Michael Corleone Says Ciao to Taormina, Sicily

Sicilia (Sicily) was the birthplace of the original Godfather, Don Vito Corleone; its shores harbored his son, Michael Corleone and recently the island hosted Don Greggorio and his small family.  My only disappointment in visiting Sicily was that my wife, Jen wouldn’t let me wear a white suit and hat while walking around passing out fruit like I was Don Vito himself.  Oh well, there’s always next time…

The sun rises over Catania, Sicily
The sun rises over Catania. How can you be expected to walk around without a white suit?!

I was so excited to visit Sicily because I’ve wanted to see this unique part of the country for as long as I can remember.  This region of Italy is so far south from where we live that I wasn’t sure if we would ever get the opportunity to explore the island while living here.  Sicily boasts a plethora of interesting facts that I couldn’t begin to detail in a single post.  However, perhaps the most interesting few points are that the island is the largest in the Mediterranean, archeological evidence dates human inhabitants are far back as 8,000 BC and the terrain has changed hands dozens of times (from Greek to Byzantine to Roman and all over again and again).

Coastline along Sicily
Coastline along Sicily
Ìsula Bedda is local dialect for Isola Bella, or Beautiful Island
Ìsula Bedda is local dialect for Isola Bella, or Beautiful Island

Continue reading Michael Corleone Says Ciao to Taormina, Sicily

Murano, Burano & Torcello – The Keys To Unlocking Venice

If you read about our recent trip to Venice (HERE), then you’ll know that we finally unlocked the key to really enjoying Venice.  In a nutshell, it involves beating the other tourists to the finish line.  If the “finish line” is a guided tour in Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace), then be the first person in line in the morning.  If the finish line is grabbing a moment of solace in an empty Piazza San Marco, then you’d better be there as the sun rises (conversely, you can arrive well after the sun has set and listen to  the beautiful music of the dueling bands). Or, more simply, you can do what we did; visit this magical city in the off-season and get to know the city of Venezia (Venice) without having to put up a fight.

San Marco Campanile and Doge's Palace seen from the water
San Marco Campanile and Doge’s Palace seen from the water

If you’re blessed with a couple of days in Venice, I would suggest that you go a bit deeper than the surface level attractions.  Skip the gondola ride (it’s overpriced anyhow) and instead tour the neighboring islands.  With 117 to chose from, you’ll have your pick.  You can visit the Jewish Ghetto on the island of Cannaregio.  Many of the beautiful parks and gardens on the island of Lido are free of charge to you botany lovers.  Or, for the real adventurers, you could opt to wade into the marshes and cast nets with local fishermen near the island of Chioggia.

The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore Church on the island that shares the same name
The Church of San Giorgio Maggiore Church on the island that shares the same name

We knew that we wanted to visit the island Murano and watch how the world-famous Venetian glass was blown.  This would require a little preparation and so I enlisted the assistance of a guided tour.  I discovered a wonderful website that offers local tours at very reasonable prices – Viator.  Travel bugs, take note of that website!  It is a great resource for sight-seeing tours in cities all over the world. We will definitely use them again; my only regret was not discovering the website sooner.  When searching for a tour of Murano, we found a better option – a tour that also included the islands of Burano and Torcello.  You can find the link to our specific tour HERE.  I bought my tickets ($28 pp) and had the confirmation sent to my smart phone.  I showed up at the designated area, presented the pass on my phone and received our tickets to the boat.  Easy, breezy, lemon-squeezy. Continue reading Murano, Burano & Torcello – The Keys To Unlocking Venice

Fast and Tasty Shrimp Scampi Recipe

On a particularly warm and sunny day this week, Greg and I and decided to ditch the pasta and opted instead to share a lighter lunch.  We all love shrimp (especially Julia) so we decided to try our luck with Shrimp Scampi.  I have never made this dish before so I did some research and looked at a few different ways it is prepared.  After evaluating the ingredients I had lying around the house, I came up with a simple recipe for my first attempt at this classic dish.  I have to say – we were all pleasantly surprised with how it turned out. 

