Category Archives: Travel – Italy

Venice, Italy – Alfred Hitchcock’s Inspiration

Have you ever wanted to sound like the world’s biggest a-hole and  alienate multiple friends, all in one fell swoop?  If so, pay close attention and do exactly as I say.  Kind of roll your eyes a little bit in an exaggerated act of annoyance and say the following words with the smug impatience of someone who thinks they’re as classy as Ivanka Trump (but really only has as much class as her father, ‘The’ Donald).  Repeat after me:

“Ugh.  We have to go to Venice… again?!  Bleeeehh.”

Do that, and you are sure to land on the top of most people’s sh*t list!  At the risk of losing blog readers, friends and maybe even a few family members… that is exactly how we felt recently when we went back to Venice.  I can fully appreciate this is a ridiculous thought to have and even more obnoxious to share… but hey, this is a blog that delivers brutal honesty.  When we booked our cruise with Celebrity Cruises a little while back, we did it despite the fact that the ship spent two days at port in Venice.  Don’t get me wrong, Venice is a beautiful city with a unique charm found nowhere else in the world. If you’ve visited Venice before, you may reminisce about the romantic gondola rides, the charming cafes and the stunning churches.  But when you’ve faced with a visit to Venice for the fifth time, you are more likely reminded of the crowded piazzas, overprices restaurants and long lines full of pushy tourists.

See, "First World Problems Girl" gets it!
See… “First World Problems Girl” gets it!

Venezia (Venice) has an alluring history that I find to be more fascinating than nearly any other city in the world.  I mean, the entire city has been floating on water for centuries, for Pete-sake!  I detail a brief explanation  of how Venice came to be in this blog post (definitely worth a quick read).

Doge's Palace with San Marco Campanile in the background
Doge’s Palace with San Marco Campanile in the background
The Lion of San Marco perches atop a tall pillar outside of the piazza
The Lion of San Marco perches atop a tall pillar outside of the piazza

Even though we weren’t very excited at the prospect of squaring off against millions of other tourists in a space not much larger than the Mall of America, we abandoned our original plans to stay on the ship and instead ventured onto Venice’s shores.  We were sure glad that we did!  Over the next two days we rediscovered a new Venice; one with more magic and charm than we ever realized was possible.  What’s the difference, you ask?  We were walking around in the off-season. Continue reading Venice, Italy – Alfred Hitchcock’s Inspiration

The City That Inspired the Renaissance

The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned three centuries and gave us some of the world’s most precious treasures.  It changed the way people thought, it altered politics and it had an impact on art and architecture that lasts to this day.  The exciting changes in art and philosophy reached across Europe and quite literally brought people out of the Dark Ages and into the light of a new era.  There is little debate about the birthplace of the Renaissance; nearly all scholars will agree that it is Florence, Italy.  Because of the city’s important impact on the world as we know it, as well as it’s own unique beauty – Florence is a city that everyone should see in their lifetime.  If those are not compelling enough reasons, Florence is in Tuscany – one of Italy’s most beautiful regions.

Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore – the famous Duomo of Florence

We recently embarked on a cruise aboard Celebrity Cruises new ship, the Silhouette.  We chose this particular cruise for a variety of reasons; among the most convincing was the itinerary.  We have wanted to visit certain parts of Italy, including Florence and parts of southern Italy.  The ports of call fit in with our “Italy bucket list” perfectly.   Continue reading The City That Inspired the Renaissance

When In Rome…

I suppose that I’ve sufficiently succeeded in being completely cheesy and unoriginal, using the two most obvious cliche’s to name my two posts about Rome (first post).  Oh well, this is what you can expect from me when I’m faced with the monumental task of bringing you up to speed on our many recent adventures.  So, let’s begin!

When I last left you, we had seen the Pope’s home (Vatican City), a bunch of steps (Spanish Steps) and a some running water (Trevi Fountain).  The next day, we wanted to see a pile of stones (Colosseum) and a big dome (Pantheon).  And if anyone ever describes some of the world’s most precious treasures like that again, smack them! Continue reading When In Rome…

All Roads Lead To Rome

If all roads lead to Rome, nowadays you could also say that all European cruises start from Rome. Well, maybe not all – but a good many of the cruise ships use this port of call as a starting point for their Mediterranean voyages.  At least, this was the case on our cruise aboard Celebrity Cruise Lines ship, Silhouette.  The Silhouette is one of five ships in their newest Solstice Class – a group of sleek, modern ships with a heavy emphasis on style and dining.  The ship and the cruise did not disappoint.  We had many ports of call and a lot of wonderful activities that I’d like to write about, so let’s start at the beginning… Continue reading All Roads Lead To Rome

All I Want For Christmas is a White Lamborghini

You can have your two front teeth – I’ll take the Lamborghini!

Oh yeah, that’s the one I want!

Periodically, my father-in-law will send me Italian Groupon deals that he thinks we may be interested in acquiring.  Through this site, we have found good deals on restaurants and hotels.  Just like Groupon or Living Social at home – some of the deals are interesting, others are not.  Some are phenomenal values – others are just cleverly packaged marketing schemes.  Recently, he sent me one item that had the hairs on the back of my neck standing tall.  The opportunity to take a Ferrari and/or Lamborghini out on a race track and really “open’er up!” Continue reading All I Want For Christmas is a White Lamborghini

Five Diamond Christmas Tour of Italy

Most people visit Europe in the spring or summer.  Of course, these are great times of year to see such a magical and historical place.  But may I suggest to you a unique alternative?

