Traveling: Top 5 Romantic Cities

For Valentine’s Day, I decided to write my favorite romantic places I have visited with Cristina

5. Venice: Venice can be grueling because it is all cement and water. That is also what makes it beautiful. Best thing about Venice is that it is a perfect city to get lost. Eventually you find your way, but its a beautiful adventure.

4.Barcelona: My favorite walking city I have visited. Barcelona is a place to do lots of shopping at high fashion stores and at outside food markets. Coffee shops and restaurants are plentiful to sit and have a nice conversation. In addition, the architecture is full of wonder.

3.Paris: Sure the Eiffel Tower is romantic, but so is most of the city. A leisurely stroll down the Champs-Elysees is hard to beat in the romantic department, yet a cruise down the Seine comes close.

2. Rome: Rome is another city best seen by walking (I’m sensing a theme). The best time is sunset when the natural light and the city lights bring the Eternal City alive.

1. New Orleans: Yes, I am a homer, but I cannot see any reason why our city should not be number one. If you know how to walk the French Quarter (mainly stay away from parts of Bourbon), you can easily pretend you are in the Old World. If the moon is out, a walk along the river near Woldenberg Park is as good as it gets. Moreover, I have not even mentioned Uptown and Oak Street which are just as good if not better than the Downtown. As far as restaurants go, well, I think we have it pretty good.

Reviewing: Kurt’s Year in Review

A couple of highlights from this past year:

Best Festival: Hogs for the Cause. Great food, better cause. I splurged on the 100 dollar ticket this year, and it was probably the best monetary decision I made. For all the food from the contestants that I could eat and all the Nola beer I could drink, my money was going to patients with pediatric brain cancer. Oh, and some of the best local music acts around

Best Meal in New Orleans : Herbsaint on our anniversary. Spaghetti with a fried egg, followed by the best roast chicken I’ve ever had, and cucumber sorbet for desert. That meal was the second best at my table.

Best Concert: While it was close race with Neil Young and Glen Campbell, seeing Bruce Springsteen at Jazz Fest was by far the most joyful show I have ever seen. Grown men crying at “My City of Ruin” at one moment then dancing “Mary Don’t You Weep No More” made for possibly the best show I’ve ever seen. Worth every moment of heat exhaustion.

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band at Jazz Fest

Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band at Jazz Fest

Best Meal In a Foreign Country: Being history nerds, we don’t often plan out our meals when traveling. We normally just eat at tourist traps mainly because we are near the touristy things. Well, near the Coliseum this past summer, we were just plain hungry and didn’t care about getting a great meal. The menu was in every language, an obvious sign that locals don’t frequent this place. Yet, the food was amazing. Maybe we were just hungry, but the Cacio e Pepe and stewed lamb was simply amazing. And having the ruins of Rome in the background made for a memorable meal.

Best Walk: This could have easily been Rome, Dubrovnik, Barcelona or Venice. However, we walked the Rock N Roll half marathon this past year. We planned on running, but illnesses and other things got in the way. But we did walk it. The whole thing. We finished. And when it comes to a half marathon, finishing is a great accomplishment.

Geekiest Moment: Meeting most of Star Trek: The Next Generation Cast. Still have to meet Patrick Stewart and Wil Wheaton but more to come on that adventure.

Best Gelato: Beet and lime gelato at La Divina. Vegetables made into an art.

Best Movie Experience:  Seeing Color Me Obsessed: A Film about The Replacements at the Zeitgeist Multi- Disciplinary Arts Center.  A group of die-hard Replacement fans watching a movie that was as much about them as their favorite band.  This band’s music is the soundtrack for my life.

Best moment that should have been a horrible experience:  Camping in Fort Wilderness in Disney World in mid-July.  I thought it would be too hot.  However, the lows were in the low 70s every night. Best three nights of sleep I got this year.  Perfect three days except for the psychotic squirrel.  He was out to kill us all.

Last year, I must have been cranky. I wrote about a few bad experiences. Maybe the holiday spirit is getting to me but I can only think of positive experiences from the past year. I mean the second day in Venice was probably a horrible experience by our European Cruise standards, but it’s hard to complain about a second day in Venice.

