I had an oyster. The pieces were a decent size and so very fresh and well prepared. Nothing was really interesting, but all so very tasty! We left comfortably full and made our way back to the hotel. First, we decided to go to a bar across the street for a drink, called the Library Bar. There was an actual wall of books in it, and it was a cute little neighborhood place. Apparently the roof bar at our hotel was closed due to the weather, so it was a good thing we went the night before!

Fun-filled day. I was too tired to write this up last night, so posting today along with day 4. Sam

Friday, December 11, 2009

LA- Day 2

Lots and lots of coffee later, we headed out from breakfast in the hotel for the Getty Villa. Very nice place! It was a steep drive up the driveway, with a beautiful landscaped area surrounding the driveway. The villa has a good sized amphitheater at the entrance of what looks like a renovated villa. It was designed to look like an excavation site, and was gorgeously done! There were different kinds of stone everywhere, and the building was designed with an old villa in mind. It's packed with greek and roman antiquities and reproductions. When you walk in there's a gorgeous little pool surrounded by little sculptures. The gardens are gorgeous and there's a long, shallow wading pool on one side with gorgeous sculptures around it.

We spent a couple of hours and did a short tour, then headed over to the Getty Museum cafe for lunch. There were gorgeous views overlooking the gardens. The museum was just magnificent and huge, with huge limestone blocks creating the lower sides of the buildings, and some really magnificent pieces of art from the masters. What's truly amazing is this is J. Paul Getty's personal art collection. It rivaled some of the museums I've seen around the world, and this was funded entirely by one man. Pretty impressive!

We walked around the gardens a bit and checked out the sculpture garden but it started pouring pretty heavily and was getting muddy, so we decided to head out. By now it was already 4:30 or so. Traffic was pretty bad but we made our way over to the Hollywood area and drove up the steep hillside into Griffin park to see the overlook and Griffin Planetarium. What an amazing view of the city! When it's not cloudy you can easily see the Hollywood sign, and even with the weather we had an amazing view of the lights of LA. The planetarium was amazing as well, and I enjoyed exploring it a bit.

We decided to grab dinner, so we went to this fabulous little 70s style diner just down the street. It was complete with formica and a jukebox! We got total american comfort food (I got mac and cheese and Jason got meatloaf), and while I had big plans of a milkshake for dessert, I was too full after a little more than half of the dinner! We stayed a long time talking then made our way back to the hotel. I was really tired but splashed cold water on my face and rallied to make our way up to the roof bar at our hotel. What a blast! They had heat lamps, a cozy outdoor sofa, plastic chairs which were surprisingly comfortable, and of course, a pool, a bar and music. And a movie projected on a nearby building! It was quite funny to be watching a movie, which was the making of some campy 1970's style movie with robots. Hilarious!

Having a blast, so hey, I'm willing to give LA a nod. I'm not sure I'd live here, but I'm loving my visit and looking forward to the adventures of tomorrow!

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

It's off to LA we go!

I've been to LA a few times on business, but never really enjoyed it. So, when the opportunity arose to visit with an LA native, my friend Jason, I jumped on it. "Show me your LA!"

We headed out a little before 9 for the 5+ hour drive. It's a straight shot to LA, and we got to pass through this area with a field of windmills. It was quite cool! Traffic started picking up so I knew we were close. We arrived at the hotel, the Standard, and checked in. It's great! A boutique hotel, which I love. The rooms are really fabulous-- platform bed and a great open concept. The bathroom in my room is actually totally open and the shower is kind of in the middle of the room! Really different and fun, and the room has some great little touches including a well stocked snack bar including some fun things like cracker jacks, sake, beer nuts and gummi bears! The room also has some quirky touches. There's a sticker on the toilet paper that is an instruction (yes, on how to use the pot!) and in the bottom of the trash can, it shows a pic of a person with their head yacking in the can! Priceless.

The weather report called for rain but it was bright and sunny, so we decided to go for a walk and find some lunch. We walked down to chinatown and found a cute little place where I was thrilled to find had chicken pho, a fabulous vietnamese soup that I was craving due to the remnants of my cold. Jason got pad thai. There was a cute little kitschy area that we walked around with low, very asian looking buildings. Then we headed over to Olvera street, which is lined by carts of little things to buy. You know, fabulous hot pink dog sweaters, woven straw hats with a big flower, dia de los muertos memorabilia, etc.

We then walked down to the original site of LA, called El Pueblo. In the center there is now a cute little circular park called La Placa del Pueblo. In the center there was a huge manger scene, and some kind of flute music was playing. We walked past this great and huge post office, and did a quick tour of a cute old church called La Placita. We then started heading back to the hotel, but did a tour of a beautiful church called the Cathedral of Our Lady of Angels. The street is actually named after it that it's on (Temple). We walked through the mausoleum underneath and saw some amazingly beautiful stained glass panels. Oh, and Gregory Peck's tomb! Jason picked his spot right next to it, being a fan, you know. The church was an interesting mix of modern and historic art, which was quite striking. Ah yes, a friend who is as obsessed with churches as I am! Go figure!

We took a short break then headed over to Santa Monica pier for *Cirque de Soleil*! Some of you may know of my Cirque fascination (obsession, really), and I was quite thrilled to find that it was here while we are! We walked around the promenade for a bit and found a fabulous italian place for dinner. What a find! I got sweet potato risotto, and Jason got boar tortelini with these sliced apples, which was amazing. We headed over to the big blue and gold tent where Cirque is housed, right by the beach. [sigh] I so do miss the ocean, and was looking forward to running through the sand after the show!

The show was just incredible, and one of my favorites yet! Everything was just perfect. We walked down the stairs to find an ocean at the bottom. Apparently it was raining, and hey, where did I leave the umbrella? In the car, of course! We trudged through three oceans, and after waiting a bit to see if we could outlast the rain (it got heavier!) we gave up and made our way. The walk was around 15 minutes, which seriously became much, much further! As we were dashing into the garage, we walked by a homeless person sleeping outside, barely covered by the roofline. Sometimes it just takes a moment to put things into perspective.

We finally got to the car and were soaked. Thank goodness for heaters! I didn't have anytime to tie my hair back to contain the water running down my back, but thank goodness for Lance Armstrong and his bracelets! It sure did the trick and I was thankful. It's the little things, I know!! I probably won't hear the end of this for a while, which is only fair. I'm not sure that an umbrella would have kept us dry, but I might not have had water running down my back from my hair!!

Figured I could sleep in until 7 today, however, the universe had other plans. I got a new phone and set the alarm, very proud of myself for figuring out how to already! Apparently I need to figure out how to get it to reset the time. It's 6 am now and I'm wide awake! Drat! Fun day planned, with a visit to the Getty Villa and Museum and I think a drive on the Pacific Coast Highway. And coffee, lots and lots, and lots of coffee. :o)


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Seattle pictures and favorites

Here's some of the things that we enjoyed while in Seattle:

Seattle Underground Tour- hilarious guides and story that is interesting as well!

Beechers Cheese- Pike Place Market- who knew mac and cheese could be sooooo good?

Seattle monorail to the Needle- the monorail shows some nice views of the city, and the Needle does as well, of course.

Pike Place Market is lots of fun to walk around, and the fish shop is hilarious to watch. There are some cool stores including a pasta place, kaleidoscopes, and a fabulous little beeswax shop.

Frans Chocolates- you should keep away if possible, but if you must, the salted dark chocolate caramels are certainly heaven on earth

Lolas and Dahlia Lounge- Lolas is an amazing greek inspired restaurant known for breakfast/brunch. Go hungry as portions are huge and the entrees all are interesting with twists on traditional fares. Dahlia Lounge is great and has it all- fabulous food, service and ambiance.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Last Day in Seattle: glug, glug

Divya changed her flight to not get in at 1 am to Boston, so she had to get up before 5 am. Ick! We were up talking pretty late, so it came really early! I never got back to sleep but dozed a bit. Shameem and I made our way back to Lola for a hearty breakfast to warm our bones around 8:30. She got steel cut oats, candied almonds and apples, and i got scrambled eggs with kale, feta cheese, toast and bacon. There was a light rain and it is warmer than it's been all weekend. We scoped out where the bus is to get back to the airport, much to our confusion as apparently there are several options. Every time we asked at our hotel, we got a slightly different answer! We walked a bit then she ran over to catch one of the busses. she apparently JUST made it, and sent me a text that she had to block the bus to get the driver to stop so she could get on! At least she made it and is on her way!

