Monday, September 30, 2013

La Zucca in Venice

This is a bit backtracking, but I have to post this because Sarina mentioned she was going to Venice when I bumped into her at the airline lounge in Qatar.

Sars, if you are reading this, you must try this small, casual, but very delicious restaurant in Venice.  It was recommended to us by our apartment host, saying it was one of the more popular restaurants in Venice, and it was right around the corner from the apartment.

 La Zucca is right across this bridge, to the right.

In fact, we kept passing it everyday not noticing it was La Zucca until it was almost too late. On our last night there, we confidently made a reservation for dinner (in the morning) and were told they were already booked for the evening. We said we could eat even at 10 pm, and they said just come on over and we'll see.

 That's us outside the restaurant (to the right), waiting for a table to free up
It was a two-minute walk to the apartment and we could just walk home and eat our spaghetti in the fridge if they really didn't have a table for us. But how can you not take pity on us, waiting patiently outside?

Well, we got our table, and we ordered what we could before the kitchen closed.

It's a simple, casual restaurant and the food is excellent.

A very popular starter is the pumpkin flan. After our fist bite, we understood why.

Then of course we had to have at least one pasta.

The lamb chops were very good.

But a hands-down favorite was the duck with apricots.

This was a potato dish the kids inhaled too.  The kids like to eat all kinds of food too so it's nice to bring them out to eat.

I'm glad we got to eat here. Hope you can too!

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Paris Sights by Bike

On y va!

Noel B. recommended I take the kids on a bike tour when we got to Paris.  Last May, with a whole bunch of his friends and their families (35 people in all!), they booked Fat Tire Bike Tours on the recommendation of a local friend. It was fun, he said, and something different to do in Paris.

I don't think B and I would do this on our own, but having kids has a way of getting us or do things we normally wouldn't (ie. of the active kind). 

The meeting place of Fat Tire tours is at the foot of the Eiffel tower. You just show up, and they divide the people into groups of 20, then we all walk, in our smaller groups, to their office about 10 minutes away. This is where we get our bikes and listen to a briefing.

Although the whole tour takes about 4 hours, it's not as tiring as it sounds because we stop at every major site and get a little history lesson.

It's similar to a walking tour but it covers much more ground.

I was a bit nervous about the kids riding in a busy city, but Paris is very bike-friendly; it's flat, and the major streets have designated bike lanes.

We went through the Tuileries Garden, where we were told to walk our bikes.  I think riding bikes in parks is not allowed. I found this comment on a message board online:

"the parks thing is serious -- I have seen tourists ticketed for riding those silly little folding tiny wheeled bikes in the Luxembourg Gardens -- locals on fast racers whizzed through -- the cops didn't bother to try to catch them but the tourists on their doodly little bikey things were easy pickings and were ticketed and fined."

We didn't have to worry about any biking rules because we just followed everything our guide did.

I better learn the biking rules though because I'm planning on using those VELIB bikes which are all over Paris. I just haven't figured out how to use my credit card to release the bikes, but Gigi P said it was easy-- she and her daughters love them!

Our stop in the Tuileries was a snack break. Everyone parked their bikes and sat in tables to order.  Unfortunately we left our bags at the Fat Tire office, so we had no money!

Fortunately, another biker overheard me telling the kids I had no money, took pity on sad-faced kids and offered to lend  us money.

Being the savvy cheapskates that we are, we ordered directly from the kiosk and ate at a park bench across the the waiter-serviced tables. Prices at the table menus are almost double. With our self-serve strategy, our 15 euro went a long way and we didn't even have to wait a long time to be served.

While the rest were still waiting to be served, we have lots of time to lounge in the park chairs just like everyone enjoying the gardens.

Then it was time to walk to the other end of the Tuileries, until we were facing the Louvre.

Our guide gave us tips on how to avoid the long lines at street level. He pointed at staircases on either side of us and said "go through those to the underground mall, buy tickets at the tabac store, and have dad fall in line while everyone else shops!"

I mentioned this to a friend recently and he confessed that he and his wife were indeed surprised to see a mall right under the Louvre. They never made it inside the museum.

