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Archive for November, 2011

Locks of Love

I started getting really excited about going to Paris after reading this article on CNN.com. The author had been to Paris before, so used this trip to wander around the city sans the visits to the major monuments and museums that populate the agendas of most tourists. Since I’d also been to Paris before, I thought it was a perfect approach, and, to be honest, I’m kind of on sight seeing overload right now.

Anyway, the article started with a photo of a bridge that was filled with locks inscribed with messages of love. I loved the image and the idea. It seems so wonderfully hopeful and unjaded, in a way that you really don’t imagine for the typical Parisian. Maybe the romantics buying and inscribing the locks are mostly tourists?

Whatever the case, it was so fun to see. The article mentions one bridge in particular – Pont des Arts – but I saw them on several pedestrian bridges.

It reminded me a bit of the end of Love Actually (it’s Christmas time and I’m a girl, so I’m allowed to bring up that movie, ok?) where there are a thousand different scenes of people lovingly greeting each other in the airport, and finally, they reference the title of the movie when the voiceover says that “love, actually is all around us.”

Clearly, I always cry at that part. But to be honest, I hardly ever see anything in real life that makes me feel that way.

Aside from these locks. So that, in (not-so) brief, is why I absolutely loved seeing them.

PS – my internet is back on!

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Technically, Venice is a part of Italy. But after having spent a month in Rome, I felt like I was in a different country the second we arrived there. Obviously, the city is completely surrounded by water, so that plays a huge role in differentiating it from the rest of the country, but it also has a very unique, Venice-specific culture.

That culture is worthy of a primer course before your visit. Below are some things you should know before you travel to Venice, or, if you don’t have a trip planned, some (hopefully) fun reading.

Gondolas
In my Venice fantasies, I traveled everywhere on a gondola. In a city with so much water and so many gondolas, they must be a cheap, quick and convenient method of transport, right?

Nope. In reality, they are none of those things. Taking a gondola ride is really expensive (I’m talking 80-100+ Euros for a 2km trip expensive). I found that it’s better to readjust your expectation of what the purpose of the gondola ride is. It’s most certainly not for getting from point A to point B.

The gondola ride is an experience, more comparable to taking a horse & carriage ride through Central Park or riding a rollercoaster at an amusement park than to taking a cab. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime type experience at that, so I highly recommend it, but realistically, if you want to pony up the cash, you’ll take one 20 minute ride and that’s it.

Vaporetto
The more practical method of transport in Venice is via the public transportation system, hopping on and off ferry boats called vaporettos. They’re still not cheap; a single ride ticket is 6.50 Euros. Sidenote: this prompted an American who we were waiting next to on the docks to scream “6.50 to take the bus??!! Are they f***ing kidding me??” Valid point, but it is still a boat, so it’s much cooler than the bus. If you’re going to take the vaporetto a few times, it makes sense to buy a pass. Unlimited use for 24 hrs will run you 18 Euros.

I will say that vaporettos are still not a particularly efficient way of getting around. You’ll generally have to wait between 5 and 10 minutes for one to arrive, and be prepared to stand in tight quarters with other travelers and make frequent stops before arriving at your destination.

Cicchetti
I just loved the idea of cicchetti. They are little hors d’oeuvres or tapas, say bruschetta or fried seafood, that are available during the early evening hours at many wine bars and wine shops around Venice. Each costs about 1-2 Euros, and you take your snack and your glass of wine and enjoy it inside the shop or, better yet, outside on the street. The scene was so lively at each of the little bars we visited – a bunch, including Al Merca, pictured above, were around the Rialto bridge – and you really could make a meal just of bar hopping and eating cicchetti all night. When I open my wine/cheese/soup/book shop back in the US/my fantasies, I’ll definitely incorporate this concept.

And,  finally, a couple of other things to note about the Venetian dialect which are a little different from the rest of Italy:

  • A square is referred to as a “campo,” not a “piazza”
  • Streets are called “calle” not “via”
  • A “sestiere” is a neighborhood
  • A wine bar is a “bacaro,” rather than an enoteca

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Disconnected

My apologies, internet friends. I know it’s been a while.

A big part of the reason for my prolonged absence from the web is that the internet connection at our humble abode has been inexplicably broken for two weeks now. Apparently our phone line got crossed with a neighbor’s, disabling the wi-fi and causing us to receive numerous calls from Italians looking for a lady named Gabriella. It’s been fun.