I'm off to finish packing and check out, then doing some more exploring. I'll likely camp out in a couple of coffee shops and walk when it's not raining too heavily. Considering a few things, but more in the mood for walking and sipping coffee-- and hey, that's what Seattle is all about. I'm hopeful I'll get to meet up with my college friend today as I got a text from him this morning asking about my plans. It's been 17 years I think, and will be really wonderful to see him again if we can manage it.

I walked.. and walked.. and walked all around the city for a few hours. Went through Belltown, Pioneer Square, Pike Place Marketplace again, and possibly other areas that I crossed into and didn't know. I stopped in Midtown Espresso (it only seemed fair since I went to Downtown Espresso) and had a chai tea. The owner was wonderful and we chatted for a while. It was a small cafe and locals poured in steadily. After a little more walked I decided to risk Lola again for the Haloumi cheese and date skewers. I say 'risk' because the food is great and portions large! It was really amazing!! I only ate maybe half of it and was stuffed, but enjoyed it. I sat by the fire in Hotel Andra a little bit to toughen up before the walk outside again. It has rained steadily today and got cooler than the morning was. Thankfully the wind hasn't been too bad though.

Got a text from my college friend Matt about meeting up for coffee so I'm really excited. I would have been so disappointed to be here and not be able to see him after so long!

Thankfully the critters are doing really well and have enjoyed getting extra visits and attention-- I'm so thankful for my petsitters and friends for being so wonderful to me so I don't have to worry about them. :o) Going to sit in the lobby for a little bit to thaw out, head over to meet Matt then on to the airport! This has been a great trip in a beautiful city. I would definitely come back but would love to check out the parks outside of the city. We're talking about a trip to Vancouver as well!


Sunday, November 8, 2009

Seattle day 3: Holy crap, no rain!!

I forgot to mention something funny from last night: we walked up to Barolo Ristorante and saw that it was a really nice place with crisp white tablecloths, candles... so we walked to the valet and asked if there was a dress code. He snickered and said "no, of course not!" I add this to the list of why I like Seattle! It was the perfect statement about the city.

Divya ran down to the Starbucks in our building for a pumpkin latte, one of my favorites! Much as we've avoided Starbucks here for other local coffee places, sometimes you stick with what you know. The other place around the corner had a really wonderful latte with orange peel in it which we had on our first day.

The weather forecast, while predicting rain all day, was 'showers' much to our delight. The rain is ok, but the triumvirate of pouring rain, cold and wind hasn't been fun at times! Shameem was very upset last night to find that she left the borrowed umbrella from Hotel Andra (where we sat by the fire waiting for our brunch table to open up yesterday morning) in Pike Place Market. It wasn't worth trying to go back to get it for sure!

Divya just shared with me that she saw a woman with very long fake lashes. So she says to me "I wonder if she's doing the 'walk of shame.' I mean, it's kind of early for that, don't you think? But she seems really put together for the 'walk of shame' so I don't know. This, my friends, is why I love Divya. Ha!

We went to the restaurant in the building for breakfast, then headed out to the Bainbridge Island Ferry. Bainbridge Island has a cute little downtown with little shops and restaurant, like some of the quaint little New England sea towns. A woman overheard us commenting on wanting fudge, and pointed out a little place with local made fudge and sweets. We tasted quite a few before settling on our choices, however, Divya kept sneaking 'samples' when she'd turn her back. Just in the interest of making sure it was good. Quality control at its finest. We then went next door for some tea and apple cider to warm up, then headed to the marina to walk around. A friend of mine recommended a restaurant. Did we go there? No, of course not, we lucked upon 122 Winslow 'Dining and Cheer'. How bad could it be? .. you ask. We are sorry we didn't before partaking of the dining and cheer.

The place was nice enough, and we ordered bruschetta and a pita plate with hummus and baba ganoush. How bad could it be? The plates came and we all just paused and looked. Hmmm.. I've never seen bruschetta prepared white that way. It looked like a very undercooked pizza cut in thin slices with half melted mozzerella from a package sprinkled over it. Ok.... so we tried it, and it tasted worse than it looked. The tomatoes tasted as if they had been either plastic in a past life or frozen, but definitely not good. So we tried the hummus. Almost worse! The pitas were cold and stale, the hummus not good, but the worst was the baba ganoush. I have never tasted anything so vile, and it almost tasted of chopped liver, and certainly had the consistency. We picked around the plate, and even the olives were awful. Had this been $12 or $15 that would have been one thing. But we paid $25 for the pleasure of the 'dine and purge.' The service was also less than cheerful.

We left and found a couple checking out the menu. Shameem very bluntly looked at them and said "do NOT eat here!" as we were walking away. We explained and they promptly left. And we wondered why no one was nice enough to warn us! However, the positive of this story is that we are now all convinced that we did in fact have the worst meal ever.

We went back to Pike Place Market and stopped at the cheese place, watching them make it in front of it. We got a little cup of mac and cheese to wash the taste of the hummus from our mouths, and it was fantastic! We walked through the market for a bit and headed back to our hotel for a little bit before heading out to Dahlia Lounge, a fabulous restaurant of a local famous chef Tom Douglas. It was recommended by a friend of mine, and everyone we've asked about restaurants has it on their short list. We sure need a good dining experience after that lunch!

The restaurant was wonderful! The place was red in tone, and lit by beautiful colored paper lights. Service was great and we found out that they were having a Seattle deal of three courses at participating restaurants for $30. Fabulous! Div had a couple of apps with a winter salad and veggie samosas. I had pumpkin mussels which were amazing, a great pork dish and a chocolate mousse dessert with popycock! Shameem had bread salad, crabcake and a creme carmel. Yummy! Fabulous meal!

We had a good laugh on the way home. We got to an intersection, and the light showed 3 seconds left. Div and I stopped and decided to not cross, but Shameem wasn't paying attention and 'la de da' crossed into the street. She was halfway when the hand stopped flashing. Halfway across the street she realized that the light changed when Div and I yelled 'bye!!!!", let out a yelp and ran across. That was funny enough, but what was even funnier when the guy in the second car back waiting for her to cross saw us waving, saw her yelp and run and really started laughing loudly! Divya and I howled as did Shameem (once she crossed). When Divya and I crossed to her, Shameem shared with us that she had been talking to us the entire time!! She's blaming it on her new hottie hat, but we know... (continue reading for a glimpse into the life of Shameem... If this is Shameem's mom reading, the next part is about Divya.)

We came back and went to the business center to print our tickets off. Divya and I left first, and we schemed about telling the young kid at the front desk that Shameem was surfing inappropriate material and should be stopped. Then we howled about what the poor kid would do, and speculated about his stammering about it. We got up to the room and decided on a note from management: " Dear Ms. Kathiwalla, we have been told that you were surfing inappropriate material in the business center. This is a classy hotel so this will not be tolerated. We will make your accomodations on the front steps outside this evening. Thanks for your patronage. Mr Schmidt." I should note that Mr. Schmidt is the picture of the man in a trenchcoat on our hotel door. Every night we've said 'goodnight Mr. Schmidt" to laughter.

So, you might want to know-- what site is Shameem looking at and why is she surfing porn in hotel business center? Why would her friends rat her out? Did she really sleep on the front steps? Find out in the next episode... of Sam's blog. (for those who have seen Soap, this may be funny to you. Or perhaps not.) :o)

So, Divya is leaving tomorrow at the crack of dawn, taking my blogging computer with her. Bah! So, the last day will be a mystery... until Tuesday when I am awake enough and have computer access to finish this trip.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Seattle Day 2: Up, Up and Away!

