Family Roots Odyssey

 After many years of waiting and planning we finally took the initiative and did it. Destination Italy!

Flag of Italy by James.Stringer

Photo by James Stringer

Jenn and Roberto coming from Vermont in the North and me coming up from Florida rendezvoused at JFK in New York. From there we took our trans-Atlantic flight to Rome, our home base and starting point. For two weeks we traveled and ate our way through Rome, Sicily and Sardinia. It was a delightful mix of site seeing and family visiting. What a way to begin what I hope will be many future trips back to Italy. There was so much to see and do that this was just an appetizer. But I want to share some of the adventures we had during our stay. Let’s just say it was quite a learning experience in more ways than one and you will see what I mean as I go on.

It will take several posts to finish the story. So I will start at the beginning and tell you about Rome. It would be a challenge if you did not speak the language but I must say people were friendly and it wasn’t too bad – well, for me anyway. Roberto, who was born in Italy, was our guide and translator and then Jenn, who has been there before, had many ideas to offer to, especially when it came to eating gelato. So I was in good shape.

Our arranged transport took us from Fiumicino to the little B&B, The Dumus Betti, right in town on Via Germanico. In fact we could see the walls of the Vatican from our street corner. Our accommodations were so varied during our stay in Italy and, as this was my first “home” there, I need to tell you about it – and the proprietor. We had to ring at a large iron gate to enter and once inside made our way upstairs to the entrance. The building had other uses as well but the B&B of 4 rooms was on the second floor.

My room was just a cute little spot at the end of the hall with this wonderful window that opened onto the street. I loved the frilly white curtain and the separate shutter and the little flower box flanked by flags outside. It was cool in the room mostly if you left the window open. But it was a choice – no AC or no screens. I opted for no screens until one night a little green friend made its way to my bedside. The bathroom was small, but adequate. There as a small shower, sink, commode and this other thing - a bidet. I had no idea how to use it. They were everywhere we went. Some say they are good to wash your feet. But I don’t think that is what they are supposed to wash. Anyway, I never did find out.

From there I could see the busy (and noisy) street below. There were either hordes of tourists walking back from the Vatican or late night revelers passing by from the clubs. On the corner across the street was the little café where we stopped for many cappuccinos or espressos – when it was open!! You always here about how things just shut down during the day, but you really have to be there is experience it. We Americans are, well, spoiled AND just too much in a BIG HURRY. Just below was a bank of trash dumpsters – which were emptied usually in the middle of the night!! On the corner nearest us was a clothing huckster who set up shop in his little canopy tent bright and early every morning. Best of all was the ATM which was our saving grace many a time. (Did I mention that every time I used it I was charged 10 dollars? Five there and five at home) Gheez!

The good news about our location was that we were right in the middle of town. The bad news about it was that we were in the middle of town.

Once settled in, we needed to find a place to eat and just strolling up the street found this little spot that had the most wonderful buffet. For fewer than 10 Euros each we drank the local wine and ate our fill of antipasti and pasta. What a lucky find. Sated, we retuned to our rooms for a little nap. Roberto’s mother, Anna, came to greet us after she finished her day at work which capped off our first day in Rome. We spent the first evening just poking around getting our bearings and, after a long day of travel, just relaxing.

The proprietor was a nervous fellow who reminded me a lot of a little Munchkin from Oz. He was either shushing us or relentlessly knocking on our door in the mornings to serve his little breakfast tray of cappuccino, orange juice and a cornetto. I think he was happy when we left as he knocked on my door, carried my bag to the hall and said “Arrivaderci”.

The next morning we had an early start to see the Vatican – but that is for another day.

Latinos Y Mas

After extensive remodeling, Latino Y Mas has reopened in Ocala, FL and our ladies’ group set out to go there to check it out. We were about 12 of us so they set us up in one of the smaller private dining areas. The place was packed so it was a good thing we had a reservation. The young man who was our server never missed a beat and we sure had him hopping with all of our requests. The food was really good too. Generous portions were served sizzling hot and colorfully plated. I ordered Chuletas al a Marsala,  pork chops sauteed with mushrooms in a Marsala wine sauce,  but because I am cutting back on white carbs, I asked to have vegetables instead of the rice. There were no questions asked and no price increase either. When I saw broccoli (not my favorite vegetable), I thought I was in trouble until I tasted it. It was the best, most perfectly cooked and seasoned broccoli I have ever had.