Looking forward to 2013, I plan on doing more cooking (and blogging about it). We are planning on going on a study abroad so we definitely will be writing about that. To anyone and everyone that took the time to read our blog this year, thank you. As I told a friend the other night, if you find a way to stay creative you have found the way to stay young. This blog, and doing things to write about it, keeps us young. Hope you all have a great 2013!

 

Updated:  I did forget to update this post with some sad news.  I didn’t know the man nor did I frequent his bar, but it was really horrible to hear John Hogan of Parasol’s died.  I’ve been to Parasol’s three times in the past year and had a great time each time.  In fact, Cristina and I celebrated taking and passing the GRE by having a roast beef po-boy at the Constance Street Bar.  Parasol’s pulled pork sandwich was one of the best dishes at the Gambit’s Food Revue we went to in March.  May John rest in peace.

 

Traveling: Rome, Trivia, and Soccer

We wake up and make our way back to the train station from our hotel in Rome (which is only a few blocks away). We accidentally bought the wrong tickets yesterday, and we aren’t supposed to use them for today (they were a one day only pass). We think about just getting on the train anyway, but I am too chicken, and we wind up buying two train passes back to Civitavecchia (10 euros). Lo and behold, just like on the way from Civitavecchia, they do not even remotely check our tickets. Honestly, we could have saved money both ways and just hopped on the trains, because no one cared either way. Oh well, at least we’re honest!

Hotel Everest in Rome

Kurt leaving Hotel Everest in Rome

We meet a couple on the train going back to the Carnival Breeze, and they live in New Orleans! What a small world. We talk to them a bit about different Nola things and different cruises and such. Finally back on the boat, Kurt and I eat some lunch on the Lido deck, before relaxing a bit. Before we take off, the cruise director makes an announcement for anybody that has not checked back in yet. Unfortunately, a few people took a wrong train and end up going to Milan and missing the boat. They have to take a plane to catch the boat in Dubrovnik. I personally think it’ll be cheaper to take a train there, or even the ferry across the Adriatic, but what do I know?

We go to the Ocean Plaza on deck 5 to just sit and relax. We wind up playing 5 games of trivia (totaling 2.5 hours). We come in second place twice, but that 1st place piece of ship alluded us. We go to dinner at Blush again, and having skipped it two nights in a row, our waiter is very happy to see us again. We assure him that we didn’t abandon him, just spent a night in Rome. For starters, Kurt has steamed duck pot stickers and I have Vietnamese pumpkin and chicken broth, which is quite delicious. Dinner is sirloin steak for me and seafood stew for Kurt. The sirloin, which I order medium, comes out well done and pretty tough. Definitely not the best steak I’ve ever eaten.

After dinner, we stake out our spots on the Lido deck to watch Spain vs. Italy in the final game of EURO 2012. I had bought an Italian flag in Rome from a very awesome shop with a great older gentleman who was quite funny. He asked me which flag I wanted, and I gave him “the look.” He said, in a thick Italian accent, “What? I am Italian, and I am for Spain!” I assured him with a name like Cristina Cavicchia, I was decidedly for Italy. So donning my flag, as the game finally commences, it becomes glaringly obvious that Spain is just the better team. Poor Italy is 0-2 by halftime, and once Torres comes in for Spain around 70′, we go down 0-4. Not to mention, we use all of our subs and have to pull out another player because of injury, so we are only playing with 10 people. Needless to say, I have a sad this night. At least Spain breaks some records and makes some history with their win.

Traveling: Happy 63rd birthday, Papa! From Roma with love.

On June 30, my dad’s 63rd birthday, Kurt and I fittingly spend it in Rome. We sleep to about 10:30am, then get on the hour train to Rome from Civitvecchia around noon. After a brief period of not being able to find the hotel (I stupidly forget to print out our reservation and have no idea where it is located), I use my limited Italian to ask a shop owner if she knows where it is. Luckily, I happen to remember the name of the hotel, Hotel Everest, and they are able to give us directions to it. We knew it is right by the train station Roma Termini, but there are about 100 hotels around it. Our hotel is extremely hard to find in the fact that it has no big outdoor sign, and is actually only on the 3rd floor of a multi-floor building, where every floor is a different hotel. Confusing!