Apparently the weather really is abnormally cold, rainy and windy here now as storms are coming in from Alaska! Quite a few people have sworn this is the case, so it must be true! So my friend Matt wasn't pulling my leg! We slept in and made our way out for breakfast at a fabulous greek restaurant. There was a wait, so we sat in the adjoining lobby in front of the fireplace sipping coffee. It was really wonderful though at one point Divya jumped up and away from the fire saying that she smelled burning and was afraid she was on fire! Shameem's umbrella blew up from the wind which is the kiss of death, because it blew up with every wind gust following (at least 100 times.) We started laughing speculating on our demise. So, Div was going to incinerate by a fire, Shameem is going to blow away, and I am going to drown in a puddle of Seattle water (note, read the section below as to the historical quality of Seattle water..)

Breakfast was amazing and huge! Our waitress had a german/UK/something else that we couldn't identify accent and was really great, as was the hostess. We each got eggs of different types, with toast and some of the most amazing hash browns It was horizontal raining again after breakfast so we warmed again by the fire, and then headed out to the Underground Seattle tour.

The tour was really interesting and the guides great. Their humor was really sarcastic and the tour was really fun. The first guide talked about the history of Seattle and the fact that the old Seattle was actually underground and was burned down in a fire. He told us about how the original Seattle was a logging town and known as the 'crappers' due to a toilet designed by Thomas a Crapper. They realized that they need a way to dispose of the waste and the citizend developed an above ground wooden pipe sewage system. The next few minutes of talk was, oh, a bit off-color, but my favorite part was when he mentioned the plethora of crappers that were brought into Seattle by sea, or a 'shipload of crappers.' Rather hiliarious though it did make everyone a little cringy with the detail provided. So, then he shared that the pipes went out to the Puget Sound, and when they noticed the water came flooding into the town, they essentially extended the pipes to Takoma. There were many funny cracks about Takoma (which is now off my travel list. ha!) So, needless to say, that when I referenced the quality of Seattle water.. well, I say no more.

The city was then destroyed by fire, and when they rebuilt, they built over the existing city. Apparently the city decided to regrade, however, the existing businesses didn't want to wait so apparently the sidewalks and streets were quite a distance from the bottom floor of the businesses! Between 8 to 30 feet at points! So the businesses ended up building up, so the second floor became the first floor, and some nefarious business went on underground! They also talked about the fact that there was an 8:1 ratio of men to women, and it was interesting that when the first census was done, there were 10% 'seamstresses'. Lots of funny jokes eluded to the actual business of the seamstresses, many of whom died because they didn't use their 'thimbles.'

When we were done with the tour it stopped raining (!!!) so we made our way over to Pike Place Market. What a blast! We bought some dried fruit, pasta in fabulous and different flavors, and Shameem bought a ceramic pig that was so cute! I was quite enthralled by kaleidoscopes and Shameem and Divya had to drag me away, kicking and screaming. Hey, they won't recognize me by the next time that I come back for the one week that it's dry in August (according to the tour that we took.) The market was really wonderful and had a really fun fish stand where the guys would do shout outs and sing, reminding me of a fudge shop I saw in New Orleans! There they would sing and heckle people, but it was very similar. There were several veggie and fruit markets which were so beautiful! And they smelled so fresh and wonderful!

We made our way back to the hotel to drop off our goodies and rest our feet a little bit. Then we went to Barolo Ristorante for their happy hour. Fabulous! We got some wine, a cheese and veggie/meat plate, a lamb burger too. Great deal and yummy! Very nice place actually, and just behind our hotel. We were there for a while and made our way to a place with live jazz which was really good. It's the last weekend of the local jazz festival, and this was part of it. We made our way back to the hotel and could actually see our breath! The nice thing was the rain cleared up mid afternoon and it stayed clear, so we're hopeful that tomorrow will be nice. Playing the day by ear..

Have a great night!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Day 1: Sunny in Seattle

My feet touched down back in Phoenix from my Italy adventure, and I started scheming on my next trip: a long weekend in Seattle! I have never been so I'm excited to see it, and thrilled to get to see my friend Divya from Boston. It's been at least six years since I've seen her. We're joined by her friend Shameem. Unfortunately her friend Jackie is sick and can't travel, so we'll be thinking of her!

It was *sunny* when we landed, which was exciting as the weather forecast looks like this: RAIN, RAIN, SHOWERS, RAIN. But hey, I'm told that it's a light misty rain (kind of like the 'dry heat' not being as hot in Phoenix, I think.) We checked into our adorable little boutique art hotel and dropped our things off. The rooms are really small but well appointed, and this place is really cute. The room cards have a guy hoola hooping on them, and our door has a cool dude on it. We decided to go next door to the sushi place to eat (yes, dangerous to have a sushi place right next door!) Had a fabulous lunch-- Div and Shameem had almond crusted goat cheese, some sushi and edamame, and I had a bowl of udon noodles and seafood which was perfect in the cool weather. We then took the monorail to the needle and went to the top to enjoy the view.

We checked out a glass blowing studio and watched them work for a bit. The glass was really beautiful and it was fun to watch. It started to rain so we decided to duck into a donut shop that Divya's brother told us to check out, called Top Pot Donuts. We each got one to try, including a 'chocolate feather boa' which was really cute! It was sprinkled with coconut and pretty good. I unfortunately missed my friend for drinks and we headed back to our hotel to dry out before dinner. We're going to an Ethiopian restaurant, and will probably not be out late tonight because Divya and Shameem came from back east with 6 am flights and are quite tired. Tomorrow we'll check out the evening scene!

The Ethiopian place was very cute and the food good. A little before we left, two women walked in who clearly looked like 'workin' girls.' One had a gold lame dress, and the other bright turquoise pants with impressively matching boots. Very, very tight pants. The entire restaurant stopped eating and turned around to check out the new scene. Ha! We swam back to the hotel and decided to call it a night. I wonder how long it takes for gills to go away... My local friends swears that it never rains like this here. Suspicious, given the weather report, but ever the optimist, I choose to believe that the weather dude does not know what he's talking about, and the 100% chance of rain tomorrow is just not going to happen after all. I'm sure it will be bright, sunny and lovely here. [no, I have not been drinking. However, I cannot promise that that will continue if it keeps raining like this and we seek indoor activities to stay dry and warm.]


Monday, September 7, 2009

Venice, Florence and Tuscany pics

Venice, Florence, Tuscany


Wanted to post recommendations for some of what we enjoyed on the trip. I'm working on the photos now, and just need to remember how to pull them into picasa web!

Hotel Ca del Campo

Osteria Mocenigo da Guido e Luca- Sallizada San Stae, Santa Croce
We stumbled upon this place near the San Stae Vaporetti stop and it was excellent

Very good pizzeria between Rialto and San Marco: Corte dell orso Ristorante Pizzeria Bar, San Marco 5495

Trattoria da Gigio- fabulous family-run trattoria in Cannaregio, Venice. Everything was really incredible and the prices were very good (less than lunch!) Campo S. Leonardo, 1594.

Il Castagnolino is the saffron and olive farm: www.agriturismoilcastagnolino.com

www.italy.artviva.com is the florence tour company

Hotel Perseo

Ristorante Ciro & Sons
Via del Giglio, 28r

INO- fabulous panini place near the Ponte Vecchio bridge

Il Latini ristorante

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Last day in Italia!

Our last day in Italy :o(
Today’s our last day in Italy, or mine at least, as Kim booked her flight a day after mine accidentally! What a pair we are—me with no sense of direction, and her with no sense of calendar! We slept in and it felt wonderful, then ate some breakfast in the hotel, packed and checked out. We headed to the train station to buy our train tickets back to Venice. Goodbye Firenze!!

