Monday, March 23, 2009

Quick One

I am home after a wonderful vacation and back at school. It should be an interesting day.....

Friday, March 20, 2009

So Much To Do and Very Little Time: Exhaustion Was Settling In


I don’t like running around day after day. Look at this picture of me at breakfast, I look like road kill.

But despite the fact, that I would rather have spent the day doing any of the following:

  • Visiting the countryside
  • Visiting a winery
  • Swimming
  • Hiking anywhere away from the city
  • Reading a book
  • Drinking Lemoncillo
  • Having a massage

I carried on and picked a couple of more things to see in Florence.

First of all, I had promised myself I would go back to see the inside of the Jewish Synagogue. So off I went.

Copy of DSCF3057 The Sephardic style building was constructed in the 19th century. It barely survived WWII, when the Nazis used the building as a garage. It an exquisite building, worthy of Florence. It also houses a small museum and a memorial to the Jews of Florence who lost their lives during Nazi occupation of Italy.

Today the Jewish community stands at around 860 people, the synagogue is way too large for such a small community, but they continue to maintain it. I was planning to return for Shabbat services tonight, but between the bitter cold and my exhaustion, I decided to stay nearby the pensione.

After a satisfying visit, DSCF2786 I then walked over to the Museo del Bargello, an unexpected gem and a befitting choice for my final formal stop. This is Florence’s oldest public building and it was once used to sentence and met out justice to the people of Florence.

The building is also home to a comprehensive collection of Tuscan Renaissance sculpture including; Donatello’s David, works by Michelangelo, Baccio, and Cellini. Within the walls are housed here collections of porcelain, metal works, jewelry, Islamic artifacts, and more.

I think tonight I will try the famous Tuscan Beef Florentine, although I would be just as happy to skip dinner entirely. However, I did take a nap, so that should help.

Tomorrow I return to Milan. I have already taken around 1,200 pictures, which I plan to edit a bit and then upload in Houston.

As for packing, I brought exactly the right things. Although I never wore my nice shirt or used any makeup. What was I thinking???? I have some problems with the Blackberry’s software, but that can be remedied when I return to Houston. Minnie, my new HP mini computer is a gem, I am so glad I purchased her before I left.

If I don’t post again before I return, I hope you enjoyed visiting Florence with me. I know I may have missed a spot or two on the tourist trail, but I had other experiences that made up for missing a few of the top 10 or so sites.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Good Food in Town and Great Food in Siena

Wednesday night I had a decent meal at a local Tratorria. I ordered off the Tuscan menu. I started with pasta with mushrooms, followed by veal scaloppini in a basil tomato sauce, and ended with panna cotta with a chocolate sauce. The food was fresh, hot, and tasty.

DSCF3320 This morning I got up at 6:30, had breakfast and caught the 8:10 bus to Siena. I choose Siena because JP, D., and J. had all recommended this town as a fun day trip.

While Florence is more fluid feeling, Siena is more concrete. At least that is how I would sum it up. It is also a Unesco World Heritage Site.

I planned to mainly wander around the winding streets, looking at the beautiful gothic architecture and enjoying a less intense type day. I am feeling a bit over stimulated by all the paintings and sculptures I have been seeing.

I visited El Cambino, the city center, where the square looks like a huge basin. I also visited the Duomo. The catherdral is considered one of Italy’s greatest Gothic churches, they began building it, in the 12th century and have continued to add to as recently as the last century. Most of the outside sculptures are replicas, the originals have moved moved to protect them from acid rain.

It was a worthwhile visit as I was awed by the marble floors. There are also beautiful sculptures of saints, frescos, and other incredible cravings to feast one’s eyes on.

I have been puzzled by the what looks like a strong “oriental” influence on the outside architecture of the some of the churches I am seeing. They look a bit like mosques from the outside. I overheard an explanation about this today. Just as Church’s iconography has depicted, the Virgin Mary, the apostles, and Jesus in likenesses and situations that resemble the indigenous cultures, the churches were designed to be inviting to the faithful from Arab countries, as the Church was extending its influence in that area of the world.

