Tuesday, January 31, 2012

At Least the Wine Was Good

Our European Vacation: Part III
We arrived in Paris exhausted and hungry for some American food!  In
stead of trying to navigate public transportation, we jumped in the first cab that would speak (some) English and drove straight to our hotel.  We dropped our bags and went in search of a juicy hamburger.  Lunch was outrageously expensive, but worth the comfort of some familiar food.  Conor was pretty excited about his double yolk egg!

Conor was going to be very busy with work most of our time in France, so we took advantage of the little time we had together.  Our first night we took a long walk towards the Eiffel Tower and had dinner outside at a cute little restaurant just a block from the tower.  Neither Conor nor I spoke any French which made for an interesting Paris experience.  We still tried, with the 3 or so words we could say... But many of the people we encountered the first couple of days were unwilling to speak English to us and were quite rude about it.  Going out to eat was difficult at times with the language barrier.  However, most of the meals were tasty and the wine was always delicious!  I can't complain about that! Conor had stories when he returned from a few days on business, of all the crazy foods he had tried. But I stuck to what I felt comfortable with... After dinner, we finished the walk to the Eiffel tower right and arrived right as the lights were twinkling...so pretty!

The next three days Conor travelled around France for work while I stayed in Paris.  I'm embarrassed to say, I did not do much during this time.  I was very frustrated with trying to navigate the metro system and was finding it impossible to communicate with anyone French.  Each day I would go for a walk and attempt to take in the culture but it was a rainy couple of days so that didn't work out so well.  Instead, I caught up on some much needed sleep and anxiously waited for Conor to return.  I did find one very friendly crepe stand guy, which was a breath of fresh air....'til I realized that I really don't' like crepes all the much...  Needless to say, I ate a lot of frosted flakes those couple of days, oh well!

My favorite thing in Paris was the Basilique du Sacre-Coeur.  It is a beautiful church set up on a hill with fantastic views.  The neighborhood surrounding the church has lots of character and, from what we were told, is where many of the famous artists from Paris worked and lived. The streets and square were filled with artists painting and displaying their art. We spent quite a bit of time roaming the streets and oogling all the local art.  We wanted to purchase a few things;however, we decided it would be so hard to travel back to the states with a large painting.  Unfortunately, we walked away empty handed.

Next on our list of sights to see was Notre Dame.  I had really been looking forward to seeing it, even though we had visited many churches over the past three weeks at this point.  I have to say I was fairly underwhelmed and maybe even a little disappointed.  It was still a great experience to be at such a historical site, but it was nothing like I had expected.  Maybe that Disney movie gave me the wrong impression....

Already a bit worn down by the time we got there, we felt very ready to be home by the end of the week in Paris.  Our first big trip to Europe was a crazy and amazing adventure. Surely a time that we will always remember with great memories.  We can't wait to go back and continue exploring.  I think next time we would love to visit Ireland, maybe even bring the golf clubs!

Next up: A couple holidays, the move to Seattle, and our new house!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Dinner with Baffetto

Wow, life got so busy these past two months!  The news of Baby K, the holidays, and our move to Seattle have really derailed my blogging.  Now that we are somewhat settled in our new house, I'm getting back to the blog.  I'm going to do a few quick "catch-up" posts if my pregnancy brain can recall what we've done since October.  I'm also starting a seperate blog for Baby K where everyone can follow my ever growing bump and all other things baby.  Stay tuned...  In the meantime, back to Italy:

Unfortunately we only had 2 days to spend in Rome, so we were determined to get in as many activites as possible!  My friend, Abby Hall, recommended a bed & breakfast to us that we ended up just loving!  We stayed at Gulliver's Lodge, which was just a short walk from the train station.  The owner was so sweet and provided us with maps, restaurant recommendations, and more!  Our first tourist site of the day: The Vatican.

Since it was late October, the Vatican wasn't too busy and we didn't have to wait in line at all!  Here we got super touristy and downloaded some Rick Steve's audio tours!  This ended up being an excellent decision since we weren't doing any guided tours.  We learned so much more than we ever would have picked up on our own.  It was especially helpful in the Sistine Chapel, which was my favorite part of the Vatican.  It was also amazing to see the Pieta in St. Peter's Basilica! Inside, we also saw some interesting glass tombs with dead, preserved popes... right before we ate no less...cool & creepy all at the same time! We finished up our audio tour and made our way out, mission acomplished. Thanks for the fun & witty facts Rick Steves!

