Posts Tagged ‘Europe’
As our time here in Ireland quickly dwindles, so do our chances for cheap and fast travel around Europe. It is just so easy to get from Dublin to most places within Europe within a matter of a few hours. And with the advent of cheap-o airlines, it almost seems silly not to. So, John and I booked a weekend away in Rome. We stayed at the St. Regis again, because honestly……it’s awesome. We usually get upgraded at Starwood properties and they did not let us down this time. We got a beautiful suite that was actually nicer and bigger than the one we had last year when we went there for my 40th. We only had two nights and mostly the plan was to just hang out, drink great wine, eat great food, and generally be great together. But we did have two items on our must-do list: 1) eat at Ristorante Pietro Valentini and 2) Go check out the Vatican. Now, if you are ever in Rome (and I hope all of you are at least once in your life!) you have got to go eat at this place. It is small, family run, and seriously, crazily delicious. The couple that runs it is so sweet, they even send out Christmas cards to their past customers. She runs the front and he is the chef. Her sister also waits tables. I want you to go because it is the kind of place you want someone to recommend to you…..off the tourist track, local, personal, amazing. And I want you to go because the owner told us how bad things had been the past six months or so. She is hoping that the summer season, with all its tourists, will pick things up. But she doesn’t know. Anyway, they are known for their truffles that they grate over your pasta (and other dishes If you so wish) with crazy abandon. It makes you forget yourself for a moment. But even if you don’t like truffle (like John), the food is to die for. I am particularly fond of their fried zucchini flowers and John swears their caprese salad is one of the best he has had. Since he eats 2 per day whenever we are in Italy, I think he has a good base for comparison.
Here is where I had planned to put a picture of our zucchini flowers and caprese.
But we ate it too fast. So here is a picture of our empty plates. But I did calm down after that and here is a picture of our mains: pasta with truffles for me and prawn risotto for John.
On Saturday, I had booked a tour of the Vatican. I figured this was the way to go for fast entry (I was right) and for the best info on all the Vatican holds (sort of right). The tour met right on time, was small in group, and whisked us right in. And the guide was very knowledgeable. But he seemed a little tired. Like, not physically, but tired of giving this same tour twice a day for several years. But that didn’t dampened how amazing the sites in the Vatican are. That being said, it got a little overwhelming. So, my recommended approach would be the same I use for the Louvre. You can’t see it all. It’ll take years. Literally. So, do some recon and pick out 4-5 main things or areas you really, really want to see. You can see more the next time you are there. Right? (Power of intention…..you WILL be back!).
Half way through, John decided to bow out of the tour as we had walked several hours that morning and his hip was getting the better of him. Plus he wanted to go sit in the sun and drink wine. He slipped away. I stayed with the tour for a few more sections, including Raphael (AWES-MAZING!) But then I too decided to quietly slip away from the tour. I waited until we got into a really crowded room and then I vanished. I had mentioned to the guide that John had left, so I hoped that he would just assume that I had gone to check on him. No such luck. About 20 minutes later (and only 5 minutes into me drinking wine and sitting in the sun with John) I got a text from the tour. They wanted to make sure we were okay, or as John said, to make sure we weren’t unhappy and going to post a bad review. I assured them that no, we were fine and just had to leave because “John has war injuries and the walking was too much”. While this is technically true, it just sounded hilariously serious and crazy in text. It made us giggle. Next, we took a walk around the whole perimeter of the Vatican, having gone the wrong way out of the museum, to get to St. Peter’s square. The tv cameras were all already set up and ready for the conclave to pick the next pope to start in a few days. It was an interesting time to be in Rome: Pope retired, a presidential election that elected no one and the current President just prosecuted for fraud (Berlusconi). But the Italians seem to just get on with it.
We decided to walk back across the river to a wine bar that I saw on the walk down: Sangalio ai Coronari. We got a seat outside in the warm early spring afternoon, a bottle of wine, and chilled. There was a beautiful sky. Life is good.
That night was ate dinner at a very touristy, but friendly place in front of the Pantheon. While the food is okay by Rome standards (which means pretty great by other standards) you can’t beat the view of the Pantheon or the active vibe.
Sunday dawned a bit rainy, but glorious by Dublin standards, so we headed out. We did some clothes shopping, as one does in Italy! Then we wandered over to Trastevere. It little windy streets and funky shops are charming. It was fun to browse and then share a bottle of wine at an outdoor café and people watch. The corner we were of definitely saw some characters, including one guy who looked like he’d gotten lost from the 80’s, possibly from the hairband “Nelson”! I’m just sorry I didn’t get a picture of him.
All in all, it was another amazing visit to Rome and an amazing time to be there. The Italians just get on with it and don’t let the uncertainty of life impede their enjoyment of it. Bunga Bunga! I am sure we will be back to Rome….truly the Eternal City.
After some careful deliberation (about 5 nanoseconds) John convinced me that the kids had really had their holidays while we were in Atlanta, and that we should have a kid-free holiday on our own in September when the kids were back in school. Sounds good to me. But we did want to have some trip with them during the summer, even a small one. We decided on Edinburgh. Everyone I have talked to about the city raves about it. I’ve wanted to see it for some time. And it is super close. August is a great time to see Edinburgh.
The Fringe Festival goes on the whole month. For those who aren’t familiar, it is the world’s largest arts festival, happening the whole months, with literally thousands of acts. Also, there is the Edinburgh Royal Military Tattoo which happens every night in August as well, at the castle.
All six of us flew to Edinburgh on a dime, with RyanAir. People bitch and moan about RyanAir, but if you know what you are getting into (super cheap, zero niceties) then it’s great. We stayed at the Radisson Blu which was just inbetween the old town and the new town. Soph and I had been in the middle of reading the first Harry Potter, so it was perfect timing. I have read the whole series, but she is just now getting into it. Reading it together has been such a joy. So, going to the city that supposedly inspired the author was amazing.
Every corner we turned looked like a scene from the book. Plus, add in the atmosphere of the Festival and some gorgeous August weather, and we were hooked. The hotel faces the castle, which looms above the entire city. So, every night we could see the fireworks that close the nightly tattoo exhibition. The first night we watched from our rooms. The second night, we took all the kids in their pajamas outside in front of the hotel where there was a public square to watch them. Pretty amazing.
We didn’t make any plans before going for which Fringe shows to catch. But there are lots of festival guides around. We picked out a show about amazing bubbles. All three kids got pulled on stage and so did big John. The show host put a bubble around Big John with Lincoln on his shoulders. That’s got to be 8 feet of Gothams in a bubble! The next day we saw a show that involved a lot of potty jokes. Sophie was the most sceptical going in and the boys were super excited. But during the show, it was Sophie and I that were laughing the most at the fart jokes and fake snot. John was laughing but always glancing at me nervously and Lincoln looked flat out annoyed: arms crossed, brows knitted, and at some points putting his head in my lap. After the show, I asked him , “did you not like the show?”. “No. I did NOT. I didn’t like all the mommy jokes.” The comedian had made a lot of jokes at the mommies’ expenses. Like the biggest fart in his “fart collection” belonged to a mom. But I thought it was funny and so did most kids. But I was very touched that my boys were so concerned about my feelings, especially my Linc.
The festival really made the city come alive. Street performers, food vendors, art stalls, magicians. But even without all that, the city itself offers so much. We spent the better part of one day exploring the castle that sits on a high hill above the city. It is actually made up of several buildings and churches and fortifications. The views are outstanding and every kid is fascinated by cannons and castles. It was a fun and relaxing family weekend. I hope we can get back there soon.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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……