The restaurant was beautiful. It was upscale looking inside and out. The walls were bright, the details of the furniture, art work and accent pieces were authentic with nothing spared in creating the ambiance of the eatery.

When it was time to serve the birthday cake that we brought, our June birthday girls were serenaded by the wait staff and they even cut and plated the cake for us.

Visit their website for directions and the full menu.

A Boatel?!

 

Boatel??? What is that? Is it a boat or is it a hotel? Well, it is both!

Are you ready to try for a different experience? I happened to come across an interesting option for those who “have been there and done that”. Out in Ventura, California, there is a chance to bed and breakfast aboard two kinds of boats depending on the experience you are looking for.

There are two boats with two different themes to pick from. One is a boat called the Villita that once was owned by a film star back in the 30’s and the other is an authentic Hong Kong Chinese Pirate Junk. Both are anchored dockside at the Ventura Harbor Village. You can stroll the boardwalk if you wish to visit some of the 6 pubs for a glass of rum. And don’t be surprised if you  see  some PIRATES!!!!

The claim is that both offer all the amenities of an upscale hotel (maid service to turn down your bed with the options of breakfast for an extra fee and a complementary evening beverage); coupled with the cozy ambiance of a nautical adventure.

They cater to special occasions such as anniversaries, honeymoons and birthdays, family or romantic – for anyone who wants to try something different.

Contact for information or reservations at (805) 235-2208 or for a fun slideshow of the boatels, check them out at www.boatelonthewater.com.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day Flags by eddiecoyote

Photo courtesy of eddiecoyote

In the US, Memorial Day is a day set aside for us to honor and remember those in our Armed Forces who died while in service to our country.  To all those we honor, fathers, brothers, sons, mothers, sisters, daughters, we salute you.

This is also a time when we begin to see the trees greening, and the flowers blooming and the sun feeling a little warmer. It is the day we traditionally usher in the summer season.

For those who have the luck for an extra day off today, we are enjoying a long weekend.  And for our northern friends who are just now bidding farewell to snow and cold, people are hitting the roads.  Even in these tough economic times, it is expected that we will be out heading for the beach, the lakes, or just a welcomed getaway to shake off the cabin fever of long days inside.

A few posts ago, I gave a consolidation of tips on saving gas on the road.  Following that theme and keeping in mind that many families will be traveling by car, here are a few more ideas to keep you happy and sane while getting there.

When Jenn was younger and we would go on our little road trips, we always made sure that the journey was PART of the fun.  We would not push and get frantic about messed up timelines.  There is no fun in racing against the clock.  We do that everyday.  So let this Memorial Day travel be more relaxing.

It is hot.  Down here in Florida we went straight from winter to the 90’s.   So be sure you pack plenty of water.  Better yet, take refillable stainless bottles and be green.  If your little ones like sodas or that sweet stuff, just bring a jug of juice and splash some into the water for them instead. It  tastes good and it is economical too.

Plan on taking some good snacks along and let the kids pack the little snack bags. Give them dried fruits, popcorn, nuts, etc to pick from and let them go to it.

Make sure you take frequent breaks – stretch, walk a few minutes, use the bathroom, whatever, but plan on it.  It is not just good to let the kids out to burn off some energy, it is good for you too.  It may make your travel time longer, but it will be well worth it.

Be flexible.  If you see something of interest along the way, why not just do it.  Who knows if you will pass that way again and it could turn out to be a worthwhile adventure.

Don’t try to do marathon driving.  Set a reasonable time.  Then stop for the day.  Have a nice dinner, use the pool, spend the evening relaxing and get to bed early so you can be relaxed and ready to go the next morning.

Have fun!!  Relax!  Enjoy your weekend!

Mother’s Day Brunch at the Homestead

Jenn and Me sharing a moment

When I visit Vermont to see the family, one thing I can always count on is great tasting and healthy food. Since I have chosen to be more proactive in seeking local and organic foods, I have a challenge in dining at many restaurants because I can’t control the ingredients used.

