Our 2015 Adventures

Aug. 25, 2015
Aug. 25, 2015

Our time in Rome is a blur; how incredible it was, but how quickly it flew by!  Considering how much there is to see, along with the few setbacks we had, we did very well, though.

Departing from the countryside was hard to do, but with the anticipation of seeing the most famous city of all time, where an Empire fell and where so much art and history were made, we looked forward to what would be a challenging drive.   Heading down the A1 going South from Assisi and through the region of Umbria, we looked for the cutoff and somehow missed it, over thinking where we were and where we needed to be.   So back we went, the King of the U-Turns strikes again!   We had pre-booked a room using Air BnB and when we got there all was well and we settled in, amidst what would have been a grand building, at one time the home of an Embassy.   In the 'Embassy District', many hotels have now been set up in the former buildings of other countries, and some remain, with stalwart armed guards out front.   From this area, we were told it would be a 9 minute drive into the heart of the area we wanted to explore.
 
Dinner our first night was up on Parioli, in the Embassy District, because we really didn't want to go far.  We had been told this would be where we'd find the most authentic dining experience.  And we did, both in the food, and the people.  My goodness, those waiters were hustling!!  We were looked after well, in a very busy place.   How do I describe the pizza we ordered.  Not pizza at all, by North American standards.  This is Focaccia bread, baked fresh and lightly seasoned, and on top, ours had the fluffiest mozzarella, and thinly sliced pieces of ham, that is all.   And it was delicious!    After dinner, we noticed a table of people were getting up, and that they had left behind a lovely Nonna, who got up slowly and made her way past our table.  I said to her as she passed, "Cosi bella!" and she grabbed my face and said the same thing back to me, over and over.  How sweet!!   
 
Our trials and tribulations were not over.   After a fairly good night's rest (although Aris didn't like the AC and I wasn't in love with the bed, what else is new), we received the breakfast we had ordered in our room, along with the news that there had been a misunderstanding, and we would have to leave.  So we packed up and left, and thankfully just around the corner we were able to find a 4 start hotel for just 60 Euros a night, so we took it, for three more nights.
 
It came time to return the car, and the Avis office was very close to where we wanted to start looking around, (remember, it is supposed to be a 9 minute drive?) and an hour later we were delivering the car, feeling perplexed!  So, we had arrived in Rome the night before around 5pm, stayed in the area of the hotel, and by almost 1pm the next day, had still not seen a darn thing!    We wanted to make up for as much lost time as we could.
 
By this time of course, the first thing I wanted to do was eat, so we found a nice looking little spot and sat down.  Giancarlo, our waiter and a spritely 70 years old, agreed that only a Caprese would do, and he even discouraged Aris from ordering anything else.  Along came another tiny table, two inches higher than our own small one, and on it, he perched the olive oil and balsamic vinegar alongside the bread and we dug in and devoured this meal.   No pasta, no meat, nothing heavy, and he was so right!  It was all we needed.
 
A few minutes later, we began our walk and came to the Trevi Fountain.  It is indeed beautiful, but this time, it was not running, and it was fenced off and with much scaffolding around it, so we did not get the full effect of what it must really feel like to look at it and hear the water splashing.  Nonetheless, this was our first glimpse of grandeur.   
 
Rome has it all and it can be quite overwhelming to step into an area built during the Renaissance and in a few more steps, be in the ruins of a time from Before Christ.  It wasn't long before we turned a corner and beheld a huge monument rising up in front of us, a very military and pompous look to it.  In the distance was the jagged edge of the Colosseum which I wanted to make a beeline for, in a round-about way.  We conjectured a bit (Aris didn't believe it could be the Colosseum, as it didn't appear to be huge enough for him!) about which way to go, and I won that little debate.  Up, up we went, and came out on a plateau overlooking the Ancient City.   We stayed there for a long time, taking it all in.  Columns were still standing amidst others that had tumbled down, carvings and ornate friezes and epigraphs still visible and surprisingly in good shape.  It was pretty hot and to get down below and walk amidst all of this meant not one speck of shade was to be had, so we walked around it and found the lower path leading to the Colosseum.   From afar it did not look that big, but up close, oh yes, this is a massive structure, much of which has been repaired and restored.   Near perfect columns in some sections of the exterior still show the very distinct levels, each with a different capital, Corinthian at the top, Ionic in the middle, and Doric at the bottom.  We walked all the way around it and ended up getting an espresso in a little resto that was directly across, offering the view.  When we couldn't get Wifi outside, we moved inside and that is where the Sambucca happened to me.  ;)   It was a memorable afternoon, and the Sambucca finally took the edge off of what had been a crappy morning, paired with the fact that for the past several days I was trying to complete a document, AND, we were still not past the plumbing issue at our home in Markham.  One drink...and that's all she wrote!
 