I skipped the rest of the museums and decided to go back and eat at a restaurant that was a bit over my budget, but looked interesting. On the way there I passed a street fair, where I bought olives and freshly made candy to eat later.

What Can I Say About Lunch?

Now I know what it is like to be among the rich and famous. I was the only one in the restaurant for lunch. Apparently they do the majority of their business at dinner time.

Rather than choose myself, I let the chef choose what I should eat> Despite being the only customer, the service was outstanding. American restaurants could learn from these Europeans ones. I dinned for almost two hours and I never made made to feel I had to hurry.

The name of the restaurant was Tre Cristi I started with an amuse bouche of octopus and shrimp on a deconstructed costini, toasted crumbs of bread, bathed in olive oil with fresh tomatoes. My first course was a melt in your mouth, shell in all, whole shrimp on a sweet potato puree. The second course was grouper, homemade black squid ink pasta. cheese, and a basil tomato sauce. Which was a sensational melody of tastes, but to much food by the end. I accompanied all this with a sparkling Pinot Noir. Dessert was a simple apple, with orange undertones sorbet. Of course no meal is complete without the finale a cup of espresso. This restaurant was more of an example of then Mediterranean style of cooking then Tuscan.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I Walked and Walked and Walked and Saw and Saw

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During the last two days, I have toured by foot, four of Florence’s top hits:







  • Ponte Vecchio – Bridge built in the 14th century, on the other side of the river, the road is lined with shops selling silver and gold. It is the only bridge in Florence that the Nazis did not destroy.


  • Palzzo Pitti – It was the official residence of Florence’s rulers until 1919. It was built for the Pitti family, rivals of the Medici family. The grounds include; a silver museum, galleries, Royal Apartments', porcelain museum, costume museum, gardens, statues, and fountains. I enjoyed this place because it offered a variety of things to look at and gave me a balance between the paintings, sculptures, artifacts, and nature.

  • Uffizi Gallery -  with a staggering amount of well know art, including art from the Renaissance, Mannerism, Baroque, and Neoclassical schools, as well as pieces of art from ancient Italy and Tuscany. Most of this was collected by the Medici family. <--- this was the most crowded place I have been. I bought the ticket a day in advance and still had to wait online to get in. It was teaming with tour groups, most of whom did not speak English (much to my disappointment, so ease dropping on say the Japanese speaking group was not helpful.)
  • Palazzo Vecchio – a collection of ornate apartments with spectacular floors and painted ceilings. Built by none other than the Medici family. I loved this place because it was nearly empty and I could really look at the floors, walls and ceilings. Needless to say, I was getting tired, there I was standing in front of it, a bit confused because a statue of David is  suppose to be standing in front of it and it was all covered up for repair.DSCF3281 DSCF3136 DSCF3144

I forgot to eat both days, but luckly today I packed a snack. Which I greedily ate in the Piazza della Signoria.

On the way back to the pensione, I stopped in a jewelry shop, Parsjfal The man, Patrick Wandael DSCF3292 was making exquisite jewelry from aluminum and rubber. I saw pieces like this at the MOMA this summer. So here in lies my down fall, I purchased a few of the pieces. Now I will be able to proudly wear my souvenirs from the trip.

Exhausted I returned to the pensione, grabbed my laundry and did the wash.DSCF3310

Here I am kicking the machine that ate three of my euros.

I had a great dinner, but I’ll write about it another time.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Thank God I No Longer Have Vertigo

DSCF2587Have I ever told you that once upon a time I had vertigo? Perhaps not?

When I climbed anything high my heart would beat so fast and my legs would start to turn to rubber. I would have to use all my strength to focus on something besides the height, it would leave me near tears and sapped of strength. It never stopped me from traveling, but it made scaling anything high a challenge and sometimes an impossibility. I remember feeling this way when I was around three years old. It petrified me that I could not climb down.

DSCF2635 But I am fortunate, because I no longer have the vertigo. Yes, that are some trace memories and I wince when climbing anything with some height expecting the familiar surge through my body, but it does not come.

