Posts Tagged ‘travel’
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.
Since we had not really spent much time in London itself the last time we took the kids to the UK (8 hours?), I decided to do a proper London trip for Feb midterm break. Also, Sophie is in the throes of a serious Harry Potter obsession. I had heard that the Warner Bros. Harry Potter Studios tour, just outside London, was great. It’s where they filmed all the movies and they’ve turned it into an “experience”. It’s not a theme park, as it is not that big and there are no rides. But it was worth checking out. Plus, I wanted to take them to a show, ride the Tube, maybe see Tower of London.
For the first night we were there, I had bought tickets to the Lion King. The kids had no idea what it would be like and kept asking me if there were going to be real lions. Since I had seen it years before (before kids) back in L.A. I knew enough to get good seats, right on an aisle, so that when they come down the aisles from the back of the theater in the opening number we would be right there, up in the lions’ grills. The kids were blown away. And the London theater was fairly small compared to where I saw it in L.A., so we were even closer than I had imagined.
We stayed just off Piccadilly Circus, which was a big hit with the kids, day and night, and made it easier to get around. It was especially convenient to get up the second day and catch the tube to head out to Harry Potter World, as we started calling it. You have to take the tube to a certain station, where you can connect with the Midlands regional train. On the tube, we sit down and Lincoln loudly professes that he loves this train and he doesn’t want to get on the second train when the time comes. I say, “oh, so this is the best train in the world, huh?”. “No. Because this train doesn’t have a buffet.” “No trains have buffets.” “Yep. Yes they do.” “what train?” “The one with Daddy in Switzerland had an awesome buffet. THAT is the best train in the world.” All the people around us started cracking up. Harry Potter World was well worth a visit and even a big hit with the boys who haven’t read the books yet and only seen the first two movies. It was well organized and full of interesting movie and Harry info. Definitely a must for kids of a certain age.
The next day, we hit the Tower of London. It really is impressive, with all the buildings from various ages and its proximity to the Tower Bridge (which most people wrongly thing is the London Bridge). There were lots of guns and armor for the boys and the jewels were a hit with everyone. As we were passing through the umpteenth room of treasure in the crown jewels section, which has the aura of a library, John leans over and stages whispers, “think these people had enough gold??” On the way home , coming up the Tube escalator, Linc didn’t get off at the top and the man behind him sort of had to push/pull him. I really fussed at him about the dangers of not walking off an escalator, especially a crowded on. Then he says, “I was STUCK!!”. Sophie exclaims a few minutes later,” look at Lincoln’s shoe!”. He really was stuck: the escalator had taken in the front of his shoe and eaten it.
Our final night, we bought some last minute tickets at one of those brokers around Piccadilly. Since it was Valentines, the pickings were slim. But there were tickets to Stomp. I had never seen it and I thought that the kids would really be into it. If I had thought the Lion King theater was smaller than expected, I was in for a shock when we got to Stomp. We were in the next to last row in the balcony and I still felt like we were on top of the performers. The funny thing was the kids’ reactions. It wasn’t at all what I expected. Ten minutes in, Linc layed across my lap and fell dead asleep. I mean, mouth open, circle of drool on my skirt, dead asleep. And this has got to be the world’s loudest show. Sophie was mildly interested, but nothing like how she was into Lion King. John John couldn’t sit still he was so excited and loved it so much. Every time I looked over at him, he was grinning ear to ear and drumming in the air and bobbing up and down in his seat. He LOVED it. Half an hour before the end, Linc woke up and was like, “Can we go? Stomp is WEIRD. I do NOT like it”.
