AirBnBs…my thoughts!

Being a travel agent, I often get asked to book AirBnBs.  I can’t do this for you, and some travel agents might steer you away from AirBnBs because they can’t make any money off of it, but I won’t do that.  It seems hypocritical.  There are definitely times when AirBnBs just don’t work for me – when we went to Quebec, a hotel was better – it was cheaper and more convenient!  When we go to Disney, we stay ON Disney property.  We’re going to Vegas in April and we are saying on the strip!  But if the opportunity arises that an AirBnb works best, I will jump on it!

For our trip to Paris, an AirBnB was perfect!  It was affordable, it allowed us to stay closer to the action (we are staying in the Latin Quarter just a few blocks away from Notre Dame and across the Seine from the Louvre), it allows us to make some meals at home and one of the best features…we pick AirBnBs that have a washing machine – so we can pack lighter!  An important feature when you are traveling during the winter months!

Our host, Marjolaine, was super responsive to questions, very helpful with tips, and set us up perfectly with directions and anything we needed!  Her father, Carlos and his wife, Jacy, met us at the apartment and explained everything we needed to know.  Carlos made me a coffee while he explained the ins and outs of the apartment, gave us personal recommendations for places to eat and see and generally made us feel welcome, safe and cared for.  I have their phone number and can reach out with any needs if one arises and we feel very at home here!

Here are some pictures of our AirBnB.  In case you love it and want to stay here, this is the link to check it out!  https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/4147207?guests=1&adults=1

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This compact AirBnB is perfect for 2 or 3 people! Check out that drawing loft above the kitchen!

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The view from the front door. Living room straight ahead, bedroom on the left and bathroom on the right.

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The beautiful windows looking out over a courtyard and the city rooftops!

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The ADORABLE bedroom!

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Rooftops GALORE! We are on the 7th floor – there is an elevator that gets us to the 5th floor and we walk the rest of the way!

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Char, two windows down!

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From our windows, you can see the top of the Eiffel Tower!!!! A lovely surprise!

We have had great luck so far in our AirBnB experiences – we have stayed in half a dozen at least in France, Italy and the UK and have enjoyed each experience!  If you have any questions about a stay at an AirBnB, let me know.

Paris Diaries….The Arrival

 

Friday night, my daughter and I embarked on a fantastic journey!  Since September, we have been planning a little mother-daughter adventure to Paris!  My family visited Paris six years ago and for about the past two years, my daughter has been asking to go back.  I found some fabulous airfares on Norwegian Air, booked us an AirBnB and here we go!  Paris or Bust!!

We will only have four nights in Paris, so we are jamming it full of activities, sightseeing and food!!!  Our plans included the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, climbing the towers of Notre Dame, a bike tour of Paris, visiting Jardin des Plantes, Disneyland Paris, walking around the Latin Quarter and making our way to Montmartre.  All tickets have been purchased ahead of time to avoid any queues and even though it’s winter – it’s winter in Maine where I live, so the 40 degree days of Paris in January will be like a heat wave!!!  Oh and I have been brushing up on my French!

Here is a picture diary of our first day – well, half a day since we arrived in Paris at the airport around 10am and made it to the city via train around noonish…..

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The arrival!!!!

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Char with the famous Louvre glass pyramid!

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This is the art hanging in the pyramid right now – it is a “throne” that was created by artificial intelligence. The message is that we need to be wary of AI – foretelling of a time when AI will take over the world hence, the throne.

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Mona Lisa! Look at that smile!

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A mosaic floor – part of the Islamic Art display at the Louvre! Talk about impressive – this example was HUGE!

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A shot of the towers of Notre Dame from Ponte du Carrousel.

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A rose shaped gelato for my princess!

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This is the wonderful street action just around the corner from our AirBnB!

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We pop out of the metro and the phone comes out!!!

Italy…Bits and Pieces (of my heart) Part II -Aperol for the win and travel gurus!

