Archive for » March, 2014 «

Mar
31

Looking to experience Italy on the cheap? The next time you travel by budget carrier to Italy, try the city of Trieste. The city is famous for its fascinating history and delicious cuisine. As it is close enough to Venice for a day-trip and pretty enough to enjoy as a city in its own right, it’s well worth renting a car in Trieste. The city offers a world of fantastic sights and attractions. All you have to do is grab a map and jump in your car and go exploring. To ensure that you make the best use of your time in Trieste, we’ve included the following guide.

Trieste Mini Guide:

Trieste Airport is located in Ronchi dei Legionari, right beside the city of Trieste. The airport is served by a number of international carriers including Lufthansa, Alitalia, Air One and budget airline Ryanair. You’ll notice that Trieste Airport is sign posted on most major roads and routes including the A4 motorway and 305 main road.

Things To See/Do in Trieste:

Trieste is the capital city of the Friuli Venezi Guilia region of Italy. The city is situated close to Slovenia and Croatia and Slavic influences are obvious everywhere you venture in Trieste. Once you’ve arrived in the town, it’s well worth taking a walking tour to see what the city has to offer in terms of historic and cultural attractions. The hill at San Giusto is a great starting point. Here you’ll take in sights like San Giusto Cathedral and the medieval Castello. Museo Civico di Storia ed Arte, the city’s wonderful art and history museum is also well worth a visit.

Trieste plays host to a number of exciting festivals and events throughout the calendar year including Mittelfest in July and the La Sfida sailing race in September.

Trieste’s central location makes it the ideal base from which to explore the surrounding countryside by hire car. A drive out to Opicina is a must. The journey from here offers stunning views over the Adriatic and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can even explore the Il Carso limestone plateau and its impressive caves.

Eating Out/Nightlife/Accommodation in Trieste:

Eating out in Trieste is a treat for every budget and taste. Trieste’s cuisine is heavily influenced by nearby Slovenia, meaning hearty stews feature heavily on menus here. Fish and seafood are popular too. Local specialities include Scampi alla buzara and brodetto di pesco. Posh nosh can be enjoyed at top class eateries like Antica Trattoria Suban on via Comici and Al Faro on Scala Sforzi. Meanwhile, Al Britania on Via di Servola specialises in traditional grub, catering to locals on thrifty budgets.

Night owls will discover that the city of Trieste has a laid back nightlife with most of the after dark action taking place at bars and clubs outside of the city. Top nightspots to look out for in Trieste include Machiavelli on viale Miramare, Mexico Way on Via Trenta Ottobre and Together on Via Crociferi.

Trieste offers good choice in terms of accommodation. Those looking to splash the cash will be suitably impressed by Grand Hotel Duchi d’Aosta, where rates start at a pricey €314. Meanwhile, thrifty travellers will find a cheap bed for the night at budget establishments like Nuovo Albergho Centro.

Mar
31

Imagine a motley collection of one hundred and seventeen islands small and large. Threading though these islands are a hundred and fifty waterways and canals. Some large and deep and others not so prominent. But of course these hundred and fifty canals need to be crossed and the city has four hundred and nine bridges that do just that. Surprisingly, only three bridges span the grand canal. This is the magical charm of Venice, Italy, for your memorable Venice vacations.

It must have been a difficult task to calculate the area of the one hundred and seventeen islands, but someone did do it. The city covers all of 458 square kilometers. Not too bad for a small city.

The great thing about the waterways of the Venice city is that all forms of motor transport are banned inside the city. Even if you drive up, you will have to park your vehicle on the mainland (and pay a fair amount to park as well). Fortunately, you can walk around all of Venice and get to see the city as it really is rather than seeing only what the guides want you to see during your Venice vacations.

The city is divided into six districts called Sestieri. Guide books will give you details of each but let me give you a short introduction. The heart of the city is San Marco and is contains perhaps 80% of whatever Venice is well known for.

In the eastern part of the city is the district of Castello – much of the cottage industry originates from here and many locals stay here. You can walk through and pick up some good bargains here while enjoying the vacations in Venice.

