Jun 30, 2012

Paris, May 2012

Paris with the family was fun & busy!  

Day 1 – we arrive in Paris & before we even leave the airport, we buy a museum pass. (note - this will save you lots of time – as you will skip the long lines).  We head to our hotel, The Renaissance Arc de Triomphe. It is a great location, only 2 streets from the Champs Elysee & just a couple blocks from the Arch de Triomphe.  We drop our bags & do what everyone does – head to the Eiffel tower!  We get there & there has to be a 2 hour wait for the elevator, maybe longer.   Then my wonderful husband remembers something from the last time we visited.  You can walk up the 1st two levels & then catch the elevator to the top.  The only catch – it’s 670 steps to the 2nd floor.   My husband & 2 kids don’t think twice & we start our hike to the top.  At each landing we stop to take photo’s (aka catch my breath).  When we get to the top, we were rewarded with a beautiful view!  Next on our agenda was a boat ride down the Seine – it’s a fun way to see a lot of sights (Notre Dame Cathedral, Eiffel Tower, Musee du Louvre ,Musee d'Orsay, Assemblée Nationale, Hotel des Invalides, Pont Neuf (Paris' oldest bridge, dating to the 16th century, Pont Alexandre III (Art Nouveau bridge dating to 1896) & the  Grand Palais).  I think you see about 23 bridges during the ride – all very unique).   After the tour – we head to Makassar for dinner.  It’s a French-Indonesian fusion restaurant.  The food was good. The kids ordered bubble gum mojito’s – these were very tasty & by gaging the amount of energy coming from the kids, I would say have tons & tons of sugar!  Thankfully, there was some music – so the kids danced a little before we went up to the room for the night.
Day 2 - We head to the Arc de Triomphe (stopping at Starbucks for breakfast). We get to the Arch and there is a very long wait but we used our museum pass & went to the front of the line (note - kids are free but still need a ticket, cut to the front – show your pass & tell them how many kids tickets you need).  We started our hike to the top – only 284 steps, considering how many we did the day before – this was a breeze!  Great views from the top – the Arc is in the middle of a roundabout the 12 streets feed into (one of them being the Champs Elysee).  Next we head down the Champs Elysee, stopping for water & ice cream. There are lots of high end watch stores, of course we have to stop into a few to see what they have & try them on). Eventually we end up at the Louvre – again skipping the long line with our pass.  We spend hours here – the kids love it!  We would hit one section, then come out to Starbucks & get a snack. Hit another section, then come back to Starbucks etc..  The 2nd time we were at Starbucks Ratatouille came out to hang with us.  It would have been cute except he was looking a little green – I don’t think he had much time left.  We closed down the Louvre (Mona Lisa being a highlight) & hung out in the park outside the Louvre, it’s beautiful!  We decide to take a tuk tuk back to the hotel.  Which we thought would be fun – until we headed into the roundabout by the Arc – talk about taking a knife to a gun fight.  We get back to the hotel, order room service & we are about to call it a night – when my husband announces the Eiffel tower lights up on the hour, starting at 10:00 pm. So we head back to the Arc (you can go as many times as you want on the pass) – hike back up the 284 steps & wait for the lights.  It was worth it – great view, very pretty!  Finally, around 11:00 pm be head back to the hotel, stopping at Hagen Das but there was 2 hour wait!  We don’t like ice cream that much – so skipped that & went to bed.

Day 3 – We sleep in, get breakfast at Starbucks again (we love Starbucks – it reminds us of Seattle & it has free WIFI).   Walk around town, site seeing & looking for souvenirs – we grab lunch at Pizza Pino’s.  There is a really long line but we wait & it was worth it – pizza was amazing! The kids grab one last Gelato & we head to the airport.
Paris is…well Paris – everyone has to go!

Bologna & Modena, Itlay - June 2012

Bologna in June is hot!  100 degrees hot & for kids born in Seattle & living in London – it was seriously hot.  So I did what any Mom would do - I promised to buy lots of Gelato!

Bologna is a neat place – lots of old buildings & tons of beautiful arches.  It’s small enough to walk around but big enough to keep you busy.
We stayed at a B & B (Bologna Nel Cuore) right off the Piazza Maggoire square.  The owner – Maria was nice & the breakfast was very good.  Meat, cheese, homemade preserves, tarts – a great way to start off the day.

