Showing posts with label Pretty Pretty Picture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Pretty Pretty Picture. Show all posts
Wednesday, November 20, 2013

3 Ideas

1. Make Funfetti something...Funfetti pancakes, Funfetti Rice Krispy treats, Funfetti cupcakes, Funfetti anything will do (fun is baked right into the name, what could go wrong?).  Add extra sprinkles just because.

2. Do something active that doesn't make you wish you were dead...for example, dance up a storm, go rollerskating or pay your local trampoline gym a visit (oh, it's a real thing my friend.  Google it...).

3. Go to an arcade.  Seriously!  Dave and Busters is a good time and I'm not ashamed to say it (also, I dug up this coupon in case you want to take me up on the idea).  I went with a small group of friends twice in the last year and laughed so hard I thought I was gonna be sick on both occasions.  Race cars, shoot zombies, win tickets, just generally go nuts.
Wednesday, November 13, 2013

3 Ideas

Welcome to our brand new series, 3 Ideas!  I'm so psyched about it, I can't even tell you.  So here's how this'll work: every week you'll find a different charge here...make this week productive, make this week meaningful, make this week (fill in the blank).  Alongside, I'll present 3 ideas to help turn that thought into an action.  I was debating on where to place this series in the week and after weighing the pros and cons of both beginning and end I decided to go with smack dab in the middle.  By the time Wednesday rolls around there's a good amount of week left to conquer and not always a lot of motivation...consider 3 ideas your hump day treat.  

1. Bundle up and go for a walk.  Winter is about to set in big time which means we're all living on borrowed time when it comes to outdoor activities (minus skiing, which I'm vehemently opposed to).  Enjoy the beautiful leaves, take a few deep breaths and soak in everything fresh air has to offer.

2. Light a scented candle and read a book...sounds simple enough but if you actually take time to do it...we're talking soul medicine.  Here's some combinations I'd recommend:

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Adventures In Italy: Venice

Venice gave off the strongest movie vibe of any of the cities we visited for two main reasons...1) A city on the water just doesn't feel like it can exist outside of a set and 2) We ran into a few dilemmas there that were script-like in nature.  Turns out navigating Venice is not for the faint of heart.  It goes without saying, however, that it's a phenomenally gorgeous place to in point:

After finding our way to Hotel Pesaro Palace (which was beautiful and in a great location, for the record) we headed out towards the famous Piazza San Marco.  We strolled around for a few minutes and enjoyed the grand architecture, abundance of live music, and the strange feeling of being around so many people without the sound of cars in the background.  We even saw a couple get engaged (and more than likely dominated the background of their's hoping we're out of focus)!  

We walked from the Piazza San Marco to our first official Venetian activity, a night at the opera, and enjoyed a performance of The Barber of Seville in the spellbinding Musica a Palazzo.  The lighting didn't lend itself to pictures, but I snapped this shot just before we left to give you an idea of one of the rooms we were in.

The venue, Barbarigo Minotto Palace, was a treat in and of itself and set the evening apart from any other opera we're likely to experience.  The performers' powerful voices filled the small, intimate rooms of this 15th century palace and it was all but impossible to not feel like a part of the story.  The various acts took place in different rooms of the house and we moved about accordingly, stunned at how each space was somehow more beautiful than the one before it.  

We spent our last full day in Italy exploring off the beaten bath with an Urban Adventures Cicchetti of Venice Tour.  Our guide, Cecelia, was perhaps the most entertaining character we encountered all trip (true story: my Mom is actually somewhat intent on getting her on television).  She showed us the value of wandering even one block away from touristy areas and gave us a really fun taste of local life.  Our tour focused on sampling Cicchetti, the Venetian equivalent of Spanish tapas...small, often bite size dishes that pair oh so nicely with Venetian wine.       

We toured five different Bacari wine bars, each with a different delectable offering, all filled to the brim with people.

There were a couple we couldn't even fit in, though standing in the street came with it's own set of benefits.

Needless to say, a good time was had by all.