Aperol Spritz is my husband’s Italian (and summer) beverage of choice.  We first experienced this beauty on our first road trip in Italy when we arrived in Sorrento at our lovely Agriturismo, Antico Casal.  Our host made us this famous and refreshing drink to enjoy at sunset – and you, too, can make it here at home.  Aperol is a bitter Italian spirit (available at most liquor stores) but when combined with prosseco, orange juice and soda water, the flavors open up and it becomes a lively Italian sunset in a glass!  While recipes vary regionally, the original is the best and can be found on the Aperol bottle!  I was amazed to find PRE-MADE Aperol Spritz in Italy when I was there in June and may or may not have enjoyed a few bottles (alone)!

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A VERY expensive Aperol Spritz in Venice – 15 Euros – about $18USD, but it WAS a beautiful setting!

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Ok this is an exaggeration – but check out that gorgeous veranda at our Air BnB!

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Pre-Mixed Aperol Spritz!!!

Rick Steves – As a travel enthusiast and vacation planner, I recognize quality and an outstanding product and I think Rick Steves puts out amazing tools for any type of traveler.  I have used and planned many of my own vacations with the help of Rick’s travel guides and keep a small library of his tour books to lend out to clients and friends.  His expertise really lends itself to the adventurous traveler – experienced or novice – and provides resources that enhance a pre-organized vacation, educate the traveler and help the do-it-yourselfer plan effectively to get the most out of their experience.

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For my most recent Italian adventure, my mom, sisters and I used Rick’s mobile App for some pre-trip planning (he has GREAT radio interviews and cultural “lectures” available on the App for your pleasure) as well as using Rick’s guided audio walking tours.  While I will say there were a few hiccups with this method (people pressing “play” at different times and having to catch up or go back from time to time), we thoroughly enjoyed using these audio walking tours we had downloaded onto our phones before we left – we loved the history, the authentic tidbits and the feeling like Rick was our tour guide – well, I guess he WAS!!!  We used his walking tour of Florence, Rome, and Pompeii and really gained a lot of insider information.  Check it out!!!

I love all these tidbits –  They truly ARE bits and pieces of my heart.  I treasure them as sweet memories of adventures, interactions and integrations I will never have again.  I hope you find them helpful, useful and enjoyable and I hope you hold your own bits and pieces of treasured memories.

Quebec – Day 3

This was our final day in Quebec and on our big adventure north.  We decided to stay in the city this day (Friday) and really enjoyed the festive feel of freshly fallen snow and had a wonderful time out and about all day!

We all slept in and got our start after a nice breakfast at our hotel.  We stayed at the Hotel Royal William – this is outside the old city and maybe a 15 minute walk (uphill) to the walled city, but for the fabulous cost for  two rooms for three nights, we couldn’t pass it up!  The rooms were spacious, well kept and the included breakfast was adequate (cereal, pastries, yogurt parfaits, fresh fruit and cheese, coffee, tea and juice).  I would absolutely stay there again with pleasure and we enjoyed the walking each day.  Anyway – at the end of the day, it’s all downhill!

So, the snow – I mean, could it have been more gorgeous?  Maybe if it would have been a tad warmer, but if you’re embracing winter, you WANT a winter wonderland and we got one!!

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On our way to the old city – our hotel, the Hotel Royal William, was two blocks behind us and to the left!

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One of the old city gates. Did you know that Quebec City is the only walled city north of Mexico City? Pretty cool place for this history buff to visit! It was seriously like visiting France in my back yard!!!

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That’s the Chateau Frontenac far in the background!

We strolled to the city and stopped at all the shops – my daughter loved poking around shops and her money always burns a hole in her pocket!  We got some trinkets and moseyed up to Chateau Frontenac to toboggan again, then found our way to Chez Ashton – a chain of fast food restaurants that specializes in poutine.  Thanks Marie-Andree, for the recommendation!  We enjoyed the Quebec must-eat then scooted on our way again!

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Traditional poutine at Chez Ashton.

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Lined up for the toboggan ride!

The afternoon saw more walking around and touring, including Cathedral-Basilica of Notre-Dame de Quebec.  We hit the lower city again, rode the Funicular UP (we got smarter as our visit went on) and HAD to toboggan one more time – and by this time, it was freezing rain so the operators had to spread salt and sand at the bottom of the run because people were sledding OVER the barrier!

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The Lower City was bustling! We had a great time exploring this unique, European feeling Petit-Champlain section of Quebec

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I took this on the way UP the funicular – it reminds me of a Thomas Kincade painting.

