… have a great time! We certainly did!
Friends had invited us to join them on a cruise leaving from Rome a couple of weeks ago. Unfortunately, Dave’s work schedule wouldn’t let him take that much time off. We were able to sneak away for a long weekend to explore Rome with them before they boarded the ship.
We arrived half a day before they did and used the time to take a Segway tour, one of our favorite ways of seeing a new city. I got a laugh out of a passing tourist that called us lazy – you can see far more in 4 hours on a Segway than you could on foot; but boy do they tire your legs out! It doesn’t seem like much, but you have to lean forward to go forward and lean back to stop, then further back to actually go backwards, all without falling off – it’s a great calf and shin workout!
After that, we met up with our friends for dinner at a restaurant called Cotto. The food and wine was good in a not fancy, not expensive way; and the service was great. My only complaint was that Dave and I ordered a seafood dish, and what should have been scallops were either thin slices of one scallop per dish, or skate cut with a cookie cutter. The cheese platter we started with and our friends’ pizzas were wonderful, though!
The next day we woke up at 7 (ouch!) to have an early breakfast before heading out to see the city in more depth. We were staying at the Hotel Artemide, which had a wonderful American-style breakfast. We purchased tickets for a hop on, hop off tour, which turned out to be a disappointment from a narration perspective, but a great way to get between the sights we wanted to see. Our first stop was the Coliseum, which is amazing. It was really cool to see all the all the little rooms and passages that you see in period movies like Gladiator.
After that, we walked around on the Palatine Hill, which was the hill where the aristocrats lived. It was strange how familiar the Roman ruins looked – you can really tell that they built Caesarea (well, the first time, at least!) After a stop at Mussolini’s Wedding Cake and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we found a sidewalk cafe to have pizza for lunch.
Feeling restored, we set off on foot to the Pantheon, which has an amazing dome, with a circular hole, open to the elements, at the top! The inside has been converted to a Catholic church, which was beautiful.
We hopped back on the bus and rode two stops to the Vatican and St Peter’s Basilica. The security to get inside the Vatican is intimidating! We had actually wanted to take the Angels and Demons tour, but it was not available on the days we were there. It was neat to be able to see a famous place that I’m used to seeing in the movies or on TV.
On our way back to the hotel, we passed the Spanish Steps, which were completely covered with people, and stopped to make a wish at the Trevi fountain. We also found some nice Italian leather belts and silk scarves.
That evening, we went to a five course tasting dinner at Il Convivio, a very exclusive restaurant. So exclusive, in fact, that they don’t have an exterior doorknob! The taxi dropped us off and pointed down an alley and around the corner. We set off in that direction and found ourselves at a massive wood and metal door with the name of the restaurant and a doorbell off to the side. We rang, and soon someone slid open a small panel in the door to ask if we had a reservation. We passed the test and we were in! It felt like entering a Prohibition-era speakeasy
The restaurant was amazingly luxurious, with a 100-page wine list, a 4-page water list, and small upholstered stools to keep your purse up off the floor. Some of the courses were a little unusual, like the salami gelato that was served as a palate cleanser. I didn’t have my camera with me, but you can see pictures of the interior and the food on their website.
The following morning, we ate breakfast with our friends and the four of us went for a short morning constitutional before sending them on their way to the cruise ship. Dave and I headed to the Hard Rock Cafe for lunch, which was heavily decorated for Halloween, and then met up with our last tour, Crypts and Catacombs.
I hadn’t thought about it being Halloween when I booked it, but it worked out perfectly! Our first stop was 13 miles of catacombs outside the original Roman city walls; then we saw St. Clement’s Basilica, which was fascinating because it’s actually 3 buildings built one on top of each other as the level of the city rose around it. Much of Rome is this way, in fact – our guide compared it to one big lasagna!
Our final stop was the crypt of the Capuchin monks, who gave their names to both the Capuchin monkey, because people thought their fur coloration looked like the hooded robes the monks wore, and the Cappuccino, because it’s brown on the bottom and white on the top like a monk’s tonsure.
The only words to describe the crypt are eerie and macabre. The monks were trying to communicate an “ashes to ashes” type message, saying that the physical remainder of the body after death is so unimportant that it may as well be used as a decorating medium. We had an excellent tour guide with a sense of humor just dark enough that he made what could have been a morbid experience enjoyable.