We had the great pleasure of taking our tour alongside another traveling family of four, a lovely couple from Chicago and their two young daughters.  Turns out their eldest, Caitlin, is a food blogger!  While she and I exchanged information, Joey attempted to teach her sister a few youngest child strategies, explaining how you can- and I quote- "get away with anything" (which he- true to form- got away with haha).  For detailed notes about every dish we ate and all kinds of other really tasty looking recipes, check out Caitlin's blog, A Ginger's Gourmet Goods.

Not surprisingly, I think I can best compare our trip as a whole to a really phenomenal meal.  Rome was an ideal appetizer- the best imaginable introduction to Italy's storied history and culture, Florence turned out to be the heart of the trip- an unforgettable main course if ever there was one, and Venice was the intensely rich dessert- too much could get to you but the right amount is the perfect ending.  I'll be forever grateful to my parents for taking us on this trip of a lifetime!  In a phrase, Italy was more than- more than I imagined, more than I expected, more than I hoped- it was just more.  To be able to share this experience with the best family in the world was such a gift.  Every day with them is the best kind of adventure...can't wait to tackle our next one together.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Adventures In Italy: Florence

While I'll try my best to keep it in check, I can't promise I won't severely overuse the word "favorite" in this post.  And why is this?  (That one's just for you, Beretta crew) It is because Florence is my favorite.  It just was and it is and I suspect it may always be.  From the moment we got off the train, I knew we'd landed someplace idea that was confirmed on the way to the hotel when I saw the Florence Cathedral.  Even after all the grandeur of Rome, this building blew me away (though again, you can't get a good sense of scale which is a bummer).  

We also found what I'm pretty sure is/was a way to tie up your horse for the day but what I want to believe is a gigantic door knocker.

Our hotel, the NH Porta Rossa was (wait for it) my favorite of all the places we stayed.  Somehow I managed to leave without snapping a single picture, but you can check out their gallery here- the way they combine classic and modern decor is genius.  

We spent our first evening in Florence at Giglio Cooking School with the wonderful and talented Marcella.  Since I come from a family that loves food- we grow it, we talk about it (a lot), we enjoy it- we were all particularly excited to take the class.  Oh, what a night it turned out to be!  Learning from Marcella was delightful.  Her knowledge of food and technique was so impressive, and it was obvious off the bat that she had a wealth of experience as a chef and teacher.  

Marcella provided great direction which made the hands on nature of the class fun instead of intimidating.  We went through every step of the process...if there were almonds to mince, we minced them, when mussels needed cleaning, we cleaned them...none of those pre-chopped bowls of veggies you see on cooking shows.  You left with the feeling that "I could actually make this"- cause you did actually make it!  

One of the most incredible elements of the meal was how fresh all the ingredients were.  The pears were picked that morning, the herbs cut right from her garden as we needed them and the seafood was some of the freshest I've ever enjoyed.

I'm gonna share the recipes we learned in upcoming Foodie Files which I'm so excited about.  You can't believe how delicious they are!

We made a seafood risotto...

...lamb breaded in almonds and herbs (with the most incredible fresh beans)...

...and a tasty dessert I'll feature next week.  You're just gonna have to check back in to see it (pretty tricky of me, huh?).  We spent our second day in Florence touring beautiful Montepulciano through Italy and Wine.  Our expert guide, Giovanni, kept us interested and entertained throughout all four hours in the car (two there, two back) and shared all kinds of great insights into the history of Tuscany and the regional wine trade.  I'm sure the trip should've seemed long, but between Giovanni's tidbits and the lovely scenery it was actually really enjoyable.  

Arriving at our first vineyard was like a dream.  We toured the Boscarelli estate and learned all about the care and harvesting of their vines (all done by hand!) and development and production of their wines.

Next we headed to a glorious wine tasting.  After seeing the artistry of their production, the depth and flavor of their wines came as no surprise. 

I'm hesitant to name a favorite because they were all so delightful, but if you forced my hand I think I'd say the Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva.  At the risk of boring you with a bunch of snobby sounding wine language I may or may not be using correctly I will just say this: it tastes really, really delicious.   