After snapping a few photos, we walked through the park nearby where the Roman baths were, and then headed back to our hotel.   We ventured out again after dusk and took a Taxi this time, and he dropped us off just near the Spanish Steps.  Super crowded, we decided just to take a couple of photos and then went searching for dinner.   We ducked into what appeared to be a fairly inviting close, and there we found what we were told was the oldest Trattoria in Rome, Otello alla Concordia.   A very cute and friendly waiter chatted with us and somehow he asked me to sing for him, which I did, the whole first section of Una Voce Poco Fa, and I got a Brava and some applause haha!  It was fun.   There, we delighted in new tastes for our trip!  I chose veal and Aris went with rabbit.   Both were delicious, and then Liberato, our cute waiter, suggested we order dessert.   Aaaaah, it was Chantilly Cream with lavendar and chocolate, wow!  And to top this off, he brought us a tiny sorbet.   I think that while this meal was divine, it was this one, the richness and flavour, that tipped the balance in my gut's flora and fauna, and made the next three days a living hell...but, I would go back there in a heartbeat!!
 
Enjoy our photos from the first day in Rome while we now head back from our day at the beach near Gytheio.   I am already feeling sad that we have to leave this lovely place. 
 
 
 
 
 
Aug. 11, 2015

<p>Arriving at our destination in Greece after 16 hours of travel, we napped in the village and then set out for the town of Gytheio, where we searched for a parking spot and then by default, ended up eating at the closest restaurant. &nbsp;After all the news about Greece's struggle and the situation with the economy, we were glad to see that the area seemed to be thriving with activity.</p> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Our 'nap' had actually been quite eventful, since most of the neighbours dropped by as soon as we arrived, and then a thunderstorm shook the rafters several times. &nbsp;It always takes a while to sweep out the house and let the air in, curtains billowing in the breeze. The shower was the most welcome thing!</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>The 16 hours was made up of a 9 hour flight, which we made along with my husband's parents, and then a near 5 hour road trip from Athens to the village. &nbsp;His father is more aged than his mother so he needed support and additional care navigating through the airports. &nbsp;Once on the flight, and again once seated safely in our rental van, he did not complain and we made it safely to his birthplace, the town of Petrina, in the Province of Lakonia, situated partway up a mountain, and roughly between Sparta and Gytheio. &nbsp;I took a video of him disembarking the plane, thinking sadly to myself, this is the first time he has set foot on Greek soil in almost ten years....and may be his last, however, he seems to 'go placidly amidst the noise and haste' and is doing phenomenally, given the time change...there is already talk of returning next year!&nbsp;</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Gytheio is our favourite seaside town to visit, in Greece. &nbsp;There are many quaint and charming towns, but Gytheio seems to hold a place dear in our hearts. &nbsp; &nbsp;Perhaps it is the way in which the homes are built almost on top of one another, reaching up the cliffside and arcing around the bay. &nbsp;It is easy to imagine the history that has come before. &nbsp; I often wonder at how many earthquakes it must have endured, and then marvel that the buildings still stand. &nbsp;After ten years and 5 visits to Greece, this town has not lost its impact on us.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Most restaurants in the town have a barker or someone who stands in the street to beckon you inside, with tales of their delicious cuisine and varied offering. &nbsp;This one was no exception, and we spoke to him easily in Greek and English. &nbsp;He also spoke French to the next patrons, who arrived via their sailboat, all the way from Paris. &nbsp; We took a seat across the road from the restaurant itself, right on the edge of the harbour, where a row of fishing boats were moored. &nbsp;A fisherman was busy with his nets the entire time that we dined.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Our meal started with a couple of drinks, me choosing Ouzo and my husband asking for beer. &nbsp; We will save the wine sampling for when we visit Italy! &nbsp; It was lightly raining and we endured this for several minutes, waiting for the clouds to pass. &nbsp;When they did, the sun was setting spectacularly behind the hills of Gytheio, and the towering Taygetos mountains were bathed in fire and deep purple shadow. &nbsp;We had a view of the entire town, the harbour, and from this particular spot on the pier, it was the first time we had also taken note of the mountain range in behind. &nbsp;Usually we are around a corner where they cannot be viewed from, or closer to the bottom of the hillside in the town, so they can't be seen at all from below.