Saturday, September 24, 2011

Our European Adventure PICTURES

Hi All,

I know my readers might want to see all of my pictures from Europe (since the last five posts have been about each of our stops).

Below is a link to my facebook album which provides pictures and commentary from each stay, let me know what you think!

http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150786136500392.734132.666815391&type=1&l=e280b87015

Friday, September 23, 2011

Our last stop Barcelona!

Our last stop on our European adventure was beautiful Barcelona!

Since I am posting this weeks after my stay in Barcelona I will make it short and sweet. The people are hot, the parties are LATE, and the architecture is phenomenal. We stayed in Barcelona for 3 nights at the 4 star Gran Silken Havana hotel which was about a 5 minute walk to Las Ramblas (we booked this hotel using priceline and got it for $450 for 3 nights which was better than any deal we saw on other hotel sites). The hotel is not one I would recommend as the AC stopped working (so they say), and they did not have a concierge. Not having a concierge is like walking blind in a city, it is ridiculous that a 4 star did not have this. We did what we could with a few tourist maps and were able to adequately make our way around town.
Must do:

  • Gaudi's architechtural madness around the city (Sagrada familia in particular)
  • Magic Mountain - Great view of the city
  • Las Ramblas (have some drinks or just watch some of the street performers)
  • Pier (there is a great indoor/outdoor mall as well)
  • Spend a day at the beach (for a beachfront in a city, Barcelona takes the cup
  • Beachfront Bar/restaurants (we went to Carpe Diem Club Lounge - which was asian fusion cuisine resto lounge that had massage therapists and magicians entertaining guests as they had their meals. Although we had to wait 40 minutes for our table the restaurant gave us complimentary champagne and mojito's.
  • Nightlife - It should actually be called morning life, not night life in Barcelona since the parties really kick start at 3AM. I am ashamed to say that we had to attempt a nap before making our way out, and redbull vodka saved us.

Would I go back to Barcelona? Hmm not sure, I think I want to check out Madrid or other parts of Spain before I can make that decision.

Until next time,
9to5travelgirl

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Firenze and Roma

Just spent 3 fabulous nights in Firenze, and 3 amazing nights in Rome. There is so much to share, so I will try not to write too long of a post but I can't make any promises!

Firenze (Florence), Tuscany
We arrived in Firenze last Friday, and headed to our Bed and Breakfast located five minutes from the Duomo. We were greeted by Ricardo who ran the Locanda di campo bed and breakfast, and he spent a half hour highlighting on a map his favourite local restaurants, must do sight seeing, and tips on how to bargain at the leather markets. We spent the first day exploring Firenze - Duomo, Uffizi gallery, Piazza del signoria, Michelangelo's famous statue of David, ponte vecchio (bridge), and the markets around the Duomo. The first day at the leather market we met two italian women who taught us how to say "how much " and "too much" to help our bargaining skills. We ended up buying purses at Michelangelo leather, who was the most friendly and bubbly shopowner who asks all his foreign clients to sign his guest book, he's been in the leather business for 39 years.

Our next day we jumped on a 12 hour "Best of Tuscany tour", below I decribe each of our stops.
Siena - we had a one hour private tour of the town. Siena is home to the first banking system, and interestingly residents of Siena are divided into 17 Contrada (sections, which you are born into), and each Contrada competes in the Palio di Siena traditional medieval horserace, and whichever Contrada wins they celebrate (and have the bragging power for a year). The horserace is very spritual as they have the horses blessed at the respective Contrada church, and can get very emotional the winnings.
Chianti Lunch - we stopped at this beautiful organic winery and farm for lunch, explored their vineyards, and enjoyed a typical Tuscan 4 course meal with wine pairings. This winery also has villas you can rent, and if I ever go back to Tuscany this is where I will stay. It is breathtaking.
San Gimignano- Home to the worlds best gelateria. It is a small village founded in the third century, in the middle ages became a stopping point for catholic pilgrams on their way to the Vatican. It is such a cute town fenced with brickwalls with cobblestone roads, and beautiful views of Tuscany's greenery.
Last stop Pisa - Every italian we met in Italy made fun of the fact that tourists come from around the world to see a leaning tower. We had an hour stop here and it was enough time for us to get all of our "cheesy" pictures giving the illusion we were pushing the tower. That pretty much summed up our visit to Pisa! I would strongly recommend this tour, our cousins referred us to it (gracia Ruby and Randy) and it is worth the 80 euros pp.
Our last day in Firenze we did some shopping, did our laundry (yes those wash and dry locations are a godsend), and enjoyed the street entertainment. Definitely a fabulous stay in Firenze, I look forward to the day I am back in a Tuscan villa just taking in the views and sitting poolside.