But when I am in Vermont, we patronize dining spots that utilize local, fresh, and seasonal food. Over the next several posts, we will look at some of the restaurants in the Burlington-Stowe area where we ate. I did a lot of eating up there. Interestingly though, with all the good, healthy foods, I didn’t gain any weight which delighted and surprised me to no end!!

The first though that I do have to mention is the wonderful Mother’s Day Brunch lovingly prepared by my daughter Jenn, aka The Leftover Queen at their home Thistlemoon Meadows.  ( To see more pictures and get her recipes, then click on the link.)  She and Roberto made ME feel like the queen.

Roberto doing the honors

Jenn setting out the goodies

We started the meal with a Proseco and pear juice cocktail. So good. Then we had home grown organic eggs from their own chickens combined with mushroom, chives, and feta cheese with a drizzle of truffle oil. YUM. Along with that we had organic sausage patties, roasted fingerling potatoes and the most wonderful and surprising coffee cake made with white beans. Who knew you could do that!! And to top it off, was much coffee with cream and a dish of her homemade yogurt and berries.

I was ready for a nap by then, but they whisked me of to a craft show. I hadn’t done one of those in years. It was a big one, the Champlain Valley Expo.  We just went to the craft side but there were antiques there as well in a different area for those who wished to see it.

We ended our day taking a drive and walk through the New North End in Burlington. Could be a place to move to one day?? Big thing to think about going from the deep South in Florida to well Vermont. Not a big fan of cold and snow but the healthy lifestyle of Vermonters is a big draw.

More good eating to come. See you next post.

Money Saving Gas Tips

 

Photo courtesy of Hakan Dahlstrom

With the way the economy is now and particularly the rising gas prices as relates to travel, we are seeing increases in everything from airfares to even just taking the family on a little road trip. It used to be that driving yourself was a good option for savings. Not so much any more.

Yet, there are still a few tactics out there to help curb driving costs on a trip. I have been reading and hearing about a number of good tips on how to conserve gas when driving and in the end, all these little bits of savings can add up.

I compiled some of the ones that I thought were good and want to pass on some of this advice to you bloggers to encourage you to consider keeping those driving travel plans if you are willing to adhere to a few of these pointers. Some may just seem like common sense and they are but still bear mentioning.

  • Rapid acceleration and braking can lower gas mileage by 33% on highways.
  • Turn off or turn down the AC and drive with the windows open to save about 5-20%.
  • Travel light. An extra 100 pounds in the trunk works out to about using an extra 20 gallons a year.
  • Mileage decreases rapidly when you drive above 60 mph. For each 5 miles above 60 you pay about $.24 / gallon more for gas.
  • Use your cruise control to maintain a steady speed.
  • Keep your tires inflated properly, and check often. Look at the label on the door of the driver’s side. This alone will save you about 3% of fuel costs.
  • Keep you car in good repair. Need a tune up? Getting one can improve gas mileage on average 4%.

Get in the habit of doing these things as a matter of habit and save on your road trip and all the time.

Do you have some gas savings tips to share? Love to hear them.

Menopause The Musical

It had been awhile since I had gone to see a live play and when my singles group suggested we trek up to Gainesville, Fl to see Menopause, The Musical, I jumped at the chance. Gainesville is about an hours drive from our home base in Ocala. There were 18 of us who caravanned up. It was at least going to be an evening out with the girls.

On the way we had supper at a chain, Carrabas’s, which was actually quite pleasant, and then onward to the Curtis M. Phillips Center on the grounds of the University of Florida Cultural Plaza. The theater was an endowment made in 2000 by retired surgeon Dr. Curtis M. Phillips and opened for business in 2002. Phillips Center, a 1700 seat proscenium hall, with a main floor and balcony, was surprisingly intimate. You could sit anywhere and have an unobstructed view. We were to be seated in the balcony but by some stroke of luck, that area was closed and we ended up about 5 rows back from the stage.

The evening was balmy, and the venue most inviting with the large fountain in front facing the brightly lit glass walled entrance. It was so welcoming and produced an air of excited anticipation.