Dorsoduro is the southern district. It is a more happening place and is filled with shops offering you handicrafts and curios. As you can guess, Dorsoduro is crammed with visitors and is certainly a place to visit.

Cannaregio, the northern district is famous for its churches and is a prime destination. This district, along with Santa Croce and San Polo is a prime location with graceful and intriguing monuments that attract visitors by the boat load.

If there is one place every one visits in Venice, it is the San Marcos square. Many Venice hotels overlook the square and it is a central place from where one can start his meanderings through the city. An early morning stroll through the square with the mist giving a surrealistic touch to the square is an amazingly serene and uplifting experience which makes your Venice vacation a great charm.

Mar
31

It’s a gastronomic banquet of chocolate, beer, waffles, and mussels, so we must be in Bruges, Belgium! Although fairly unknown to many people, aside from those that do some research on traveling in the area, it is a must see besides the food.

One of the most quaint and picturesque towns in Europe captivatingly blends the old with the new. Walking along the maze of winding cobblestone alleyways you imagine yourself to be in medieval times. Although Bruges is not small in size, you won’t even dare to think about taking any transportation, because streets of Bruges are so extraordinary that you will enjoy every minute of your walk.

With a town square at its center, Bruges is also surrounded by a canal system and has been known as the Venice of the North. With most of its medieval architecture is still intact, the World Heritage Site of UNESCO in 2000 had the city become a prominent member and in 2002, Bruges took center stage as the European City of Culture.

Originally founded in the 9th century by Vikings, Bruges turned also into an international financial and trading center by the 14th century. The wealth of museums is a striking image of this city’s stirring history. There are many beautiful buildings, including the14th century Church of Our Lady, which contain houses the marble Madonna statue by Michelangelo. Bruges is also home to contemporary culture, such as the new Concert Hall, which is one of the most prominent music complexes in Flanders.

Apart from the architecture, canals and food; it is also famous for its swans. According to legend, during medieval times, Bruges was under the rule of a Duke who had an unusually long neck. When the city was invaded by Maximilian from Austria, the Duke of Bruges was slain and left headless. Swans begun to appear in Bruges afterward in droves, and according to the legend, the swans are representing the reincarnation of the Duke of Bruges.

During the spring and summer months you can ride through the canals on a boat or take a horse drawn cab. But my personal favorite time is visiting during the winter holidays, with snow on the ground and a damp chill in the air. While many cities in Europe have Christmas marketplaces, Bruges also offer offers an Ice Palace as well. Here you can view sculptures made of ice and a bridge to walk upon with an ice slide for the children. Sometimes, it is much colder inside the ice palace than outside, so dress accordingly. Afterwards, settle down to a nice hot glass of wine. It will warm your insides as does the serenity of Bruges.

For more information of this magical gem, please visit http://www.brugge.be

Mar
29

Okay – I’m sure to get a lot of flack for this, but I’ve witnessed this system first-hand and it is honestly very effective.

Hands down, the best way to pass the time on a long flight is to sleep. Yes, sleep – as much and as long as you possibly can. I mean, if you’re flying from Florida to New York, or Los Angeles to San Francisco, then this won’t apply to you. But seriously – as long as you’re on a long flight with no layovers, and you have a hard time getting to sleep, then take one or two Tylenol Blues. I know, I know – you’re probably shaking your head about now. And I DON’T usually condone taking chemicals (I’m more into herbs, actually). But before you knock it…or me…keep reading! A friend of mine did this and at the time I thought he was nuts, but by the time we got to Venice, he had pretty much slept almost the entire time. We got there in the late morning Venezia time, and he was fresh and ready to hit the town! I wanted to get to the hotel and go to bed. For two days. I lost those two days – but for sure got them back when I flew home. Slept the whole way.

Yes – on my next long flight, I tried his system and it worked! Of course, this won’t work if you’re a parent and are in charge of children, or a teacher who’s traveling with students, (and certainly this is not meant for kids…) But if you’re an adult and traveling alone or with a companion, it works really well. As soon as you get on the plane, stow your bags above in the baggage compartment, grab yourself a pillow and blanket…or two, and then settle down for a nice, restful sleep.