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A good icing on top of the cake!

Before we left the Lower City, we HAD to try this classic Quebec maple masterpiece.  It was SO good!  Check this out!

My friend, Marie-Andree – who happens to be from Quebec, asked her dad about some fondue recommendations and we got a great one!  We had some amazing Fondue at La Tyrolienne and were so full we could hardly drive back to our hotel!  Fondue = FUNdue!!!!

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Our appetizer..bread dipped in cheese!

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Everyone got a platter of thinly sliced beef, then there was shrimp and chicken to fondue as well!

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Dessert – chocolate and maple fondue with fruit!

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My favorite – banana dipped in chocolate.

Our three night escape was the best ever!!!  It went by so fast and we all had a great time!  The drive home was long but we reminisced about the great experiences we had – our favorites were the Siberia Station Spa, tubing, the ice hotel, the toboggan ride and fondue!  Thanks for taking this journey with us and we HIGHLY recommend Quebec City for families, couples and friends!  In a few weeks I’ll share our next “experience” trip – hold on to your hats because we are going to Paris!!!

Check out a short video of our second toboggan run!

 

 

Quebec City – Day 2 – Part II

The second half of our day today was spent at Valcartier Resort.  This place is super cool – COLD, in fact…still about 12 degrees – but hey, we said we were embracing winter with this trip and did we ever!!!

This resort is HUGE!  They have a very cool themed hotel lobby/bustling hub with tickets for activities, restaurants, shops and more!  The resort boasts an indoor water park (we did not do this, much to the two 12 year old’s dismay…since we ARE embracing winter, an indoor water park just didn’t seem right!), two dozen tubing runs, an ice skating path THROUGH their ghost town of summer delights (outdoor water park) that you begin right from the central hub building, and Valcartier is the home of Quebec’s own ICE HOTEL, or Hotel de Glace!

OK – so here is the focus of this short story…the ICE HOTEL.  It was open for tours, and drinks, but not yet for guests – that starts on January 4th.  And as fabulous as it might have been to stay there, the hotel is kept at a balmy 13 degrees, so aside from being pretty pricey, I just don’t think it’s my thing!  But, I have never seen anything quite as amazing!  There is a chapel, the main hotel building boasting a gorgeous lobby, grand hall, ice bar WITH ice seating, a discotech and four rooms were on display – more under construction down the hall!

Check this out…..

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Here is the link to Valcartier if you want to check it out!  https://www.valcartier.com/en/  On tap for tomorrow….well, it will be snowing in Quebec City, so get ready for some amazing pictures of the old town and lower city!

Quebec – Day 2 – Part 1…The Siberia Station Spa

OK.  Raise your hand if you remember that Warrant song, “Heaven Isn’t Too Far Away”?  Well, today I think I found it.  This morning, we visited the Siberia Station Spa for their morning “family hours” (special hours from 9am-noon during holiday break to include families) and I am pretty sure I found winter heaven on earth!

I am not going to waste a lot of words here because in this case, a picture speaks a thousand words and I have a lot of pictures!  Let me just briefly explain the Siberia Spa concept and then include a few of my observations, then let the pictures tell the story!

The Siberia Station Spa is modeled after Scandinavian spas – the magic takes place in three acts; hot, cold, relax.  It’s THAT simple – go somewhere hot, partake in something cold, then find a place to relax….then REPEAT!

The hot option……there were plentiful options for everyone – hot tubs, infrared saunas, traditional saunas and a eucalyptus infused steam room (OH MY GOODNESS!!!)

Cold….well, since today was about 11 degrees, the COLD portion of this adventure could simply be walking from a hot spot to a relaxation spot, but I am proud to say all my people took full advantage of the ice cold plunge pools more than once and benefited greatly from them.  They were AWESOME!!!  There were a number of ice cold pools in the vicinity of each hot offering and from time to time, you can even dip in the gorgeous babbling brook that abuts the spa (this was closed today).

Relaxation – the options were fabulous.  There were a number of yurts – all with swinging chairs and warmth – one had windows facing towards the river and my favorite was toasty warm with a huge wood burning fireplace in the middle!  Other relaxation offerings were a beautiful windowed-in pergola and a dream zone – a huge barrel dug into the hillside (Hobbit-like) with cushioned bench seats and relaxing music.