The train was a few minutes late, but we hopped on it at a little after 10:30. It was packed but we did have assigned seats. The woman sitting next to me had an amazingly well behaved dog in a bag, and she licked me and let me scratch her head (the dog, that is!) The ride felt long but was a little over two hours. We feel surprisingly good for the amount of wine we consumed yesterday! The woman at the biodynamic vineyard did say that without the chemicals and additives you don’t get that dopey drunk feeling, so maybe she was right!!

We got off the train and headed to our hotel, which is on Lista de Spagna, a very busy street five minutes walk from the train in the cannaregio district of Venice. It’s very cute! Very small botique hotel that was recently renovated. The room was very nice though quite tiny and right near reception. The people working there are very nice! We left to walk around a find a place for lunch. We were looking off of the main road, but everytime we went off it we found very residential areas. We finally gave up and found a trattoria on the road. We enjoyed a pretty good lunch of roasted eggplant with tomatoes, polenta, pizza diavolo and caprese salad. We then walked around through the neighborhood which was really charming. We then hit the Jewish nuovo geto and geto which was really beautiful. The buildings were high and it was largely unmarked. I only knew what it was mostly from the map and the slight amount of hebrew I saw! There were two synagogues, one we never did see and the other was barely identifiable as one! Again, I just knew from the map. The entrance to the ghetto we went through on the way out of the neighborhood, and it was funny as we were told to look for the arch. Well, the arch was basically a wooden beam that ran horizontally above our heads! It wasn’t marked or identifiable in the least!

We then scoped out the way to the airport, and it looks like the vaporetti/alilaguna water boat will be quicker and a shorter walk in the morning than the bus. I think it’s very appropriate to arrive and leave by water! We then went to the Santa Croce neighborhood where we ordered spritz’s, a local drink of dry white wine, seltzer, and either campari or a sweet liquor which I cannot remember the name of! HE suggested we get a mix of the two, so it wouldn’t be too sweet or sour and we agreed. It was red, and came in a glass with an orange slide and an olive on a stick. It was pretty good, and we sat in this very narrow courtyard drinking and people-watching for a while.

We went back to the hotel to wash up for dinner, and to get a recommendation. He told us about Trattoria da Gigio only a 5 minute walk from the hotel where the locals go, and we were so thrilled for the recommendation! It was excellent and probably the best we’ve had. We got marinated mussels which were amazing, and I got a pasta dish with local clams, and Kim got a pasta dish with lobster and a really light cream sauce. Both were good but kim’s had fresh pasta and was a little better. Neither of us were disappointed. I got some red wine, Kim got beer, and of course we had to finish with a tiramisu, which we hadn’t had since coming here and was excellent. It was quite cool today, which was surprising given how very hot it was in Florence this morning (it’s a few degrees cooler in Venice being on the water, but was very similar). It was cool and breezy and perfect walking weather in Venice! When we got out of dinner it was quite cool so we went back.

The vaporetti is at 8:16, but the man at our hotel said I do have to be there by 9 or 9:30 for my 11:30 flight, and not to be late as you must check in 2 hours before. Unfortunately the vaporetti run every hour at 15 past, so I guess I need to take the 8:15. I really enjoyed this neighborhood and while the main road is quite crowded, the areas off of it were really gorgeous and interesting to walk around in. It’s like walking through time with the chipping plastered walls showing exposed brick, laundry hanging and the sounds of restaurants and the water in canals everywhere. I’ve really enjoyed this trip and I’d be hard-pressed to say which I liked more, Florence or Venice. Both are just stunning in their way!

I’m sad to leave tomorrow but ready to go home to see the critters. We’re planning our next adventures, and who knows? Next year could have me traveling to Lebanon and Israel with Nada, or back to the Amalfi Coast and Capri.. or??? Yes, I’m addicted by the lure of seeing new places, but wouldn’t have it any other way! Thanks for sharing with my wonderful adventure! I’ll post pictures in a few days once I’m home and settled. Arrevederci!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Day 7: Tuscany Wine Tour/San Gimignano

Day 7: Tuscany wine tour/San Gimignano
What a perfect day today was! We met with the tour at the National Library at 8:30, and it was a group of 8. Ilaria (Hillary) took us (she’s the business partner of the woman Rebecca, who runs the tours) and she was really exceptional. Someone on the tour had gone yesterday to the Montepulciano one that I was originally scheduled on and said that overall this was better. We drove through the countryside past Siena and arrived at 10 am for our chocolate tasting. Yes, 9:30 am. Oh, what the hell! We tried a white chocolate with hazelnuts, a light chocolate called ‘latte’, then dark chocolates in 50%, 70% and 99%. Last we had a candied orange peel in dark chocolate. All were great, and surprisingly I really enjoyed the orange peel (I’ve never liked orange and chocolate.) Unfortunately it wouldn’t hold up well in the heat, so I left with none. So sad.

We then headed for our first wine tour at around 10 am. A bit early, but hey, we were all troopers. The vineyard was gorgeous! They have been a family business since 1970, when it was started by the current owner’s grandfather. They went biodynamic in 1987. Organic is when no chemicals are used, but biodynamic goes a step further and does not use any extra intervention, including even water. They are very careful of the weather conditions and totally reliant on them. It was really interesting and Helena, the wife and owner with her husband, gave us quite an interesting lesson. The timing was pefect as well, as they were going to harvest their whites tomorrow, 20 days earlier than normal due to the hot and dry weather conditions this summer. The vineyard covered 7 hectares, so it is quite small.

The house was gorgeous as well, and we were ‘greeted’ by a sleeping Pico, the dog. He was in the path and dead out until he realized he could get belly rubs, and lots of belly rubs. He just laid there though and never followed our tour! The views from the hill that the vineyard is on was also beautiful. There are many shells in the soil, indicating that the area was once under the sea. The house is called by a beautiful italian name (which escapes me) but means House of Dove. They used doves previously for communication, and apparently, it was also served up for special occasions! They also have many fruit trees planted for variety, and it’s believed to be good for the soil. Helena is clearly passionate about her work and the vineyard, and has a very holistic view of nature and the contribution. Oh, the winery is called Columbaia.

She walked us through the fields, then past a lovely herb garden with basil, sage and rosemary scenting the area before taking us through the supply and processing area. They produce 2 barrels a year of the red, storing it for two years, which makes 7,000 bottles. They make 1,050 bottles of the white. During the fermentation process they add nothing, so all the fermentation is purely natural. Someone actually asked if they stomp grapes (like in the ‘I Love Lucy’ episode) and Helena looked a bit horrified. She explained that fermentation begins inside the grape, so it’s not necessary. We walked through the storage and filtration areas and then to a room just a little lower than ground level where the wine is stored, then had machines for bottling, corking and labeling. They do this twice a year. Only Helena and her husband work there, but during the harvest they do hire a few extra people. This room was incredibly cool, both as it was low in the ground but also because there were plants growing on the roof. She said it also keeps the air pure in the building. Pruning is done purely by hand with shears, and they carry bags of the grapes and stems for processing.

This small winery sells to Japan, England, France, Germany and some in NYC. A small amount in Italy as well, and they work with very small producers and distributers. She took email addresses for interested people to send a list of distributors. Then the wine tasting began, and I enjoyed some of the best wines I’ve ever had. And I do so enjoy wine! There were three reds, and she gave us really large pours. The first was a 2007 Vino Rosso Toscano from the first harvest (Vigna Nuova). The smell was nicely fruity and the wine was delicious. A semi-heavy red with legs, but very very smooth and delicious. The second wine was my favorite (and I had to buy a bottle!) It was a 2005 Chianto Colli Senesi, DOCG, which is 80+% sangiovese. It was very smooth, full bodied, fruity and flowery smelling. She said the flowery smell was because they had snow the winter before, so the summer was beautiful with lots of flowers. The wine was very complex and good. The last was a 2003 Chanti Colli Senesi Riserva, also sangiovese. It was very good, but had a tartness to it that I didn’t enjoy as much as the 2005. We enjoyed the wines in a shaded area under a tree and had a great conversation. Helena shared that she only does organized tours with the group we were with.