Nowadays you can’t carry liquid lipstick, mascara, hand lotion, liquid eyeliner, mouthwash or toothpaste with you onto the plane unless you’ve bought it in the airport’s secure area. Depending on what you need, I suggest putting these or similar toiletry items in a travel-pack and placing it in the front or side pocket of your suitcase. That way, when you finally land and get your luggage, you can immediately go the the toilette, as they call restrooms in Europe, and freshen up from your long, uh, nap. Then go out and hit the town!

You will find you’ve arrived at your long-distance destination refreshed, excited, ready to start having fun – and all without suffering from the effects of jet lag. You’ll be able to check into the hotel when you arrive, and then immediately go out for sightseeing and dinner that evening!

Try it the next time you travel. You’ll thank me!

Mar
29

Italian food is famous throughout the world for being healthy, delicious and easy to prepare. Catering for a variety of tastes, famous Italian food includes pizza, pasta dishes with a variety of sauces as well as a variety of red meat dishes. Whatever your preferences, you can be sure to find a great Italian dish that you will love.

Mushroom Pesto Lasagna

This is a great dish to allow vegetarians to have a taste of Italy! For best results you should make with fresh egg pasta rather than using dried lasagna noodles. This can be served along with parmesan cheese for best results.

Shrimp Scampi

Getting this recipe right involves cooking the scampi to perfection. This recipe is great with garlic and butter, while serving crusty bread alongside it will ensure that diners have an opportunity to sop up any residual sauce.

Fish Soup with Gremolata

This can be found in different forms and with different regional takes throughout Italy. The seafood you decide to use can vary based on the preferences of the diner, and what is available for you to use at a given time. Usually cooked in white wine, this dish was originates from the Adriatic coast where it first became popular decades ago.

Chicken Scarpariello

This is a dish which is often referred to as being Italian American, translating as shoemakers chicken, the dish comprises of chicken in a lemon sauce. The chicken should be cooked until golden brown and the meal should be served alongside a dry white wine.

Chicken Marsala

This is a unique dish because it looks so elegant that it is suitable for the most sophisticated of occasions, however it is so easy to prepare. The dish is healthy because it is does not use much oil, and the chicken is usually served in a bed of flavored herb rice, alternatively it can also be served alongside potatoes.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

The trick to perfecting this recipe is to use the best possible ingredients you can find and take advantage of them. The quality of chopped tomatoes that you use can really make or break this dish. If you are making the meatballs then you could either opt for beef and veal or beef and turkey; they are probably the most suited to the sauce.

Beef Carpaccio

This dish consists of thin slices of raw beef and is generally served as an appetizer or a starter. The dish was originally conceived in Harry’s Bar in Venice where it has since became popular throughout the world. The variations between Arugula Leaves, lemon wedges and raw beef make the taste so unique.

Zuppa Toscana

This dish consists of turkey sausage, onions, bacon and potatoes. Although not an overly healthy recipe, that does not stop thousands of people around the world naming it their favorite Italian dish of all time. A great aspect of this dish is that it can really be tailored to anyone’s taste, such as changing the ratio of Chicken Broth and heavy cream – or alternatively including or leaving out certain meats.

Mar
28

Last year the movie “In Bruges” appeared at American theaters. According to the credits it starred Colin Farrell, Brendan Gleeson and Ralph Fiennes. The actual star of the movie is the city of Bruges itself. Located in the province of West Flanders, north west of Brussels and a brief train ride from the North Sea Coast. On my last trip to Bruges, we arrived by train from Brussels. This was after a flight from Denver. We were fatigued, but determined to use mass transit to reach our destination of Bruges. I had been to Bruges hundreds of times prior to this trip when I had lived in Antwerpen. That was with a different husband. We then had an automobile, his native language was Flemish and he had friends living in the city. Now, close to 20 years later, I was being the tour guide for my “new” husband. Unfortunately, I had forgotten most of the Flemish I had crammed into my English speaking brain so I brought along a pocket size “Dutch” language book. Most Flemish people speak fluent English, so I knew I wouldn’t actually need it. I will try hard during this writing to spell Bruges in the English/French way, although I much prefer to spell cities and towns in the language that is spoken there. That would put Bruges as Brugge.