The final day we only really had a half day, so we hung around the hotel and went to the pool that they had inside. On the way up, I got a text from Big John that I had been expecting: he was in the lobby. Today he was whisking John John away on his Dad-trip. Since January, he had been taking each of the older kids on a trip with him alone. Sophie was first, heading to Rome. A few weeks after, Linc went to Switzerland to learn how to ski. John John had known he was going to be next, but not when. His wish list for location had been “somewhere I’ve never been before, warm, adventure, and soon!”. So….they were headed to EGYPT!! I knew John John was going to flip. I told him that we had to stop in the lobby on the way up from the pool since I needed to ask the front desk a question. He kept trying to convince me to let him go onto the room alone. Finally, he sees Daddy in the lobby and it clicks in that this just might have to do with his surprise! The grin on his face was classic.
Madrid – December 2012
Hard to believe it, but John and I have now been married for 11 years. I really mean it when I say that time has flown by. I don’t feel like we had our wedding yesterday. But it feels more like 2 or 3 years, not 11. And this is all good. Time to mark the occasion and spend a little time alone, away from the kids, remembering why we are together in the first place. Since John loves Spain, but still had not been to Madrid that seemed a perfect choice. We could stay in a nice place, kid free, and enjoy “la marcha” (nightlife) in Madrid for a couple of days. I could even show him a few of my old haunts from a hundred years ago when I was a student there at the Universidad de Complutense.
We stayed at the lovely Palace Hotel, just off of the Puerta del Sol and half a block from the statue of Neptune. The center of Madrid is always busy, but also very lovely, with tree-lined blocks and lots of green space running in the middle of many streets. Even though it was December, it had almost a fallish feel. Crisp, but sunny. We got there on Friday afternoon and after a couple of rejuvenating glasses of cava in the hotel bar, we headed out. They had recently turned on all the Christmas lights around the city center, including the huge Christmas tree in Puerta del Sol. Apparently the tree is different every year. This year it definitely wasn’t traditional, but very impression and colourful. After a brief paseo (stroll) and a crazy crowded dash through the Christmas Market in the Plaza Mayor, we decided to try a few tapas. It was too early to go to the cuevas just off the Plaza Mayor, so we first hit a small bar nearby. It was called __ (here’s where I was going to insert the name, but I lost the card from the place and can’t find it! Boo!!)____ and it had a small window next to the door, where you could see the bar man slicing up some jamon for a plate of tapas. In Spain (like in Italy) you need to choose whether you want table service or to just stand at the bar. It’s not a matter of a table not being available, but one of choice. At the bar is best if you plan to have a drink and a racion (small serving) and then move on. Table is more appropriate for a bigger meal. We had a nice glass of wine and an even better plate of jamon. We didn’t really chat to anyone, other than each other, except when I asked the older Spanish couple sitting next to us what size plate of jamon they had ordered. Then we moved on to one of my old haunts from student days.
Just outside of the Plaza Mayor is a street of restaurants full of a particular type of tapas restaurant: Las Cuevas. The Caves. I guess they are called this, because they resemble caves….stone walls, usually no windows. Each one has a specialty. One is known for its mushrooms, another jamon. But my favorite is the tortilla one. If you have never had Spanish tortilla, you are missing out! First off, it has zero in common with the Mexican flour or corn tortilla. It’s more of a close cousin to a frittata. Olive oil, eggs, potato and fried onion. Yum! I have made this for years for John and we’ve had it in lots of restaurants across Spain and in the States. So, he was no newbie. But he had never had it here. We sat at one of the small wood tables and stools and ordered up. First bite in, I could see the look on his face….”OH…MY…GOD…this is GOOD!” We ate and drank and laughed and tried to figure out what made this tortilla so much better than the rest. I have my theories, which I will share separately. Maybe in another post. Towards the end of our food, a group of three Spanish girls came in and sat just next to us. They had obviously been shopping and looked like colleges students. When the waiter came over they quizzed him on the prices, then had a private convo about what they could afford, before ordering. We never talked to them, but I was feeling a STRONG pull of nostalgia just looking at them, about my days living in Madrid and being a “studentskate” as my dad would say….the student version of cheapskate….because funds were limited. I told John that I wanted to pay for their meal and he whole heartedly agreed. He’s the guy who carries around extra umbrellas so that he can give them away to people when it rains, so I knew he would be all about it. We walked into the next little room to explain to the staff and pay out of site from the girls. The staff was a bit mystified, until I explained that I went to school in Madrid, a hundred years ago, and knew what it was like to be a budget-conscious student. I wanted to pay for them as an unexpected treat. They seemed delighted by this idea and we paid both tabs. But then they wanted me to stay for “besos” from the girls once they told them. This horrified me! I would be so embarrassed and so would John! We politely declined and fled the scene. Literally. We practically ran. Slowly making our way back to the hotel, we ran into a smaller Christmas market at the Plaza Jacinto Benavent. We bought some gifts and then decided to have a drink at this quirky outdoor bar, which was only there for the market. It was made up to look like a Tyrolean ski chalet, complete with fake snow backdrop and faux fur throws to warm your legs. It was 11:30 at night and it was PACKED. I love Spain. Day one was perfect.