We left to go to a lunch place called Il Castagnolino, which was also gorgeous with lovely views overlooking olive trees and sloping hills. There were two dogs there, and one actually purred when she got belly rubs! The other, Sara, loved fetch, so several of us played with her a bit. This farm is known for their olive oil and saffron, and they showcased both beautifully with our lunch. We had a white vernaccia which was pretty good (for a white!) called La Marronaia. They served a plate of appetizers with a small eggplant, tomato and mozzerella, two toasts with pesto and tomato, and white beans, a crepe with onions, and saffron rolls. The main course was an absolutely amazing fresh raviolli filled with ricotta, covered in pecorino, saffron and some olive oil. It was one of the most amazing things I’ve tasted. The views were exceptional and the meal memorable. We then had saffron ice cream with small local berries, followed by espresso. Perfect! Sara’s interest in fetching a half-eaten bright orange ball would have put Sonnie, my retriever, to shame, but sadly we had to leave for our last tasting.

This place was the Manizzi Winery in San Gimignano, which really paled in comparison. We had a lot of tastings, and after a while it was too much! Four whites, a rose, and three reds. I liked one of the whites fairly well and the reds were all ok, but had pungency I didn’t really care for. The woman was very nice but not as warm and enthusiastic and really didn’t educate us much about the winery or the wines. We also didn’t tour the grounds (which by the end of the tasting, was quite ok!!) The winery covered 18 hectares, so was much larger in comparison.

We then went to San Gimignano, which was much more beautiful than I expected. We unfortunately only had 45 minutes, so we quickly toured. Kim bought a couple of pictures and a hard carved corkscrew/foil knife for her husband. We walked around with Rhonda from Calgary and Kim from Santa Monica, both of which were really fun. We did trade emails. Kim wants to move to Italy, and I expect we’ll keep in touch. The town was very quaint and nice.

We headed back and the car was very quiet! We said goodbye to Kim, and walked towards our hotel, then dropped Rhonda as well. We shopped a bit, and Kim bought a green amber bracelet and earrings that she saw a couple of days ago and wanted. We then went to a place for dinner recommended by our hotel and had a very good meal. We got grilled vegetables and salami, italian salad, the tomato and bean soup (fagioli) and a margharita pizza with ham and artichoke hearts. A couple from Toronto sat next to us, so we talked to them a bit. They were two more days in Florence then headed to the Turino mountains then Venice, so we gave them some suggestions. We then walked a little bit and headed back to our hotel to pack and relax a bit. We head to the train tomorrow to go back to Venice for another day. We’re staying in a different part of town called Cannaregio in the northern part of Venice, and I’m looking forward to exploring it. It will be nice to be a bit off the main tourist path!

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Day 6: Florencia

Day 6: Florence
We met up with Nada and took a bus up to the lovely hill town of Siena this morning. It took a little over an hour winding through the hills of tuscany. We walked to Il Campo and enjoyed a café overlooking the central square. It was the perfect place for people-watching, and after quite a few days non-stop now, we needed a slow day. We saw many people enjoying a breakfast gelato (and before you ask, no, we weren’t one of them!) and then walked around and took pictures a bit. We walked through the town, taking in the seven different flag indicating the neighborhoods of Siena. We walked to the Duomo, which was very ornate and truly stunning and then found a place in our travel guide recommended for lunch as a true reprentation of Siena cuisine, and enjoyed by the locals called Trattoria Papei. Our waiter was quite flirty and when we said we were from the US and Canada, he chimed in that he LOVED Canada.

We got some tomatoes, a bruschetta dish with tomato, a mushroom, a meat of some kind (boar?) and pate tapenades, with tuscan meats (prochiutto and salame), and three pasta dishes to try with fresh-made pastas. One had tomatoes and onions and was very flavorful, one had pepper and butter which was so-so, and the third had wild boar and was very good. We walked around a bit more then took the bus back. A woman named Maria spoke with us a bit on the bus (Nada and me, while Kimmie slept.) She spoke a little bit of English (which she seemed embarrased about, but was STILL much better than my Italian!) Had been to the US once or twice, and she was very friendly. Nada left us to walk around a bit before leaving for Milan, and we were sorry to see her go. Kim left to shop and I had hit a wall and was really exhausted (I didn’t sleep again last night) and went back to the room for a much-needed and wonderful nap! I awoke to the sound of church bells and we headed out for dinner at a place my friend Colleen recommended from her trip a couple of years ago called Il Latini.

The restaurant was a 10 minute walk and was really wonderful! You’re ushered in by an effusive waiter into several large rooms with hanging proschiotto hanging above from the ceiling. We were seated in the middle of two other couples, one living in hong Kong (from Taiwan), and the other from holland (near Brussels.) Both were wonderful and of course kim and I had no problem getting the conversation started! The couple from Hong Kong are actually going to Japan over Christmas, so we traded information. In case we go to Japan, we’ll meet up with them. The other couple were quite charming and adorable, and were headed to the Tuscany countryside for a few days. We have their information too—it’s always wonderful to know people from around the world! Joyce spoke Dutch, English, and French, and Andre Dutch, English, Spanish and German. It was easy as all spoke English, and Kim and Hsing and her husband spoke some chinese too.

Dinner was very good. Chianti wine, with a bread salad, proschiotto and good crusty italian bread with cantaloupe (which I don’t really care for, but it was sweet and wonderful with the ham!) We had a toasted bread tapenade with a topping of maybe olive and some kind of meat (similar to what we had for lunch and it looked like pate but wasn’t). We then had the primi course and I had gnocchi with tomatoes and pesto which was incredible, and Kim’s bean and lentil soup was surprisingly delicious. The secondi was potatoes with a grilled meat dish. We got beef which was surprisingly rare, and lamb, which was a bit dry but flavorful. The hong kong couple got double beef and the pieces were so huge it was hilarous! They ate much of one only! Then for desert we both got chocolate cake which wasn’t like we expected but good. Looked more like a thin boston crème pie tart of sorts. Then they brought the tuscan cookies (like the almond biscotti type cookies we had in Siena) with a sweet wine, which wasn’t as light and sweet as in Siena and had quite a kick! You dipped the cookies in it.. too strong to drink but I enjoyed dunking the cookies. The meal was expensive, but for the ambiance, food and wonderful company, I thought it was worth it.

Tomorrow we head out to our wine tour in San Gimignano, which should be a nice fairly slow day for us. I’m looking forward to it, as this tour guide was also recommended by my friend colleen who raved about her. This city is such an interesting contrast of people: the ultra-hip and those who are not! There are women wearing spiked heels walking on cobblestones (we watched one get a heel stuck in the middle of the road today!) The men seem to wear rather brightly colored pants—yellow, kelly green, rust, and red. It’s funny to see women in heels and skirts riding bikes and motorbikes as well!

Goodnight! Early morning tomorrow.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Day five (?) Florence and Pisa

Day 5 (?) Florence
I went to sleep pretty late last night but was wide awake at 7! We did get to move rooms yesterday and are so much happier! The room does have two beds and is a bit bigger than the last. And we do have an internet connection (the wireless is down, however, we have a cord so we can still get it.) We had breakfast then headed to the Duomo to climb the dome. All 469 steps! It wasn’t too bad though it was pretty hot and humid even early today, but was well worth it. We got 2/3 the way up to see the frescoes inside the dome. Then climbed the rest of the way to the top where you could walk around outside to enjoy really beautiful views of Florence. It was a little hazy but we could see everything. We enjoyed it for a bit, especially when there was a small breeze, then headed down. Barb, you would have been so proud! I only got a bit unnerved at one point (and took a picture so you could see how steep it was). Worse than that stairway in Peru, however, walls on either side so there wasn’t a thousand foot drop! Ok, I panicked a bit, but shielded my eyes from the view and made my way down. After the inside viewing, the walk was easy and very windy. Kim kept getting dizzy but we both made it down intact!