Picture courtesy of:
After that, we headed back to the hotel to pack and grabbed another quick dinner at Cotto. I was feeling a bit under the weather, so I ordered vegetable soup, which turned out to be a lovely, creamy puree instead of the thin broth I has been expecting. This restored me enough for us to head back to the room and polish off the rest of the bottle of wine we had waiting for us.
I have to mention Hotel Artemide again; the service was impeccable – they made phone calls to confirm our tours for us, helped us with restaurant recommendations, and even helped me arrange a surprise for my friend while we were there!
No, I haven’t fallen off the planet; I’ve just been on the other side of it for a while
Two weeks ago I hopped a plane to Washington State to visit friends and family. The Puyallup Fair is a long-standing tradition for one of my friends and me, so we made the trek down on the second to last day of its 2009 run. My mom and a couple of her friends, plus two of my aunts also came – quite the girl trip!
One of my favorites in this hang-glider ride – whee! Unfortunately, it seems like the ride you get for your 5 tickets gets shorter every year…
The next day, my mom and I headed to the Seahawks game. We rode the new shuttle operated by Starline Luxury Coaches – it leaves from the Eastgate Park and Ride and drops off a short walk from Qwest Field. It is definitely the way to go!
I knew once the game started I would be too involved to snap any pictures, so I got this video of them charging out of the tunnel and a shot of Blue Thunder performing before the game. Even though we didn’t end up winning, it was a great game. (But I’m very relieved to have Hasselbeck back this week!)
Last Wednesday we went with good friends to Catit restaurant in Tel Aviv . There was going to be a guest chef in from the Netherlands preparing a special menu together with the head chef, Meir Adoni. They did not disappoint – it was a 7 course tasting menu where each course was paired with a wine picked to complement it. The food was amazing and we all agreed that we had never had such a perfect food/wine pairing. All we had with us was the camera in Dave’s phone, so the pictures aren’t very good – from left to right that’s foie gras prepared 3 different ways, a heavenly dessert platter (featuring chocolate mousse in an eggshell, a frothy caramel popcorn drink in a cute little mug, a tiny doughnut on a cinnamon stick and several other forms of chocolate), and a single oyster in a tapioca sauce topped with caviar. Other courses featured Kobe beef and lobster; and each one was a small serving so that you didn’t feel gorged on so much rich food.
Totally at the other end of culinary skill and cuisine, on Monday night we watched the Seattle vs. San Francisco game on NFL GamePass. I made nachos with homemade salsa and we took a picture before digging in because they looked so good. If possible, they tasted even better than they looked!
I am off to visit my parents in Seattle – the taxi is coming at 2am (yeek!). I am already looking forward to foods that we can’t get here; babyback ribs and Chinese food, in particular! Also on the schedule are a trip to the Puyallup Fair and the Chicago vs. Seattle game at Qwest Field – I can’t wait
We had chosen not to do the optional excursions the next day, so we had free time to explore Moscow by ourselves on foot and via the Metro. Our first stop was the former KGB headquarters (now home to the Russian Security Service) on Lubyanka Square.
From there we went to Gorky Park, where we got hot dogs and I rode the dragon boat several times before we explored the rest of the park. One of the original 4 Buran Soviet Space Shuttles is there; looking at it, Dave remarked that it was hard to believe it was ever capable of flight! It now houses a children’s movie theatre.
After a slight detour, we were able to find the Hard Rock Cafe for a late lunch. The local draft beer Baltika No. 7 is really quite good! We sat outside and watched a Hare Krishna parade go past as we ate.
That evening we rejoined the tour group for the Moscow State Circus. We really enjoyed it; there were some amazing acrobats and Cirque du Soleil type acts, as well as trained housecats and a dancing bear (well, it was Russia after all!)
The following morning we stopped at Victory Park on our way to the National Cemetery. From the bus, we also saw the central hot water plant, from which many homes get their hot water, which flows through separate pipes! In the cemetery, we saw the graves of Kruschev, Tupolev, Boris Yeltsin and many others – to have been buried there, you had to really be someone. I loved the graves – so different from the low markers used in the US to make it easy for the groundskeepers to mow; each one was its own little garden!