We arrived at the Brussels airport in the midst of the am rush hour. Customs was a brief experience and before long we began looking for the train station. In just minutes we found the signage and took an escalator down to level one. Within minutes of purchasing our tickets, a train arrived and we took it to Brussels North. It was there we changed trains, finding one going in the direction of Bruges. I had over packed, and being rush hour, the space was limited. Most of the passengers were chattering in French, although Brussels is officially bi-lingual and sits in heart of Flanders. We watched the buildings as we passed by. There were Gothic style churches blocks from new apartment buildings. Soon the urban sprawl was replaced by small farms and straight rows of trees. Shortly after an hour commute we departed the train at the Bruges station.

The elevator down from the platform was kaput, so we navigated the step stairs with our over packed bags. Just outside of the station was the bus depot and ticket kiosk. Taxi’s were lined up awaiting arriving passengers. One could not help but notice the large bicycle parking lot adjacent to the train station. We opted to walk to our hotel. It was just to the west of the station in Sint Michels. Like

Mar
28

THE HOTEL AMBASCIATORI, MESTRE

I’ve just come back from a three night stay in this hotel, which is situated in Mestre – a sort of suburb near Venice. Having never been to Venice, I really wanted to visit, but travelling with four meant hotel rooms are not cheap and hotel rooms in Venice are especially not cheap. So this hotel provided an excellent solution – a few kilometres outside Venice itself makes all the difference to affordability, and clearly Mestre is working on this principle as there are a lot of hotels there.

ROOM

This one, the Ambasciatori, is four star, and we stayed in what they call a suite. First point – it’s not! It is a nice large executive double with a queen sized bed and a walk in wardrobe but it does not have a separate sitting room, so in my book it is not a suite. It has a sitting area in the room separated from the bed by a lattice screen, but that doesn’t count as a separate room does it? What it did have, rather extra-ordinarily, was a separate shower room with toilet and sink as well as a full sized bath room with two sinks, shower over the bath, loo and bidet. Nice big sort of twelve/fourteen feet square bathroom, all white suite, marble counter, tiled floor etc. Great. Hubby and I could both shower at the same time. So a suite of bathrooms then…..

This nice non-suite cost us 190 euros a night but they did three nights for the price of two, so it worked out well. They had a cot (which actually we ended up putting in the walk in wardrobe as it was large enough and had a window, so at least baby and we had a bit of privacy). They charge an extra 20 euros for an extra bed, though the cot was free. A standard double room at that time (July 2008) was 140E I think.

SERVICE

Housekeeping was excellent – the room was always beautifully tidy and there were tons of towels, enough spare pillows etc and blankets to spare and all carried out unobtrousively. Good minibar and not stupidly expensive (5.50E for half bottle of Prosecco, for example).

Excellent bellboy help on arrival and parking right outside the door helped ameliorate the impression left by the grumpy man on reception, but other staff were friendly – e.g breakfast and dinner waiters etc. We arrived in the restaurant at 9.28pm, having telephoned in advance to say we would be in before they clsed the kitchen at 9.30pm and were met with firstly a request to eat only cold food from the anti pasti buffet, but when pressed they produced a plate of spaghetti and

Mar
28

You Can Travel With Your Kids (and Have Your Own Fun, Too):

How We Found the Unexpected in Venice Beach, California

This week, my husband, one year-old son and four year-old daughter returned from a ten-day journey by car (yes, I’m serious) from our home in the corner of Northwest Arkansas to the coast of California. And we survived. It was kind of an experiment – we hoped for the best – that there was a way we could travel with our kids and have some of the fun that we desire, too – but expected the worst.