If we had turned around and headed straight back to Florence at that point I think it still would've qualified as my favorite activity of our trip, but luckily the day wasn't close to over yet.  Giovanni brought us to Ristorante Fattoria Pulcino for lunch, where we ate some of the tastiest food of our trip and enjoyed- hands down- the most beautiful view of any restaurant we came across.    

Since- as previously discussed- my favorite Design Muse post of all time was our Table for Twelve Tuscan Night, you can imagine how thrilled I was to actually sit down for a meal in the heart of Tuscany.  I know it sounds silly, but when I realized our party was somewhat reminiscent of the real deal it felt like a mini life victory.  

After eating way too much, we jumped back in the car and headed to our second vineyard, Le Bèrne.  Giovanni explained that Le Bèrne was more traditionally Tuscan than Boscarelli, offering wines like the region's famous Vin Santo.   

We so enjoyed the Le Bèrne selections during our wine brother and Dad especially were all but doing cartwheels (from excitement not volume consumed for the record, ha).  Before we left we got another fun treat- a taste of homemade extra virgin olive oil, made from olives grown on the property we just toured.  As someone who uses olive oil in essentially every dish, it was incredible to taste one this fresh!  

We headed back to Florence with so many special memories....what a delightful, perfect day in paradise.  As wonderful as the rest of the trip was, I have to say I was ready to leave Rome and I was ready to leave Venice...they were lovely and fun but we scheduled the exact right amount of time in each.  I was sad, on the other hand, to leave Florence.  There's a magic there and in the surrounding areas I won't soon forget.  Oh, and one last thing!  Best pizza of the trip: La Bussola.  There are no words. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Adventures In Italy: Rome

I've taken the liberty of suspending our regularly scheduled posts until we finish chatting about Italy...mostly because I can, but also cause I'm itching to share it all with you.  I've spent the last few days pouring over the many pictures I took while we were over appears I was in full blown paparazzi mode- ten snaps per photo opportunity, minimum.  Since every square inch of the country is basically a photo do the math.  I realized there's just no way to cram everything into one readable post.  So!  We're breaking it up by city, folks.  First up: Rome.

We stayed a stone's throw away from Termini Train Station in the simple but lovely Hotel Diocleziano.  For those of you planning a trip to Rome, I'd recommend it whole heartedly...the staff is phenomenal (especially our buddy Doreen at the front desk), the breakfast is great, the mini-bar is free and the air conditioning is pumping.

Our first full day started with a private tour of the Vatican museums, which I booked through the one and only Driver Guide Service.  Their Trip Advisor reviews seemed too good to be true but turned out to be on point (and then some).  Our guide Lorenzo was spectacularly knowledgeable and eager to share the interesting "secrets" lurking behind every corner.

Watching history come to life through the halls of the Vatican was unlike anything I've ever experienced.  It's one thing to learn about some of the greatest minds our world has ever known- DaVinci, Michaelangelo, Raphael, and so on and so forth- but it's another to walk where they walked and view their masterpieces first hand (though Lorenzo was quick to tell us that DaVinci in particular basically used the Vatican as a luxury apartment while the reigning Pope waited for him to produce a masterpiece...after a few years he said "no thanks" and got the heck out of there).  

Since the sheer volume of statues on display was overwhelming, we relied on Lorenzo to showcase the most significant pieces in the collection (like Diskobolus of Myron pictured below).  One of the most interesting things we learned was the fact that the Romans started out as a barbaric nation with no real culture of their own.  When they conquered the Greeks they adopted, and in some ways immortalized, the ways of the Greek civilization.  Virtually every statue there was copied from an ancient Greek bronze piece that was long since destroyed.    

If I had to pick a favorite part of the Vatican tour I think I'd go with The Gallery of Maps, a giant room covered in painted topographical maps of Italy.  Lorenzo explained that the maps are particularly amazing because they were created from a bird's eye perspective during a time when such a view was impossible for humans to actually achieve.  Back in the day the Pope used this space as a war room.