Buon Appetito!
Buon Appetito!

I was pleased to see Greg fare la scarpetta, or “to do the little shoe”.  This is a term the Italians have come up with that I adore.  When you have a delicious sauce that you can’t stand to leave behind, you can use a piece of bread to mop it up.  I would encourage you to be sure that you have plenty of good bread for you or your guests to do la scarpetta! Continue reading Fast and Tasty Shrimp Scampi Recipe

Things Are Just a Little Different… Part IV

If you’ve been a loyal reader of this blog or have spent a little time playing around on the pages, you’ll see that I’ve started a “series” that highlights some of the differences between Italy and our native America.  Some of the differences are strange to us, many of them make perfect sense and others are just plain silly.  If you’d like to see where the series began, take a look back here:

Part I
Part II
Part III

Just like the previous editions, I will group these differences by category.  Without further adieu, Parte Quattro (Part Four)…

♠♣♥♦     ♠♣♥♦     ♠♣♥♦ Continue reading Things Are Just a Little Different… Part IV

The “Game of Thrones” is Played in Dubrovnik, Croatia

We’ve had vicious kings, and we’ve had idiot kings…but I don’t know if we’ve ever been cursed with a vicious idiot for a king!

Tyrion Lannister, summarizing King Joffrey

King Joffrey might just be the most evil little man-boy on the planet, but he has got one thing right – he gets to live in a beautiful and unique city (King’s Landing) with a history no more interesting than the real-life city in which the show is filmed.  If you’re a fan of the show Game of Thrones, you may know that most of the filming takes place in Dubrovnik, Croatia.  This site was chosen after season one wrapped (they originally filmed in Malta) because of the city’s perfectly maintained medieval appearance.  It is purely coincidental (and perfectly fitting) that the city of Dubrovnik happens to have a past that is as violent and completely peppered with dastardly deeds as King’s Landing itself.photoAK

Midway through our cruise on Celebrity Cruises ship, the Silhouette, I was bursting at the seams with excitement.  The port of call I was most eager to see had finally arrived!  The previous ports had been no less fantastic, Rome (here and here), Florence (here), Corfu (here) and Kotor (here) – but this was the icing on the cake for me.  I’m a fan of the HBO hit series, but more importantly I’m a fan of history. I’m also a fan of 6’2″ blond models and this city seems to export them in droves. Continue reading The “Game of Thrones” is Played in Dubrovnik, Croatia

This Will Get Your “Kotor” Running!

I am not a dedicated student of history or geography, although I like to believe I have a little knowledge of the world.  I recently exposed my own ignorance on the recent affairs of eastern Europe and I am embarrassed to admit the depths of it to you now.  Let this paragraph serve as my confession booth when I tell you that just over a year ago, I had never heard of the country of Montenegro.  Allow me to further confess that as recently as six months ago, I didn’t know  that Yugoslavia was no longer a country, but rather a former Socialist Republic that had been divided into what stands today as seven independent countries (Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Slovenia) .img216

Of course, I knew that this entire Slavic area of the European continent was [very recently] rife with political tension and civil unrest. The result of which sparked years of bloody wars culminating in both great losses for many of the citizens and great victories for each independent nation.  I knew this because when I was younger, my sister and father each had friends from the area.  But eleven-year old Greg was more interested in tuning in to see how MacGyver was going to use a pocketknife to escape from a flooding submarine than he was to tuning into C-SPAN.macgyver

Continue reading This Will Get Your “Kotor” Running!

Some Great… “Qsine” on the Celebrity Silhouette

If you’ve been a reader of this [travel] blog for sometime, I may have convinced you about the benefits of cruising.  You might even think that I’m lobbying for a job with one of the major cruise companies… and seeing as how I’ll need to resume gainful employment sooner rather than later, you may just be right.  If I haven’t yet convinced you to book your next vacation on a massive floating wonderland, let me quickly state my case once again.  Cruising offers you the opportunity to be pampered day and night while visiting far-off locales in multiple countries without unpacking more than once.  You can soak up culture, splurge on shopping, enjoy theatre, gamble in the casino, relax in the spa or simply sit in your room and enjoy room service while taking in the most magical of views.

