Posts Tagged ‘beaches’

If you have never been to Positano, look at how hilly and steep it looks in photos. Then multiply that by about 10. THAT’S how hilly and steep it is. I have to admit; the first day…..we were kind of grumpy. The hotel was not exactly what we had imagined. It looked great on paper, but in person….not so much. It was basically someone’s home that they had converted to a B&B. Of course, they still lived there

as well, which made for close quarters. They had done this recently and it was very obvious that they were very new to being hoteliers. While they were lovely, they were inefficient and also told us way too many of their problems, like how their porter was ripping them off, etc. I barely want people I know to bitch to me about work, much less the people I am paying to stay with.

Our bedroom had a lovely, if terribly overgrown terrace….that it shared with the room next door. So, no chance of sleeping with the doors open to the view and ocean sounds. Not to mention having to close the doors every time you change or want any privacy. It was also decidedly shabby, despite having just been started up. The bed linens and blanket seemed really old and not in a cool way. In a “I just pulled this out of my dead grandmother’s closet and threw it on the bed” kind of way. We decided to spend one night and then decide in the morning about changing hotels. I did feel lucky that at least we had an ensuite bathroom. All the other rooms had to use the one across the hall from us.

Walking to dinner through the heart of town didn’t improve our mood. It seemed to be jammed pack with American senior citizens, all off some cruise ships. I am also a tourist, so it seems silly to begrudge other tourists. But I also go to a place like Italy to see Italy and Italians, and not Nebraskans. So, that made us grumpier. Then at dinner, John confessed he was also grumpy because he was disappointed in us. He always takes pride in the fact that we can make the best of the anything and roll with it, so to speak. But in this instance, we were pouting, in one of the world’s most beautiful places. We decided to suck it up, stay at the hotel, and just make the best of it. How much time would be spent in the room anyway?

First thing in the morning, the proprietess of the B&B comes up to us a breakfast nervously. ” How many days did you say you were saying?” she asks us, looking worried. Apparently, she had accidently given us the “good room” that was meant for an Australian couple with a toddler. They had delayed their arrival by one night, not cancelled it as she had thought. She tells us they have another property, “just up the hill” and would we move there. “Just up the hill” has me worried as this is Positano. But we agree to go look. Turns out they have bought a whole other B&B from another hotel. It is still in the same vein as the first place, but cleaner and fresher. And with an amazing, uncluttered terrace all to ourselves. We quickly agree to move. We later decided that the universe had rewarded us for at least trying to roll with it.

As the days went by, Positano grew on us more and more. We realized that we had to get away from the main section of town where the ferry boats come in. That way, we avoided many of the cruise ship hordes. We found little nooks and crannies of delight. One day we rented a boat all day. I was inspired by another blog to do so and it was AMAZING. We went off by ourselves, exploring the coast line and swimming and lying in the sun. We wanted to do this again and again. But unfortunately the weather didn’t cooperate. Some serious rain came in. As they had terrible wildfires in August, all the sudden rain caused tons of dirt to come down the hills into the ocean. Even once the rain had subsided, the ocean was too churned up for boating.

So, we had several day trips. My favourite was the day we hired a car to go wine tasting. The driver also arranged for us to first go olive oil tasting. It was incredible. It was a locally owned oil maker called Fratoio Ferraro. We tasted all varieties, including lemon, orange, basil, and truffle. I think the lemon oil is my favourite. While all the other flavoured oils are made through infusion, the lemon and the orange are made by pressing the olives along with the peel of the citrus. It is so clean and soft tasting. I am addicted! We ordered a ton of oil to be delivered to our house in Dublin.

We then went wine tasting at a winery on the side of Mt. Vesuvius. The pictures don’t convey how majestic it is. We met the winemaker and he took us into the vines and we tasted grapes off the vine. Then we had an amazing meal from all local products, paired with the various wines. Of course, we bought a ton of wine too. I mean, you can’t buy it in stores, so we had to. Right? On the way home, after wine and a huge lunch….the driver put on this soft opera….well, you can see what happened very quickly……

By the end of the five days, we really had fallen in love with Positano. I can see why it inspires so much tourism and cinematic love. On our last evening, we met an American couple who now spend four months of the year there and said they started off like us, just visiting for a few days. Then each year, they came back for a longer and longer time. Four months a year in Italy, huh? I could get used to that. Hmmmm…………..