Across the ceiling of the map gallery you'll find breathtaking artwork depicting miracles.  The placement of each of these miracles on the ceiling corresponds with the location of where they took place on the map.  Pictures just don't do this space extends all the way across and down as far as your eye can see.  To say it was a spectacular sight is an understatement.  

Another intriguing portion of the tour was our visit to the public portion of the Papal Apartments, primarily- of course- because of the artistic mastery on display, but also because of the insights we got into the paintings themselves.  It seems Raphael took a few liberties in his depictions of biblical events and used the his own likeness and the likeness of other notable figures (Alexander the Great, DaVinci, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, etc.) in the paintings.  The thought of this legendary man weaving the faces of those he respected onto noble characters (and in an even more amusing gesture, the faces of those he didn't respect onto evil ones) made me chuckle and somehow humanized him a little bit which made the experience that much more memorable.

Before we left the area, we took a stroll through St. Peter's Basilica (which left me completely speechless).  There's really no way to display or even explain the scale of the building but I will say this: it is 453 feet tall.  Just let that sink in for a second.

You could easily spend years in Vatican City and never see all there is to see but it was awe inspiring to get even a taste of the history there.  After cooling down back at the hotel (since the Vatican is as hot and stuffy as it is gorgeous), we headed out to Ristorante Ad Hoc for what turned out to be an evening of culinary magic.  We ordered the land tasting menu and I can say with confidence that the meal was tied with The Catbird Seat for the best I've ever had in my life.  I ate until I physically couldn't take another bite (which was admittedly uncomfortable but you know...when in Rome).  

We spent the entire next day with Luca, another one of Driver Guide Service's resident experts and an instant new found friend.  To share the details of this one day alone would take up an ungodly amount of space and time, so here's the cliff notes.

We walked from The Roman Forum (the center of public life way back when)... The Piazza Del Campidoglio (the citadel of the earliest Romans).  Side note: I just love this picture of my brother and Dad.

Secondary side note: I think I developed an affinity for pigeons while we were over there.  They're crazy dirty- I know- but you've gotta admit they're cute.

We toured the inside of the magnificent Coliseum...

...and even saw a glimpse into the underground portion of the stage, where the animals and gladiators were lifted up from.

Luca told us that, despite popular belief, no Christians were actually martyred in the Coliseum...the cross that stands there today is actually the starting point of one of the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday.  Even so, the powerful symbol of the cross in a place once renowned for atrocities made for a moving, near emotional experience.

The Circus Maximus ("Ben-Hur's" 'ol stomping grounds), on the other hand, did see a good deal of Christian martyrs- the details of which truly made my skin crawl.  You can say what you want about religious persecution in our country today (and there's probably plenty of points we'll agree on) but this stop sure did put some things into perspective.  

Another highlight of our Rome Tour was on top of Aventine Hill at the headquarters of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta.  Luca gave us a brief history of Malta, originally a monastic community and one of the very few orders created in the Middle Ages that is still active today, and explained that it is- in and of itself-a nation (capable of issuing it's own passports, postal stamps, etc).  He then brought us to a large green door where, through the keyhole, you could see Malta, the dome of St. Peter's Basilica, and just slightly beyond- three countries (Malta, Vatican City and Italy) through one keyhole.  Amazing, right?

We visited the Trevi Fountain (one of the most famous fountains in the world) and...

...each threw in a coin (Luca taught us the correct form- right hand over left shoulder) to- according to a legend I'm tempted to believe- ensure our return to Rome.  

Additionally, we visited The Antique Walls of Cinta, The Pantheon (which was absurdly neat), Navona Square, The Spanish Steps and took a tour of The Catacombs.  When I tell you we could be here all day talking about this I mean it- we could be here all day!  Instead, I will leave you with this:

...perhaps the most delicious piece of heaven I've ever tasted.  I don't even know the name of the restaurant it came from (Luca brought us there during our tour) but if you told me I dreamed it up it might actually make more sense.  In total contrast to the grandeur of our other meals and experiences, it just goes to show you that sometimes the simplest things done well are still the best.  Can't wait to fill you in on Florence tomorrow!