Afterwards, we had the bus drop us and some others off at Red Square to visit Lenin’s mausoleum. It is only open a few days a week from 10-1 and we had missed it the other days we were there. When we arrived, the line was so long there was no way we would have made it to the front before it closed; but Dave found a person offering tickets to go to the front of the line for 450 rubles ($15). Lenin’s body looked like a macabre exhibit from Madame Tussauds. After that we explored GUM and ate lunch in a typical Russian cafeteria before meeting up with the rest of the group for a tour of the Kremlin, including the state armory. Inside the armory are the crown jewels of the czars, as well as many of their dresses, carriages, and gifts received, as well as the famous Faberge eggs. Another part of the armory is used as a barracks for the military – I snapped a platoon marching out before anyone could tell me not to.
Then we headed back to the hotel for dinner and to repack our suitcases for the trip home the next morning. It was a great trip! I can’t wait to see where we choose for our 10th
Wednesday we checked out of our St. Petersburg hotel and boarded a substitute tour bus. Our regular bus, with our faithful driver Sergei, left before breakfast with all the big luggage, which we would be waiting for us in our Moscow hotel upon arrival. We loaded an overnight bag (which we always carry packed in our regular suitcases in case of souvenir overload) onto the new bus along with our carry ons and set off for a river tour of the city; as there are parts you can’t see from a land vehicle. Our tour director surprised us with a champagne toast for our anniversary. There was also vodka offered around, which Dave tried and pronounced not as good as the one at the ballet.
After a lunch break (we had spotted a Pizza Hut from the river!) we continued on to the Hermitage. We saw several Da Vinci Madonnas, a large Rembrandt collection and a fair sized Monet collection, including one of my favorites, “Woman in a Garden” (which sounds way better in French.) It would have taken the better part of a week to see everything there, but leaving the Monet collection we happened into an Asian exhibition, so I was very pleased.
Next we headed to dinner in a small local restaurant/hotel where we had another champagne toast for our anniversary! Evidently there is a custom in Russia that anything like that must be toasted with as full a glass as possible, so I was feeling quite happy by that point. I barely remember the food, though, because Dave surprised me with the matching bracelet to the necklace he gave me for our wedding – he had hand carried it from Seattle to Tel Aviv and then Tel Aviv to St. Petersburg! Afterwards we went to a Cossack folklore show. We have not been overly thrilled with other “local culture” type shows before and were very pleasantly surprised at the energy level and talent!
From there we took went to the train station, getting a look at the “high street” shopping along the way. In the station, we had just enough time to find a small bottle of wine and the Lays caviar potato chips I had become addicted to before boarding the midnight “Red Train” to Moscow.
We were booked into the first class sleeper cabins – definitely the way to travel!
The seating folded down into surprisingly comfortable beds; I slept like a log with the sound and motion of the train. When we awoke just outside Moscow the next morning, the attendant for our car had strong black tea ready for us, which was just the wakeup I needed to be ready to get off the train and back on the bus.
Our first stop after breakfast was the Borodino Panorama, a painting on 150m of canvas depicting the 1812 defeat of Napoleon outside of Moscow. There is a battleground diorama in the foreground that fades almost imperceptibly into the painting in the background; combined with the tape of battle sounds that plays on a loop it is really quite moving. Afterwards we went to the Moscow Metro for a ride to Red Square, with stops along the way to view some of the grand Stalin-era stations.
Red Square is really big, and is bordered on one side by the GUM Department store (actually a mall, in "American"), the Kremlin and Lenin’s mausoleum on the other and churches on both ends. We took some pictures and watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier; then re-boarded the bus for the trip to the Crowne Plaza Hotel, near to the “White House” where Putin works (also the site of the August 1991 attempted coup . After two full touring days and a late night on the train, a nap was in order. Next was a great local dinner in the hotel, including little baked pots of mushrooms in sour cream – yum! After that, we had the Moscow by night tour; our first stop was Moscow State University.
Next we took a walk around the lake that supposedly inspired Tchaikovsky to write Swan Lake – it was beautiful.
Behind the lake is Novodevichy Convent.
We also returned to Red Square to see it lighted for nighttime; the big red stars on top of the Kremlin are lit from inside, the churces are all aglow and GUM was covered in thousands of little white lights and was just spectacular – I would have liked to see it in the snow!