We headed over to the centro mercado (central market) and walked among the stalls of leather goods, pashminas, souveniers, etc. We then went into the mercado where the food merchants were. We got an excellent salami and cheese panini (we can’t seem to get enough of them!) and I got mine with sundried tomatoes. Yum! We then bought some pasta and sun dried tomatoes for gifts for people. Then ended up picking up three more for the trip to Pisa. Oh, and we ran into her at the Duomo on the way to her bike tour! We plan to take the 4:30 train to Pisa, and she’s supposed to text me.. hopefully it will go through! I got a bottle of brunello in the mercado for when I return home to the US. I found the bag that my friend Sandy asked me to get for her sister finally, then we made our way back to the room to cool off and enjoy a little air conditioning. It’s quite hot and humid today!

We then walked over to the Santa Croce church across town (which in actuality is less than a 15 minute walk from our perfectly placed hotel only two blocks from the Duomo!) Beautiful place and we toured it for a bit. We then walked through the Piazza Vecchio, enjoyed catalina crème gelatos (crème brule) before heading back to the mercado. I bought a beautiful shawl as well as a pashmina, and Kim is still searching for a leather bag. We then stopped in an Osteria for a break and some vino rosso then headed back to the room to cool off, pick up our paninis, and head to the train station.

We picked up our tickets in the train station, though, found a kiosk that only took cash and it ate 10 euros! We got out round trip tickets and got a text from Nada that she was on her way. We found the train and let her know where it was as the station has around 15 trains, and she made it with moments to spare! We were pretty packed in and in a car with no air conditioning, but once we started moving it was good enough. She had a great bike ride through some of the Chianti region and the pictures looked beautiful.

We arrived to Pisa a little over an hour later, bought bus tickets and went to the tower. What a gorgeous area! All of the typical souvenier stands nearby, but the duomo and cathedral were gorgeous and surrounded by an ancient looking wall. The tower was incredibly cool to see too! We had found out that they do allow tours now and we were able to get tickets. We walked around a bit, took the obligatory tourist photos, ate our panini, checked our bag and made our way up. The marble was very worn with deep wearing in the center of the steps. The walk up wasn’t too bad for the most part, and there is a landing 2/3 the way up for us to walk around. Then we walked up again to another area, and the views were beautiful of the city and cathedral. Unfortunately the gate was pretty low and we were walking on stairs that went around the area, so I was a bit unnerved by the heights! I hope someday I get over it. :o) This area had lots of bells and room to walk around. The last climb was short to the top (200ish steps in all.) We took lots of pictures then made our way down. It was slippery going on the way down due to the worn marble!!

We found the bus and made our way back to the train then to Florence. What a fun day! It was nice and cool after we did the climb and on the way home. We found the bus stop for tomorrow’s trip to Siena then headed back to the hotel for some sleep. Getting up early tomorrow to catch the bus as it’s around a one hour drive. Nada will be coming with us but she’s heading up to Milan tomorrow. She’ll do a half day in Siena, catch a few more sights in Florence then head out. Kim and I are winging it and will see if we want to stay in Siena a bit longer. We have dinner reservations at a place my friend Colleen recommended, which she said was excellent. It’s family style I believe, with big tables, so should be a really fun time meeting people.
Good night!!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Day four: Florence

What a beautiful city this is!! It was a nice cool morning and we enjoyed a nice breakfast in the hotel before heading out on our tour. I usually don’t do tours, but after my wonderful tour experience in the Vatican Museum, I was easily talked into a walking tour of Florence, The Uffizi and Accademia. I’m so glad we did as the guides were fabulous! We started off around 5 minutes from the hotel with Freya from Australia. She was rather perky and lots of fun. We started the tour in Republic Square, where Italy offically became a republic. It was torn down (orinally was the Jewish Ghetto, and a marketplace, but was demolished to accommodate a ‘grand area’ when Florence was the capital of italy. Florence was the birthplace of the renaissance, in part because of the wealth in the region. Florentines made their money on making clocks and banking and were among the wealthiest of areas in Europe in the early 1300s. They were not royalty, but very wealthy merchants and as a result, rose to power.

We were told about the Santa Maria Novella Church façade which was a really interesting example of “advertising” from back in the day. The painting on the side actually says that “I xxx paid for this in 1417” (I of course, forget the person’s name!) We saw an interesting building that had three levels, but the windows on each level were different sizes! It showed the lack of planning during the early Renaissance period.

In the 1400s for several hundred years the Medici family ruled Florence, and the representation of them is everywhere. Their coat of arms is on many buildings. We saw a church from the same period next to a building where Dante wrote ‘The Divine Comedy” and there’s a relief of him above the door. The church was quite interesting and we spent a lot of time there. It was built in the 1200s as a church on the bottom floor, and the upper floor was for grain storage. The building was deemed to not be attractive enough for the church, so the leadership of the time set a contest for the 20 trade guilds to each take 20 years to design a sculpture niche. Several were pointed out, and one in particular from Donatello which had an oversized head because it was going to be higher up on the building and the location would make it look smaller than actual. Apparently it was not approved of initially until it was placed in the location, and then it did look appropriate. Freya, the guide, explained that the Renaissance was the ‘rebirth of Man” and humanism, and they integrated math with art to make things look more realistic and in proportion. She pointed out various things throughout the city that actually showed the learning of the artists at the time.

Another amusing building was the Palazzo Strossi, the ‘archnemesis’ of the Medici. Their building had beautiful stone walls, but in actuality they were a veneer. The family owned the building next door, so only three walls have the veneer—the fourth, next to their other building, was hidden and therefore not covered with the better looking stone! It’s now exposed so you can see the difference. Freya also told us that there are wine bars that are so small in Florence that people need to buy their drink, and drink it on the street. The cultural significance is that the wealthy families would bring in food and wine from their country estates, and if there was extra that the family couldn’t eat, they would sell it on the street. It’s apparently a very Florentine thing to do!

We went to a beautiful church (the name escapes me, unfortunately) that had several types of architecture in it. Frescoes were done on many walls, which was done in Florence and not venice due to the climate. It’s a very difficult technique because the paint is imbedded in the freshly laid plaster. It lasts a long time, but took a long time to do. She told us an interesting story about Salonbeni Bartollini, who was the head of a fabric family. HE heard a big shipment was coming in, and decided to take advantage of the situation. He threw a big party, got all of his friends and competitors drunk, spiked their drinks with opium. As a result, the Bertollini family was the only one to greet the boats at the docks, and they amassed a fortune as a result. The funniest part was that they changed their family crest to include poppies!

We then walked over the Ponte Vecchio, the oldest bridge. It was at the narrowest part of the river, and was the only crossing until 1300. The bridges were always wood but in 1333 this bridge was built of stone due to the frequent floods. All of the bridges to Florence were bombed in WWII except for this bridge, however, instead the buildings on both sides of the bridge were bombed to hold the advance of the Allies. Only gold is sold on the bridge for the last 500 years. The Medici family bought the Pitti Palace in Oltrarno, or “across the arno” river. The butchers used to clean their meats, etc. by the river, and the Medici didn’t want to walk past that to cross the river. So they had a private corridor built above the bridge so they wouldn’t have to walk with the commons! It leads across the river to the Uffizi, which was their office space. They actually tore out the front of many of the homes along the river to build the corridor!!

We walked to the town square near the uffizi, and I gave away the ticket I had purchased for the Uffizi since the tour included a ticket. I made someone quite happy and he thanked me profusely! I had to laugh because I thought it only had my email address which is sam.. so I figured it would be fine. He looked at the ticket and said “my name is Samantha”? Oops. He didn’t think it would matter nor did I, as I’m sure if it’s a prepaid ticket they won’t check ID. We saw some amazing statues of Perseus holding Medusa’s head, Neptune, etc. and the original spot where the David was installed before it was moved to the Accademia Museum. David represents the overthrow of the Medici.. we learned about the family member who was a monk who came into power. He’s behind the story of the “bonfire of the vanities’ where in an attempt to go back to the more religious lifestyle, he pushed people to burn all artistic things in the square. Four years later, he became the fuel on the bonfire, and a plaque marks the spot where the ‘mad monk’ was killed. This was the political center of Florence a little over 500 years ago.

