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February 2009
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Rome: Through a Roman's Eyes

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Stefano, a colleague of Donald's invited us to spend the weekend in Rome at his mother's apartment.  We had an absolutely WONDERFUL time and definately got to see Rome from a non-touristic point of view.

We arrived Friday evening and Stefano picked us up at the Airport.  We headed straight for "mama's" to drop off our things.  Mama Ivonne {pronounced A-von-ya} has lived in the apartment since the 1950's.  Very sweet apartment.  Very sweet Mama!

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Stefano took us to a chic restaurant Friday night where we met his two children, Francesca and Luca.  His son is in a band, The Out of Tunes , and was just written up in an Italian teen magazine.  I bought the magazine and had him sign it for me at the restaurant.  I told him I was going to sell it on E-bay!  The band is quite good.

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Stefano went for a jog Saturday morning so D and I had breakfast with Ivonne.  Have I mentioned that she does not speak a word of English?  That did not stop her, she chatted with us non-stop.  D was able to pick up a few words here and there, but we really do not know Italian.

After breakfast we took a stroll through the local market. 

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  The fruits and veggies were packed with color. 

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Early afternoon we headed an hour north of Rome to the Terme Dei Papi.  A thermal spring resort.  This was a fascinating experience.  The water comes straight from the earth and at the point it enters the pool the temperature is approximately 130 degrees.  The further away you go, the colder the water gets.

Check out D with his "speedos" for the Termes.  We took his American bathing suit, but Stefano said he really needed the smaller one (for drying purposes) - too funny!

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The water is said to have healing properties and contains sulfurous salts (you could smell this), bicarbonate and carbonic gases.  It was founded in the 3rd century and in 1450 one of the Popes had a palace built here hence the name dei papi (of the Popes). History says that Michelangelo also came here.

Wait, let's see one more shot of D in his speedos:

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....how about just a little closer. 

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Stefano's friend Claudia joined us for the day.  Here is a cute shot of Claudia, Stefano, and D.

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After soaking in the Termes for four + hours with wrinkled fingers and toes, we toured a few nearby towns.  And yes, they were right next to the Termes, but it was really chilly outside and we needed coats.  You would never have known looking at the photos of us in the water.

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For dinner we went to a restaurant where Stefano knew the owner.  What a special meal, my favorite of the trip.  The owner loves Americans and kept coming to our table to tell us stories, including a touching comment about Americans sending food to Italy after WWII.  I really enjoyed meeting Claudia and spending the day with her.  She and Stefano both speak very good English.  But we still had fun teaching them a few "slang" American words!  Few of which can be repeated here.

Sunday morning we went to the BIG Rome flea market - it was nice that D had Stefano to play with.  I think I got an extra 45 minutes from this  :  ).  I bought my normal junk, beads, paper, and jewelry.  A delightful collection indeed!

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  The boys had a post breakfast snack of roasted pork sandwiches.

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We then took a long walk in the park near the apartment.  Am I looking Italian or what?

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As you can see we were very lucky and had absolutely picture perfect weather. 

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 There was an exquisite Villa in the park.

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By this time we had worked up quite an appetite and that was a good thing as Mama was cooking a special lunch for us.  One course was a pasta dish - with home-made noodles - devine.  I think she was flattered that I was taking photos of everything.  We had fresh buffalo mozarella from the market (the best we have ever eaten), beef with arugula, several salads, and fruit for dessert.  It was a delicious meal.

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We felt very special as the table was set beautifully with all of her wedding china.  We even got to use the special espresso cups and there are only 3 remaining. 

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After lunch the "girls" had lemoncello  (a lemon liqueur produced in southern Italy).

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and the boys had the more manly Grappa (brandy - 75 to 100 proof) or as I like to call it turpentine!  It certainly heats up your body.

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And Donald made himself right at home - a post lunch nap! 

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Ivonne took me in her room.  We sat on her bed and she pulled out several boxes.  The first one had her jewelry tools and beads and then she puled out all of the jewelry she had made and was currently making.  We sat on her bed talking away about jewelry for 30 minutes.....and remember....she does not speak ANY English and I do not speak any Italian.  It was priceless!!

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The Sunday we were there, March 8, was Festa Della Donna (Women's Day).  The custom started in 1946.  Men would give thier wives, mothers, daughters, and other women friends sprigs of bright yellow Mimosa flowers as a sign of respect. 

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Stefano was sweet and bought Mimosa flowers for me and his mom.  We saw women all over the city carrying them.  Sunday evening we checked into the Hotel San Anselmo for one night.  Stefano invited us to stay another night, but he had to work in the morning so we thoughtit best to stay in a hotel.  And we have stayed here befre and I LOVE this hotel.