Roma (Rome)
We all know how much I loved Paris (if not refer to my Paris post), but now my heart is torn between Paris and Roma. I think Roma should be short for Romance or Romantic because this city puts a spell on you, from the magical Vatican city to the Patheon, Coliseum/ Palatine Hill, ancient Rome, Spanish steps and the Trevi fountain ( toss a coin in and the spirits of the fountain will see to it that you will one day make it back to Roma). I won't spend time talking about any of these must do sights, as you can look up the significance of each prior to your own visit to Roma.
We stayed in Campo di Fiori which was quite central, we were able to walk to the Coliseum, Vatican City, and the Patheon. We spent our first night exploring all the key monuments in Roma ( we got a tourguide of the Coliseum, who spoke way too fast and jumped around way too much, I would reccomend just getting an audio guide and exploring on your own), that evening we had dinner at Macheroni near the Patheon ( recommended by my cousin Kama), this was the best restaurant we had been to in Roma and likely all of italy. Our concierge and many locals also recommended it. This restaurant hit the spot when it came to true roman specialities like cacio e pepe, carbonara, and fried artichoke ( the house wine was also a hit and it was only 8euros).
The next day we devoted to Vatican City, we happened to run into a rep from "What a Life tours" and it was the best thing that happened to us. We had Angelo as our tourguide of the Vatican Museum, Sistine Chapel, and St. Peter's Basilica. He spoke fluent English and Italian, and studied art history. On tripadvisor he is the #1 or #2 tourguide in all of Roma, and I can honestly believe it. He also has a special access pass of Vatican City that only 24 others in the world have, of course he couldn't take us with him (a cardinal showed him the real painting tools of Michelangelo). During this 3 hour tour not once did I lose interest, his character and personality made this magical place even more beautiful. He had an ipad as his sidekick and spent time getting everyone up to speed on the history of the Vatican. All I can say is when entering the Sistine Chapel your completely mesmorized and blown away by the talent of Michelangelo, and the stories painted in each of the panels. If you come to Roma for one reason it may well be for what you will see on the Sistine Chapel walls. We spent our evening in Piazza Naova, the ambiance, music and entertainment was lovely.
Our third day in Roma we spent our morning to afternoon at Le Fate restaurant in a cooking class run by Andrea Colis ( another reccomendation we got from our cousins Ruby and Randy). We were in a group of 12 and learned how to make 4 roman dishes including gorgonzola stuffed figs, sausage tomato linguine (freshly made the pasta in class), beef and arugula tomato salad, and a chocolate raisin pie. He was charming, funny, and very knowledgeable.
I love Roma and will definitely miss our evenings on our rooftop terrace enjoying the panoramic views, having too many bottles of wine, while laughing our hearts out.
They say you come to italy to eat, and boy we did just that. Spent our days eating gelato, and our nights eating pizza and pasta.

On to our last stop, Hola Barcelona! They say you leave your heart in spain, my heart may need to be torn into 3!

Ciao bellas,
9to5travelgirl

P.S. After 10 days in Italy you may think eating all that pizza, pasta, and gelato you would gain weight. In actuality the amount of walking you do up and down hills you end up staying the exact same! No need to buy a new pair of jeans.