We saw a semi-circle building which is the only one in existence now. It was built on a roman structure, of a roman bath. It’s now a 4 star hotel! It’s called a straw tower, because a women’s prison was occupying it, where the women laid on straw. Then we continued on to the duomo, which was the largest cathedral in the 1300s and larger that St. Peters in Rome. It’s green and white marble and moorish in design, reminding me of Cordoba a bit. It was the largest dome in the modern world, modeled after the Pantheon. It was a beautiful inside as well, and we were awash with a sea of turquoise wraps (like the pink wraps in the San Marco Bascilica, which we swore were tablecloths very similar to a restaurant we ate in! Here they were light blue.) Women had to have their shoulders covered, but they were less stringent on showing knees and feet. How funny. There was a beautiful little building (little being in perspective!) across the way from the Duomo in the same granite, which is the bapstry. In ancient times, you couldn’t enter a church unless you were baptised. So it was right across the street so you could be baptised, and then enter the church. The dome is symbolic of heaven to continue the theme. The dome was built in the 1420s by Romaneski, who was a mathematician. The picture in the top is a fresco, and the dome was reinforced much like a wine barrel is with lateral and vertical reinforcements on the inside of the dome between two walls (essentially walls, anyways.) You can see some of the vertical support structures on the outside, but none inside.

Following that tour we went to get lunch at a place Freya recommended. We had the best paninis that we’ve had. The bread was toasted and crunchy and thick, and the insides fabulous. Both were cheese, ad one had parmiagano, tartufo and salsa (fresh tomatoes and truffles) and the other pecorino, pesto, tapenade and memodori secchio (cheese, olive tapenade and pesto.) Yum!! We then made our way to the Uffizi for that tour. We saw some major works of art including Boticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’ and ‘La Primavera’, along with interesting stories about the model in both being Amerigo Vespucci’s sister. 3 DaVincis (of 20 total) including the ‘Adoration of the Magi’, ‘Baptism of Christ’ and another. The Uffizi has the only easel painting by Michelangelo, who saw himself as a sculptor and only painted the Sistine Chapel because the pope at the time demanded it. This painting that he did was largely for the commission, but apparently it was rather scandalous back in the day. He was asked to paint a religious painting, which he did. However, there were nudes in the back. Apparently it was ok to paint religious works, or nudes, but not both. Well, he claimed to have painted a portrait of John the Baptist in it, and that the nudes in the background were actually awaiting baptism, so it was deemed to be ok!

The Rafael room had several works, including one of the Popes whom he was friends with (Pope Leo, Giovanni de Medici, son of Lorenzo the Magnificent.) Rafael apparently had pretty strong connections! The ‘Venus of Urbino’ by Tiziano Vecellio was also there. I wasn’t familiar with the name, but the painting is certainly recognizable and is a nude of a young woman reclining on a rumpled bed. It was apparently quite scandalous in the day due to the pose, the red bed under the white sheet the red roses in her hand (all very symbolic) and the ‘look in her eye.’ It was believed to be a portrait of the young wife of the person who commissioned the painting (who were 12 and 40+ respectively.) The guide ended with a comment about ending a tour in a wonderful museum with historic porn. :o)

We then went to Accademia to see the David, and saw some wonderful partially completed marble sculptures done by Michelangelo that I thought were quite amazing. It was as if they were trying to escape from the marble! The guide told us Michelangelo had said that he carved directly into the stone to let the image out, which many of his contemporaries did wax and bronze or plaster molds. The David was commissions to be atop one of the smaller domes on the Duomo, but was moved to the ‘town hall’ piazza when it was completed. It was moved to the museum in the late 1900s due to deterioration.

There was an interesting music instrument display that we walked through quickly, but we were tired from walking all day and a bit ‘museumed out’ so decided to leave. During the day we were talking with a great gal named Nada who was traveling along, and we invited her for dinner. We had planned to do a pizzeria, but instead went to a place the guide recommended to her for drinks and snacky foods. She lives in Canada but is from Lebanon. We had such a great time talking with her that we’ll meet up with her tomorrow night (planned Pisa and will either do it in the late afternoon after she does a bike tour, or will meet her for dinner.) She will probably come with us on Thursday for our day trip to Siena. I do love foreign travel as you meet such wonderful people, and Kim is just as outgoing as I am!

Well, I’m pooped from the day and all this typing, so I’m signing off! We may do Pisa during the day, or else we’ll do some of the local touring in Florence..we’ll see how we feel when we get up. We’ve been pretty nonstop since arriving in Venice so we could use a slower day to really feel the city.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Giorno Tres: Venezia a Firenzia

Giorno Tres: Venezia a Fierenze

Day three began with an earlier start, enjoying a lovely breakfast in the hotel and a crisp morning. Oh it was beautiful! Sunny an warm with a nice cool breeze. We headed to the Rialto Mercado (market) to check it out and were greeted with the lovely sweet smell of fresh produce. The fish market is closed on Mondays, so it was just the produce market. They had some gorgeous foods all sweet and brightly colored. We wandered a bit then found our way back easy enough. The signs are quite funny. Some are actual signs in a bright yellow with an oddly curved arrow indicating the way. Others are either paper signs, or spray painted on the wall! It’s quite funny. Then sometimes they guide the way, and others they sit and wait to see if you might be able to figure it out!! There may be great signage, then you hit a dead end and no clue where to go! After the first day and a half or so, we (I should say, Kim) seemed to get the gist of things and we made our way around pretty well. We headed back towards Piazza San Marco and the line at the Basilica wasn’t too bad so we got into it. According to the ‘church and sights opening guide’ the basilica wasn’t supposed to open until 10:30. So much for getting the most current listing! Here was the first place that suggested appropriate attire, and I got some rather pointed hand gestures as I was putting a shirt on over my sleeveless shirt. I was also conveniently covering the strap to my bag, as I wasn’t sure if I would be allowed in with it, but despite our best intentions, we just couldn’t find the bag check which was at a nearly closed church (was not an active church, but was still used for a bag check.) We got in and saw a sea of pink wraps, which we later suspected were actually tablecloths that we found at many of the local restaurants, which women used to cover their shoulders. I’ll hold my sarcasm, given that I don’t know everyone who may read this very well, but I found it to be a rather interesting thing that people had to have shoulders covered. No one appeared to be turned away due to salacious knees showing though we didn’t see any of the amazing skirts while in line (we saw two women wearing skirts that we simply couldn’t figure how it stayed down to cover their backsides!) Interesting contrast, but I digress..

The church was MAGNIFICENT and what I most enjoyed was the tons of mosaic all around. There was an amazing and intricate pattern on the floor of different colored stone and mosaics, and some of the most ornate and detailed mosaics, many with gold leaf, on the walls. We toured the little museum which had more mosaics and tapestries and the ‘Wall of Gold’ which was really beautiful. It was a really large panel of gold depicting scenes with these huge gemstones gleaming everywhere. One wall in the church had an amazing pattern from the stones that made it, which was in a square/diamond pattern and incredible consistent. It was quite stunning.

It was such a nice cool day and we walked around a bit more. We stopped in the post office to get stamps for post cards, then wandered back into the maze of San Marco to stop back to find a jewelry store that a friend of mine told me about. We had somehow passed it on the way to our hotel on the first day, but wanted to drop the bags and never could find it again. Today was no different! The people watching in Venice is quite amazing too and varies widely between the ultra-fashionable, to the rather scary fashion statements like bright kelly green or hot pink pants. It was good going.

