Sunday, July 28, 2013

Rome, Then and Now...

The Pantheon, four years ago in 2009...

8 and 6 years old.

The Pantheon now. Some things stay the same. Some don't.

 12 and 10 years old.

The streets of Rome, then...

The streets of Rome now...


Breakfast at Bar Teichner, Piazza San Lorenzo then...

And dropping in for lunch now...
Some things change. Some don't.

Legend says that if you toss a coin into the Trevi fountain, you are sure to come back to Rome!

Tossing a coin then...

Tossing a coin...oops, I think we didn't toss coins this time! (There were too many tourists, we didn't even get close)

This coin-tossing thing really works!
But I also hope it doesn't.

Friday, July 26, 2013

My Mirror is Here!!

Look what finally arrived today!

After years of desiring a mirror, and then another couple figuring out how to get one that I like...
Then many months of thinking whether to just order it or not.

Here is the progression of my mirror desire--here, here, here and here! (And it even started way before that first post)

If that's not obsession, here's one more last post before this glorious day!

From the time I've wanted a mirror to today, I probably could've given birth to four or five children. A big part of the satisfaction of having something worth owning and loving, is the waiting and the anticipation...

I think I've waited long enough and thought hard enough.

Here it is in my living room today!

B used to ask me, before we had our (what I'd like to call) stand-in headboard, "Don't you want a proper headboard?"  I used to answer "of course, but I haven't found one yet".

We've been married 13 years, and I still haven't found one I love. One thing at a time.

I think I'll stay home the whole day today and stare at my mirror.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Spagna Royal Suite, Rome

Our hotel in Rome couldn't have been located any better. Spagna Royal Suite was on Via Frattina (parallel to the fashionable shopping street, Via Condotti) and  Via Mario de' Fiori. 

 heart-shaped sugar sachets

On one end of Via Frattina is Piazza di Spagna and the Spanish steps,  and on the other side is Via del Corso. Via Frattina also leads right into Piazza San Lorenzo Lucina, where the Carabinieri building is, and Ciampini, the bar and ice cream shop we weren't able to try five years ago.

Spagna Royal Suites is an 11-room hotel located on four floors of an old historic building. The lobby is on the 4th level.  

Massimo, the proprietor, told us that the hotel is a work in progress. He was able to get a long term lease from the church (owners of the building!),  and is slowly taking over apartments in the building as their leases come to an end. He doesn't have the whole building yet.

Good thing we had ourselves picked up from the airport because the hotel is not well-marked. This big green door below is the front door that leads to a carport, and then to the stairwell and lift. They don't even have a sign outside.

The only indication that this is a hotel is the name on the buzzer

"Please don't mind the entrance of the building, the atmosphere upstairs in the hotel is very different from down here," Massimo told us.

It was a pleasant surprise to enter a stylish little lobby upstairs.

We shared a room with the kids. This room was actually two rooms in one, sharing a bathroom, with only the headboard as the division. This is a clever design for two siblings sharing a bedroom. 

Having the sinks outside was practical because it didn't tie up the bathroom
  Our side of the room

 square toilets are uncomfortable

The walls of the room were upholstered, the sofa very comfortable and the tiles were beautiful.
The other rooms were as meticulously designed too.

Via Mario de' Fiori below

 Ceiling details

The regular rooms are not very big.

Some are more elaborate than others. Look at this forest room...

 hallway in the "nature" floor, so many textures going on here.

There was talahib on the walls.

Illuminated deer heads as sconces!

 rustic sink in the forest room

heavy sound-proof doors

Massimo conceptualizes the spaces himself, and it's executed by an an interior designer.

In this other room, there was a bathtub behind the headboard and mirrors around the room.

What I found unusual were the lack of hooks and luggage racks. Our suitcases were just on the floor so the room never looked neat.

some smaller rooms didn't have room for suitcases, but they did have soundproof doors!

When I mentioned to Milko (who seemed like the manager) that the rooms were very nice, but could use some hooks and luggage racks, he agreed with the hooks but of the luggage racks he said "oh, but we are not that kind of hotel."   Really? Hmmm... what kind of a hotel *is* this?

It took a couple of days and more observations to finally realize that this hotel is designed to be a romantic hotel! I'm usually quick to pick up these nuances, but as my mind was on sharing room with kids, being with extended family and in-laws, it took me a few days to "get it".

Once I thought "Romantic hotel"--everything made sense. Even the heart-shaped sugar packets in the breakfast room!

We found this hotel on "" and it was the only hotel that could accept our large group at such a late booking date. Even if it had good reviews, we were nervous.

The first floor hallway is lined with aquariums, for those with fishy fantasies.

It must be fun to think of different design details for each room.

The beds were very comfortable, and the staff friendly and  accommodating, and wifi worked very well too.

 The small, imtimate breakfast room

We had nothing to be nervous about.  The kids liked going to their cousins' rooms to check out the quirky design details.

It must've been a bit disorienting for the staff to see our big group with kids descend on their romantic hotel.