 

Here is a full list of my recommendations:

 

Sorrento

La Syrene Hotel– Amazing, high-end restaurant with the most sumptuous wisteria covered terrace. Impeccable service that you definitely pay for.

Grand Hotel La Favorita – Equally nice rooftop bar, but more down to Earth prices and much less stuff. Nice view of the hills as well as the sea.

L’antica Trattoria – AMAZING food and lovely patio setting. If you’re lucky, the waiter will spoon feed you.

I Giardini di Tasso – beautiful garden and you can eat in a Roman Arch with candlelight. Molto romantico!

 

Positano Area

Cantina del Vesuvio – www.cantinadelvesuvio.it

Dona Rosa – in Montepertusa, above Positano – This is where I was given a wine glass as big as my head!

Olive Oil – Fratoio Ferraro www.frantoioferraro.it

Ristorante Max – Lovely, fancy in city center

Villa Maria – Ravello: Great for the view. Lovely outdoor seating.

Cumpa Cosimo – Ravello: Very authentic place for good value. Run by a woman who looks like an Italian nona from the movies!

 

December 10, 2012 - Posted by gothamfamily

Portugal October 2012 – The Algarve

Since moving to Ireland, I had heard a lot of about the beaches and holidaying in the Algarve area of Portugal. To be honest, I had never heard of it and Portugal in general didn’t interest me much. I had been to Lisbon, Fatima, and Coimbra all briefly in my 20’s while living in Madrid. It struck me as a downmarket Spain: dirtier, poorer and less interesting. I am glad to say that my impression of the beach areas of the Algarve are somewhat different. First off, there ARE lots of similarities to Spain. Sharing the Iberian Penisula makes this inevitable. But Portugal is a distinct country with its own language, food, and culture. I found the people to be equally as warm as the Spanish and just as welcoming. I could even get around with just my Spanish, although I attempted to speak as much Portuguese as I could muster.

 

The beaches themselves were quite beautiful, with reddish-orange cliffs dropping into the blue green sea. It was still warm enough to swim, although the water could be described as bracing by this time in October. I would say that many parts of the Algarve are too touristy and developed for my taste, much like the Costa del Sol area in Spain. When all the signs are in English and most people in the town are British/Irish retirees, it can dampen the feel that you are in a foreign country. I don’t feel the need to have a “full Irish” whenever I leave home to travel. But then again, I’m not Irish. Maybe I would’ve been thrilled if they had American style breakfasts everywhere. The prices were certainly rock bottom. I don’t think we paid more than €25/pp for any dinner including wine and we were frequenting the nicer places in town. That being said, the little town we were in did also cater the retirees on a budget. I would be interested to go back to the beaches in Portugal, but pick somewhere a little off the beaten tourist track. I would also like to go in the summer, maybe not August as the height of holiday craziness. But a May or June visit would be lovely. I am glad for the chance to see it and to re-open my mind about Portugal. I think I was only cheating myself.

 

October 15, 2012 - Posted by gothamfamily

Wow! We LOVE Spain!

 

After an amazing trip to Rome for my 40th, with no kids (wahoo!), John and I did a quick turnaround in Dublin to grab the kids and head out on spring break. Since  Ireland has the most ridiculously large amount of school holidays, they had two weeks off. We took advantage of this to travel Tuesday through the following Wednesday. This gave us an 8-day trip, cheaper flights because it was mid-week both ways, and John only had to take off four days, because of Easter. Win win. We decided to head back to Spain, since there is so much to see there and I have the added bonus of speaking the language. Plus, I love it. So, the plan was this: four days in Barcelona, 2 days in Valencia and then 2 days in a beach town just south of Barcelona, called El Vendrell.  Because there are so many of us, we need two hotel rooms wherever we go. This can limit the hotel choices as well. Luckily, John is a Starwood member with some good ranking, so they tend to upgrade us, or at least give us a bottle of much-needed wine when we arrive.