Some important details…..the Spa is about 15 minutes from the old town of Quebec City.  We paid $27 Canadian dollars each for this special family time.  Typically, children are not allowed and with good reason – the whole point of this place is to relax!  I have kids – and they are not relaxing!  Bathing suits are MANDATORY as are footwear – think flip flops.  You may bring your own robes and in this weather, I highly recommend it!  You may also rent them for $7 Canadian.

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I cannot rave enough about how amazing this place was!!!  I cannot wait to come back here with just my hubby, a book and more time!   We are scheming ways we can make one of these places at our house!!  hahahahaha

Here is the website if you want to check it out on your own – http://siberiastationspa.com/home/

Quebec City – The arrival!

This year for Christmas, we tried to make a point to tone down the “things” and focus more on experiences and memory making opportunities.  Our first family experience is a road trip to Quebec City, Canada.  We left today, the day after Christmas, and I would love to share a bit of our day to day with you as we go!  Here is a snapshot of our our travel day and first experience walking around when we arrived!

We left our house in southern Maine around 8:15am.  My husband, daughter, son, my son’s girl friend and my daughter’s BFF were in for a 7 hour ride!  It was a great ride – we stopped once outside of Skowhegan for lunch, gas and a potty break, then stopped once more for a coffee break once we got into Canada.  The border crossing was easy (5 passports and 1 birth certificate and government issued ID) and we thought we made great time!

We arrived at our hotel – the Hotel Royal William – and checked into our two rooms (girls and boys)!  Note: when traveling to Quebec Province, make sure you know a little French!  We all know a bit and do our best to ingratiate our hosts by trying to speak French, but everyone here also speaks English, so a happy Bonjour goes a long way!!

We got settled then hit the road to explore!  We are staying about a mile outside of the Old City and it was 13 degrees when we left the hotel this afternoon around 4pm, so we bundled up and started our hike up hill!  And I mean UP HILL!  Walking around Quebec City isn’t for the faint of heart – but we enjoyed the brisk air and exercise after being hold up in the car for 7 hours!  The walk was lovely since we were hitting it at sunset and we reached the Old City in no time!

The city is so beautiful all decked out with lights for the holidays.  This is our first time in Quebec and so far, we love it!  We found an adorable little restaurant for dinner and had bison burgers, meat pie, lobster bisque and a plethora of maple desserts!  After dinner, we headed towards the Chateau Frontenac, where we spied the boardwalk, funicular and toboggan run!  Check out these fun pictures!

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After the toboggan run (with a lot of screaming, praying and our lives flashing before our eyes), we headed down the funicular to the Lower City to wind through some gorgeous old world streets!  We checked out a few shops, tasted some macarons and took some more gorgeous pictures – then we started our walk back UP to the Chateau area, then back to our hotel.  Check out these gorgeous night time pictures of this magnificent riverside city!

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Tomorrow, we are headed first to the Siberian Spa (woot woot), then perhaps tubing?  Skating? Cross country skiing? More city walking??  Who knows!  Until then – good night; bon nuit!

PS – Can I just say that I love the word, “funicular”!  I mean, the word starts with FUN!!!!!

 

 

To adorn and be adored…

Last week, my whole family went to go see Mary Poppins Returns.  It made me smile the WHOLE time!!!  It was such a Disney-esque movie – the music, the animation, the signing, the sets…..I loved how they took the original, ran it into a sequel, but made a wholly unique movie all at the same time.

Something that was woven throughout the movie was the idea of memories.  I love the memories I make when I travel – whether with family, friends or for work.  I gather together pieces of knowledge, memories of destinations, winding roads and unexpected journeys.   I started thinking about some of the “things” I treasure most from my travels, and right now, those things include the ornaments I try to collect from each destination.  Sometimes I forget, but I usually remember to get some small trinket/ornament every new place we go – except for Disney- we try to get one each time we go and we are starting a rather nice collect:)

Along with the picture books I have made of our travels, these ornaments serve as a tangible memory of a place seen and experienced.   Year after year, they restart a conversation of times past, adventures taken, dreams accomplished, destinations enjoyed and precious memories with people I love.  I feel joy each year when I hold them in my hands to put them on our tree to adorn and be adored.  And after every New Year, I tenderly put them away to await their reveal for the next Christmas Season.

