Boarding the ship and Florence

We were fortunate to take a cruise as part of our trip to Europe. We departed from Rome, Civitavecchia, to be more exact. It’s about an hour and a half from Rome, so we hired a shuttle to take us to the port. The downside of travel is the majority of the other people you travel with and this shuttle was no exception. We had the most annoying Texans on our ride–the kind of morally bankrupt idiots who give America a bad name. As hurricanes ravaged the US, these ladies were plotting how to buy land in FL and vacation there with a trailer, so that they didn’t care if it got destroyed since they’d have no major investment lost. Ugh, they piss me off just writing about them. Moving on….

We did have some awesome Aussies in their 70s and 80s, a group of friends who saw the world together. One feisty woman, Audrey, even vowed her next trip would be to Alaska to mush with the dogs!

We made it to the ship and relaxed with many drinks, a delicious dinner, and a really solid classic rock cover band from the Philippines. The guitarist was a master impressionist and you haven’t lived until you’ve heard a Filipino guy sing “Money for Nothing” in a dead-on Mark Knopfler impression.

The next day we headed to Florence. While our one tour through Can’t Be Missed was great, this first one sorta sucked the big one. It started about 45 minutes late because two dullards–Terri and Dennis–read their reservation incorrectly and showed up super late. I don’t blame CBM for this necessarily, but they definitely did not need to delay everyone’s tour for those two. It wasn’t just waiting on those two, but the disorganized nature of the tour that really bothered us. The driver didn’t have a clear picture of the tour, he left us a with a guide who had us pay money for tickets, but then didn’t GET the tickets from the taker so we were stuck in limbo for 30 minutes, etc. We eventually made it into the Accademia and saw selected art pieces, including the David. 

Then we walked to the Duomo and Baptistry. I wish we’d had time to go inside, but next trip. The outside alone was breathtaking.

We made our way to the Ponte Vecchio and a small market with the “little pig” or “Porchilino” statue (my new nickname).  While looking at the Arno, all Paul and I could do was sing the Police song that mentions its name. 

For lunch, we wanted the authentic Florentine steak experience and this was a solid offering. We also ate criminally overpriced, but tasty gelato. 

We stopped at an overlook for a picturesque Tuscan shot. Terri and Dennis, our arch-nemeses, were nice enough to take our picture. This picture aside, these people really sucked. It’s hard to put into words, but Terri kept yelling about the air conditioner being too loud and not being able to hear anything. When the driver turned it down, she then yelled about it being hot. Keep in mind this cycle repeated about every 5 minutes for a 5 hour tour. You’d want to kill her too. Dennis made loud international phone calls to his adult son to discuss his fantasy football team and to remind him to read Proverbs. At every site, Terri would flit around with her giant iPad elbowing people out of her way to get the shots she wanted. It didn’t help that they were both self-professed Jesus freaks who clearly didn’t get the Biblical memo about not being a rude, self-absorbed asshole.

After Florence, we went for a brief stop at Pisa. It was cool, it leaned, but I really had to pee and some of the bloom was off the CBM tour rose. 

When we got back to our room, industrial fans were going in the hallway and our carpet had been replaced. Some tiny flood must have happened, but nothing of ours was damaged. Norwegian Cruises handled it like a champ and gave us a free specialty dining meal, a bottle of wine, and chocolate strawberries. The night wrapped up well with some music and late night spicy Asian wings and nachos. Cruising is the good life.

Advertisements

Rome, Day 1

We had a super early flight to Rome from Paris and our jet lagged bodies did not appreciate the 3 am wake up call. We zoned out on the flight and landed in Rome about 2 hours after we took off. In a twist, the plane disembarked from the back and we were in the midst of a very large group of Asian tourists. I made the mistake of trying to follow the normal process of leaving a plane, ya know waiting your turn and grabbing your bag from the overhead. But as I tried to get our suitcases a deafening cacophony of irate Asians trying to deplane first (like 14 rows behind me) got me so flustered I just gave up. “How do you say rude assholes?” I asked Paul. Overhearing us, an Italian businessman quipped, “in Chinese.”

Surviving the deplaning, we made it to our hotel. Easily the worst hotel of our trip, the room wasn’t ready, the attendants weren’t helpful, and so we made our way to the streets to explore the Monti neighborhood. We were about 3 minutes from the Colosseum it was crazy seeing ruins in your backyard! We found a tiny coffee shop and had some lackluster Nutella pastry and a cannoli. I expected a lot more from that cannoli, let me tell you. 

We returned to the room and slept for a few hours. Waking up, we ventured to the Pantheon, stopping for pizza along the way. 