We stopped back at the hotel to check out, and the man who checked us in who was quite cranky was ultra-friendly. He was all talkative, asking about our time in Venice and even gave us kisses when we left! I speculated that perhaps Monday was the day that he started drinking before noon! We headed out for lunch and found a lovely pizzeria on a side alley and got an amazing meal of Caprese salad (tomoatoes, fresh buffalo mozzerella, and basil) and a pizza with tomatoes, ricotta and mozzerella with basil. The pizza was just perfection, nice and creamy and crisp and both were really enjoyable. We then got our bags and made our way to the vaporetti (boat) to take a tour of the grand canal on the way to the train station. It was really beautiful and we took lots of pictures. We got to the train station with plenty of time and debated checking our bag, but decided it would be more work than it was worth. So we enjoyed two blended fruit drinks and chatted for a bit. The train ride was fine and we napped a little bit, only little because there was a child sitting near us with an ear-piercing shriek that was just wonderful!! The ride was beautiful through the hills of Tuscany and we found our hotel pretty easily. It’s in the shadow of the duomo and in a perfect location. The room is a bit of a disappointment, but the location can’t be beat. I once again goofed on the type of room, so let’s just say Kimmie and I will be a bit, um, cozy until tomorrow when they can change our room! The guy in check in was very nice, poured us some wine an gave us restaurant recommendations.

We walked a bit and went briefly to Otrarno, or ‘across the Arno’ river. We saw the bridge Ponte Vecchio, which looked like it had houses built on the sides, though the street level was all stores, and saw the side of Piti palace. We had a nice dinner at a place recommended of fresh pasta with mushrooms, carpacchio which was really great. I had a crème catalan which was like a lemony crème brule, and Kim had chocolate panna cotta (I know, I didn’t have chocolate, if you can believe it!!) We snuck a gelato in earlier too, but hey, we haven’t had much dairy so it’s a good thing.. Oh, and of course we had a nice chianti with dinner! We saw some great people watching as well, including a very interesting man riding a bike that sounded as if it would fall apart any minute! He had a bamboo typed mat tied to his back, as well as an assortment of other things that were rather odd!

Tomorrow we’re actually touring—I know, I know. It’s a walking tour of Florence, then an Uffizi tour (which I wouldn’t ordinarily do, but the Vatican Museum tour was one of the best I’ve seen! I already bought my ticket though, so I’ll give it away to someone.) Also doing a tour of the accademia to see the David. I’m not one for tours, but I think this will give us a great orientation and will enable us to see most of the main sights. Since we’re doing a couple of day trips, our time may be a little limited.
Bueno Sera!

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Giorno Due: Venezia

Giorno Due: Venice

We awoke to the beautiful sound of the San Marco Basilica bells calling the faithful, surprised that we slept so late. I usually am up with the light, around 6 or so, but I was up from 2-5 for some reason, and we slept in until 9! We missed the hotel breakfast by the time we headed out and caught a macchiato or two at the café a few doors down, as well as a croissant which was filled with apple. The weather was magnificent—nice and crisp with a light breeze and full sun and it was just wonderful. It’s a great location to people watch, and we got some great views! Our favorite was a woman who was wearing a flowy and loose brightly satin colored dress. Did I mention the light breeze? Well, I’ll confess that we got a few good laughs waiting to see if she was wearing anything underneath! She ended up walking down the road and turning as another gust of wind caught her dress, and we saw several feet of the dress flowing behind the corner she just turned down! Thankfully never did answer our question!

We walked towards the Piazza San Marco again amazed by the volume of pigeons in such a relatively small area. It was especially amazing that people would feed them by hand and encourage them to land on them! We headed towards the Correr Museo to get tickets that would allow us into the Basilica Museo and Palazzo Ducale, or Doge’s Palace. We toured the Correr Museo just because then headed over to the Palazzo Ducale. We noticed the campanile (bell tower) had a short line, so up we went to take in the views. They were magnificent! We were blessed with the bells ringing when we were up there, and were almost able to hear once we made it down! The views were really amazing and it was well worth going up. The elevator was a little bit of a disappointment, but I was a bit sore from the flight and the 8+ hours of walking yesterday so it was ok!

The Palazzo Ducale is a similar concept to the Tower of London. It housed the government from 1150-1450 as well as a prison. The prisoners arrived by water, so the last sight of freedom they had was the “Bridge of Sighs”. The palace was impressive and rather large. We were hungry so we grabbed a snack- Kim got foccachia which was actually a pizza crust with melted cheese, greens of some kind and fresh tomatoes. I got a prosciotto cotta y formaggio panini and a prosecco. We decided to hit the travel office to get tickets to Florence for tomorrow then headed out to see some churches. Yes, I am obsessed with them. We headed in the direction that we THOUGHT would get us to the Rialto bridge.. and walked, and walked, and walked. Lost again! Somehow we got so turned around we managed to walk a good half hour out of our way into a whole different neighbood in Venice called Castello. We saw the Armory/military building before we realized!

We finally made it to the Rialto bridge and crossed over. The neighborhood was very quaint and we enjoyed wandering. We found the San Polo Church, which was closed, and continued on until we saw the Frari Church. We walked around and toured the Scuolla San Rocco, Scuolla Church and Frari church. All were beautiful in different ways and styles. The Frari Church was brown brick on the outside and the most ornate and largest inside. The Scuolla had the most beautiful paintings, but it was very dark. It’s funny because our guide books as well as friends warned us about dress code in churches: no exposed knees or shoulders. So we both wore capris, had closed toes shoes in our bag, and Kim had a short sleeved shirt but I brought a cardigan with me. Never did we get questioned, though, of course if we hadn’t brought the accessories, I’m sure it would have happened!! We then headed towards the area that my friend Sandy told me about with an interesting chocolate and hazelnut ice cream, but I had left the paper in the room unfortunately and wasn’t sure I had the right place. And we had just eaten and weren’t very hungry, so we wandered around and came upon a beautiful park called Giardino Papadopoli near the grand canal. We exited and walked along the canal which was gorgeous. We found a store with some beautiful Murano glass, which Venice is known for. We both found things that we liked, but the place is near the hotel that we are staying at on our last night in town so we’ll head back most likely. Across the canal is the bus station and the train terminal, so we know where we’re going tomorrow to take the train to Florence.

We continued walking through the Santa Croche neighborhood, which was beautiful and quaint. We found a nice little campo and sat down for a drink and to rest our feet. We had done a ton of walking today, from 10 until around 10 tonight!! It was great for people watching and there were some really cute dogs walking around. Not many dogs, but those that I’ve seen all have nice collars and most don’t walk on leashes. There was a big fat cat sitting in the courtyard too, much to a dismayed dog’s view!

We continued walking, heading towards Rialto. We came upon a quaint little restaurant with a menu all in italian and thought “perfect!” What a wonderful meal! We had a mixed seafood dish, some salami and cheese, and two pasta dishes of tagiatelli with clams and a red sauce, and spaghetti and shrimp with olive oil. Both had fresh made pasta, and accompanied by a nice red wine, it was the perfect meal. We of course had to end it with gelato. Hey, we saw people eating it at breakfast time so we’re not going to feel badly. We do need the dairy anyways!!
We made our way back which seemed much more simple for some reason! Made our way over the Rialto bridge, and headed back to the hotel, wandering through the narrow alleyways and taking in the sights. We found our hotel with little issue. It’s so funny what a maze the narrow alleyways are here sometimes! Almost like someone picks up the city, and moves it on us!! And then it goes right back to where it was. Strange.

We plan to get up and out to see a few more things tomorrow before our train just before 3. I’ve really loved Venice, and I’m glad that I will have another partial day here to explore when we get back from Florence. It’s funny as the city isn’t so large, but it seems to take forever to get anywhere. Possibly because we keep getting lost!! The map is useful for orientation, however, not very good to determine exactly where you are. Roads that appear straight dead end, and you end up hopelessly lost! But we’ve figured out way for the most part! We’ll be staying in Cannaregio when we get back, not far from the train in the northern section of Venice. Looking forward to exploring a new part of the city that’s a bit off of the beaten tourist path. Also looking forward to hearing the beautiful bells in the morning when we are waking up! We have the window open and we’re taking in the wonderful breeze. It’s just gorgeous here!