How might you ask? First I realized it was anxiety related. Then during the last period of being between jobs (some people call it unemployed), I worked really hard on identifying my anxieties and facing them. It mostly worked. At least traveling it a lot easier.

DSCF2622 Why do I bring it up at this point? Because today I visited the Duomo and I walked up the narrow path to the top of the dome, all 463 steep steps. I watched people turn around, and I thought that if I still had vertigo that coming down would have taken a herculean effort.

Instead I was rewarded with a gorgeous panoramic view of Firenze (Florence.) After I toured the church and climbed to the top of the dome, I visited the museum. There IDSCF2710 saw many wonderful artifacts, including Michelangelo’s Pieta. I learned that artists created things for the church to keep the masses coming to church. Can you image this relief of children dancing with its colorful and DSCF2717sparkling mosaics, glittering Disney-like in a church lit only with candles?

DSCF2776I stopped for lunch at a trattoria near the dome. I choose it, because people were queued outside. I ordered a veal stew Tuscan style and beans with tomato and garlic. I was seated at a table with three strangers. The meal was alrigDSCF2791ht, the experience, as they say, priceless.

Next stop was the Basillica di Santa Croce. I was actually looking for the synagogue, when I stumbled on this church with the Star of David on top. To bad I can’t share the story about what the six pointed star symbolizes, because I am pretty sure it has nothing to do with Judaism.

DSCF2799 This church is famous for the tombs of Michelangelo and Galileo, as well as beautiful frescos.

Are you getting tired yet? Because I was after hours and hours of walking. Next trick was finding my way back to the pensione, which I did.

Pictures from Day 1 Post 1

Florence in the Morning

When my alarm went off at 7  this morning, I saw that it was only 1 a.m. in Houston.  While I had slept fairly well, a few glasses of Chanti before bed helped, I was still a bit tired. At 7:30ish, I heard loud noises on the stairs up to the breakfast room and my bladder started asking for relief, I threw on some clothes and headed begrudgingly out the door of my room.

Upstairs in the breakfast room, I found that the herd of elephants was a loud family of…who else but,  Americans. I smiled at them and went to say Buongiorno, but they were engrossed in their own morning dramas.

Buffet style breakfast is served in a narrow roof top room that overlooks some of neighboring buildings. Today is clear and the view, well not spectacular, is certainly one of an authentic Italian city.

Still a bit groggy from the time change, I proceeded to get a cappuccino (of which I will eventually have consumed three this morning.) I also picked up a plain yogurt, two rolls, a sweet and plain one, Nutella (in homage to my HouCHie friends who had an extensive conversation regarding the merits of Nutella just last week), and an apple.  As  people walked in, each one greeted me with a smile and Buongiorno.

On my way to get my second cappuccino, I passed a couple of men and overheard one said to the other in Italian, what a beautiful woman I am, I immediately noticed that my back got straighter and a wider smile appeared on my lips. It didn’t feel lascivious at all, but rather a matter of fact. Hear that American men, it is really that simple to make us feel good?

As I leisurely ate my breakfast with enthusiasm (“I am here, I am here”), I surveyed the view out the window. When I looked out at some trees, they appeared to be bent like women posing in a sexy ways for photographs. I promised pictures of breakfast, the rooftops, and the trees before I leave. This morning it took all my energy to get out of bed, up the stairs, and start getting some fuel in my body.

Enough of this – it is time to get these files uploaded and plan out my day.

Long Day’s Journey To Florence

DSCF2383 I am exhausted and rightfully so – I woke up Saturday morning in Houston at 5 :30 a.m.and arrived at my pensione in Florence at about 1 p.m. on Sunday (minus six hours difference, made it 7 a.m. in Houston.)

To say I felt a bit disoriented  when I left Hotel Fiorita, my  pensione to tour the city, would be an understatement.  I got lost, found my way again and then wandered some more. Basically Sunday was “take it easy day”, in order to give my body and soul a chance to rest. I went to a outdoor flea market, filled with antiques and junk. I strolled through a fort and an exhibition on Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions. More in town, I went to the outdoor market and discovered lots of leather and woven goods, but nothing I had to have.  I ate silky smooth, bursting with flavor gelato. Then I picnicked on prosciutto, a cheese made of 50% gorgonzola and 50% marscopne, Chianti wine, fresh bread, and fruit.