But, more fun than that, we’ve had a bunch of visitors in town, and I’ve been spending my days playing tour guide and pretending I know everything about Rome. I visited all of the city’s major sites again, and eaten a lot. Walking everywhere is no longer preventing my pants from becoming tight.

And, in between those visits, I spent a few days in Berlin and Paris.

Needless to say, there’s lots to share about the past few weeks. Here’s to hoping the internet connection is restored today, so I can leave the coffee shop and do it from the comfort of my couch, in my pajamas, like a real blogger. Fingers crossed!

 

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Venice in November

I have always wanted to visit Venice. Especially after reading The City of Falling Angels by John Berendt, who also famously wrote Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil.

If you haven’t read the book, it brings Venice to life in much the same way as Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil does for Savannah. All of the Venetians Berendt features seems completely free-spirited and brilliant and crazy, and he makes Venice seem totally unique and intriguing – which it is.

In the book, the city itself feels so magical and insane and amazingly compelling that by the end, you feel an almost physical need to get there ASAP.

I first read it over 5 years ago, so I definitely didn’t get there quickly, but it was worth the wait.

The city is decaying, maybe sinking, and definitely in the midst of a really, really delicate ecosystem. It all feels so fleeting and precious, and I loved it the second our train pulled into the train station (on tracks surrounded on both sides by water).

Despite the fact that the November weather was mostly rainy and overcast, I was thankful that we visited when we did.

I’ve heard a lot about how crowded with tourists the tiny island becomes, with many cruise ships dropping off day trippers during the high season, which is March – October, so I was really happy to miss the overwhelming tourist rush.

We were able to take in the key sites – including the Basilica di San Marco, which is famous for its long lines – very easily, which freed up time for some important stuff, like getting lost in the windy back streets, taking a gondola ride and enjoying chicchetti.

I felt so lucky to be there.


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Southern Style Pesto


I’m still dreaming of this Southern-style pesto sauce we made in cooking class last week. It was so bright and fresh, and better yet, it’s really, really simple to make. There are only six ingredients, and with the help of an immersion blender or mini food processor, all you have to do is buy the ingredients and blend them together. 

 

It’s great to use as a dipping sauce for any kind of fried starter (which is what we did in class), or as a sauce over your pasta, or even drizzled over some fresh mozzarella.

Basically, an excellent and deceptively simple way to impress guests while doing hardly anything at all. I love deceit! A win-win for everyone!

Southern Style Pesto
(courtesy Chef Andrea Consoli)

Three handfuls, cherry tomatoes
1 T extra virgin olive oil
Handful of almonds
Pinch of salt
2 garlic cloves
A few leaves of fresh basil

Blend all ingredients together in a food processor.
If the sauce is too liquid, add some parmesan cheese and blend again.
Bow. Serve.

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I’ve decided that I haven’t been traveling around Italy enough. Don’t get me wrong: I love Rome (even though I’m guilty of hating on it sometimes), but there are so many other things to see in the country, and I’m really itching to take advantage of it.

In that spirit, I took a day trip to Naples last week. It’s only a two hour train ride from Rome, so it’s really doable for a day.

I wasn’t sure what to expect; I’ve heard wildly conflicting reports of the city. One one hand, that it’s loud, crowded, graffiti-laden and filled with trash. On the other, that it’s full of energy, has delicious cuisine and a vibrant culture.

Being that I was only there for a day, I’m not ready to weigh in yet, but here are two things I will tell you:

(1) the city has some seriously fantastic water views (check out Mount Vesuvius in the background)

(2) They were right about the graffiti. It was everywhere, including on monuments,

 

and even on the rocks by the sea.

I feel like there’s so much more to explore there, so I’m heading back again tomorrow. If you have any reccommendations for things to check out (especially pizza!), please let me know in the comments.

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The Flower Truck

I know I write a lot about flowers, but they make me happy. I can’t help it.

I’ve been seeing a bunch of flower trucks around Rome recently. They are so adorable! The driver will either drive around making deliveries, or park on a street corner and sell to passersby.

It’s one of those things that’s just so incredibly simple and beautiful and European. It always puts a smile on my face.

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