We also made our way to the Piazza Navonna and reveled in the beauty of the landscape, even though it was ass to elbow with other tourists (a recurring theme of the trip). 

Still a bit peckish, we went to Supplizio for the Roman version of arrincini called suppli. Paul loved the carbonara and I preferred the cacio e pepe.

We ambled through some tiny streets, dodging cars and Vespas and people. landing eventually at a small cafe for Prosecco and our new favorite drink, the Aperol Spritz. 
We headed back to the Panthenon, as it was less crowded a bit later in the evening. 

We finished the day with one of the most epic meals of the trip at Armando Al Pantheon. The waiter recommended a delicious red wine from the region and we enjoyed it alongside the best buffalo mozzarella and tomato bruschetta. Paul had the carbonara which had the most intense egg flavor. I had the pasta alla amatriciana. For secondi, I had the veal saltimbocca and Paul had a chicken and peppers dish. We raved about this meal for the entirety of the trip and can’t  wait to return some day! 

Paris, France Day 2

Day 2 in Paris dawned clear and sunny, despite many dire forecasts. <!-more-> &nbsp

Our day began with a Secret Food Tour of the Montmartre area. Our guide, PJ, was a character. Clad in a leather biker vest, he was funny, a touch bawdy, and very knowledgeable about French food, wine, and culture. We began at a local boulangerie, watching the bread being put into the oven.  The tour structure was quite clever—mimic the Parisian buying habits (grab bread here, meat there, cheese here and then bring them back and sit down for a meal together).  The meal took place at a restaurant right near where Edith Piaf used to sing.


After our walk, we settled down to a hefty tasting meal. PJ purchased three kinds of baguettes—regular, whole wheat, and corn—and they served as handy vessels for the parade of meat and cheese to come. The corn was the real revelation—a little sweet, a little savory, and a whole lot delicious.


We began with a trippel creme cheese with truffles. Soft cheeses aren’t usually our jam, but the earthiness from the truffles really helped it go down a treat. It was followed by a goat cheese in ash and a hard goat cheese. The soft one was too funky for us, but the hard one was a favorite of Paul’s.


Next, we came the meats. Salame, meat from the neck that tasted like andouille, and actual andouille made from intestines and stomach that tasted like tiny ribbons of chewy fat (not my fav).


Up next were the terrines. Duck and rabbit, both delicious, and head cheese.


The strong cheeses rounded out the savory portion of the meal—Comte and Roquefort.


Finally, we rose and walked off some of the goodies we’d just consumed. We went to this amazing macaron and chocolate shop run by two Korean bakers/chocolatiers. We had honey, fig (only French bakery to have real fruit filling put in the macaron), chocolate, and coffee.


Paul’s life was changed by the sea salt and caramel chocolate. 

Next, we had some choupetts. Delicious light pastries with a tiny crunch stuffed with whipped cream. We both agreed we would have enjoyed it even more without the cream.


img_4301

The tour ended with crepes from a little hole-in-the-wall crepe shop. We chose the lemon, butter, and sugar which was good, but definitely not the best thing on the menu. That comes later…..

Stuffed full of decadent Parisian treats, we made our way to the Arc de Triomphe, Champs Elysee, and the Eiffel Tower. We had tried to see them the day prior, but I experienced one of my mini freak-outs at the subway map and spent so long staring at it, like it was in Greek, that we missed our window and had to hustle to the wine tasting.  I saw many beautiful things on this trip, but Arc de Triomphe monument really blew me away. Not sure why, but it made me a little teary.


Paul then suggested heading to the Place de Voge area for a glass of wine. We wandered around the area a bit, seeing Victor Hugo’s house and the Place de Bastille. The Place de Bastille was slightly spoiled by the Nokia advertisement wrapped around it (nothing says liberte, egalite, and fraternite like rampant commercialism)!


We wandered around the St. Paul/Marais district before making our way back to Montmartre and the Sacre Couer. We took the funicular up to the Sacre Couer and when we tried to get back down, some people had messed up the machines so they could sell illegal tickets. Not cool, folks, not cool.

img_4351

We had a kind of lackluster dinner of escargot (pretty solid), rump steak, croque madame, and a Cote du Provence rose. We remained hungry and went in search of the hole-in-the-wall crepe stand again. And, boy, are we so glad we did. Not only were the ham and cheese crepe and the nutella crepe the best bites we had in Paris, they were right up there with some of the best food of the entire trip.

img_4355

Look at those looks of pure joy, folks. Pure, crazy joy.

