Posts Tagged ‘travels’
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.
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:
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!
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!