Sunday, September 7, 2014

Rome: final stop in 2014

Rome - Sept 4-6

Since my first visit two years ago, I was very excited to get back to Rome! I remember great sites, history lessons, and amazing cuisine. This trip may have not lived up to the first, due to a little exhaustion and hot Roman temperatures, but we had a nice last few days abroad.

On Thursday, we visited the Colosseum and the Roman Forum after our train ride from Venice. These sites are very impressive, but can be a little more dry than Venetian palaces. For lunch, we grabbed some pizza, which is much cheaper in Rome than Venice, as are most things compared to those prices. We then walked past the Piazza Venetia and to the Pantheon, which I had never seen before. I enjoyed that visit. The pantheon now houses Raphael's remains. We grabbed some gelato (a twice a day occurrence in Italy) and decided we had enough stamina to keep walking to the Trevi fountain and Spanish steps.  To my disappointment, both were under construction. The fountain, one of my favorite things to see, didn't even have water in it! By that point, Melvin and I were very tired of walking, and we caught a cab back. After resting up, we looked up a close restaurant with good reviews. We had the good luck of finding Mama Angela's, our best meal in possibly our whole lives. I had the roman dish of veal with prosciutto, after some bread, carbonara to share, and local wine. To finish the exquisite meal, we had dessert wine and tiramisu. It was so spectacular, we returned the next night and repeated our choices, except I got sea bass, clams, and mussels! So divine!

Our last day abroad started with a trip to St. Peter's Basilica. The beauty and size of the church is just as impressive on the second visit! We had to go back and change after that because it was close to 90 out, and we had to wear pants inside the Vatican. We had a small lunch of carbonara and wanted to see crypts, but I was not dressed appropriately and we were turned away. It is hard being a tourist in the heat since the churches require a strict dress code. Instead we saw the Borghese Gardens and two record stores. We were able to see everything in our short trip, and we definitely enjoyed the food.

By this point, we are ready to go home and see Pam and get back into our normal routine. It was a wonderful trip, and I am glad Melvin and I made great travel partners. I'm looking forward to many trips abroad in the future! For now, back to saving vacation days and money.

Venice: an unforgettable city

Venice - September 2-4, 2014

Venice was remarkable! For our third leg of the trip, we made our way by air to Italy. I was really looking forward to seeing the city of canals. We managed to navigate to the island by bus, and then GPSed the hotel. With a mile walk, we thought this was very manageable. We estimated wrong! We didn't realize the dozens of bridges we had to lug our suitcase over, and the difficulty the narrow alleys and cobblestones would present,  not to mention that the city is basically one big maze. We were relieved to find the hotel on the northern tip of the city, near the Jewish Ghetto.

 After regrouping, we ventured out and found our first Italian meal of pizza! I had real anchovies, and they were surprisingly good! We then saw the Friari Church, which was beautiful and housed famous Venice painters' work. After that, we found the Rialto bridge and took a gondola ride. Although it put a hurt on our wallets, The gondola was an unforgettable experience that every tourist must do. For the remainder of the evening, we wandered the city, watched the crowds die down after dark, and had a light dinner with bellinis.

Wednesday was a full day of site seeing. We woke early, enjoyed our hotel breakfast and learned to navigate the vaporetto, water bus, to St. Marks Square. It was very impressive. The Church was spectacular, filled with gold mosaics and 1000 years of history. Melvin and I really loved this tour. Next we saw Doges Palace, next door, that housed the most powerful European ruler for hundreds of years, the Venetian Doge. The rooms were spectacular, reminding me of all the power and riches Venice has held throughout the past. We ended our big sites with the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, at her Venice Palace on the Grand Canal. I didn't know much about her previously, but I read up on her life and the many Picassos and other important pieces she bought. Her house was very beautiful.

Our final evening in Venice was relaxing. We took in the beauty around us by stopping at the Rialto bridge and enjoying a drink on the water, having a waterfront dinner at the same pizza place the previous day, and having one last stroll in the dark, beautiful streets of Venice. I am sure we will return, as it was a favorite city of us both.

Toulouse: duck, record shopping, and Bernie's Saloon

Toulouse - August 31 - Sept 2

Toulouse was a wonderful last stop in France! We arrived by train around 3:00 on Sunday, where Bernard cheerfully picked us up. It was so great to see him and see Toulouse again. We had a nice lunch pizza and checked out the saloon for the first time! It was quite impressive. With country's music playing and a barbecue preparing duck for the evening, it felt like we we're almost in the US!