We were not disappointed. The production was so fun. Set in Bloomingdales, the cast of four “menopausal” women – a professional woman, a soap star, an earth mother and a mid-west housewife had us laughing the whole evening as they told their stories through song and dance to old tunes like” What’s Love Got to do With It”, “Wishin’ and Hopin’ ” and “Good Vibrations” to name just a few. We laughed at their antics, double entendres and at ourselves with self-recognition in some of sketches.

Just one of those feel good shows that left us smiling all the way home. Oh what a night!!

Getting There is Half the Fun

“It’s better to travel well than to arrive.”   -Bhudda

You are planning your honeymoon or you and your daughter are taking a trip together to create some special memories. Do you save on the transportation to have more to spend when you get there or do you think of the journey to there as important enough to be a part of the celebration? If it is a trip of a lifetime, why not go in luxury all the way!!! Just this once!

One thing that I think makes sense is to work with a travel agent. These days agents don’t often charge for their services, but they could work with you to create the full package and give you tips and ideas of ways to get the most for the money you have to spend.

Would you rather be in first class, even if expensive, and drink champagne and be served a meal on linen or do you want to sit cramped in the back, paying for a bag of nuts? Do you want to be transported by a limo or drive yourself to the airport and hassle with luggage and satellite parking? These are choices that could make the difference in creating a truly memorable, special occasion trip.

Baggage claim by Mat Honan

Photo by Mat Honan

015ed by Mark F. Levisay

Photo by Mark F. Levisay

OR

Rolls-Royce 20-25 Gurney Nutting Saloon by Ed Callow [ torquespeak ]

Photo by Ed Callow

Arabic Mezzah by Sarah_Ackerman

Photo by Sarah_Ackerman

Be sure you both of you are part of the planning and then create a budget. Decide on the type of experience you would like to share– some exotic spot, someplace private, a glitzy city, a trip to wine county?? Describe to your agent what you would like and let her help you figure out what some good options are. If you want to get the first class treatment and can be open to suggestion, you are likely to work out a plan to include all the little luxuries to make it a dream come true trip from start to finish.

“Rollin’ on the River”

One of the most relaxing times my girlfriends and I had during our visit to Pittsburgh was our leisurely cruise on the Gateway Clipper just checking out the landscapes along the banks of the three rivers – Allegheny, Monongahela and Ohio Rivers! The water splashing along the sides and the cool breeze were a nice backdrop for the scenery. Actually there are five boats in the fleet with a capacity for holding 2,500 passengers.

Alice enjoying the view

We set sail from Station Square on the Monongahela for a one hour guided tour and headed straight for the top deck where we had an unobstructed view of the city. The guide was a font of information as she pointed out the skylines buildings along with tidbits of their history. It occurred to me how much we lose out when we just look at a building without really knowing its importance. It was a mix of old and new architecture and all shapes and sizes. At the point where the three rivers joined, though still under construction, was a gorgeous landscape feature. And right next door the famous Three Rivers Stadium.

In addition to the one hour sightseeing cruise that we took, there are other tours available from a dining cruise to private weddings or corporate events. For more information on the fleet or for reservations visit them at www.gatewayclipper.com.

Leunig’s

 

             Just waiting to go in

Located in the heart of downtown Burlington on Church Street is a little bit of France. Leunig’s has an old world ambiance AND great food. I heard from the server there that a lot of Canadians come to Burlington and eat there.

There is this big bar as you enter and the tables are arranged thoughout on various levels.

Jenn and Roberto at our window view table 

It was warmer when I visited and we had this wonderful table by the window that opened to the walk outside. It was charming. The menu features French foods with a Vermont touch added for good measure.

My yummy salad

They serve a weekend brunch and are open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner with a little café menu tucked in the middle for those who drop by between meals for a little somethin’, somethin’. I was also happy to see gluten free additions to the menu. Leunig’s is a member of the Vermont Fresh Network.

We were there for lunch and I am determined to go back repeatedly until I can sample the foods from the different mealtime menus.

Stained glass outside entrance

If you visit their website right now, you can find a recipe for Glug, a Swedish holiday Spiced Hot Wine. Or just stop in for a mug!    www.leunigsbistro.com

 
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