We had a good time here. I hope we didn't ruin the ambience for the other couples who were on a romantic Roman holiday though!

Spagna Royal Suite Rome ® 
Via Mario de' Fiori 3, 00187 Rome Italy
Tel: +39 06 69923793 Fax: +39 06 69290948

Monday, July 22, 2013

Lindt Store at the Valdichiana Outlet Mall

I've never seen as many Lindt balls as they have in this store. This Lindt shop was at the Valdichiana outlet mall, about 3 kilometers from our rented villa in the Siena-Cortona area. How can you not go berserk inside this store?

While the teenagers were busy hitting the clothes shops, G and C were engrossed in this chocolate store.

This was just the beginning of our trip and I was hardly in shopping mode so I didn't bother going around much.  Mels, my SIL, on the other hand, is a very efficient shopper and covered the most ground among all of us. She's quick and always manages to find the best deals. 

When she showed us her stuff over lunch, Kat and I raced back down to the stores. Mels is my shopping idol. She spots something and decides very quickly. I want to be just like her.

When it comes to shopping, I find that I'm indecisive and get confused easily. Sometimes I end up leaving the store without buying anything (lucky husband!).

While waiting, I got myself a Lindt gelato.

This was just a chocolate store and the kids were confused with choice. Could they be non-shoppers like me? (hmm..lucky father!) Or were they just overwhelmed?

After the gelato, the kids were still not done-- so I ordered un cafe. It was served with a chocolate spoon and a dark chocolate ball! This was sinful but I was in heaven.

They finally settled on this giant ball which had a dozen assorted balls inside. They were even going to share!  I'm proud they shopped with such restraint (or maybe B was just hovering around them too much, being a KJ).

Valdichiana Outlet Village
Via Enzo Ferrari 5
Foiano della Chiana (AR)

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Sights of Siena

After our full day at crowded Florence, we decided to stick to the countryside, hoping for more breathing space. Sienna is one of the most important towns in Tuscany so we decided to spend the day there--only a forty-five minute drive from the villa.

Our villa was in Monte San Savino, the right side of the map

The place was still crowded, but even with the tourists, Sienna still has a quaint, pleasant medieval-town atmosphere.  

Would you believe we just happened to be there the day before the Palio, Siena's 700-year-old tradition and one of two most important days of the year for all Siena residents? (the other one is another Palio in August).   Each of the 17 neigborhoods field a horse and a rider to race bareback around the town square. Biggest local event of the year with very expensive tickets if you book a seat on the outer ring of the track. To stand in the middle part of the ring is free.


Piazza del Campo prepared for next day's Palio

Very, very exciting, with a humongous crowd of locals--plus tourists! The type I'd rather watch on You Tube.

We focused on the Duomo of Siena instead, one of the most beautiful in all of Europe. Our  all-inclusive tickets allowed us entry into the Duomo, the baptistry the crypt, and the museum which includes to lookout point high above the town.  We immersed in rtwork and history for the next couple of hours.

G was particularly enamored by the Piccolomini Library and wanted to know how she could eventually own one of those ancient, huge, leatherbound music books!

There was just too much to see. Good thing the crowd was concentrated at Il Campo and nowhere near the Duomo or the museum.

We met up with the rest of the group for lunch at 3 pm, right when all the restaurants were about to close for the afternoon!  Our first choice restaurant had just closed so we walked around the corner and into a another restaurant that was just about to close. Luckily, the proprietors welcomed us warmly and happily served us. 

Our restaurant host served us family portions of his choice of the best pastas (which were all quite good), while we chose our main dishes. My grilled balsamic chicken was so delicious I didn't even notice what the rest were having.  I must try to duplicate this at home.

  Simply grilled with fresh rosemary and drizzled with a balsamic cream

With our restaurant hosts and the chef

With the (picture of the) owners who happily served us.

After that delicious lunch, we got our gelato at Grom, an Italian gelateria with branches in many Italian cities,  NY, Paris and even Tokyo!

 I detoured to get "un cafe" from Caffe Fiorella.  

In Italy, an espresso is just a "cafe"

We continued on to the museum (where we couldn't take pictures) which had old books and relics of saints, and then climbed up to see one of the nicest views of Sienna.

We were not at the tower at Piazza del Campo, rather we were at the viewpoint beside the duomo accessed through the museum.  Only 16 or so people can be accommodated at one time.

They limit each group to ten minutes max at the top, and everyone has to go back down the spiral staircase before they allow another group up. The line wasn't long so we only waited a few minutes before it was our turn.

From here you can see Piazza del Campo and the crowd gathering there.

Kat being nice and taking someone else's picture

Walking back to the parking lot, the drummers and the flags began appearing signalling the start of practice rounds. Horses would be coming out in an hour,  locals would be joining the tourists on the streets, and excitement was growing by the minute.

It was time for us to head back home to the villa. (I know, I know--KJs!)

I loved being in Siena and wished we had more days in Tuscany to explore other Tuscan towns.

But tomorrow we are returning our rental cars in Rome, where another adventure begins.


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