Sunday afternoon, we had some time before dinner to walk around the city. We saw St. Sernin and the relics, and then made our way to the Capitol. Toulouse feels like an old home. When we returned back to Bernard's, we had some aperitifs and appetizers in the saloon. Christiane returned home from her writing trip in the Alps, and we all sat outside and enjoyed one of our best meals in France of duck, pate, potatoes, and creme brûlée ice cream. So delicious! After dinner, we watched the Paris St. Germaine soccer game with Bernard and some more Makers Mark 47. It was a wonderful night of good food and good company.

On Monday, we had breakfast of croissants and Nutella outside and then began our day of shopping in Toulouse. We did so much walking, but Melvin found many record stores, a few finds, and I got a new blazer and jewelry at nearby stores. In the afternoon, we stopped in Bernard's recommended Indian restaurant, and the food was very good!

On Monday evening, Bernard was not feeling very well but he joined us at his nephew's bar for a few beers. We got to spend the evening with Benjamin, Michael, his cousin, and their friend Guilliuame. We enjoyed a delicious three course dinner with red wine and the best chocolate cake with strawberry sorbet dessert. After dinner, we joined the friends at Speak Easy, where the men talked about bourbons and enjoyed a little to end the evening. Bernard promised to visit us next year. I am sure we will get to Toulouse again. It was sad to say goodbye and leave Toulouse, but we were excited to get to Venice!

Paris 2014: So nice to be back!

As Melvin had a milestone birthday approaching, he had a goal that I learned about on our second dat: to visit Venice before 30! So in February 2014, we planned the late summer trip. I had been counting down for months, and it was finally time to depart in late August!

Paris - August 28-31, 2014

We had a wonderful three days in Paris, and a great start to the France and Italy trip! We arrived on Thursday, and the flight was exhausting, but after a quick nap, Melvin and I were ready to see Paris.

We navigated the subway system very well, and found the St. Michel stop to see Notre Dame. Each time I visit, it is always a must see. This time, Melvin and I even went on top of the bell tower later in the weekend. I loved it! The views were spectacular from the center of the city. It was mind blowing to be on top of this massive church, next to the gargoyles and huge bells, that was built in 1100! Melvin did not have quite the same experience. It was very crowded, and the walkway was too tight for him to enjoy much of that!

On Thursday, we also made our way over to the love lock bridge, where we added our blue lock we designed. From there, we saw the Arc du Triumph, one of my favorite views in Paris! For dinner on Thursday, we found a neat area with a lot of young people near St. Michel. We had a delicious dinner of salmon and shrimp in the outdoor seating, enjoying the city and people watching!

Friday was a full day. We visited the catacombs first, after having a big breakfast of bread, eggs, and bacon across the street. The line was nearly two hours to see the underground hallways filled with the bones of six million Parisians, but it was worth the line. We then walked to Luxembourg gardens and saw the French Senate building. The grounds were beautiful, and French families enjoyed the nice sunny day. I was surprised how cool it was in Paris in August, I barley took off my jacket all weekend, but Italy will be much warmer later this week. After finding a Nutella crepe at the park, we took metro to Montmartre and walked the countless steps up the hill to Sacre Cour. The church's beauty is unbelievable. We wrapped our time in Montmartre by exploring the streets, munching on some cheese, finding Moulin Rouge and then eating at a restaurant nearby. For the second night, we had an unbelievable dinner outside. We concluded Friday by watching Eiffel Tower twinkle at the 10 and 11 o'clock hour with some wine. It was such a nice evening under the European icon! When we retuned back to Gare du l'est, we joined the locals at a little pub and tried some new beers. Friday was a great day.

Saturday began by returning back to Notre Dame for the bell tower climb. We then had scheduled our visit to the top of the Eiffel Tower. I had never been to the top before, and it was less frightening than I imagined. Luckily, it was pretty much enclosed, but I got queasy every time someone put their camera outside of fencing! The last items on our agenda were to see the Louvre grounds and visit the Apple Store below the Louvre. While there, Melvin saw KRS-One, but I didn't know who that was. :) For our last night in Paris, we tried to find the same area where we had dinner on Thursday, but we roamed around the St. Michel stop and eventually stumbled upon an area near the University of Paris, where we enjoyed wine, beef stew, and more outdoor eating.