With two young children, we really didn’t know what to expect. We weren’t expecting the perfect vacation, for certain, but we were looking for an experience, and an experience – not just your average trip to the beach, is what we got. With only booked lodging and no real plan, we somehow found a perfect balance of adult and kid activities, all without spending a ton of money, in the Santa Monica area, and most memorably, Venice.

Unable to find any affordable lodging available in Santa Monica, our original destination, I had sort of impulsively booked a beachfront place in Venice, on the Boardwalk, via v.r.b.o.com (Vacation Rentals by Owner). After all, we had decided upon the trip precisely ten days before we planned to leave, so there wasn’t much available. Afterward, I read some travel reviews suggesting that Venice was “seedy” and the Boardwalk a “freakshow,” and I got a bit nervous. But I had booked it; it was done. We were going.

We discovered that Venice is definitely funky, but not scary, and our lodging, Su Casa, is certainly a little diamond in the rough, smack dab in the middle of the wackiest stretch of the Boardwalk. The location is definitely not for everyone. But when we travel, we like explore what life is like there, trying to blend in and escape being just tourists. We did this by finding small local groceries, hitting restaurants frequented by locals and biking aimlessly through the streets of Venice and Santa Monica. And the people ones passing on the bike path, working in restaurants, even an auto mechanic!)are possibly the coolest I’ve encountered in all my travels. They smile, the say hello, they go ga-ga over your kids. They make so-called Southern Hospitality look, well, not so much.

Over the course of our six days there, we became familiar with many of the Boardwalk characters on a daily basis: homeless woman with a daily coffee, pedicure and “assistant,” (as we liked to joke), six o’clock singing man, and Man-Cat

Mar
28

by Roy Witman

One of the most romantic cities in the world, Venice is primarily dependent on the water that intertwines throughout the town for transportation. You could easily spend days on end just sightseeing courtesy of a gondola. This is the only city in the world built entirely on water. As you look around, you’ll quickly notice an abundance of gondolas, but no cars! Filled with nightlife, Venice is famous for its masquerade parties. Take time to attend local festivals including the Venice Film Festival and the ever-popular Carnival Masquerade Ball. While you’re there, be sure to visit St. Mark’s Square, the hub of the city.

St. Mark’s Square

Early in the morning, St. Mark’s Square is completely empty with the exception of those who clean this majestic wonder. Even then, in the quiet of the dawn, it is an awe-inspiring place to visit. An open-air square set before ancient domed architecture topped with numerous spires, St. Mark’s Square is positioned on the Grand Canal by a gondola pier (“molo”). Its majestic Campanile (watchtower) takes center stage with a height of 314 feet. With the quiet crashing of the waves and the beautiful scenery, you could simply sit and stare for hours.

However, once the crowds rush in, the square is filled with sightseers who wander about, eat and feed the famous pigeons. But don’t be content to sit outside in the square. Take the time to explore some of the buildings.

Basilica di San Marco

Best viewed early in the day (before the lines become too exasperating), Basilica di San Marco, also known as St. Mark’s Cathedral, is simply stunning. Those visiting via cruise ship are advised to book the earliest tour possible at your excursion desk. Cruise lines, including Royal Caribbean, offer a variety of tours departing at different times.

The exterior alone is exceptional, but the interior is not to be missed. With over 39,000 feet of gold mosaics and artworks by Italian masters Titian and Bellini, this church is spectacular.

Gondola Tours

Of course, no trip to Venice is complete without a romantic gondola ride. Check with your tour guide or the excursion desk of your cruise ship for details. Royal Caribbean, among others, offers day and evening gondola rides. These narrow, hand-painted boats maneuver through the canals, giving you a private tour of Venice up close and personal. If you’re lucky, you’ll also have the pleasure of a serenade!

Carnival Masquerade Ball

After a day of sightseeing, you might choose a change of pace. Get dressed to the nines and participate in one of Venice’s most celebrated events: Carnival! Held in mid-February each year, many cruise lines put on their own versions of Carnival. If you’re visiting Venice in wintertime, get in on the real thing. Otherwise, flirt with your neighbor onboard ship for an equally good time!

