Saturday, December 28, 2013

Venice by Margot Justes Redux

Below is a blog I posted when I returned from my first trip to Venice. On my second trip this year, my feelings about Venice intensified. The city is as mysterious as it is stunning.

Getting to Venice is not difficult,  hop on a plane to any central European city and transfer to a small plane bound for the Marco Polo airport in Venice.

Once there, it took me a while to get my bearing,  my nickname Wrong Way Rodal is well founded. I get lost easily and have a hard time with left and right, and we won't discuss North, South, etc.

At the Marco Polo airport, I wanted to get an ACTV 72 hour pass, that would allow me to take the bus to the center of town and more importantly would allow me to use the vaporetto at will.

I asked and received a blank stare, a finger pointing to a sea of faces, no kiosk selling anything, just tourists looking as lost as I was. One person actually answered in Italian, and since I spoke in English and don't speak Italian beyond the pleasantries, it presented a slight problem.  But we smiled at each other and I thanked him in Italian. Grazie goes a long way but unfortunately not to a place that got me a ticket.

The fact that I spoke English, had this totally lost look on my face, was at an airport, lugging luggage behind me and hoping against hope someone would take me for a tourist. Nope, it didn’t happen, no one did. Odd that.

I walked a bit further, probably in a circle, although nothing looked familiar and I didn't get that- been there done that- the European Vacation 'look kids Big Ben' feeling.
Finally, I got lucky and bought the three day pass and took the bus that took me to Piazza Roma, the central hub where it would appear all travelers converge. 

From there it was walking distance over a few bridges to the Boscolo Bellini hotel, just steps away from the Grand Canal in the Cannaregio district.

Going up and down the various bridges was a treat, the luggage thumping, bumping and groaning as the was person pulling the darn things. That would be me.

The area was perfect, the hotel however was not, at best it lacked a personality, however the people at the desk were gracious and helpful, and the location more than made up for the shortcomings of the hotel.
Breakfast at the hotel was delicious, the pastries fresh and the coffee sublime.  On the second day, my server remembered my preference and brought hot steaming milk to the table.

My first day was spent wondering through the maze of tiny alleys and narrow streets in hope of finding the elusive Piazza San Marco. You guessed it, even following the clear markings and arrows, I got lost. 
Practically next door to the hotel was a remarkable Romanesque church and it so happened that there was a concert that night right in the church. It was fantastic. All in all, an incredible first day in a wondrous city.

The local restaurant was superb and I fell in  love with black pasta, the local Venetian specialty. It truly was love at first bite.  Black pasta is either pasta made with squid or cuttlefish  ink, or the sauce is made from the ink. I tried both and loved both, the flavor is at once robust and earthy. Gelato was the dessert of choice, there are many flavors to choose from and I did my best to sample as many as time permitted.

Piazza San Marco does exist. St. Mark's Basilica stands proud and dominates the Piazza, it is the central focus, however the Piazza is so much more, the ducal palace and cafes, souvenir shops and the Grand Canal. The Piazza, simply put is glorious, as is the rest of this mysterious and intriguing city.

Margot Justes
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Blood Art

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Cinque Terre by Margot Justes

Cinque Terre is in the rugged Liguria region of the Italian Riviera. Rugged indeed and stunning. Cinque Terre is a national park, and protected by UNESCO, and is most assuredly worth a visit. We stopped in three of the five villages, Manarola, Vernazza and Monterosso.

I would love to go back and stay a few days, but I was happy to have spent a bit of time in each village. The ship docked in La Spezia and from there we took a ferry to our first stop, Manarola. The village is  set atop a rock outcrop, with medieval hamlets perched on the rocks.  The bedrock juts from the soil and sea below. The effect is stunning.

Cinque Terre has become a popular tourist destination, and you will find the necessary souvenir shops, restaurants, and cafes. Yet it retains an old age charm, with small fishing boats moored on the street, sort of like parking a car, except they’re boats. We has enough time to walk down the main street and a few narrow avenues that further defined the charm of the village.

Our next stop was Vernazza, the villages are similar, yet have a unique flavor all their own. Towering buildings flank narrow alleys, and they lead down to a magnificent bay. I stopped for a espresso in a cafe overlooking the bay. The coffee and view were sublime. The walk along the narrow streets, and the main tourist area was relaxing and you forget everything except the sheer age and natural beauty that surrounds you.

From Vernazza we took the local train to Monterosso. The village is a bit bigger, and more  touristy. I stopped for lunch at a restaurant with a fantastic view of the sea, and the best seafood pasta I’ve ever tasted. Pasta was cooked al dente just the way I like it, and the seafood was incredibly fresh, and the tomato sauce was light and well seasoned.

Along the way, we tasted some of the local wines, and amaretti con limone cookies; the Monterosso specialty-macaroons made with lemon, and some delicious Pesto, served on a piece of toasted Italian bread, and sprinkled with Parmesan cheese.

It was a long day, and well worth the effort. The views were stunning and unspoiled.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Barcelona by Margot Justes


Barcelona is exciting, vibrant and the locals know how to enjoy themselves, they possess the joie de vivre that is hard to miss, and often times hard to find.

At any given time stroll on La Rambla, and you’ll see locals and savvy tourists sit down in a cafe and enjoy a beer, tapas, coffee, along with a dish of green olives, or just stroll arm in arm on the wide street. There are many souvenirs shops that line the famous paseo, all the kitschy tourist stuff, along with entertainment, and all of it delightful.

The street is filled to capacity, and I for one at this stage in my life don’t like crowds, and if truth be told-never did-but I really didn’t mind it. I had a wondrous adventure just walking down the street. You see people smile, nod their heads in acknowledgement as you stroll along as if in a romantic dream.

There are museums to be sure, Miro, Dali and Picasso have a foundation in Barcelona. The stunning architecture will take your breath away, everywhere you turn you see a magnificent building, from Gothic to Art Nouveau to the indescribable Gaudi treasures, to contemporary and everything in between. Landmarks abound.

The city also boasts a beautiful coast line, and one of the biggest ports in Europe, along with some beautiful parks, one even designed by Gaudi.

Have I forgotten to mention the food-it is delicious-they create a mouth watering delight   with just potatoes. Okay, I’m Polish and happen to love potatoes, but the Patatas Bravas are truly yummy, and the sauce has a slight bite that you feel on the tip of your tongue.

A huge array of cheeses, hams, breads, olives, an amazing selection of fish, all that is available in many tapas bars. The offerings are small, so you can visit many places and taste the amazing variety of appetizers. A delightful and delicious way to sample the local cuisine.

Shopping abounds on Passeig de Gracia, favorably compared to other famous boulevards with prices to match. I enjoy the walk, and window shop, the displays are imaginative and fun.

There are many hotels and as always prices range from low to high, it all depends on your budget. You will find delicious and reasonably priced tapas bars, but if you’re in the tourist areas be prepared to pay. I do a bit of research  before I leave, and thus avoid sticker shock.

Barcelona has it all, and is definitely worth a visit.

Margot  Justes
Blood Art
A Hotel in Paris
A Hotel in Bath
Hot Crimes Cool Chicks