Sunday, September 29, 2013

Italy in September - Part II Florence

We took a one day trip from Rome to Florence. To my surprise after visiting the Duomo, Uffizi Gallery and the David I felt like one day was just right amount of time in Florence.

Getting There

We took Trenitalia Frecciarossa high speed train from Rome Termini Station to Florence S. M. Novella and back. I bought tickets in advance online but as it turned out it was not necessary. It is easy to get tickets the same day. Plus we decided to go back to Rome on an earlier train so had to pay for a new return ticket.


The Tuscan steak is the thing to have but since we were in Florence only one day we really did not have time for a nice dinner. We ate at the cafes we saw while walking. The only memorable place was Caffe Rivoire recommended by Rick Steves. Expensive but tiramisu was amazing.


We climbed the Duomo, visited Uffizi Gallery and admired David. Birth of Venus was my favorite. I find Botticelli's paintings sensual. Here are few pictures. Similar to St. Peter's the dome pictures the Last Judgement.


Florence is relatively small and everything is close by. Shops are conveniently located on the streets that connect Uffizi and Academia. I bought few ceramic bowls and stocked up on Italian stationary at Il Papiro and Fabriano.


As in Rome TripAdvisor Off Maps iPhone App proved to be useful.

Next is Amalfi Coast Adventures

Italy in September - Part I Rome

My long-term goal of visiting Italy finally came true this month and I was not dissapointed. We spent almost two weeks in Rome, Florence and Amalfi Coast. Taking a quarter of Italian has also proven to be extremely useful. This is a first post dedicated to Rome. As always the hope is that some will find this useful on your next trip. 

Getting There

We flew on Lufthansa from Seattle to Rome with a stop in Frankfurt. Our hotel arranged for a car from the airport. 


We stayed in a beautiful boutique hotel Villa Laetitia, which is owned by Fendi family. It is located in a Prati neighborhood, away from the main tourist sites. It is close to the Vatican City and from talks to the locals hosts a lot of law firms. The hotel is elegant and quiet. You can feel how much soul has been put in in designing every room. Hotel is still only 3 stars so it is affordable. One can see Anna Fendi Venturini on a property as well, probably working. Below are the pictures of the main dining room and the lounge areas.


We mostly ate in our neighborhood, which had several good restaurants and bars. 

Settembrini has several eating spots in the Prati neighborhood. We went to 3 - a wine bar,  a beer bar and a restaurant. All were good. Plus its very lively atmosphere filled with locals makes it for a fun outing.

Tastevin (no Web site) was another place we had dinner. I particularly liked the appetizer made with anchovies and mozzarella. 

Cacio e Pepe was disappointing, so I won't recommend it. Seems like they were heating pasta in the microwave. 

The famous Roscioli's met its high expectations. We went there for lunch and had burrata, prosciutto and pasta carbonara. 

Another traditional roman food restaurant was recommended to me and I can pass the recommendation on. La Campana is close to the Pantheon and we enjoyed our fried artichokes and pasta with fresh black truffles. Veal and chicken were also good. 

Gelateria dei Gracchi was the best. Tony gave a great recommendation here. Here is an instagrammed picture of my treat one night.


I relied on Rick Steves to tell me what sites to visit in Rome. We went to Colosseum, Borghese Gallery,  Modern Art Museum, Pantheon, Vatican and even Capuchin Crypt! I especially enjoyed climbing the St. Peter's Basilica and the Maps Hall in Vatican, and walking in the Borghese Gardens. We used Viator tours for Colosseum and Vatican but I was not too impressed with the quality of the guides we had so would not recommend it. 


Few establishments are worth mentioning. 

For food it was fun to visit Trionfale Market where you can buy meat, fish, cheeses, pasta, fruit, mushrooms and even truffles plus many many other things.  Pictures are below. 

We picked up few items for our lunch back in the hotel. This is what it was. 

For clothes I enjoyed shopping in the Prati neighborhood near Piazza Mazzini. You can find boutique shops with clothes made in Italy by some unknown designers. I spent some good change in the kid shop Nikilo.


We walked to most sites from our hotel and when tired we would catch a cab. TripAdvisor Off Maps iPhone App proved to be very useful so make sure to download it before you go.

We went to Florence by train one day and so the next post will be dedicated to it. Off to Part II.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Labor Day Weekend in Victoria BC

This year we took a trip to Victoria, British Columbia over a Labor Day weekend. Victoria is very beautiful and I always enjoy visiting it. Here are the highlights from our trip.

Getting There

We took a ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island, then drove to Port Angeles and took another ferry to Victoria. While in Bainbridge we stopped at the Blackbird Bakery.


For a hotel I chose the Empress, which I believe is a preferred choice by all who stay in Victoria overnight. Usually hotels that have spas let you use their facilities for a small fee without getting a treatment. The Empress hotel was not forthcoming in this regard. I did end up using their sauna, steam room and a mineral bath and it was very relaxing. I asked concierge to call the spa and ask if I could use it.


One morning we walked to West Victoria to an organic bakery Fol Epi. We got sandwiches, almond cake and few macarons. The almond cake was my favourite - very light and full of berries.

For dinner we went to 10 Acres - the farm to table type restaurant. It was good, thought I felt like they tried to use too  many ingredients from their farm that did not go well together. Sometimes less is more. 

We also picked up few more macarons at Bon Macaron. These little nuggets are in vogue right now. 

Things to See

We went to the famous Butchart Gardens and just walked the streets of Victoria doing some shopping. It is truly a beautiful area.