Come in December, when the weather is at it’s coldest and the people are their warmest.  When the cobblestone streets are strung with lights and the ancient buildings are trimmed with garland. Imagine your most magical place for the holidays – a winter wonderland, if you will.  You will be sure to find something that fits your image here in Europe.  There are amazing markets and festivals across the continent.  Some countries boast cities that are particularly renowned for their holiday cheer.  Finland, Germany and Austria are at the top of the list.  Denmark and Switzerland are there as well.  And of course, our personal favorite place to be for Christmas is right here in Italy.  Before you plan your next Christmas vacation, add Europe into the running.

“Boy, Clark – I think we should go to Europe next year”

We had been toying with the idea of visiting another country to experience some of the large and festive Christmas markets (two of the top cities in the running were Cologne, Germany and Lapland, Finland). Continue reading Five Diamond Christmas Tour of Italy

Christmas in Italy – Bring on the Festivals!

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year”… and that means so many things!  It means snow flakes and Christmas lights.  It means cold weather and hot chocolate.  It means Santa Claus and stockings stuffed with goodies.  When you live in Europe, it also means tremendous Christmas markets and delicious vin brulè (cooked wine, usually sold on the streets).  Over the past couple weeks, we have been taking advantage of it all!  Because Christmas is only four days away – I will spend the next four days posting about our Christmas fun.  In order to do that, I have to bend my “unbreakable rule” and publish blog posts out of order.  I’ll fast-forward to Christmas and then flash back to some exciting posts that I have in the pipeline.

Oh bej!  Oh bej!

No, you don’t have to say “gesundheit”!  I didn’t sneeze.  That is the name of a festival held each year in Milan, spanning from December 7th through the following Sunday.  How did it get that wonderful name, you ask?  “Oh bej!  Oh bej!” means, “oh so nice!  Oh so nice!” in the Milanese dialect.  It is by far, the most important Christmas festival held in Milan.  December 7th is the day of the Patron Saint of Milano, Santo Ambrogio.  The festival is said to date back all the way to 1510.

Vendors line the streets during Oh Bej!  Oh Bej!

Continue reading Christmas in Italy – Bring on the Festivals!

Vinegar and Ice Cream – A Delicious Combo!

It’s likely that you may think I’ve gone off my rocker.  Vinegar on a salad – of course.  Vinegar on french fries – sure.  But vinegar on ice cream?!  Greg, you must be crazy?!  I assure you, I am not (well, at least when it comes to this point).  Provided one very important detail is in play… that the vinegar used is aged balsamic vinegar from Modena.  This dark, delicious treat becomes sweet and thick (almost, syrupy) once it has been aged 12(+) or 25(+) years.

Old fashioned equipment used to make vinegar now stands as decoration

I have been a fan of all things vinegar for as long as I can remember.  Admittedly, a strange condiment choice (above ketchup or mayonnaise) – but the heart wants what the heart wants.  Although we use apple cider vinegar every single day, I have always been quite fond of balsamic vinegar.  Just the right amount can add the perfect hit of acid to round out a caprese salad.  However, I recently learned that I have become accustomed to eating the equivalent of a McDonald’s value meal when a readily available filet mignon was just around the corner.  But let’s back up and find out how I discovered this… Continue reading Vinegar and Ice Cream – A Delicious Combo!

An Unexpected Gem

Living in Italy grants us access to a lot of great restaurants.  We fully take advantage of that and eat at… a lot of great restaurants.  I recently read that 75% of the food in Italy is great and 25% of the food is exceptional.  I would agree with that – most meals leave you feeling completely satisfied and pleased with the overall experience.  But occasionally, you’ll find yourself “mmm’ing” and “aahhh’ing” with more delight than you intended to express aloud.

We can usually spot these exceptional places before we’ve walked in the door.  We may have heard about the joint from a friend or relative.  It’s possible I’ve read about it on the internet or a travel book.  Or sometimes, we just walk into a place and the intense amount of “old-world charm” smacks us in the face.  We’re greeted by a little nonna (grandma) who then scurries to the back to cook our meal – and we just know that we are in for a treat.  Since it is usually one of those three paths that lead to our exceptional meals, I had all but dismissed, Osteria da Clo’ Filomena when we made our reservation.  The reason for the swift dismissal, you ask?  Well, the restaurant was in our B&B, in a remote part of Emilia-Romagna, surrounded by nothing by small villages and towns.  I’m usually quick to dismiss restaurants in hotels anyway, with a few exceptions.  Furthermore, the place was empty.  I wasn’t surprised, because it would probably be a 20-30 minute drive for most patrons to arrive.  I assumed that the restaurant was in place, merely to service the guests of the hotel and therefore had to serve mediocre food (which, if you remember still falls into the 80% “great” category).

The Osteria at night – the outdoor patio is used in the spring
The ristorante opened in 1954

Continue reading An Unexpected Gem

Loosen Those Belt Buckles – Some Serious Eating Ahead

Before I’ve even written the first word of this post, my OCD brain is trying to figure out if this post should be categorized under the “Food” or the “Travel” sections of the blog.  I will be taking you along with us on our travel adventure to go eat some of Italy’s best food.  It’s quite the dilemma…

A selection of salumi (cold cuts), formaggi (cheese) and the cinghiale (boar) that gave his life to the cause

You may have read about part of our visit with Aunt Deb and Uncle S where we ventured into the wine region of Piemonte during the first portion of their visit.  Their two week sojourn in Italy included a mission to explore the best of what the country has to give.  It was no coincidence then, that their adventure had been neatly divided into three of the country’s best offerings.  Part I was Vino (wine).  Party II was Cibo (food) – the subject of today’s post.  Lastly, Part III was Storia (history).  Since they experienced the rich history of Pompeii and Venezia on their own, I will let them tell you all about it at their next dinner party.  I’ll simply report on the parts during which we were present… and luckily for us, we were present for a three day trip into Italy’s richest “food region”, Emilia-Romagna. Continue reading Loosen Those Belt Buckles – Some Serious Eating Ahead