Paris, France 

It’s been awhile since we checked in on here. Welcome back! Travel prep, work, and house guests kept us busy in the weeks leading up to our trip and then we were vacationing in France, Spain, and Italy for two weeks. Blogging updates were the last thing on our minds.  

But we are back home now and eager to document our trip. We have got a lot of territory to cover, so settle in for many forthcoming posts about our European adventure! Feast your eyes on these two fresh-faced innocents. Heck, they hadn’t even been to Europe yet. 

Our flight left Reagan National and headed to JFK. Not quite a red-eye, our 5 pm-ish departure from New York meant we never managed to sleep on the way to Paris. After making it through French customs (barely a cursory nod at our passports and an emphatic stamp), we faced our first challenge—Paris’s ultramodern restrooms.  It may have been the jet lag, but the rooms were labyrinthine, the fixtures unresponsive, and the lights kept cutting off when you peed unless you sort of jerk-danced your upper torso and arms the entire time you sat on the bowl.

With some trial and error we located our shuttle and were on our way to our hotel in Montmartre. We landed early in the morning Paris-time, and so were faced with a dilemma—stay up and power through on zero sleep or take a nap and face the jet lag consequences. We decided it would be best to acclimate to the new normal and proceeded to stay up for about 36 hours straight.

Hotel Le Squara where we stayed was an absolute delight. Located right near a metro and nestled in the charming streets of Montmartre, we couldn’t have asked for a better location. Granted, it’s right next to the red light/sex district, but if you don’t mind the occasional nudie bar, it’s really prime real estate for travelers and affordable.

In true Kathleen and Paul fashion, we started our travels with croissant, pan au chocolat and espresso in the art nouvea decorated Lux Bar. The coffee helped our addled brains orient enough to tentatively figure out the metro map and negotiate our way to some sights.

Our first stop was St. Chapelle. Paul read about this chapel in Rick Steves and its promise of the most beautiful stained glass in Europe did not disappoint. Located right near government buildings, I saw my first of many armed guards staring down tourists with semi-automatic machine guns.

After St. Chapelle, we walked to Notre Dame and took in its majestic beauty. Sadly, it was very short on hunchback sightings.


Hungry for more stereotypical Parisian delicacies, we walked to a cafe where we had the most deliciously molten croque madame and monsieur.


After lunch, we had one of what would be a handful of mini-freak-outs on my part. I had really, really, really wanted to do a boat ride down the Seine. I figured I’d picture myself as a character in Les Miserables and watch the sights go by. But the reality was negotiating about a zillion slippery moss covered steps and my already janky knee was balking. Never mind my fear of heights (and stairs without banisters—Europe, you’re a tricky mistress). My disappointment in my wimpiness, a pervasive sense of crippling exhaustion, and dreams dashed had me in quite a sore mood. But the view definitely helped me regain some equilibrium. After getting lost for a good 25 minutes navigating a few blocks, we managed to make it to the famous bookstore Shakespeare and Company and all was well again.

We had booked a wine tasting at O’Chateau and my dim recollections of it are positive. I was so tired I actually fell asleep at one point mid-lecture from our sommelier. The wines were very good—especially the champagne and the Languedoc—and the atmosphere was incredible, a sort of underground cellar/wine cave.


We finished the evening with a pretty average, over-rare steak frite and then some truly memorable aged Gruyere. Marvelous cheeses are a recurring theme on this trip and many, many Lactaids were consumed to help me cope with my intolerance to lactose. Quelle horreur being lactose intolerant in Europe!

Tire-d

Saturday, Paul and I spent the morning running errands. As I drove, I noticed my car kept pulling to the left quite dramatically. I’m prone to anxiety and so my neurotic questions to Paul–How is the car driving? Do you notice any difference in the ride? Do the tires feel full?–were pretty typical for a Saturday morning ride. He responded that all felt well and so we continued on to Whole Foods. Continue reading “Tire-d”

Adult Hobbies

Recently, Kathleen and I were talking about how we tend to watch a lot of television. It’s both entertaining and relaxing, and it’s usually just what the doctor ordered after a long day at work. But, we thought, maybe there are other things we could be doing with our time. Maybe it’s time to branch out a bit and find some honest-to-God hobbies. Continue reading “Adult Hobbies”

Once Upon a Mattress

Three years ago we bought a memory foam mattress. For 2 years, we slept great. This past year, we elevated the mattress to help with my acid reflux and hiatal hernia and the mattress never recovered. It sloped and dipped and created a cavern in the middle where if we lost vigilance for one minute we sunk into the crevasse. Continue reading “Once Upon a Mattress”