Nov 25, 2011

Borough Markets

My 1st gastro tour - I wasn't sure what to expect.  Celia Brown was our tour guide.  She's been on tv & wrote her own cookbook.  She now has her own company, taking folks on tours of the markets around London.  Since the vendors know her & she brings them business - they are very kind to her.  We got private tastings, discounts & a little back story about the food we were trying.  I picked the Borough Market - it was started in the 13th century.  The London bridge was the only way to get over the Thames to get into the city of London, so that's where the traders set up shop. I had an amazing time - every 5 steps or so you were assulted with another wonderful smell.  We were there 3 hours and it was definitely not enough time - I could of easily spent a few more hours wandering around.  I held an ostrich egg, tasted sheeps cheese & ate boar jerky.  I tasted butter with sea salt (yum), pumpkin seed oil & marinated onions.  My favorites (which I bought) was white balsalmic vinegar (oh my - like a party in your mouth it's so good, oak roasted tomato's, mushroom pate & Lord London cheese.   We did a wine tasting - I liked the chardonnay-semillon (foxgrove).  We had fresh beef right off the grill  (melted in your mouth).  We had crusty bread, tons of different cheese & tried rows of olive oils.  Needless to say - I can't wait to go back! 

Nov 21, 2011

Meditteranean cruise - Liberty of the Seas RCCL

My husband & I have been on quite a few cruises but this the 1st one for my girls (ages 7 & 9).  They gave it two thumbs up.  Some favorite things on the ship - rock climbing wall, ice skating rink, broadway shows, swimming/water park, dream works parade and the self serve ice cream machine.  I'm not a big fan of cruise ship food but this was the best to date :)  Our 1st stop was Provence, France - we decided to take a tour to Cassis, an ancient fishing port.  The harbor was pretty & the shops quaint.  We stopped & had a croissant at an outside cafe - super yummy!  We walked down to the beach - it was rocky but beautiful. As we sat there a 3 men rose out of the sea, dressed in full wet suits, spear guns in hand, fish & a giant squid hanging from their belts.  They came out of the water & walked down to the fish market to drop off the days catch - very James Bond, very cool!  The 2nd stop was Ville Franche a very small medieval village - with quaint colorful buildings & a picturesque marina. From there we took a 20 minute train ride to Monte Carlo.  I loved Monte Carlo - everything is carved in the side of the mountain.  We got to see some of the Grand Prix course. The cars outside the casino, the yachts in the marina - everything said money, lots & lots of money.  Our 3rd stop was Livorno - basically a pit, so we only drove thru on our way to Pisa.  The Tower of Pisa is in the middle of no where but definitely worth the drive.  Then we continued on to Florence - we saw lots of statues (a naked David, Perseus holding Medusa's severed head). A few cathedrals, the doors of paradise, The Baptistery of John the Baptist, from the 11th century.  We ate lunch by the Ponte Veccio (1345 bridge). If you like red wine - I recommend you try Brunello, it was exquisite (and I don't even like red wine).  Our 4th stop was Rome, our agenda was the Coliseum, the Vatican & St Peter's Basilica. The Pope was in town & giving a blessing in the square so what should of been a 1 hour trip into town took 3. We did get to see everything but it was so crowded you couldn't walk, you had to shuffle.  Our 5th stop was Naples - we were supposed to take a boat tour to Capri, Sorrento & Pompeii but due weather they cancelled it.  We decided to spend a relaxing day on the boat. Our final stop was Barcelona, we walked up & down the streets - we found catherdrals, fun parks, buildings by Gaudi & great street performers.  It as the perfect ending to a great trip. 