Recently, I have been on a kick of purging personal items – I feel we have too many “things” that we don’t need and these “things” own us.  I read somewhere that when thinking about keeping or getting rid of something, I should ask myself if it has a constant purpose or if it gives me joy.  These ornaments are some of the few “things” I have that truly give me joy and they won’t be headed out with the purging boxes:)

Here are some pictures of a few of my favorite travel ornaments, where they came from, and a memory I have of these places experienced!  Enjoy and Merry Christmas!

Disney ornaments

Some of our Disney favorites – I love the one in the foreground that is the Mickey ears representing the Haunted Mansion! Right near Liberty Square in Magic Kingdom, there is an adorable ornament shop I love visiting each time we go to Disney! Next month, my daughter and I are going to Disneyland Paris and we will get a lovely ornament there, too!

San Gim ornament

I picked up the gem of San Gimignano, Italy when I was there in June of 2018 with my step-mom and sisters. It was their first trip to Italy and I got to be the tour guide. San Gimignano is a beautiful Tuscan hill town with so much charm and flare and happens to have TWO amazing gelaterias in the same common square!

San Marino ornament

San Marino – the third smallest country in Europe, was a delight to visit! We were road-tripping in Italy and stayed overnight in Remini on the Adriatic. We were driving across country to Sorrento but HAD to make a stop in San Marino and I am so glad we did! It was gorgeous but BOY was it windy!!! I have a picture my husband took of me standing at the top of one of the guard towers and it is so windy my hair was swirling on top of my head like a tornado!

Winsor ornament

I love this beautiful ornament from Kensington Palace. When we visited the palace in May of 2015, all of Britain was on royal baby watch for Princess Kate and Prince William’s second born. This baby would be a girl – born the morning we visited Kensington – and she would be named Charlotte. I have my very own princess Charlotte and she was thrilled to learn the baby’s name while we visited!

Positano ornament

Oh, Positano – breathtaking!!! On our first visit there in 2016, we had rented scooters and scooted our way up and down the Amalfi Coast! What an AMAZING day! Our first stop was Positano and we parked our scooters and walked down to the shore. There, we enjoyed the peace and quiet of an early April morning with some coffee and a view that was indescribable!

Firenza ornament

Florence, or Firenze to the Italians. This city is steeped in history, gorgeous architecture and a surprise around every corner! I have visited twice, each for one day, and both experiences have been wonderful. On my first trip it was a rainy April day. We climbed the dome of the cathedral and although it was raining when we got to the top, I cannot imagine what the view would have been like had it been a clear day – because even with the rain it was wonderful!

Cozumel ornament

This little beauty is from Cancun, Mexico – something I picked up while on a girls trip on a 5 night cruise out of Tampa. My usual girl’s trips involve a beach, so this one was a bit different, and while I hit the hay every night around 10pm, my BFFs partied until the wee hours! No worries – we all go on vacation for different reasons – they went to dance; I went to sleep!

 

 

 

The Great Italian Food Tour, Part II

Last time, I shared with you the amazing start to our Italian adventure – culinary style!  I covered our first night’s cooking class, gelato and pizza in San Gimignano, our most expensive meal in Venice, and how we happened upon the BEST taverna in Italy – and met Guiseppe!!!  Here we are for part two, which kicks off in Rome!

Our first night in Rome we arrived around 4pm and immediately hit the streets for an audio walking tour that we enjoyed via our free downloaded Rick Steves App!  I highly recommend this option for the adventurous traveler and will delve into this great traveling tool in another blog!!!

This evening we enjoyed some street food (and gelato) while we roamed the streets of ancient Rome, beginning at Fiore del Campo (the field of flowers) and ending at the Spanish Steps.  I won’t give too many details as I intend to do that another time, but let me just say there was a wonderful surprise around every corner and our hot paninis, espressos and slices of pizza did not disappoint!!!

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Our second day in Rome was a walking extravaganza!  We started off with egg sandwiches at home (the beauty of staying at an AirBnB is that you can make a few things at your home base and save money for the bigger meals) and hit the road for our Vatican Tour.  For lunch we stopped en-route to the Colosseum at a street side taverna and enjoyed wine (duh), pizza, caprese and more.  We had gelato at least once😊 and walked about 12 miles this day and it was HOT!!!!  But one of the best experiences of this day was our dinner….