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That is me on the balcony - we were in the Romeo and Juliet room.  Very romantic.

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  and in ALL Italian bathrooms (even Mama's apartment), the bidet.

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Stefano joined back up with us for dinner.  We went to another restaurant where he knew the owner.  Stefano knows everyone!  Another superb meal.

We did get to see a little of the city on Monday morning before our flight home.

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We even saw the Pope!  We were crossing a courtyard to get to the ancient ruins and there were many people gathering and LOTS of police.  We asked what was going on and we were told the Pope was coming for a meeting.  We waited about and hour and saw him get out of the car.

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and a close up, but unfortunately he did not turn our way.

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He popped his head out one side of the building, seen here on a large video screen set up in the courtyard.

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He was going to come out on the balcony in front of us to say a few words, but that was after his meeting.  We had no idea how long the meeting would be and we had a plane to catch in a few hours, so we could not wait.  Next time!

Italy is one of the only cities we know where you can drink the water in the streets.  If you look closely, D is blocking the bottom of the faucet with his hand,  when you do this, it creates a drinking spout.  Pretty cool.

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And a few shots around the city - how cute is this little red car!


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Until we meet again in the next blog in Venice - Cheers!

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Alsace France and the Wine Tasting Dinner

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We love the Alsace region in France.  It is only a 4 hour drive and we have a charming B&B where we love to stay, Ambiance Jardin, owned by Pierrette and Jean Luc.  Check out their web-page, the photography and the layout are both stunning.    After staying three times, we feel like we are staying with friends instead of at a B&B. 

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a few photos around the B&B...

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Pierrette collects antique watering cans.  She has hundreds of them.

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Every corner has a sweet vignette......a photo waiting to be snapped.

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For more photos from the B&B, see the album titled Ambiance Jardin, on the right hand side of the first page of the Blog.

We picked this weekend to go as they were having a wine tasting and dinner.  It was going to be in french - but who cares as long as you are drinking wine!

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This is Pierrette and her friend who is the wine expert.  He only spoke French.  It was a diverse table, there were three from Germany (only one spoke English), me and D (D doing well with his French), Pierrette's son and his wife (both spoke a little English) and three friends (all French but did speak some English).  

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 We started the dinner with sparkling wine.  An interesting tidbit, what we call Champagne in the US, is called sparkling wine in Europe.  Real Champagne only comes from the town of Champagne.  The U.S. doesn't follow this rule, but it is strictly enforced in Europe.

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D listening intently to the descriptions of the wines.  It was a unique tasting as we sampled three wines without food, we were served a course, and tasted them again with the food.  We did this for each course.

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After sampling 15 different glasses of wine, I am pretty sure we were both speaking French and German!! 

Jean-Jon was our translator.  After he had several glasses of wine, we think he forgot how to speak English!  No, he did a very good job.  It was also great practice for D to use his french in a real setting (vs class).

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A very enjoyable dinner with lots of laughter!

We spent the next day in Colmar, founded in the 9th century.  It has many half-timbered houses.  It is on the French/German border, but I think the houses look more German than French.

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  It is a charming town with colorful houses. 

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It also has some very old houses.     

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Check out the date above the door in the photo below, 1612.

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 We found an adorable tea shop where we had lunch. 

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The two women running the cafe had to be 75 and 85.  They were scurrying all over that restaurant.  Note the bag.....we did a little shopping too. 

Looks like he is also enjoying the beautiful day.

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Another memorable trip!


Amsterdam, February 09

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Donald had a two-day trip to Amsterdam so I tagged along to keep him company on the train.  I got lucky and had one sunny day.

I finally made it to the Ann Frank House.  No photos were allowed inside of the house, but here is a shot of the outside.  It is the taller one with the three rows of windows and the white panels.  The website is very interesting, I encourage you to check it out. 

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Otto Frank, her father, was closely involved in setting up the museum and he refused to have any furniture in it.  So the rooms do appear larger than you would have expected.  It has undergone several remodels and a face lift to the front to take it back to its orginal state, but the rooms where they lived are in authentic condition.  In 2007 over one million visitors went into the museum. 

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Since I have given you a tour of Amsterdam in a previous blog.... I decided to focus on the ever popular bicycle.  There are 700,000 bicycles in Amsterdam.  Each year close to 80,000 are stolen.  I was intrigued with the bells and mascots on the bikes.

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And one shot of the red light district at night.  There were at least 30 swans in the canals in the red light district.  I found it fascinating to see such a symbol of beauty in the sleazy part of town. 