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>Feeling queasy after our travel, my mind was setting on eating something fairly heavy and I was looking for a Gyro with fries. &nbsp;When we found that the menu did not offer this, we almost left - my husband is always so accommodating to fulfil my heart's desire, he would have agreed to go anywhere else. &nbsp; After chatting further with the maitre d', we decided to stay, and we are so glad we did!</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>It didn't take long to settle on our choices and we called the server over. &nbsp; Craving the hearty and refreshing traditional Greek salad, we ordered Xoriatiki. &nbsp;There is no lettuce in this salad, but rather, it is almost all made of the freshest of tomatoes, with cucumber, olives, peppers, and onions, and a block of feta cheese on top, drizzled with olive oil and a good amount of oregano. &nbsp; The thick, crusty bread that accompanies it is almost always a staple that is not extra to the meal - it is expected. &nbsp; This, we immediately drench in olive oil...and it's not uncommon, neither is it considered rude, to use the bread to get the last oil and juice out of the bottom of the salad bowl.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>I chose a starter dish that spoke to me of satisfaction and some exotic treat - Shrimp saganaki - because I love both Shrimp and saganaki cheese. &nbsp; In Greece they do not serve saganaki with the flambe that we are used to in Canada. &nbsp; &nbsp;It is a salty cheese, and when paired with Shrimp in a tasty sauce, it is heaven. &nbsp; I forgot though, that they were not going to bring me some tiny shrimp, that I'm used to getting in North America. &nbsp;These were eight giant shrimp, as big as prawns, and served complete with heads, eyes, tentacles, and all their little legs. &nbsp; My husband being braver than I, ate most of the creature, whereas I opted to cut the heads off and eat only the 'tail'. &nbsp; I should have taken a photo and am kicking myself now that I did not do this. &nbsp;They had been freshly caught and were an absolute delight.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>To satisfy my need for meat and potatoes, the maitre d' suggested grilled pork and we agreed. &nbsp;He brought 6 beautifully cooked ribs that were almost like ribs but still more like a pork chop. &nbsp;They were tender and yet crispy, perfectly done, and the potatoes were thinly sliced and very lightly fried. &nbsp; The rest of the shrimp sauce went on top of the potatoes. &nbsp; We were very full, so we decided to bring the rest back to my mother in law. &nbsp;She was very grateful to have some cooked food, as we hadn't fully stocked the fridge yet, for our stay.&nbsp;</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>The meal was wonderful, and very well priced. &nbsp;The restaurant was "Cafe Ouzeri To Limani".</div> <div>For 29,50 Euros, we thought that what we had eaten was tasty, satisfying, and fun. &nbsp; Being tired and somewhat cranky, we were grateful to have found this spot that was off the beaten path and did not have the traffic and passersby that most other restaurants had. &nbsp;Before we left, it had become dark, and we also enjoyed seeing the lights twinkling in the harbour and on the buildings surrounding it.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>We walked briefly afterward, to a bakery to grab some Bougatsa - even though we knew it was not fresh at this point, we still wanted it for breakfast the next day. &nbsp; Bougatsa deserves a story all of its own.</div> <div>&nbsp;</div> <div>&nbsp;</div>

Aug. 10, 2015

Arriving at our destination in Greece after 16 hours of travel, we napped in the village and then set out for the town of Gytheio, where we searched for a parking spot and then by default, ended up eating at the closest restaurant.  After all the news about Greece's struggle and the situation with the economy, we were glad to see that the area seemed to be thriving with activity.

 
Our 'nap' had actually been quite eventful, since most of the neighbours dropped by as soon as we arrived, and then a thunderstorm shook the rafters several times.  It always takes a while to sweep out the house and let the air in, curtains billowing in the breeze. The shower was the most welcome thing!
 
The 16 hours was made up of a 9 hour flight, which we made along with my husband's parents, and then a near 5 hour road trip from Athens to the village.  His father is more aged than his mother so he needed support and additional care navigating through the airports.  Once on the flight, and again once seated safely in our rental van, he did not complain and we made it safely to his birthplace, the town of Petrina, in the Province of Lakonia, situated partway up a mountain, and roughly between Sparta and Gytheio.  I took a video of him disembarking the plane, thinking sadly to myself, this is the first time he has set foot on Greek soil in almost ten years....and may be his last, however, he seems to 'go placidly amidst the noise and haste' and is doing phenomenally, given the time change...there is already talk of returning next year! 
 