Being Americans, we tend to eat earlier than most Europeans.  We were toast from a LONG day of touring and walking and headed to dinner near our accommodations around 6pm.  We picked a lovely taverna we had passed on the way to the Vatican (our “home” was about 3 blocks from the Vatican) and settled in for an amazing meal.  Our server was fabulous and the food was great – but what made THIS particular meal so memorable was the fact that near the end of our meal (when most Italians are thinking about going out to dinner) 20+ priests walked into the taverna to have dinner – it was like the set up for a joke, “Twenty priests walk into a bar….”!  It was so ROME – next door to the Vatican – and they just settled in to a great meal – now, we might have been a bit punchy with wine, too much walking and a gorgeous limoncello toast, but this rounded out our Roman experience like no other!!!!

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We departed Rome and headed for Sorrento.  On the way, we stopped at an Italian Autostrada rest stop – these cool inventions are fantastic and a cultural experience on their own and deserve to be highlighted.  These traditionally stretch OVER the highway and are pretty monstrous buildings.  They have restrooms, cool gift shops and WONDERFUL fresh cuisine that is not what you would expect at a rest area.  If you ever road trip in Italy, I highly encourage you to stop and check these out even if you don’t NEED to – it is an Italian experience!

Our arrival in Sorrento was thankfully, uneventful – aside from arriving early and having to wait on meeting our AirBnB host at our apartment – which, by the way, was lovely – more on that in another post.  We had been eating out a lot so this evening, my sister, Kelly, decided to cook for us, so we ventured down the street to the local Carrefour (European grocers that we have found in Italy, France and England and I am sure they are elsewhere – but you know what you will find there so that is nice once you are able to recognize some chains) and picked up some staples – eggs, wine, cured meats, cheese, pasta, bread, basil, coffee and chicken breast – and my sister made us an incredible homemade Italian meal!  It was great to eat at home, relax on the balcony and soak in the Sorrento charm.  That evening, we picked up our scooter rentals for our next day of touring (don’t miss THAT blog for sure!) and we walked off our dinner enjoying the winding ancient streets of Sorrento.  And we had gelato!!

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The next day was our self-touring scooter extravaganza – and memories we will never forget – especially the picnic lunch we enjoyed at Villa Cimbrone in the cliff-side Amalfi Coast town of Ravello.  We had planned a lovely picnic for this day of adventure including our meats, cheeses, bread and sweet treats and had the most delightful picnic in the most amazing setting on the Amalfi!  Picnicking is one of my favorite ways to really experience the joy and simplicity of Italian food, so don’t miss out on this classic culinary gem.  Here are a few pictures…

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Our final full day in Italy was anchored by a train ride to Pompeii and Rick Steves audio tour of this ancient delight.  I have, for a long time, been a connoisseur of history, culture, languages and people.  Pompeii is an iconic destination for people like me and in my book, only second to visiting the Great Pyramids of Giza (someday!!)  We had our customary breakfast at home, picked up some panini on the road, enjoyed some gelato in Pompeii, then had a lovely sunset dinner at a hotel across the street from our apartment.  Our last meal in Italy was a feast for the senses and as we had done so many times before, we each got a different dish and shared – and no one was disappointed.  This meal really highlighted the­­­­­­­­­­ unique and fresh cuisine of Sorrento – with daily caught fish, lemon risotto (let me tell you – there is NOTHING like a Sorrento lemon), gnocci with red sauce and wine!  It was a bittersweet meal that put the icing on an amazing culinary journey taken by four women, ready to taste Italy!!!

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I don’t know if you have noticed the theme aside from food, but it’s the people, the sights and the senses that are awakened by experiencing something different.  Travel is a story that unfolds through the eyes, the ears, the nose, the mouth and through touch.  It is one of our only activities that engages us on so many levels, and I believe that is why travel is something we desire so greatly.  There are so many adventures to have, people to meet and experiences to have.  Happy Travels!!

Indulge me a bit and enjoy this short time lapse video of us scooting our way up, up, up to the cliff side town of Ravello!