After lots of walking, we were more than ready for a big meal!  We went to this small restaurant close to our B & B that the owner recommended.  It was my favorite meal of the whole trip!  The place wasn't expensive so we each ordered a 4 course meal, mmm.  Antipasti, tortellini soup, fettucine carbanara, & tiramisu...and every bite was amazing!  The 2 liter carafe of wine wasn't as incredible...but for 10 Euro I loved it!  Just when things couldn't get better, we informed that the restaurant's credit card machine is broken and they are only accepting cash...we had none.   Talk about awkward!  So Conor goes on a long trek to find a cash machine while I wait in the restaurant alone...and all the wine was gone!  They was some rioting in Rome a few days before we arrived, so the only ATM close by that he could find was completely bashed in and not working.  Conor returned with no money and tried to explain that we would have to bring it to them tomorrow.  The owner was pretty nice about the whole thing, although quite distrought that his machine wasn't working, and let us leave with our tab unpaid.  But of course we returned the next day to pay our debt, for which he was very grateful!

The next day we planned on going to the Colosseum and the Forum, but unfortunately the Colosseum was closed for the day.  Such a big bummer, I was really looking forward to it.  Instead we spent more time with Rick Steves in the Forum.  I absolutely loved  our time there; the sun was shining and there was so much to see!  We found a great vantage point inside the Forum to get a good look at the Colosseum as well.  There we listened to more of Mr. Steves' wonderful facts and tried to imagine what it looked like inside.  After all the hours we logged listening to Rick, I realize now that I find his voice quite soothing. He could probably put me to sleep!

We continued our sightseeing into the evening as we walked to dinner.  Our stop at the Pantheon was perfect timing as it wasn't too crowded.  Conor's brother Kyle lived in Rome for three months and had some awesome suggestions!  Dinner was at a pizza place called Baffetto's, and it was the best pizza I had while in Italy! Wish I could have some right now... Even though we arrived soon after the restaurant opened, the place was already packed.  There is absolutely no place to wait inside, so instead a line forms around the block.  We braved the chilly temperatures while waiting for a table.  Thirty minutes later, we were seated right next to the pizza oven: a perfect spot to watch all the action!  Our wine was served in an old flower pitcher which was massive!  While waiting for our pizza, we listened to the head pizza maker yell orders at the others in his, what can only be described as, "Godfather"-esk voice. Pretty authentic, we knew we were in the right place!  We also had the privilege of watching Baffetto himself in action.  Baffetto is the cutest old man ever, with huge glasses and a sweet platinum white mustache, who was indirectly running the whole show.  Even though the place was packed, they left a whole table open for him to sip his wine and occasionally bark out orders to his employees if he saw them slacking.  The whole experience was awesome!

Kyle's next suggestion was right across the street, so we walked our full bellies just a few steps and we were at the Abbey Theater, an Irish pub.  Apparently they have them everywhere!  No complaints here, I'll take a cider (shocker).  We had a few drinks while chatting with some friends that Kyle had made during his time in Rome.  Our third stop, in the best corner of Italy, was to the Frigidarium: the absolute best gelato in all of Italy!  I had a scoop of banana and a scoop of coconut and couldn't have been happier.  I have dreams of this gelato still!  This is a must stop the next time you're in Rome.

Later we took a night walk through Rome and saw the Trevi Fountain.  The site was spectacular at night, absolutely beautiful.  It was a very romantic spot, other than the many teenagers roaming around who were probably up to no good!  Before we left, I made a wish...and if you've been keeping track with us on Facebook, you'll know it came true! Baby K is on the way! :-)

After visiting the Spanish steps, we headed back to our room for about 4 hours of sleep before our flight to Paris.  Two days was not nearly enough time in Rome; next time, I'll be sure to extend our time there!  Next blog is Paris, and then we will be done with Europe.  I was not a huge fan of Paris, so maybe I'll be able to convince Conor to blog this time...