We got to Barcelona late, arriving at almost 11. The three big kids did well, cruising on the excitement of the trip. And Noah was also amazingly good, considering he was up about five hours past his usual bedtime. The only hiccup was when the cabdriver accidently smacked Lincoln in the mouth with a suitcase as he was loading the trunk. Lincoln had bent down to retrieve the beloved blankey and the guy just didn’t see him. That might be a record….getting a fat lip before we even leave the airport.

We got to the hotel about midnight. Now this being Spain, the land of dinner doesn’t start until 11pm, it didn’t occur to me that we wouldn’t be able to get milk for Noah when we got there. But the hotel, a Sheraton, was located in more of a business area, not a tourist or residential zone. As such, there was nothing opened around and their own restaurant had just closed. I explained my dilemma to the nice African man who was putting in the extra bed and opening the adjoining doors for the room. He took me down to the restaurant, went in back and got someone to sell me a carton of milk out of the kitchen! So nice. And he wouldn’t even take a tip! He said he had a two-year old at home and knew how it was.

John & Soph - Barcelona

We spent the next several days site seeing and enjoying Barcelona. The weather wasn’t great, but better than what we had left behind so we were happy. The city has lots of attractions that kids are into. We did the aquarium, the chocolate museum (although some of the chocolate sculptures were grey they were so old. Not that the kids cared. Look! Chocolate Spongebob!), and a gondola ride all the way to the top of Montjuic. This last one has an amazing view of the sea to the front and all of Barcelona to the back.

Riding the gondola to the top of Montjuic

 

We also had long lunches with lots of wine for me and John, so that we probably enjoyed the kid stuff more than normal. We were lucky to have a great dinner out one night with our Dublin friends, the Smiths. They were also there for the break, but were headed north for a few days on the Costa Brava, while we were headed south to Valencia. We had paella and jamon and basic merriment while all the kids made videos of each other at the other end of the table. Speaking of food, I was so proud that the kids decided on this trip that they liked patatas, croquetas, and the jamon, which they referred to as “bacon ham”. Who wouldn’t like “bacon ham”??

Saturday morning before Easter we were supposed to head out to Valencia. I had rented a car online with Avis, but through the American website. I got a great deal and had rented a 6-seater. Once I got to the Avis, it turned out that the car they gave me was a 5-seater. SMALL  5-seater. It was the same car I had rented, but apparently there are different versions. This Avis was a small rental depot in a warehouse area. All the cars they had there were only there for pickup for reservations. It wasn’t like the airport where they have tons of cars to choose from. This little thing was it. Also, because it was Easter weekend, there were no cars available anywhere else in the city. So, I drove the tin can back to the Sheraton, praying that John could figure out what to do. I just couldn’t see how the six of us (including a car seat) and four big bags and a stroller were going to fit in this car. I explained the situation to him and with a grave look on his face, he went down to the curb to see for himself. A few minutes later, he came back and claimed he thought we could make it fit, if two kids shared the front seat. With no bigger car available, the trains sold out, and a pre-paid reservation awaiting us in Valencia, we went for it. We looked like a clown car. It was like one of those wooden block puzzles that only fits together if you fit the pieces in correct order. Five very cramped hours later, we made to Valencia to the Westin there. On a beautiful little side street, the Westin was a true oasis. The center courtyard  was done in a Moroccan style, with flowers and tall palms, and tinkling fountains throughout. Truly charming. We sat in the sun and had a much needed cocktail, while the kids blissfully watched Disney Channel in English. (The Disney Channel in Barcelona had only been available in Spanish.) I’m not sure why they were so excited by this….they’ve seen so many of the shows so many times, that they could translate it from memeory.

Valencia - the Puente de Flores (Flower Bridge)

Valencia was a gem. There is a gorgeous linear park, which is actually a string of separate parks that was developed along the old riverbed that runs through the city. At one end is The City of Science, and amazing all-white complex made up of several different buildings, including a performing arts hall, planetarium, natural science museum and aquarium. We had come here specifically for the aquarium, so that is where we headed our first full day in the city. Kids love aquariums, no doubt. And I was interested in comparing it to the aquarium in Atlanta. It didn’t disappoint.  It had Beluga whales, penguins, an aviary, and its own dolphin show. However, I would have to say that it was showing its age a bit. Also, it’s made up of several small buildings. To see the attractions you have to go down stairs or an elevator in each building and most of them are not connected to each other. So, it was a LOT of up and down, up and down, especially with a stroller. Per our custom, we decided to have a nice long sit-down lunch. There was a circular restaurant (again, downstairs) where you are surrounded by a wall of fish.