Day  1 – we arrive about 12:00 pm & decide to explore the town.  Oh - I love the colors of Bologna (reds, oranges, muted yellows, browns).   There are flowers everywhere & little alley ways with outdoor cafés, Italian men playing the accordion.  The women are all dressed really nice & the shoes are fabulous!  We ate at an outdoor café, had Gelato in the Piazza & took the open bus tour.     
Day 2 – we did a food tour around Modena (with Alessandro - Italian Food experiences).  Our 1st stop was the Parmigiano-Reggiano factory.  We saw the entire operation, met the “Big Cheese” & then got to taste everything. What did I learn? They have 2 grades – 1st grade & 2nd grade – everything else is just cheese.  You should buy Parm that has DOP stamped on the outside of it (dop are the officials that say if the cheese is good enough to be called Parmigiano-Reggiano).  The outside of the Parm (hard crust) – can be cut off & thrown on the grill with a little oil & eaten like a steak.  I really want to try that.  Our 2nd stop was a private farm that produces Balsamic Vinegar.  We tasted a 6 year Balsamic condiment (on gelato) – loved that!  We tasted a 12 year Balsamic Vinegar (on Ricotta) – that was good too (the Ricotta was amazing!).  We tasted a 25 year Balsamic Vinegar – that I didn’t love.  It was seriously thick.  I imagine in the winter when it’s cold – you would have a hard time even getting it out of the bottle.  It tasted a little like molasses. Our 3rd stop was a Prosciutto factory – this was a little disturbing.  Huge Pig legs hanging around – I love meat truly I do but even for me this was a tad nasty. I did try it & it was good but I didn’t bring any home.  Our last stop of the day was a farm called Corte D’Aibo – where we were stopped for lunch.  It’s in the hills of Monteveglio – it’s quaint & beautiful - it’s everything you imagine Italy would be.  They served a fresh onion focaccia that makes my mouth water just talking about it.   We were there for hours – I lost count but there were at least 7 courses.  They kept bringing out food & saying “manga, manga” (eat, eat)!  Oh my word – it was good but I was definitely heading towards a food coma. 

Day 3 – we slept in, had a late breakfast & then went to find San Francesco (a French Gothic church started in 1236).  It was cool – we tried to go inside but the priest didn’t speak English. My Italian is terrible & the best I could figure was that we were trying to enter the cloister! From there we decided to go shopping.  We found a fabulous tea shop, in some little alley way.  The smells were amazing – we lost track of time but had so much fun!  I think our favorite was a peach chai. We hit a couple of souvenir shops (for the kids) & then a clothing store (can’t remember the name) but we all found something in there (clothes, scarves, headbands).    Arms filled with Italian goods we decided to find La Brace – a pizza/pasta restaurant that was recommended to us.  The waiters were standing in front of the doors – when I asked if we could come in, he said “are you British?”  I said “do you want me to be British” & he said “NO! We don’t serve Brits!” – I said “oh good, were American” and he let us in (evidently, Italy & England were scheduled to play against each other in football (soccer) that weekend). I’d like to think he was kidding but I’m not sure J.  Anyway – they brought pizza to the table (instead of bread), the kids thought that was fun!  The menu was in Italian – again I know only a little so I asked what he thought was good, hmmm maybe I shouldn’t have because I had no idea what he was saying.  Instead of embarrassing myself – I said “great, I’ll have that”.  Thankfully – it was an amazing pasta dish! We ended with a Gelato & then headed back to the airport.
Only 2 other things of note:  
1st they have a McDonalds in the center of town.  They people speak English; they give you lots of ice with your diet coke (cheapest you’ll find in town), its air conditioned & the bathrooms are clean.  We stopped in here about twice a day J 

2nd a lot of the ATM’s are inside the banks – so if you need cash, get it before Sunday (when most banks are closed). After going to multiple banks that were closed - I was starting to get nervous until I noticed a lady go inside one of the closed banks (evidently you needed a code to get in).  I waited until she left & went in before the door closed ;)    As I was getting my cash - I was feeling really proud of myself - then I thought “OH MY WORD - please tell me I don’t need a code to get out!!”    Thankfully – I didn’t need a code but I didn’t have to hit quite a few different buttons until I found one that opened the door.
I loved Bologna and I would definitely go back, maybe next time I’ll rent a villa in the hills & take some cooking classes J