Thursday, May 29, 2008

A British Welcome

We've are lucky enough to have more company in town. After a couple years of planning Jamo and Erin arrived this morning to start their European tour.

We spent the day dodging the rain but seeing the sights around Big Ben as you can see from the photo. We toured Westminster Abbey where we saw many famous grave sites including Queen Elizabeth I, Sir Isaac Newton and Charles Darwin then they took a spin on the London Eye.

Its been a long day for them but I'm happy to say they made it to almost 11:00 so they will sleep well. Just say no to jet lag...

In other news were finally back online at the new flat which is a relief. You don't realize how much you use it until its gone for a few weeks.

I want to also wish Zac & Tara good luck tomorrow as they make the move to Cincy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Jazz in Brussels

Erin and Melissa were in town and stayed with us for a few days before we all headed off to Belgium for the weekend.

First off we want to say hi to our newest friend Cliff, who is the midst of a 10 week trek through Europe for a little self rediscovery. We had a good time touring with him in Brussels and wish him the best of travels.

Now, while in Belgium we just had to have our share of waffles and chocolate along with seeing the sites. And we did.

Chocolate shops were everywhere which gave the girls too much opportunity to ogle over all the different types (try and find the funny chocolate shape in that photo). They tasted quite a few different varieties and types but it wasn't enough.

Oh and the waffles, dang, they were tasty! They aren't your average waffles. No, they are waffles covered in a light coating of sugar then topped with your favorite topping like chocolate or strawberries or brown sugar or whipped cream or all of it!

While we were in Brussels there was a Jazz festival in the Grand Palace square. It was really nice after a day of touring to sit back in the square and relax with Jazz in the background. Here's a better photo of the square.

Among other things we also saw the comic strip museum which was interesting. Heres a good photo of the girls posing with an adverts for the museum.

One thing to note about Brussels is there aren't many high profile sights like you see in other European cities but there is Manneken Pis. He's a bit rude and a bit obnoxious but what a laugh as he takes a wee into the fountain below. He's a big hit and lots of time they dress him up as we were able to see. That little guy made my trip to Brussels. He's so entertaining.

On Sunday we hopped on the train we took a trip to nearby and picturesque Bruges. We had a picnic for lunch, then took small boat ride which gave us a great way to see step gable houses set on the canals. We found one happy dog lounging out his window over the canal. If you get to Brussels, Bruges is worth a visit.

Finally we headed back to London and Erin and Melissa headed off to Paris continuing with their trip. Happy travelling!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Italy Wrap Up Part 2

At this point in the trip we had canceled our previously booked accommodations looking to get out of the cities and had heard there were lots of great agriturismo places to stay which is a working farm that has turned part of their house/barn/farm in to guest accommodations. They can vary from sleeping in barns on hay to living it up in spa-like settings. And the best part is that it's all set in the midst of Italian countryside complete with amazing views, vineyards and olive groves.

Continuing from the advice from our cooking friends we found ourselves in a small town named Montepulciano which gets its fame from the Nobile (pronounced NOH-bee-leh) grape and the wine it produces.

The town itself wasn't much different than some of the other recent cities but it has yet to lose all of its charm from us tourists. After visiting the square which of course is a long way up the hill, we found the Contucci Palace Cantina a Nobile wine cellar that happens to be featured in the 2008 Rick Steves book, here (2nd paragraph from the bottom).

We tasted some wine then sat and chatted with Admo whose picture is in the book. The funny thing is he loved the publicity having the book open to the page not to mention even signing a copy of the guide while we were there. He was a very entertaining fellow and we enjoyed talking with him. He's so full of passion about the wine.

To find accommodation for the night we stopped in the local tourism office to get some recommendations and its a good thing we did. They booked us a place at a local agriturismo farm called Il Palazzodei Diavoli which turned out to be perfect. It was a small farm with newly refurbished rooms (actually fairly posh) which sat right below Montepulciano.