Gytheio is our favourite seaside town to visit, in Greece.  There are many quaint and charming towns, but Gytheio seems to hold a place dear in our hearts.    Perhaps it is the way in which the homes are built almost on top of one another, reaching up the cliffside and arcing around the bay.  It is easy to imagine the history that has come before.   I often wonder at how many earthquakes it must have endured, and then marvel that the buildings still stand.  After ten years and 5 visits to Greece, this town has not lost its impact on us.
 
Most restaurants in the town have a barker or someone who stands in the street to beckon you inside, with tales of their delicious cuisine and varied offering.  This one was no exception, and we spoke to him easily in Greek and English.  He also spoke French to the next patrons, who arrived via their sailboat, all the way from Paris.   We took a seat across the road from the restaurant itself, right on the edge of the harbour, where a row of fishing boats were moored.  A fisherman was busy with his nets the entire time that we dined.
 
Our meal started with a couple of drinks, me choosing Ouzo and my husband asking for beer.   We will save the wine sampling for when we visit Italy!   It was lightly raining and we endured this for several minutes, waiting for the clouds to pass.  When they did, the sun was setting spectacularly behind the hills of Gytheio, and the towering Taygetos mountains were bathed in fire and deep purple shadow.  We had a view of the entire town, the harbour, and from this particular spot on the pier, it was the first time we had also taken note of the mountain range in behind.  Usually we are around a corner where they cannot be viewed from, or closer to the bottom of the hillside in the town, so they can't be seen at all from below.
 
Feeling queasy after our travel, my mind was setting on eating something fairly heavy and I was looking for a Gyro with fries.  When we found that the menu did not offer this, we almost left - my husband is always so accommodating to fulfil my heart's desire, he would have agreed to go anywhere else.   After chatting further with the maitre d', we decided to stay, and we are so glad we did!
 
It didn't take long to settle on our choices and we called the server over.   Craving the hearty and refreshing traditional Greek salad, we ordered Xoriatiki.  There is no lettuce in this salad, but rather, it is almost all made of the freshest of tomatoes, with cucumber, olives, peppers, and onions, and a block of feta cheese on top, drizzled with olive oil and a good amount of oregano.   The thick, crusty bread that accompanies it is almost always a staple that is not extra to the meal - it is expected.   This, we immediately drench in olive oil...and it's not uncommon, neither is it considered rude, to use the bread to get the last oil and juice out of the bottom of the salad bowl.
 
I chose a starter dish that spoke to me of satisfaction and some exotic treat - Shrimp saganaki - because I love both Shrimp and saganaki cheese.   In Greece they do not serve saganaki with the flambe that we are used to in Canada.    It is a salty cheese, and when paired with Shrimp in a tasty sauce, it is heaven.   I forgot though, that they were not going to bring me some tiny shrimp, that I'm used to getting in North America.  These were eight giant shrimp, as big as prawns, and served complete with heads, eyes, tentacles, and all their little legs.   My husband being braver than I, ate most of the creature, whereas I opted to cut the heads off and eat only the 'tail'.   I should have taken a photo and am kicking myself now that I did not do this.  They had been freshly caught and were an absolute delight.
 
To satisfy my need for meat and potatoes, the maitre d' suggested grilled pork and we agreed.  He brought 6 beautifully cooked ribs that were almost like ribs but still more like a pork chop.  They were tender and yet crispy, perfectly done, and the potatoes were thinly sliced and very lightly fried.   The rest of the shrimp sauce went on top of the potatoes.   We were very full, so we decided to bring the rest back to my mother in law.  She was very grateful to have some cooked food, as we hadn't fully stocked the fridge yet, for our stay. 
 
The meal was wonderful, and very well priced.  The restaurant was "Cafe Ouzeri To Limani".
For 29,50 Euros, we thought that what we had eaten was tasty, satisfying, and fun.   Being tired and somewhat cranky, we were grateful to have found this spot that was off the beaten path and did not have the traffic and passersby that most other restaurants had.  Before we left, it had become dark, and we also enjoyed seeing the lights twinkling in the harbour and on the buildings surrounding it.
 
We walked briefly afterward, to a bakery to grab some Bougatsa - even though we knew it was not fresh at this point, we still wanted it for breakfast the next day.   Bougatsa deserves a story all of its own.