Curious, fun, enchanting and awe-inspiring, Venice is a city most never forget once they’ve experienced its wonder. When making your plans to visit, splurge! Take in as many of the sights as time allows. You’ll cherish these memories forever!

Mar
28

Ahhh, Venice..sounds of Andrea Boccelli resonating from open balcony windows. Two young lovers comfortably embraced while savoring a nice gondola ride through a quaint canal. Couples strolling down the narrow cobblestone streets mano-a-mano. Romance is in the air. And there’s no better place for romance than a trip to Venice.

Venice’s main waterway is the Canale Grande (Grand Canal) which snakes its way through the city for approximately 2 miles. Other canals will feed into and out of this one. The Grand Canal is the “Main Street” of Venice.

A good vantage point to see the Grand Canal and its activity is from the Rialto Bridge (Ponte di Rialto). The Rialto Bridge is one of only three bridges to cross the Grand Canal. The original wooden drawbridge collapsed and was rebuilt a few times culminating with its current day stone structure in the late 1500′s.

Piazza San Marco is really the heart and soul of Venice. This is the main tourist focal point of the city. It is a place where people (and pigeons) congregate to people-watch. The place to be seen sipping some cappuccino or to people-watch outside one of the cafés overlooking the piazza.

On the Eastern side of the Piazza lies the Doge’s Palace (or Palazzo Ducale). This was the seat of the government during the glory years of Venice. Housed inside are artistic treasures and masterpieces by the famous renaissance artists Tintoretto and Veronese, among others.

Next to the Doge’s Palace lies a former prison. From here, prisoners were led across the Bridge of Sighs (or Ponte dei Sospiri), as a final walkway prior to their execution. Today, the bridge is used in another manner young lovers are promised eternal love if they should kiss in a gondola underneath the Bridge of Sighs. I told you Venice was a romantic city! Where else can a grim bridge connotate romance?

Murano glass-making, craftsmanship and artistry that dates back to the 13th century, was originated and perfected in Venice. It is definitely worth it to see these craftsmen at work. They usually have tours where you can see them in action. There are hundreds of shops, particularly on the island of Lido.

A discussion of Venice would not be complete without discussing the pre-Lenten festival of Carnevale. Carnevale, from the Latin meaning “farewell to meat”, is Venice’s version of masquerade balls, costumes, parades, grandiose events, etc. The idea, of course, is similar to the Mardi Gras in New Orleans or the Carnevale of Rio de Janeiro, where Christians celebrate one last “hurrah” prior to Lent.

Another famous Venetian tradition is to visit a “cicchetteria”, a little restaurant-bar establishment usually hidden in many of the alleyways of Venice. On Saturday mornings, prior to lunch, you will see Venetians visiting the “cicchetterie” to sample “gli spuncioni”, or hors d’oeuvre type appetizers. Similar to the tapas used in Spain. Don’t forget to wash it down with some refreshing “cicchetti”, or the local wine (red or white) served in these establishments.

If you like to gamble, Venice has the most renowned casino in all of Italy. There are actually two that operate alternatively at different times of the year. You will usually find one of them open, except for holidays.

Despite the above, Venice is not problem-free. Flooding and polluted canals have been a concern for some time. Some of the world’s brightest engineers have been working on a system to alleviate the “acqua alta”, or flooding that can occur after a heavy rain or during an extraordinarily high tide. Piazza San Marco has been known to be flooded for a few hours at a time. And of course, during the summer tourist season, Venice can become quite crowded. It is best to make your plans well in advance.

However, Venetians are very resilient. The town was basically built by trying to defy Mother Nature’s sea. It is this resilience that has served the people well for many centuries. Venetians are a special breed that live life to the fullest. They are a people that know how to perservere. And persevere they will for many more centuries to come.

A trip to Italy would definitely not be complete without considering Venice on your agenda. It is easily accessible by train (about 4 hours from Florence) or just a quick flight from Rome. Ciao!