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Just a funny note about Amsterdam.....the restaurants went non-smoking.  Marijuana is still legal and can be smoked in the "coffee shops".  But no alcohol, hard drugs or  cigarettes.  Explain that one!


Carnival in Binche Belgium

Each year the town of Binche in Belgium celebrates carnival with a very elaborate parade on Fat Sunday.  We went last year and had a lot of fun and got some great photos.  So we decided to try again this year.

 

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The costumes were equally as entertaining as last year and completely different.  This event is said to date back as far as 1549 and is actually a catholic event, ending one day before ash Wednesday.

 

 

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These three gilles (clown-like performers) were part of one group.  The gilles are the principal performers.  They march/dance around the town in groups to the beat of a drum.  Each group must have a drummer to participate in the parade.

 

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The crowd was much bigger this year.  We could hardly walk down the street.

 

 

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On Fat Tuesday, the gilles dress again and eat oysters and champaigne for breakfast.  At the end of the parade, blood oranges are thrown at the crowds.

 

 

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Two from the harlequin group.

 

 

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Me, dancing with the cats!

 

 

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A few more of our favorites:

 

 

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If you look closely, you will see all of the "gilles" are men!

 

 

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As for the children, you will see both boys and girls dressed.  They are not part of the formal parades, but some are equally as elaborate.

 

 

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He's a cutie.

 

 

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Unfortunately, our Belgian rain showed up. 

 

 

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Like the little one in this photo...

 

 

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We were ready to go home when it started raining hard.

 

 

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Until next year....

 

 


A Very Special Lunch

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D had off work on Monday for the holiday so he treated me to a very special lunch.  We drove about 30 minutes outside of the city to a two star Michelin restaurant, de pastorale

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The decor was beautiful.  Very soft and chic.  With an Alice and wonderland feel to the garden.

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It made for a for a very interesting juxtaposition of the quiet soft interior mixed with the over exaggerated comical animals in the garden.  The big green rabbit sat just outside the window of our table, as if he was asking for just a little bite.  Good thing we had fish and veal......not sure I would have been able to eat rabbit   :   )

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And the meal was one of our best!  The chef describes his food as "total taste".  That was a very accurate description as every bite was so flavorful it bounced off every part of our taste-buds.

It started out with a bread stick that looked like a tree branch.  D thought it was decoration at first.  It was made with mushrooms and had a tomato coulis sauce for dipping.

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Next came a variety of bread with butter and olive oil.  We could have been happy just eating the bread with salt and butter for lunch.

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Beautiful presentation throughout the meal.  Simple, yet elegant.

 

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  Our first amuse bouche was was one of the most creative servings we have ever had.  The waiter came out with two spoons and handed us each one.  This happened so fast we could not take a photo.  On the spoon was a small circle of goat cheese, caramelized.  On the bottom on the spoon was a dollop of cream mixed with a flavor. 

The second amuse bouche, chicken morsel with couscous and foam.

 

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      We were ready for our first course. 

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In an article, De Pooter, 39 was described as being strongly influenced by art and architecture and by a culinary movement towards food that was low in fat and sugar.  Did you catch that?  This entire lunch was a diet meal. 

Donald's dish:  veal breast, confit, sweetbreads, cardamon, green olives and artichoke.  This was the first time we have had sweetbreads.  They were veal sweetbreads, which are deemed the best,  "prized by gourmets throughout the world" .  For those of you who are not familiar with sweetbreads, they are thymus glands.  By the way....I had one and half glasses of wine at this point, so yes, I did taste!  And we both thought they were delicious.

 

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Another clip form the article; De Pooter's cuisine is visually arresting yet strangely cool, almost as if the physical beauty takes precedence over everything else.  We agree - they were absolutely beautiful dishes.

My dish: pike perch, baked, cumin, petite carrots, onion, and asparagus.  The sauce was carrot.

 

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The dessert was a winter wonderland with a multitude of "white" flavors - coconut, cream, powdered sugar, white chocolate, ice cream.  I am not a big white chocolate fan, but this was in a world of it's own.  The ball on the side of the dish had a delicate shell with a flavorful burst of citrus when we ate it.  It was a stunning dessert.

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............and deserves a closer look:

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Post-dessert & coffee.  We have learned that the coffee course in expensive restaurants in Europe is an experience in itself.  The coffee comes....

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and so do plates of bite-sized treats......  

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fun little sweets to amuse your tongue.

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And if that was not enough, out comes the post-post-dessert, tarte tatin (were were told it was the chef's interpretation of apple pie with a dollop of ice cream).

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Wow - one of the best meals with service to match.

Of course I HAD to walk in the garden with the creatures.

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The rabbit told D a secret - he never did tell me what it was.

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We can't wait to go back!