Wednesday, March 26, 2008


Spring 2008

We took the girls to Scottsdale for a few days for spring break this year.

We stayed at the Phoenician, which is a great resort to stay with children. The huge slide at the pool was a big hit and the rooms and service are really fabulous. We were there for Easter weekend and the Easter bunny hand delivered Easter baskets to the room for the girls and they had a wonderful Easter carnival on the grounds that day, too.

We decided to hang out at the resort all morning and head into Tempe for the afternoon.
I graduated from ASU and we thought the girls would like to visit (it's never too early to start the "college talk"). We took them to the campus on a Sunday when school was not in session and the girls kept saying, "This place is so big" and "How much more walking do we have to do?" (This is why I road a bike everyday -- the campus is not small ;-) So, the tour lasted a couple hours with a quick drive through Mill Avenue (definitely stop here is you have time) and we headed back to Scottsdale...
We ate at one of the best pizza places in Old Town Scottsdale called Grimaldi's. They have coal burning ovens... and the only other place I have had pizza this good was in New York... Scottsdale is a great place with great restaurants (and people have discovered this). So, expect to wait for a table when eating out at one of the popular restaurants... We met a lady at the resort who waited an hour and a half (with a reservation) to be seated with her family at Don & Charlie's... Is it worth the wait? I guess that depends on how hungry you are ;-)
The next day we decided to take a trip up to Sedona. We booked the Pink Jeep tour and took the Ancient Ruins tours. Tip: book Pink jeep tour at least a week in advance...
You do really step back in time as you explore a 700 year old Sinaguan cliff dwelling. Some of the cave drawings date back over 5,000 years. It is the only place like it in the United States.
It was absolutely unbelievable and our guide, Dan was a wealth of information.

Our girls loved it, too. Sedona is really a magical place... next time, we will spend more than a day here... there is so much to see.
On our way back to Scottsdale, we stopped at another pizza place (yes, we love pizza) called Picazzo's... it is outside the touristy Sedona center of town ("Uptown") and frequented by locals... (our guide told us to stop here). Great place.
Arizona still remains as one of my favorite places in the whole world... and my family agrees... We will be back again soon to explore some more...

Copyright 2008

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Venice, Italy

Summer 2007

We drove into Venice to drop off the rental car -- that was another crazy trip... The rental car agent was so sweet... Apparently, they have been in the midst of construction on one of the bridges by the train station, which is where we had to drop off the car. So, many of the water taxis and water buses were canceled or delayed. He walked us over to an out of the way water taxi stand and driver and helped load us into the taxi... All of this he did without being asked and with a huge smile on his face... Love it already!

The ride was awesome... the girls were in heaven... A city on water... What could be better? We stayed on the Lido, which is the island right off of Venice. At the time, it was a great idea because our hotel had Venice on one side and the Adriatic Sea on the other, so we were beachfront. Now, in retrospect we would definitely stay in Venice and just walk wherever we wanted to go. While on the Lido, we had to take the water shuttles over to Venice and back... This was the best part of the trip for the girls, but very time consuming.

The main thing I can say about Venice is you have to see it for yourself. The people are fascinating... like the mask maker we met in a little shop when we bought our authentic carnival masks to take home... She actually closed her shop to take us over to another one to look at some other masks when we couldn't make up our mind. She was wonderful...
And, the waiter who stopped us and convinced us to come into his restaurant to have dinner... another great meal -- the food is really out of this world!
Or, the glass maker apprentice who educated us about the glass making done on the island of Murano. Here's a tip: go to Murano to watch the glass blowers, but buy your glass in Venice (it is less expensive and the same Murano glass)...

Our first water taxi ride... so much to see...

One of many gorgeous gondolas...

St. Marks Square and the pigeons (the girls loved this part, so we did it twice!)

A view from the bell tower of St Mark's Basilica...

We left when the sun was coming up and began our long journey back home... As our water taxi pulled into the train station, I was sad to leave and thought to myself, "We will be back again someday soon."

"Not soon enough..."

Copyright 2008

Tuscany (Sinalunga, Siena)

Summer 2007

Getting out of Florence was really a trip... We were going to stop at some of the outlets we were hearing so much about on our way to Tuscany ... Gucci, Prada, Armani, etc... My husband was not as excited about this stop as I was (I can't imagine why). But, it was really fun once we got here (after being lost about 3-4 times trying to find it)... Whose idea was this anyway??? We had lunch at the outdoor outlet and it was actually really good. We bought a couple things, but didn't break the bank... and off we go to Amorosa. Amorosa is a small village next to Sinalunga. Sinalunga is a town and commune in the province of Siena, in the Tuscany region of Italy... I know... it took me about 2 days to figure this out ;-) The funny thing about driving here is that they have these great turnarounds (if you know DC at all, we are talking a crazier version of Dupont Circle). It is not crazy because it is so crowded... It is crazy because each turnaround has about 10-15 signs that mark different places (and directions). We found ourselves going around the circle a few times to try to catch the sign (and direction) we needed.
We did find our way, eventually... and getting lost in Tuscany is not so bad... But, you do get a little nervous when you stray off the beaten path and you do not speak the language.
Our hotel in Amorosa -- amazing grounds... and wonderful staff:

Walking up a street in Siena:

More gelato...

The piazza of Siena...