I made it through the first crisis of the trip – a shower. My room is small, but I have stayed in smaller. In it is a sink and shower and the private toilet is in the hall. When I woke up from my nap, I decided to shower, the only problem was I could only get cold water. The water was frigid and I was debated if I should just do a sponge bath and forget it for tonight, when I realized I could get hot water out of the sink…duh, I needed to moved the handle in the shower in the other direction. I also used this strange contraption, which is a hairdryer.

Tomorrow I start my touring in earnest. Tonight, I go to sleep with freshly washed hair and body, and a belly full of simple but good food and wine. I am happy.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Somewhere Over @ the Rainbow Lodge

Yesterday Alison Cook gave the Rainbow Lodge 4 stars in her review in the Houston Chronicle. I have eaten at RL twice since Randy Rucker became chef this fall. Apparently despite my enthusiastic feeling about the food, I have yet to review it on my blog. This has been a terrible oversight on my part.

Between you and I, I was so excite about Alison’s review that after I read it, I jumped in the car and drove the few minutes it takes to get to the restaurant from my house, just to give Randy a hug.

I first met Randy this past summer, when the was doing the Tenacity diners. Here are links to my reviews: and

I immediately fell in love with his innovative preparation of food. Randy has a knack for delicately balancing the flavor of the food with an extraordinary eye towards presentation. As Alison said: “There is real brilliance now in his immaculate raw seafood dishes,…”. I couldn’t even find the vocabulary to describe the wonderful fish dish I had a couple of weeks ago there, but Alison found the words.

Eventually I will go back, sit down for the full tasting menu and write a review. But for now, I recommend you read Alison’s article. If you enjoy well prepared, interesting food, and have been waiting to go out for that special meal, this is the place to go. The setting is beautiful, slightly rustic and with a backyard that sits on a ravine of sorts, but don't go for the just the beauty of the restaurant, go for a knock your socks off experience and one of the best meals you will have in Houston. Let’s support our local chef Randy Rucker, who deserves the praises he is receiving.

Location: Rainbow Lodge 2011 Ella, 713-861-8666

Two Days and Counting Down

Western Europe

I felt a bit under the weather today, so I didn’t make it in to work. I did however sleep until almost 11 - OMG!

After a hearty breakfast around noon it was off to packing and napping.

What will I take a eight day holiday in Europe during the end of the winter?

  • 2 pairs of pants (no jeans) dark green and black
  • 1 button down shirt , slightly dressy
  • 4 tops, 3 black, one green
  • 4 pairs of panties
  • 3 bras
  • 1 pair of day hikers
  • 1 pair of black Mary Janes
  • 3 pairs of socks for day hikes and 2 blacks for black Mary Janes
  • 1 sarong (use as robe)
  • 1 pair of long underwear to wear as PJs
  • 2 scarves, black & pink
  • 1 hat
  • 1 black fleece jacket
  • 1 wind breaker with hood
  • 1 umbrella
  • toiletries & make-up
  • 1 pair of sunshades to put over my glasses
  • 1 HP Mini laptop, 2.5 pounds
  • Accessories for “Minnie”, device to load pictures, mouse, cable for Blackberry data transfer, headphones
  • 1 laundry kit; stopper, wash, clothes line
  • Electrical adapters for Europe and Italy (pension says it has both)
  • Guidebook and reading book
  • 2 cameras, digital Fuji SLR and small Cannon digital
  • Flight, pension, & money exchange rate info.
  • photocopies of my passport and CCs
  • Blackberry
  • Datebook
  • Little notebook
  • Post-it tabs
  • Travel pillow
  • Credit and Charge cards
  • Pens
  • Money belt
  • Passport
  • Euros

All this gets packed in either the backpack and daypack. The backpack feels pretty reasonable, the daypack is bit overloaded, but still zips up.