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Traveling: Europe Cruise 2012

Being teachers, Kurt and I get the pleasure of having almost two months off during the summer. Because I run a tight budget and we live frugally during the year, we’re able to take a trip each summer. Kurt and I were discussing the possibilities for this coming summer, from a week in Disney World to a cruise out of New Orleans. As I’m checking out cruises, I curiously start looking at cruises in Europe. While scrolling through the many wonderful ports and attractions, one catches my eye – a 12 day cruise out of Barcelona. The more I explore it, the more intrigued I am. Half jokingly, I start looking up airfare. $1300? Ha ha…no. I push the thought out of my mind…or, try to at least. That night, all I could think about was this cruise. I had mentioned it to Kurt, and though he was interested, he was very doubtful about the cost.

The next day, I made a decision. I was going to call the annoying cruise guy that calls me EVERY time I log onto their website and see what kind of deal he could get me. Right off the bat, he gave me an airfare/cruise deal…of $6200, more than what I could do separately. No thanks! I bemoan to him that it’s way too expensive and he asks if their are any other cities I could fly from, since certain cities have deals. I mention Orlando…cha-Ching!!! They do have a deal…one I couldn’t pass up.

So, I booked the cruise! It sails out of Barcelona, with it’s first stop in Marseilles, France, a place neither of us has been. We’re thinking of doing an excursion to Avignon and seeing the Papal Palace. We then head to Livorno, Italy, where we’ll take an excursion to Pisa (having done Florence in 2010). The next day, we have an overnight stay in Civitavecchia, Italy, where it’s only a 90 minute ride to Rome. Though I’ve been there three times and Kurt’s been there once on our 2010 trip, he only got to do Vatican City and the Coliseum, since we were only there for half a day. This time, we’ll get to do all the things he missed. We’re thinking about even getting a hotel room to get the full experience and not have to travel back to the ship.

Our next stop is Dubrovnik, Croatia, another new place. I’m probably most excited to visit this place, not only because it’s in Eastern Europe, a gorgeous seaside city, and extremely old, but it’s also the filming location of my favorite television show, Game of Thrones.

We then head to Venice for another overnight stay, a place which I visited ten years ago, but Kurt has yet to see. We finish the trip in Messina, Sicily. We plan on doing an excursion to Mt. Etna, an active volcano. Kurt is terrified of heights, but how many opportunities do you get to go up into a volcano? I’ve never been to one, so this is truly exciting. I’m already looking forward to the photos I can add to my power points for World Geography.

We opted to spend an extra day in Barcelona since neither of us has been there either. Kurt has a cousin that lives there, so we will hopefully get to spend some time with her.

The best part is that through careful planning, this trip will not set us back monetarily at all. We are very fortunate to have such great jobs that allow us to save and have the time to travel. Though if all goes according to plan, this might be our last big trip for a few years…we’d want to wait until our kids are old enough to appreciate the places we’d take them. And maybe by next summer, we’ll have one. And I think he or she will be worth the wait.

Traveling: Rome in Half a Day

Cristina and I in front of the St. Peter's Basilica

Cristina and I in front of the St. Peter’s Basilica

After we left Cristina’s family, we took the train to Rome. We were going to arrive around noon and that was the only day we had in Rome. We had to decide what to do and quickly. It wasn’t that hard of a decision. We decided to leave Rome and head to Vatican city and then try to catch the Coliseum before it closed.

After a forgettable meal near our restaurant, we took a cab to Vatican City. Being raised catholic, this was a moment I have wanted to experience literally my entire life. It didn’t disappoint.

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Traveling: Mistakes Were Made

So, our Europe trip was an amazing success. We did our research on everything from what to visit to what shoes to wear. It was almost a perfect trip. Almost.

Mistakes were made. Words were flown. Tears were shed. In other words, it wasn’t a perfect trip.

