Palermo, Sicily


For my 40th birthday, I wanted to spend a few days somewhere new, and Adrian delivered with a trip to Palermo. This is another recap written way after the fact. I”m determined to be caught up by the time we go to the Netherlands at the end of June.

Day 1:

We had a pleasant afternoon flight from LCY with a stopover in Milan, which allowed us to arrive right in time for dinner. After checking into our digs at the Grand Hotel Piazzo Borsa, we headed to nearby Osteria dei Vespri on the Piazza Croce dei Vespri. While we originally planned to have a light supper, that was derailed by tuma cheese, lentil soup, artichoke pasta, mackerel, apple cake, and lots of other lovely things.

Day 2: (Sunday)

After breakfast at the hotel, we just wandered around Palermo. We even took a selfie.

Where we went:

  • Along the Piazza Marina
  • Giardina Garibaldi which hosted a market  and a huge tree
  • Piazza Pretoria, which contains a fountain with many expectorating animal heads
  • The Church of San Cataldo, a 12th century church
  • Through the 4 Canti
  • Along the Vila Bonanno during our first attempt to visit the cathedral

amidst all this,  we grabbed some lunch at an unassuming little restaurant called Trattoria Palermo – Mamma Ciccina, where Adrian had one of his favorite meals of the trip, a pizza matrucciano (likely misspelled), and we split an obligatory cannoli.

For dinner, we went to La Vecchio Locanda and powered up on caponata, salad, and pizza.

Day 3: (Monday)

More wandering…

  • Teatro Massimo a familiar sight for anyone who has seen Godfather III. (I have added this to my to do list.)
  • Park Villa Malfitano, a villa constructed in 1886 by Joseph Whitaker, who had trees shipped to Palermo from all over the world to plant around his villa. Houseguests included George V and Gen. Patton
  • We found the Palazzo Normani, but decided to return the next day when tickets were 2 EUR less and feasted at the nearby Trattoria ai Normanni. Adrian had some meaty pasta, and I had a Sicilian Meat Roll. We also split a caprese salad and an almond parfait.
  • Palermo Cathedral was open on our second attempt, and we enjoyed the views of the city from the roof
  • After gelato, we headed along Via Lincoln to Villa Giulia, a park,  before heading back via the Foro Italico to the hotel  for some downtime
  • For dinner, we had mozzarella with aubergine and courgettes and lamb tagines at Nuova Cana Enoteca, and excellent and charming little place.

Day 4: (Tuesday)

  • Palermo Cathedral was revisited in order to check out the views of the city from the roof
  • Then we wandered to the Chiesa Della Croce park and past the  Teatro Politama Garibaldi before having arancini and gelato
  • Back to Palazzo Normanni, where we saw an exhibit of cargo lost in shipwrecks and the exquisite Capella Palatina
  • Had dinner at Cagliostro, around the corner from the hotel.

 

The next morning, we flew home to London.

 

 

Venice, Italy


Northern View from the Rialto Bridge

*Yet another delayed travel posting, this trip was in August 2010

The first thing I noticed about Venice is that it really is just that exquisite. The second thing I noticed was how this beautiful place had clearly taken the slave role in its relationship with tourism.

It was August, and the peak of tourist season. While I had been warned that the canals often smell on hot days, I never noticed. What I did notice were so many bad tzotches for sale, restaurants selling pizza with laminated multi-language menus. and so many fanny packs.

Yes, I’m a hypocrite… sort of. I love to travel, and I think that people should sieze every opportunity they have to go experience new places and cultures.

A Garbage Boat

Thing is,  I think tourism can ruin a place when it ceases to be a place where real people live.  In Venice, the real estate prices are so high, many flats are owned by foreigners. The venues aren’t open late because staff vacates the city via the last commuter trains. I only saw one supermarket in nearly a week of walking around. Where does one buy cleaning products?

Restaurants, and really, everything is extremely expensive, as it all has to come in via boat and trolley.

Thus, I found myself feeling a bit guilty, as I wandered around wishing that half, or really, all of  the people would go away.

So, some highlights…

Starting with my favorite, The Culinary:

Bancogiro's Lamb Carbonara

After a few nights of food that would be regarded as mediocre for the price point, we discovered what we nicknamed the Golden Stretch. The Golden Stretch is several restaurants, all in a row, Northwest of the Rialto Bridge.

1. Osteria Bancogiro: The best Carbonara I’ve had outside of Rome, and theirs had the unusual twist of lamb. I actually went and ordered this dish twice.

Me & Al Pesador's Almond Pudding

2.  Al Pesador: I love this restaurant, and it was my favorite. The service was impeccable and welcoming and the food excellent  both times we dined. The restaurant has no cold storage and sources all of its food daily. During our last meal, I had an almond pudding that may have changed my life. The Insalata Caprese  was the best I’ve ever tasted.