To kick back and relax one day we decided to have a picnic on the farm in the middle of the vineyards. We ran into town, picked up some fresh bread, meats, cheeses and other picnic supplies and spent the entire day out in the fields enjoying perfect weather. The view was incredible and we were able to get some good old RnR which we really needed.

Our final stop on the trip was Pisa and we took the train from Florence to get there. We just had to see the leaning tower which is much more impressive in person than in pictures. It's just hard to imagine how much it is truly leaning. One quick tip if you are heading to Pisa. You only need a short visit and could even take the train in one day and take the train out the same day. After the museums and sights in Florence, and the views in other parts of Tuscany there isn't much left for Pisa other than the leaning tower. But the tower is worth it.

After seeing Pisa we had a bit of time to kill so we ended up hopping on the train to a popular coastal destination to stick our feet in the sand. Not having any beach gear with us, we ended up just taking off our shoes and rolling up our jeans. This allowed us a few minutes in the sand and sun which is always good to let you know your on holiday. Note the picture above. So after one final pizza in a little pizza shop we caught our flight home.

A nice, well rounded trip. Planes, trains, and automobiles, plus cites, country and a bit of the beach. Tuscany is one of our favorite places now!

Italy Photo Collection

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Settling Into Clapham

We are starting to settle in to our new place in Clapham. We spent the entire weekend and the first few days of this week trying to get everything sorted for the busy few weeks ahead. The cats are still a bit nervous but are warming up to the new surroundings. However, they still aren't sure what to think of the red London buses (you know, the big double decker ones) that noisily drive by. We've been telling them to relax but they aren't listening.

In the meantime we have lots of friends visiting that should help us adjust to our new place. A couple nights ago we met Jeremy and Amanda, friends from Indy for dinner. Today Erin & Melissa get in town and are staying with us until we all leave for Brussels on Saturday. Then late next week Erin & Jamo are in town for a few days before heading off to more European destinations.

Oh, and I almost forgot the England V USA match at Wembly Stadium next week. Exciting stuff!

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Italy Wrap Up Part 1

Sorry for the duplicate post. I mistakenly hit the send button before I was finished. Here's the revised post...


Before too much more time gets away let me wrap up our Tuscany adventures.

So after the bike ride we toured Florence seeing most of the main attractions such as the Duomo and most importantly Michelangelo's David. We stood there with everybody else, mouth half open, staring just waiting for him to gracefully switch his weight to the other leg and look the opposite direction. He is awe inspiring!

Next we picked up our rental car which couldn't have come at a better time. We were starting to get a bit weary of the over touristy cities, which Florence takes the cake. Taking advice from our Bologna friends we drove to a small town called Sangimino where we had a lovely after noon strolling around the quite streets, up and down the hills.

Oh the drive out of Florence was an insanely hectic experience. It took both of us to drive. I was trying to navigate the roads and Steph was telling me where to go that went something like this. SN, "Take the 3rd exit, NO the 3rd exit!" JN, "I can't, too many cars too little road, ah"! SN: "Oh no, look out for the dude the moped". It was a stressful few minutes getting outside the city but worth it.

Anyway, the city of Sangimino sits high up on a hill and we found a nice walking path around the outside of the city wall that offered some good views.

We ended the night in Siena which has competed with Florence for power over the centuries. Most people usually like one of the two cities better than the other. We sit on the Siena side. They have an impressive square that is shaped like a big bowl which was a great spot to take a break.

Finally at dinner we had a bit of a surprise. We settled on this little place recommended by a few of the travel books. The menu was in Italian which made it challenging to order so we ended up having to asking the server for advice. I chose a pasta beef dish which the server described as "part of the rib". Right, so after eating a few bites and not letting on how bad it was I had Steph try a bite. Yuk! Even now we are not sure what it was but it sure did kill both of our appetites. My guess, stomach? Fear Factor anyone...