Day two was so gorgeous and sunny; it almost seemed like October instead of December. We headed to the Prado to tick off a few Madrid must-dos: El Greco and Goya. The building itself is a marvel and a beauty, even if the art is not my favorite of the three great museums there: Prado, Reina Sofia, & the Thyssen. We tried to go to the Thyssen next, but a temporary Gauguin exhibit was causing lines out the door and the day’s tickets were sold out. We bought for the next day and instead hopped on one of those red tourist Hop On Hop Off Buses. While they are super touristy, they are a great way to really see a lot of a city in a short amount of time. Plus, the day was so gorgeous; we sat on top in the open air. It was so fun.
That night, John was still thinking about the jamon from the place the night before…the one where we stood at the bar. So we planned to go back and then hit a few more places for a proper tapeo (tapas crawl). But as we approached, the guy at the door saw John and greeted him like a long lost favorite nephew! Shouts, hugs, claps on the back. And it was not a sales technique to get us in (at least I don’t think it was) as we had been there the night before and saw the same guy at the front door with no reaction. He led us to a table, once John said we wanted to eat. As he did, the guys behind the bar had same reaction. Hey! It’s You! I was thinking, wow….did he leave some crazy tip last night? Just as I am about to ask John this, he leans over and whispers to me behind his menu “Do you think that they think I am somebody else?” “I was just wondering about that.” We had a lovely meal (even though I accidently ordered Portobello mushrooms. John’s allergic so we gave them to the table next to us) and thoroughly enjoyed John’s newfound local celebrity. When we left, our waiter stood on a chair and kissed John on top of the head, and announced the whole place “This man is a Marine!” as we left laughing. He had just discovered this, when he noticed John’s tattoo.
I did get to hit the Thyssen on the Sunday. I remembered this being one of my favs, housed in a restored villa of multiple floors. I also remembered that the art goes from oldest to newest, starting at the top floor and that I used to skip down the lower floors. The interesting thing this time was that I spent the bulk of my time on the older art this time, especially some of the religious art that would normally bore me. And it was fascinating! I guess things do change with age. Definitely your perspective. You have more of it. And if you are lucky, your budget. Same thing applies there. The final part of our trip I wanted to highlight was my search for paella. Not just any paella…..but really, really good paella. An internet trawl had led me to www.thetongisneverwrong.com and their entry about paella. So, we tried 54 Boulevard. Excellent. Definitely local. And the whole meal from good from starter to postre. On our last day, we ended up at La Barraca. A place that is famous for its paella (and high prices) that many people call the best in Madrid. Now that I have been to both I will say I think that the paella at 54 Boulevard is better. But La Barraca was also excellent. So it really boils down to budget and what kind of atmosphere you want. Boulevard is family, local, casual, and relaxed. La Barraca seems family-friendly also. More fine-dining in experience and décor. A little serious. But I would take paella from either one, any day! Please! Madrid, me mata. (And apparently, it is MORE Christmas than you, so there. – see below)