3. The restaurant next door to Bancogiro that isn’t Al Pesador: While we very much enjoyed this venue and would recommend it, go to the other two first. The food was nice, but I’m not still dreaming about it. I’ll keep trying to dig up the name

Al Merca

and right around the corner from the stretch…

4. Al Merca: (Campo Cesare Battisti, San Polo 213) is a storefront wine bar serving sandwiches, wines by the glass and wine cocktails (ex: +aperol or campari)

5. Grom: Of the many gelatos I ate over the course of the week, this was definitely a favorite, specifically the dark chocolate flavor.

Of course, there are the museums and churches: (Unfortunately for me, as with many of the museums and cathedrals, photography was forbidden, so check out the weblinks)

Darren outside of San Rocco

If you enjoy modern art, The Peggy Guggenheim Collection (right) is a must see. Not only is the collection impressive, but this personal collection is located in the late philanthropist’s home.

Piazza San Marco offers the The Doges Palace was home to the city’s chief magistrate and of civic activity. It is linked to a prison, whose inmates included Casanova,  via the Bridge of Sighs. As the queues to enter San Marco itself and the tower were massive, we opted to eat gelato instead.

The Frari is definitely a must see as well. This Italian Gothic Cathedral includes works by a number of noted artists including,  Donatello, Vivarini, Bellini, Titian, and Canova; the latter two are entombed there as well. Unfortunately for me, as with many of the museums and cathedrals, photography was forbidden.

The Scuola Grande di San Rocco is covered in Tintoretto frescoes. Make sure you take advantage of the mirrors provided upstairs, as they make lengthy views of the extraordinary ceiling much easier.

Rialto Bridge

Other stuff:

In terms of accomodations, we stayed at the Centurion Palace, a beautiful but at times impractical hotel, located on the Southern Island. Getting to and from the airport, we opted for a combination of car service and water taxi. The water taxis are pricey, but I so enjoyed my ride to the airport on one. It seems the most efficient and easiest way to go.

View from the Water Taxi

The thing I enjoyed most in Venice, in addition to all the eating and art history was simply walking around, stepping away from the beaten path and taking the place in, admiring beautiful buildings and ornate bridges.

By the end of trip, days and days of walking left us comfortably knowing our way around, but still, I kept spotting new and wonderful architectural details about this city.

Rome II


Sunday:

Sunday was a less ambitious day. We mostly just wandered around to the city.

One of the thngs I like to do most when travelling is to try to get a sense of how people live in the place I’m visiting. Thus, places like supermarkets and pharmacies are always on the agenda, in addition to strolling around some more residential areas.

We started out by heading to the Spanish Steps in search of breakfast

and had a good laugh at the Expensive! store

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then, we wandered over the the Trevi Fountain, which was much bigger than I expected. There are buildings closely built all around it, which made getting a full picture of it difficult, especially as it was surrounded by other tourists. I gave up, concluding that a postcard might be a better way to get a reasonable picture of it.

Then we went to the Trastevere, which is a very popular neighborhood for going out and people watching. We had some delicious pizza, after which we walked along the Tibor River (left).

We pretty much just wandered around for the rest of the day. How else do you think I managed to eat so much gelato?

 

Monday:

Our final day kicked off with a trip to No. 3 on the list, the Colosseum. We walked to the Colosseum via the Roman Forum. We didn’t actually go in, we only walked by.

The Colosseum was smaller than I had envisaged. I was surprised to learn that a number of it’s exterior decorations were removed and used for St. Peter’s; that this structure was regarded as junk during the Renaissance.

After our wander around the Colosseum, we had some lunch and did a bit more wandering. Around three, we did what English people do when they have an hour to kill, we went to a pub before meeting our car to the airport.

Rome I



I’ve been slacking lately, or maybe just working too much. Regardless, this posting is long overdue and is going to be more brief than I would have liked.

Rome is wonderful. It’s a big museum with a population of over 3.5 million.

In deciding what I wanted to see and do (besides eating) on this trip, I kept the list short. The trip was only for three and a half days, and the guidebook made it abundantly clear that it would take me over a month, just to see all of the museums.

The Short List:

1. The Sistine Chapel
2. Raphael’s The School Of Athens at the Vatican Museum’s Raphael Room
3. The Colosseum
…with everything else being gravy.

Friday

 

We arrived in the afternoon and in the evening we mostly focused on the wandering around and eating.

This bridge  (left) is covered in beautiful sculptures.

We also made it to the Pantheon and viewed its ceiling

 

Saturday

In the morning, we set off to the Vatican Museum.