Julia is no stranger to being pampered.  It scares me that two year old now hands me the phone and tells me to "order dinner"
Julia is no stranger to being pampered. It scares me that my two year old now hands me the phone and tells me to “order dinner”

On top of all that, you will enjoy delectable cuisine any time of day or night.  In my opinion (which, I’ve found is more fact than opinion since I’m right 98.8% of the time… just ask Jen), one of the best things about cruising is the food.  I once read that the weight gain for your average cruise-goer can be up to a pound a day (do the math for a two week cruise).  If the food can be the star of the show, truth be told – it can also be the downfall of your vacation if you’re served meals that are no better than bad banquet food (and you thought you had a lousy meal at Moritz Rosenstien’s bar mitzvah?).  That is why careful research about your cruise line (and more importantly, the specific cruise ship) is of the utmost importance.  We  chose our most recent Mediterranean cruise on one of Celebrity Cruises newest ships, the Silhouette based on the itinerary and overwhelmingly positive reviews of the food.  We were not disappointed.

"Tell me more, Greg"
“Tell me more, Dad. Give me the ins and outs of it all!”

Continue reading Some Great… “Qsine” on the Celebrity Silhouette

Let’s Set Sail Together Again (Corfu, Greece)!

It’s been nearly a month and a half since my last meaningful post and I am once again faced with the monumental task of getting caught back up.  I’m not sure how or why I allowed myself to get so far behind, but I do know that I have left myself a lot of work.  The wine, cheese and salami will just have to wait (well, I suppose it can’t hurt to have a little wine while I write).  I would like to apologize to my readers for this delay and I would like to acknowledge one loyal reader in particular;  Helen  actually reached out to me through our Contact Us page and basically said, “what the hell, Greg – where’ve you been?!”  Helen and everyone – even though it can’t excuse the lack of content, we  just got back from a two-week trip to the States where, in my capacity as Best Man, I roasted my good buddy Josh and toasted his beautiful bride, Abby (read about Josh and Abby’s trip to visit us here and here).

While we were home, I rediscovered some magical things – burritos, quality customer service and Netflix.  We haven’t watched as much TV over the past year as we did over the past two weeks.  I became obsessed with the Netflix original series, House of Cards – an amazing drama starring, Kevin Spacey as Frank Underwood, a cagey and politically ambitious congressman who is constantly scheming and conniving to reach the next rung of the political ladder.  If Frank Underwood can work through all hours of the night and stay ten moves ahead of his opposition, surely I can bang out a few extra blog posts in the next couple weeks.

You and me both, Frank
You and me both, Frank

We still have tons of travel left to do together – I’ve only written about the very first part of our cruise late last year and so much has happened since.  So put on your boating shoes and let’s get going… Continue reading Let’s Set Sail Together Again (Corfu, Greece)!

Presenting, The New… Sipping Espresso

Revamped…  Reformatted…  Recharged!!

I present, for your viewing pleasure… the BRAND NEW,


Please fill in your email address in the “subscribe” field on the left, especially if you were a previous subscriber (all subscriptions were terminated in the move).  Also, PLEASE, PLEASE click on the CONTACT US page if you care to give feedback.  I would like your suggestions on continued improvement, notes on errors I’ve made or just any general feedback (you can also leave a comment on this post itself… but please be nicer in that location, they are visible to the public).  I’m sure that I’ve made some mistakes (many late night hours are at work here) and I’d love for you to help me catch them.

In the meantime, thanks for your continued support and ENJOY your test drive on our new site!  For those craving new content and not just a “filler” piece, you’ll be happy to know I’ve added more favorite photos to the PHOTOGRAPHY page.

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

Drink in Italy With Us

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