The Great Italian Food Tour, Part 1

Italian Food.  I feel like I could just drop the mic right there and walk away from this post…but I would leave so much out!  So here is a run down of the amazing food and beverages I experienced in Italy this past June!

When we think of Italian food, many of us go right to pasta and pizza, and while those are VERY good in Italy (regionally amazing), food in Italy is so much more!  The first things that come to mind for me, having traveled there three times, is fresh, authentic, regional, simplistic, divine!  When I traveled to Italy with my sisters and step mom this past summer, we sought out authentic Italian dining experiences and were rewarded beyond measure.

Let me start with a bit of our family history with food – as it can’t be ignored that one’s previous experiences with any of the five senses shapes their perceptions about new things.  One thing can go without saying – we ALL love food!  Our family gathers around wonderful meals when we come together and delight in trying new recipes, cooking with fresh and healthy ingredients and sometimes over indulging….well, maybe not only sometimes😊  My dad’s most famous line when you join our family for a meals is, “If you go away hungry, it’s your own fault!”  And believe me, everyone is welcome at our table and there is always enough food – thankfully!

My step mom is a great cook – we always enjoyed hearty home cooking growing up.  Her stuffed shells are to die for and I remember traveling back to college after Christmas break with a huge pan of them in my back seat!  I have never been very fond of raw onions, a culinary topic still entertaining to this day, but overall, if you put it in front of me, I will eat it!  My sister, Kelly, is amazing in the kitchen!  She is always trying new recipes and I don’t ever think she has made something that wasn’t outstanding!  She inspires me to try new things all the time!  My other sister, Becky, was most definitely the pickiest of us all.  Growing up, Becky ate Eggo waffles, peanut butter and fluff (for those of you not in New England, this is the most amazing culinary invention EVER and you should try it!) and pizza with the sauce scraped off.  I seriously think that’s all she ate for about 12 years!!!  But I have to give Becky props – she has grown to be super adventurous and daring in her culinary experiences and makes a mean taco dip!!!

With that bit of back story out of the way, let me proceed….

Our first night in San Gimignano (Tuscan region) was a bit of a blur; having just flown overnight from Boston, we arrived at our fantastic Agriturismo (check out my blog about them) and were greeted with warm Italian hospitality and some amazing house wine in preparation for a cooking class we arranged ahead of time!  That evening, we prepared pasta (using only three ingredients!), an authentic spicy tomato sauce perfect for pasta, pizza, focaccia and the following morning’s breakfast (this is actually top secret but something I will share later)!  We also prepared dough for the focaccia, a summer version of tiramisu featuring strawberries, using limoncello instead of coffee, and enjoyed the fantastic company of our chef and interpreter (our host at the Agriturismo acted as our interpreter when she didn’t have other duties to attend to….and when she did, we figured it out!)

Needless to say – the food was amazing, plentiful and made with love, laughter and joy!  A funny story – while we were making the tiramisu, our chef was explaining the biscuits used…we called them “lady fingers” and the chef and his assistant thought that was the weirdest thing they had ever heard!  Here are some photos from before our cooking experience and our arrival day in San Gimignano (you will notice a LOT of wine toasts!  Italians know how to celebrate la Bella Vita!)

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Other meals we enjoyed on this leg of our trip were gelato (I ate gelato with vigor and abandon everywhere we went in Italy), espresso and panini, and the most expensive meal on our journey – a lunch canal-side in Venice!  Here’s a picture diary of these experiences.

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Our next culinary adventure worth mentioning specifically was the late lunch we had while traveling from Tuscany to Rome.  It was a long drive – about 3.5 hours, and we were getting a bit hungry around 1pm.  We didn’t have any specific plans – and that’s when the MAGIC happens!!!  We decided to get off the autostrada (Italian highway system) at a random town and found a jewel of a taverna!

Our lovely host, Giuseppe – of course – was a fabulous man who endeared us and stole our hearts!  Meals in Italy don’t get more authentic than this and Giuseppe made this out of the way stop so memorable.  Here is a photo diary of that amazing meal!!!

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Part 2 of this wonderful culinary adventure to follow, but here are some random food pictures of our trip thus far.  Hang tight for the rest!  ‘Tis the season for enjoying food, family and friends!

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