The museum, much like an Ikea, is laid out such that visitors must walk through everything, rather than just heading to the items your looking for. In the case of Ikea, it’s to make you think that you really need a furry, white rug (Thanks, Adam!) in a moment of weakness, whereas at the Vatican, it’s unavoidable due to the floorplan.

The Raphael Room and the Sistine Chapel are towards the end of the mighty journey, so we decided to bolt through the entire museum in an effort to beat the crowds some of whom were asking if this room of maps with a painted ceiling was the Sistine Chapel.

This plan worked well. When we finished repeating the cycle on round two, the Sistine Chapel was 3x as packed as it had been an hour earlier. I’ve no pictures of either. Photography is not allowed in the Chapel, and to be fair, it has been thoroughly photographed by people far more skilled with a camera than I.

We wandered around the Vatican afterwards, which is considered a seperate country from Italy. It even has it’s own post office with Vatican-issued stamps.
St. Peter’s was also a good visit. It’s sublime. The sort of faith that leads to the creation of monuments such as this is alien to me.

Following lunch, we headed to the Castello San Angelo. The views from the roof are beautiful and it has a nice cafe from which we enjoyed the sun. I took the first picture on this entry from the roof. (Unfortuantely, I didn’t notice the dirt on my lens until later in the day, so expect to see that spot a bit more.)

Rome: Eats


I had the privilege of spending last weekend in Rome.

High on the agenda were:

  • Eating
  • Vatican Galleries, including the Sistine Chapel
  • The Colosseum

I recognize that lumping together what is frequently regarded as a Wonder of the Medieval Age, one of the most famous sets of Renaissance frescoes, and my constant need to eat something may seem a bit odd, but I have my priorities, starting with food.

(You can enlarge the picture of all the eats and a bit of the Largo di Torre Argentina by selecting on it)

1. Meat & Cheese Plate
2. Spagetti Carbonara: Carbonara is a bacony, egg yolky sauce. It’s a typical Roman dish. Prior to having it in Rome, I had always found it presented with a cream sauce, rather than one that was yolky. The real deal is superior, by far.
3. Tartufo: gelato covered in mousse. The chocolate one (tartufo nero) was all chocolate, where as the white one (tartufo blanco) contained coffee flavored gelato.
4. Room Service Breakfast: not impressive, but it had a lot to compete with outside
5. Gelato to go #1: Nutella
6. Spagetti Bolognese: Another local dish, it was much less meaty than versions I’ve had in Italian restaurants in other countries.
7. Gelato to go #2: Pistachio
8. Prociutto & Melon
9. Saltimbocca: Veal wrapped in prociutto. I was so blinded by the prociutto goodness that not did I I forget the name of the dish, but I ate 2/3 of it before I was reminded to take a picture of it, thus the duplicate.
10. Deceptive Roll #1: This roll looks like it’s full of squishy goodness, but it was hollow!
11. Gelato to go #3: Tutti Frutti Siciliano: My least favorite, it tasted like Christmas fruitcake. I managed to trade it for my husband’s cup of Chocoloso, which consisted of cream flavored gelato with white chocolate cookie pieces. Fortunately, his eyes were bigger than his stomach, so he didn’t mind. That, and he didn’t want me to get violent.
12. Club Sandwich: This had eggs in it, and it made for a delicious breakfast.
13. Gelato/ Sorbetto to go #4: Coconut
14. Pizza: This was fantastic pizza. Thin crust, fresh cheese, beautiful tomatoes; that the restaurant brought me a bottle of wine rather than a glass had upsides and downsides.
15. Bread: to absorb the wine
16. Gelato to go #5: Hazelnut
17. Rice Ball & Fried Mozzarella: The rice ball was interesting with plenty of tomatoes and mushrooms. The mozzarella just reinforced my conclusion that fried cheese is a Platonic ideal food; specifically, that all foods may be improved through the addition of cheese and/or frying.
18. Carbonara #2: So much better than Carbonara 1!
19. Gelato to go #6: Strachiatelli: Likely misspelled, this is sweet cream flavored gelato with chocolate pieces.
20. Yogurt
21. Croissant
22. Pollo alla Romana & Spinach (this included decptive roll #2, which is not in the picture): A local dish of Chicken with peppers and tomatoes.
23. Gelato to go #7: Panna Cotta – definitely one of the best
24. White chocolate thingy
25. Airport caprese sandwich: If you look closely, you might note the absence of a piece of mozzarella, aka: The One That Got Away (TOTGA). Having learned that the flight was delayed, I settled down with the sandwich, only to have TOTGA fly out of my sandwich when I zealously dug in. *sigh*
26. Airport Pastry: I will find out what this one is called. It’s basically a thin ribbon filo dough cocooning a tasty custard center. This is worth looking at, if anything because it’s so precise and simple. It’s beautiful and tasty too.