This is the exact route of the day tour. They also have a night tour which has a different route, as well as one for Versailles and for Giverny I think.

And now we're heading back...

Riding along the Seine river, but not right beside it.

Rue de Grenelle

We were a group of 22, which I found I found too big for a bike group. One advantage is that the bikers can easily dominate a road keeping smaller bikers safe in the middle. However, it's a bit impersonal because the last person is so far from the leader.

Why are these trees square, mom?

The kids were pumped up with this experience though and it made them eye the Velib stations with more interest.

Definitely a fun way to see Paris!

Fat Tire Bike Tours
Address: 24, rue Edgar Faure
Metro: Dupleix (Line 6)
Tel: +33 (0) 1 56 58 10 54

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Why I Like Traveling by Train

We took the Frecciargento of Trenitalia from Rome to Venice
One of my most favorite ways to travel around Europe is by train. It's much easier to get in and out of train stations (than airports) and  I like the freedom of not being strapped to a seat. There's also always something interesting to watch--outside the window.

I actually prefer to drive if we can, because we can stop and explore spontaneously.  But if we don't need a car at the point of origin nor at the destination, then the next best option is a train. In exchange for the freedom of a car, in a train we get to relax without having to bother with maps and navigation.

Trains usually have  first and second class cars. But unlike a plane, there is hardly any difference between the two and I never bother paying for first class.

Train tickets can be booked online.  If you keep checking the train website,  you might see big price fluctuations and chance upon a great promo. Sometimes, for the cost of one airline ticket , you can buy four train tickets. That alone makes train travel so appealing.

The website "The Man in Seat 61",  has lot of train booking tips.

The only drawback about train travel is that suitcases are stored in racks at the end of each car (and you also have to carry them on and off yourself). If the train has multiple stops, I usually have visions of someone getting off with my suitcase--an image that contradicts my thoughts of why a thief would lug off a suitcase and risk being  caught with a week's worth of laundry.

So far, B and I have come across the Ave in Spain, Deutsch Bahn in Frankfurt and Thalys in Rotterdam. They were all very comfortable and very fast.

Unlike a plane ride, where the objective of the journey is to fill up the hours with mealtimes, movies, and sleep, a train has no in-your-face video screen tempting you to numb your brain. A meal is always available in another car, never trapping you in your seat for hours.

What I look forward to most of all is the quiet time with beautiful scenery speeding by. The view is usually compelling, enough for me to keep my eyes off my smartphone.

And then I get profound thoughts.

Like how the speeding landscape is a metaphor of life, or how a simple journey like this sort of mimics a life goal. (I know, I know--but what can I do it the kids are usually glued to their kindles and B is absorbed by his android?!)

So here I am, being introspective and deep, re-evaluating life goals, dreams and strategies. In our modern busy lives, this block of reflective quiet time is a luxury--and also a gift. (And B wonders how I come up with all my wild ideas?)

I'm usually in the best frame of mind when I arrive at our destination. I'm filled with the  enthusiasm of a traveler, but with a clear mind and wisdom of someone who has also gone on a little retreat.

Travel is definitely educational--seeing new places, experiencing other cultures and traditions. But the journey of getting from one place to another, specially if done mindfully,  can be equally enlightening.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Tiny Mosaics in Murano

 miniature mosaic of Van Gogh's Starry Night

I'm such a sucker for art stores. This one in Murano got me excited, I immediately wanted to buy these packets of glass tiles and create some art back in the apartment.

But who am I kidding? My last two purchases of travel watercolors and paper have yet to be opened. Oh but what I can create with these little glass chips!

Between trips and life in general, I haven't found the time to paint, what more create a mosaic? But that will change in 2014. I will paint again. (Declaring it is one step in the right direction!)

This tiny store has everything you need to create a mosaic. There were even instruction books on how to create a mosaic. No such store exists here in Manila. Oh no, now I'm getting non-buyer's regret! I should've bought a couple of packs of Murano glass chips, to add to my art stash at home.

The intention was there, but there were too many choices and too many colors. As usual, I got confused and decided not to bother.

Maybe that's a good thing. I have to use my art stash, not add to it! 


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