Florence or Firenze Italy

What have I done to prepare myself for a trip to a city that has had wide cultural impact on Europe and the rest of the word? Unfortunately not much. All I have been able to do is speak with a few people, who all say that Florence is one of their favorite cities, and glance through my guidebook.

Florence is the regional capital of Tuscany and the epicenter of what was Renaissance Italy. It is home to the famous Medic family who supported some pretty famous artists such as Botticelli, Da Vinci, and Michelangelo. Beyond the artists are many churches, buildings and breath taking scenery, which I will become more acquainted with during my over 24-hour journey to get there. Lonely Planet has nice overview.

Italy is currently 6 hours ahead of CST. The EU doesn’t switch to DST until the end of March, so it will be lighter in the morning than here. I prefer that, as I I like to get up early when I travel and see things when it isn’t too crowded. My research does indicate that I am definitely traveling during the off season. Therefore I am not expecting many crowds along the way.

Did I Mention Over a 24-Hour Trip to Get There?

image Super Shuttle is due to pick me up at around 7:45 a.m. on Saturday morning. My first of three flights leaves Houston at 10:10 a.m., arriving in imageCleveland at 1:45 p.m. Then it is off to Newark, where my international flight to Milan leaves at 6:55 p.m., arriving in Milan at around 7 a.m., then off to the train station to catch a train to Florence, arriving some time in the afternoon. I am looking forward to the travel time, to adjust from a working gal, to a my holiday mode. Once in Florence, I will there through Saturday, going back to Milan and then leaving for the states on Sunday morning (only two flights on the way home.)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Arrivederci – Off to Italy Next Weekend


While I normally write about food, or food related adventures, I have decided to use this blog to write about my upcoming week long holiday to Italy. I am sure there will be posts about food as well. The Food Princess Reports blog also has a feed from Twitter on the right hand side and I plan to use Twitter to micro blog to on the road.

Getting Ready

The preparation for a trip that is only a weeklong always seems to take longer than the trip itself. Not only do I have to prepare for the trip, but I have to put everything in order at home as well.

Yesterday I washed all my clothes, got the backpack out of the attic, and pulled out my travel gear. I made a initial list of what I was taking and returned some of the things that were not needed for a trip to Europe back to the closet.

I searched and searched for my Euros, I found the coins but none of the paper money. I am sure the paper money will show up either right before I leave or right after I return. The good news is that I did find about €19 in change.

Today, I sorted through some more stuff, including a disturbing pile of bills and miscellaneous papers that had built up several inches tall by the front door. It took me a little over an hour, but almost everything from that pile has either been shredded, thrown away, or filed.

I printed out the my travel information, including the itinerary from Continental Airlines, and confirmation from the hotel in Florence. I am flying into Milano (Milan in Italian) then taking a train to Firenze (Florence in Italian), where I plan to spend the week.

Checking Out the Pensione

This evening I decided to also look at the hotel’s web site to see if they had directions on how to get to the Hotel Fiorita from the train station. By the way, don’t you think that the pictures of Hotel Fiorita look pretty impressive? The amenities do not look bad either, except one thing… “Some rooms also have modem sockets.”

Oh no, I had assumed (bad thing to do when traveling outside the country) that since Italy was in Europe that the plugs would be the same Type C image like most of Europe. A little research turned up, that they made be, but this one line indicates that Italy and this hotel also uses the three prong type plug Type L image . Looks like I will have to travel with both. I see a short trip is in store to Little India to buy another Type L plug (I have one already) tomorrow on the way home.

By the way, I booked my single room with a private bathroom, shower and sink in the room and toilet in the hall for €39 a night below the prices they are quoting on their web site. I used a third party site that I found out about on Lonely Planet’s on-line forum Thorn Tree (one of my favorite sites to use when researching a destination.)

Getting Minnie Ready For the Trip as Well


The other thing I worked on this weekend in preparation for leaving the country was getting my New HP Mini or “Minnie” ready for the trip. That meant loading software, checking out the links, and getting all additional hardware together. I heart Minnie, 2.5 pounds and packed with power. Yes, I also paid less than the price on the website, HP has lots of deals going on.

I think that’s all folks, at least for tonight.