Big John at the "Fish Wall"

While the prices and the atmosphere were more along the lines of fine dining, it was full of children since it was smack in the middle of the aquarium. Funny thing was, the maître d’ was hilariously pretentious and full of himself. Not even in Rome, at my crazy nice birthday dinner, did anyone take their duties so seriously.  Anyway, once we were done eating, we took some pics of the kids in front of the fish, which at one point caused Lincoln to tell John, “Hey. You already had your turn at the fish wall, Buddy!”.

On the way to and from the aquarium, we had noticed this unbelievable kid park, in the linear park. It had an enormous play structure built to look like Gulliver from Gulliver’s Travels. The day we were leaving Valencia for El Vendrell, we made a point to stop at this park and play. It is a must-see if you are ever in Valencia.

Gulliver Park, Valencia

It looks like Gulliver is a giant, lying in the sand, and everyone climbing on top are as small, by comparison, as the Lilliputians. You could slide down his belt, five people across and in fact, I saw several families doing just that. You could climb up his hair or explore his show. It was so very, very cool.

El Vendrell is a very small beach town just about an hour south of Valencia. It definitely is local, and probably filled with Spanish sun seekers in the summer. However, at this time of year, it was decidedly sleepy. We stayed at Le Meridien Spa Hotel.  A beautiful property, right on the beach. But it had a weird history, which we didn’t learn until we stayed there. Apparently it was built in the 1920’s as a sanatorium for young boys from the city with tuberculosis. It was thought  that regular exposure to sun and sea air was a good cure. It was run by an order of monks. Sadly, just a few years after it opened civil war broke out in Spain and 15 of the monks were murdered and it closed. I found this very grim and hoped that there would be no late night visitations from murdered monks. Luckily, there weren’t.

Le Meridien, El Vendrell

It wasn’t quite beach weather, but kids don’t care and they had a ball playing in the sand and swimming in the rooftop pool, which was blessedly heated. John and I also got to partake of the spa a bit. It included a huge pool with about ten sets of different jets meant to relax different parts of your body. The funniest ones were these three tall ones that curved over the edge of the pool like a half circle, about two feet high. They were labelled “cervical jets”.  I thought this was hilarious. I think they meant cervical in relating to the spine. But still….cervical jets? It reminded me of another bad translation we saw, in Rome. On the spa menu, they listed one massage as an “Afterbirth massage”. I know what they meant, but still……I don’t want my cervix jetted or my afterbirth massaged, thank you very much.

Finally, it was time to head home. We jammed back into the car and hit the road for Barcelona airport, about thirty miles away. Last time we travelled out of BCN, it was a nightmare, so we wanted lots of time. Ten minutes in, we are approaching a tunnel, with a traffic message board over it. The board is flashing about an acidente about ten miles down the road. The traffic is deadlocked and we just passed an exit, but are now stopped too. Luckily, there is an insane lady behind us who decided to BACK DOWN THE ONCOMING ramp to get down the road below. In other words, reverse down the ramp against the cars coming towards her. John decides to follow suit, but wisely turns around so we are at least headed face first into our deaths. It was the only time in all our years together that I had to close my eyes, I was so scared. I would’ve been yelling at him, but I didn’t want to freak out the kids or make him swerve. Unbelievably, we made it down to the other road, where there was no delay, just lots of fast-moving cars and headed for BCN on back roads. Luckily, there was a lot to see on the back roads, including numerous signs pointing to a town called Peniscola. Not Pensacola. Peniscola. Which led to tons of jokes about penis cola and butt cola and so on and so on. Thank God for potty humour on road trips, with no DVD player or electronics. It reminded me of road trips when I was a kid. We spent hours on such diversions. Until my mom couldn’t take it anymore and gave us all Dramamine so we would fall asleep.  Hmm. I wonder where I can get my hands on some Dramamine for next time……

The Clown Car!

2 in 1 front seat! (Linc loved it. John hated it)

April 26, 2012 - Posted by gothamfamily