The town of Siena is fascinating. They are probably best known for the Palio, which is a horse race that lasts less than 2 minutes. It is the subject of debate and competition all year round and can cause men and women to laugh or cry. The Palio is considered the greatest traditional festival in Siena. Personally, I am glad we weren't there for it (it is held on July 2nd and August 16th) because it sounds kind of like the "running of the bulls" where the horses (and riders) can be injured or killed in the name of sport... But, it is a tradition that has been going on for centuries... you be the judge.
Siena is divided into seventeen contrade, or areas of the city. The Sienese people belong first to a contrada and then to the city. Each street has the crest posted boldly stating their contrade. Their pride and loyalty is really amazing.

Copyright 2008

Monday, March 3, 2008

Florence, Italy

Summer 2007

Italy is truly as wonderful as people say it is... I always knew it would be true... But, it is such an amazing place. I don't even know if I can describe it and do it justice... but, I will try. Our girls absolutely LOVED it as much as we did!
Here they are right outside our hotel -- you can see the Duomo down at the end of the street... You have to visit the Duomo and climb the 467 stairs to the top... It was a little cramped at times, but well worth the view when you get to the top.

Now, on to the food and the gelato. There was the best little gelato shop on the corner by our hotel -- the gelato shops are everywhere and so amazingly delicious! This was my favorite city with regard to the food... The paninis were a favorite as well. We stopped at a small restaurant run by one very nice lady and had our lunch both days. Everything was fresh. The paninis and pizzas were the best. We would sit with the girls in the only 4 stools she had and watch the locals come in to visit with her and pick up a little snack... We also had dinner at two different restaurants recommended by the staff at Residence Hilda (always ask the staff where to eat) and the pasta was incredible. We had some of our best meals here.
We also visited the Accademia museum that has the world famous sculpture of David by Michaelangelo, which was absolutely incredible! It is massive at 17 feet tall... It is hard to believe that he sculpted this by hand many centuries ago.
I would suggest ordering your museum tickets ahead of time or arriving as soon as the museum opens or you will wait for an hour or two in line. But, the people watching and little stores around the museum really can make the time fly...
We also went to the Uffizi museum across town... walking in Florence can be an adventure -- bring your walking shoes!
My favorite was the Birth of Venus by Botticelli (I think it is the favorite of many who visit the museum).
This gallery was right across the street from our hotel... We loved watching this dog in the doorway...

After a couple of days we are ready to head to our next stop -- Tuscany. We decide to rent a car and drive... seriously, it sounded like a great idea at the time ;-)

Copyright 2008

London to Florence

Summer 2007

We were on our way to a 10-day trip to Italy via London.
We flew Virgin Atlantic from LAX to London -- and had a great experience again! It is just a fabulous airline. We arrive in London and stay at the Marriott London County Hall right by the London Eye. Hotels in London are not cheap, but the Marriott is a great location... right next to the River Thames and withing walking distance to the London Eye (where we met a funny Brit named Elvis... classic!)

Now, we decide that we want to have an adventure, so we are going to take a train to Italy... We take the Eurostar from London to Paris -- amazing train experience. Then, we need to take a cab to the train station across town to pick up the overnight train to Florence. Now, we are feeling pretty good after the Eurostar (fast train) experience and are so excited. We get to the train station and wait... This is also the time I realize I need to really double check the signs when reading them. When the girls have to go to the bathroom, we walk right over to the sign that looks like a girl and walk right in -- to the MEN'S bathroom... Yikes!!! Well, there was noone in there, so we weren't tipped off by the people in the bathroom... It did look kind of odd when we walked in and there were no toilet seats and they had urinals in the back area. I just thought -- 'those wacky Europeans and their odd restrooms.' I finally realized what happened when we were met by a group of men coming in as we were leaving... I laughed about this for a while -- the girls did not ;-)
So, we get on the train and are sent to our compartment/room... We accept that this small little place will be our home for the next 16 hours and we are fine with it (until about 2am when my husband and I are bouncing around the top bunk and unable to sleep at all). We finally move down to the bottom bunk and slide in next to the girls... Mind you... the bunks are about half the width of a twin bed... We were so tired, we became really slap-happy... all the while the girls were sleeping like little angels... And, by the way, they LOVED the train ride.
Our daughter here is loving the top bunk (until later in the night when she wants to move down to the bottom one)...

Daddy trying to sleep (in the same bunk with our daughter)...

The view from the train before the sun set... makes it all worth while! Only 12 more hours to go (in the dark ;-)

We arrive in Florence and get our passports back after quite a long wait (did I tell you that they keep your passports when you get on the train, so thiefs won't jump on at one of the stops and have some easy 'picking' while you are asleep?). This was told to us by a local when we were having a hard time giving up our passports to our valet at the beginning of the trip. This is how they do things and we were not there to argue. But, it was weird and we did make sure our compartment was locked tightly when we were going to bed...

The train station in Florence was pretty deserted -- except for our fellow train passengers. We could not find a cab to save our lives... So, we waited and waited and waited. We were going to call a cab or the hotel -- like some of the other weary travelers were doing -- but my cell phone battery was dead... of course it was ;-) So, we waited and waited... Then, a cab pulled in looking for someone who had called for one... He couldn't find the person who called him and asked us if we needed a ride... "SI, GRAZIE!!!"

He was a very nice man and knew exactly where our hotel was in Florence... So, we were on our way!

Copyright 2008