Rome, Italy

My 2nd international trip with my best friend, I have to say after Belgium we were feeling a little more confident.  We arrived by plane & had the hotel send a car to pick us up.  We were staying at the Residenza Frattina - a great hotel (fab continental breakfast), great location (no elevator).  When we made the reservation, we asked for a double room. When we walked into the room - it had a huge round bed in the middle.  The guy must of seen my face because he said - it's a double room, it's just round because of the shape/size of the room.  The room was big & sqaure - so I wasn't sure what that had to do with a round bed but he seemed to think that was explanation enough & left.  We busted up laughing - welcome to Italy!  Rome is a huge city, with an overwhelming amount of people. Public transportation is the quickest way to get around, that is if you can fit on the train, bus, trolly etc... We are standing on the platform, the train comes (it's full) & you are fighting the old lady next to you to get the last spot - I felt like I was in a Seinfeld episode.  The 1st couple times the old lady beat me but after a while I caught on. I pulled out some old basketball moves - I'd post up, throw some elbows & before I knew it I was on the train :)   We saw the Coliseum (stood where the gladiators had stood), St Peters Basilica (touched the tomb of St Peter) (they had some past Pope's on display (this was disturbing), Vatican (we sat in the Sisten Chapel for a long time, just soaking it all in), Pantheon, Spanish Steps, Trevi fountain, Palatine, Arch of Titus.   I wasn't impressed by the food with the exception of the gelato at San Crispino (no cones or toppings, just yummy gelato).  Seeing all these places in person was amazing - they just don't translate in pictures & videos. With that said - I don't know that I would want to go back, like I said the amount of people is overwhelming - I guess I'm just a small town girl at heart :)

Bruges & Brussels

My 1st international trip without my husband (a world traveler). I was a little nervous but excited to explore a new country with one of my best friends.  Our plan was to spend 1 day in Bruges & 1 day in Brussels. We took the Eurostar train from London St Pancreas to Brussels Midi - it's about a 2 hour train ride, which was uneventful (with the exception of snorting myself awake & everyone having a good laugh).  When we got off the Eurostar in Brussels - we had to connect to the local train that would take us to Bruges (another hour ride away). We had a 25 minute connection time - which I thought would be fine but I didn't take into account that everything was in french and that there would be long lines for tickets. We got our tickets & found our platform with about 5 minutes to spare.  That's when it hit me - we needed to exchange money -  hmmm miss the train (and take a later one) or jump on the train & exchange our money at the train station in Bruges.  We decided we would take the train & exchange our money in Bruges.  I'm sure you can guess - they don't have an exchange desk there, the closest place was a 20 minute walk - so bags in hand we start out.  We find the bank, exchange our money & head back to the train station to store our bags. Unfortuately, we couldn't figure out how to make the lockers work (as the instructions were in french).  Eventually, we found someone who took pity on us & explained what to do in English.  Bags stored, map in hand, Euro's in pocket, camera around neck - we were ready to explore.   Bruges is one of the most pictureque places I've ever seen - it was like a movie set.  Every place you looked was more beautiful than the next.  For someone like me who loves to take pictures - it couldn't of been more perfect.  We had a 3 hour lunch at a little restaurant overlooking the main square - the flemish stew was amazing, the mint tea outstanding!  Yes - I did say a 3 hour lunch, I personally think the waiters were making bets about how long the Americans would sit there but as I would come to find out - the Europeans take their time while eating & if you want your bill or the next course you have to signal them.   We spent the rest of the day wondering around the streets, taking pictures in a magnificent setting before setting off to Brussels.  In Brussels - we stayed at the Royal Windsor hotel, a great hotel, in a great location. Brussels definitely has a city feel - it's bigger & busier than Bruges but still beautiful. The architecture was outstanding. The food - stew (Brasserie Rou d 'or), waffles, chocolate (chocolateirs on every corner), french fries (eaten with mayo) ....all amazing.  The streets are like a maze & we found ourself looking at the map quite a bite.  We must of looked lost & confused because every time we pulled the map out - someone would stop & ask us if they could help :)  They would actually go out of their way to help us - definitely some of the nicest people I've met so far.    I have to say - I love Belgium (the food, the people, the sights).  I can't wait to go back & visit again.