Our time in Paris was better than I could have wished. Melvin also enjoyed the city very much. Now, we are taking a train to Toulouse, where we will stay with Bernard and Christiane. I am very excited to go back Toulouse and spend two days with them!

Monday, January 21, 2013

Dublin day 6: cathedral and jail!

Sunday was another great day in Ireland, and sadly our last! We woke early to head to Dublin and go to mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral, which is part of the Anglican Church of Ireland. I loved worshipping with locals and tourists and as Anglicans and other denominations.

There was an overwhelming parallel to ta catholic mass, like word for word, but I noticed subtle but important differences. There was a communication rail and the celebrants faced the alter, not the congregation. There was only one reading, and they stood more, and kneeled less. I was very glad we were able to attend. St Patrick's is the national cathedral.

Following the service, we took the bus back to the touristy area, temple bar. We got lunch at O'Sheas. It was a little dive, and I paid too much for my skimpy salad. We were also freezing by this point. I had to go to a gift shop and buy Ireland socks.

It was around 4:00 that we went back to kilmainhain jail that was built in 1780 as a model jail but during the potato famine and Dublin risings in 1916, it became overcrowded and corrupt. Children as young as five were arrested for stealing bread. The 16 men that led the uprising were all shot in the courtyard. Joseph Pluckett was able to marry his fiance in the  chapel four hours before he was killed. Grace Gifford was later held in the jail years later for the civil war in Ireland. She never remarried. I was intrigued with their love story. They even had her wedding band and the letter he wrote to grace asking her to marry him on display! This was my favorite visit of the trip.

To wrap up the Dublin site seeing, we went to Elephant and Castle in Temple Bar for dinner and had a hot totty at McGills before bed.

Flying home to Chicago then Cvg today.

What a wonderful trip to Ireland. A beautiful country, an a memorable experience with friends!!

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Saturday in dublin: success!

After a wearing Friday, we needed Saturday to be better.

We all ate breakfast at the Ritz, which is always so fancy. Then we talked to the concierge and planned our day differently. We went by tram instead of train and bought tickets to the hop on hop off Dublin tour buses.

We started our afternoon at a public talk at the Archeology National Museum, which was interesting but slightly long and filled with local, cultured people. Then we did a 180 and headed to the Guinness storehouse. It was not a very interactive brewery tour, but the 360 bar after the tour, overlooking the city was spectacular!!

The jail was closed by this point, and it gets dark by 5... So we had dinner at the temple bar area and stopped into McDonalds after for a latte. Yesterday was cold, but very manageable compared to Friday. We did a little,e gift shopping, the returned back to the hotel. Much of the day is in the car, bus, or tram. We ended the night in the small town pubs- overall, excellent day.

Back into Dublin today for the last time of the trip. Time has flown by!

Friday, January 18, 2013

Friday in dublin

What a day!!

Last night was refreshing after our LONG drive to Powerscourt. We had a cozy dinner in town and met some New York girls also on a Groupon, maleri and Amy. We had some drinks at local pubs and came back to McGill's at the Ritz for some more socializing.

This morning (Friday) we slept in and enjoyed the Ritz breakfast which was delicious.

Then our adventures to Dublin began....

We drove twenty minutes to Bray, where we parked and caught the DART train to Dublin. The weather conditions were blistery. It was snowing and sleeting and frigid. This apparently happens once a year.

After surviving that with only water in my boots, I thought the day could turn around. Unfortunately, the weather got worse. I understand why no one vacations here in January....

We braved the rain and cold as best we could, with taking taxis and sharing one umbrella. We managed to see the book of Kells, which I enjoyed. It is the ornate book of the four gospels made in 800 as an alter decoration.

We also had the Jameson experience touring the original Irish whiskey distillery, and I volunteered with Emily to compare their triple distilled whiskey to scotch and jack.

We then attempted to take the train home but only got half way before floods stopped the train and we went on a bus. Roads were closed, we were freezing, and we were spent!

Tonight, after I had a bubble bath, we took it easy and enjoyed our free chips and fish meal at McGills. We are all tired.

Tomorrow is also supposed to be terrible weather. We will see if we manage a more pleasant day....