The photo above is Steph at dinner before the incident when she was in a better mood...

More to come.

Here's a link to the Italy Photo Collection

Friday, May 16, 2008

We're moving to London! (really!)

We are moving apartments and yes, our new apartment's address actually says LONDON! Redhill has been a lovely little town, but it just that - a lovely little town. We figured we'd be doing ourselves an injustice to move all the way to England and not live IN London.

We make the final move tomorrow morning. We won't have internet set up for a week or more so feel free to call us on our Vonage number. Calls made to us will forward to Josh's mobile, but we won't have the internet connection at home to make the calls ourselves - so we look forward to your calls...just don't call Saturday - we'll be knackered! (haha!)

We'll also get the rest of Italy (the best part!) and new apartment pictures posted soon.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Bike Ride in the Tuscan sun

As far as attractions go, a bike ride through the Chianti region is high up on my list. The change of pace was fantastic, the weather was perfect, the scenery so picturesque and I have a bit of sunburn to prove it.

It all started with a quick ride outside of busy Florence to a small quiet family owned castle that has been producing olive oil and wine since 1199. We toured the production facilities and climbed the castle tower for some breath-taking views. Then we tasted a bit of wine and bread covered in the olive oil for some energy :), yummy, before hitting the bikes.

Riding through the hills we soaked up the views and the sun seeing vineyard after vineyard and olive grove after olive grove. No people flipping over their handle bars like in Hawaii though. Oh, one side note, where ever the grapes are grown so too are the olives at least in Chianti. The same soil is good for both.

As you can probably tell we had an absolutely amazing day riding through the spectacular Tuscan country side with our Irish and Scottish tour guides. You read that right. Ironic huh, go all the way to Italy and have tour guides from the UK but they were fantastic.

Tomorrow we pick up our rental car. Need I say more... Ok, so we are taking the advice of our Bologna friends and driving through Tuscany to see what we can find. We are armed with our travel guide, a GPS unit, a willingnees to explore and free time. We need a bit of a break from the cities so the country side here we come.

Hope all is well. Plenty of pictures and stories still to come...

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Hello from Bologna Italy!

Our cooking class was amazing - one of the most memorable travel experiences yet. Marcello, Rafaella and Francesca are our new Italian friends and we spent the entire day with them (literally 10am til midnight!). Bluone cooking tours

Rafa and Francesca took us through the food market where we bought food for our cooking, then we had an aperitif with Marcello at a great local wine stop.

We took an afternoon break to enjoy the weather and view from atop the La Torre degli Asinelli. What a climb that was, no elevator and rickety, old, wooden steps! But what a view!

Then we re-joined with our friends to head back to their house to begin cooking for dinner. We made several types of pasta and a dinner of typical dishes of Emilia-Romagna. The pasta making was exhausting and it showed us what a true art and skill pasta making is!

The dinner was fabulous - simple and tasty - and surprising nothing covered in tomato sauce. Apparently, sauces are used to cover the taste of bad pasta - but good, homemade pasta is served with simple broths or alone so you can enjoy the full flavor. For example, we had tortellini in broth, pasatelli in broth and toteloni sprinkled only with fresh parmigiana regiano. While enjoying our dinner we truly felt the hard work was paid off.

And dinner was topped off by a simple and delicious homemade gelato topped with strawberries and balsamic - that was refreshing and my new favorite dessert. One quick tip: it has to be GOOD balsamic...i.e. don't go for the big bottle you find in Walmart, look for a tiny expensive bottle and you find it takes very little and the taste is tenfold!

After dinner, we sat around chatting and Marcello loaded us up with maps and ideas to help us modify our tour of Tuscany...and we have since cancelled some previous hotels, extended our car rental and have an amazing tour in front of us - all thanks to Marcello's suggestions!

So, we will post soon and let you know how our trip unfolds! Ciao!

(we will add in links and photos later...the suspense is killing you, we know! haha!)