Mistake number one came in London. We forgot our ticket for a bus excursion trip to Windsor, Stonehenge and Bath. I decided to go back and get it. Cristina decided to stay near the Victoria Station and get some breakfast. Well, somewhere along the way, Cristina lost her jacket. It was a nice little jacket that zipped inside itself. She had it tied to her purse and it just fell. She retraced her steps to no avail. Somewhere, someone is walking the streets of London in the rain wearing her jacket. To make it worse, we didn’t need the tickets.

Luggage for Our Europe Trip

While it doesn’t look like much, our luggage was quite heavy if you are walking city blocks

My memory and directions that I wrote failed me in Paris. When we emerged from the Metro, we took a wrong turn. We walked about four blocks before I noticed. Carrying the luggage made this a bad experience. The next morning, we had a nice little fight in the rain in front of a breakfast café near the Eiffel Tower. We were both tired and grumpy. We both have no idea what the fight was about (even though I would bet it is somewhere in Cristina’s journal). We did end up having breakfast in that café, albeit a quiet one. Finally, the one museum I wanted to see in Paris besides the Louvre was the Musée d’Orsay. I forgot to find out what days it was open. Turns out the day we planned to go there was not one of them. Disneyland was a mistake, but it wasn’t the park’s fault. We were just too exhausted to enjoy it. We should have gone there straight from London and then toured Paris.

Zurich, however, was a mistake. This is the one time my MetrO app let me down. I knew what tram to take but had no idea how to catch it. Plus, the tickets were coin only at the stop we were at and we didn’t have change. We walked, and walked, and walked. We then went to look for a bite to eat, but we forgot to mortgage our house. We found a sandwich shop that made decent sandwiches at twenty francs a piece. Our sandwiches weren’t much higher class than a Subway sandwich.  The franc at the time was roughly equal to the dollar. The next morning, we had the hotel call for a taxi. A Lexus pulled up and charged  us another twenty francs to drive us to the train station. Now, I said we walked a lot, but it wasn’t that far away. We just had our luggage with us. Let’s just say, that would have been a cheaper cab ride in most American cities. In fact, we took much longer taxi trips in Florence and Rome that cost much less. I’m sure Zurich is beautiful. We have already decided that when we do it again, Switzerland might be its own trip.

Florence was beautiful, but our hotel was not actually in Florence. There was a bus that took is into the city, and the ladies behind the desk explained to us how the bus system worked and where to buy tickets.  While, I have no problems with the hotel at all, next time I would shill out the extra money to stay in Florence especially since that is a walking city.

We hadn’t planned on going to Pescara. I had no research on it. We booked a room in the Best Western while we were in Florence. We printed out walking directions according to Google. We arrived at Pescara and there is no one that can speak English.  We walked for about a half hour before we found someone to help us. We still had trouble finding it. Come to find out, it was across the street from the train station and then about two blocks. Google did warn me the directions were in Beta. The directions are now a lot simpler.

In Rome, I think I got swindled by a cab driver. I gave them a twenty and he said I gave him a ten. I don’t have proof, but I swear I’m right.

Cristina’s cousin had told her he lived next to Milan and was a short train ride away from the fashion capital. In the grand size of Europe this is correct. In practical terms, it was too great of a distance to do any sightseeing in Milan. This hurt since we had to eat the tickets we bought to see Da Vinci’s Last Supper. However, they were gracious hosts and treated us to some great homemade lasagna and pizza.

The rest of the trip was mostly smooth sailing with a few glitches. I wouldn’t go straight from Innsbruck to Prague again. That was an eight-hour train ride which almost didn’t happen due to late trains. In Amsterdam, eating outside caused me to come down with heat exhaustion.

Avenue des Champs-Élysées

The Avenue des Champs-Élysées from the Arc de Triomphe

However, errors can lead to wonders.  Due to the d’Orsay being closed, we got to stroll down the Avenue des Champs-Élysées at a nice leisurely pace.  I even sat on a park bench that was older than my country.  The bus ride in Florence allowed us to see parts of Florence we wouldn’t have plus we had a great view of the mountains from the hotel.  Getting lost in Pescara allowed us to see a football celebration and a wedding party emerge from a church.  Sometimes, mistakes are the best thing that could happen.