Monet's Garden and House

During my two years in Paris, I didn't take nearly enough day-trips as I would have liked, so when my mom was in town visiting, we made sure to visit Monet's Garden in Giverny, a place she has always wanted to visit.  It was opening weekend of the garden (in the first week of April) and although it was still damp and chilly, it turned out to be a great time to visit, as we nearly had the place to ourselves.  We took a train from St. Lazare in Paris to Vernon, and then hopped on a shuttle bus to Giverny.  In the middle of the summer, it could be a nice walk from Vernon to Giverny- it's probably only a three mile walk.
Growing up with a mother who loves gardening, I had always been exposed to Monet's gardens through hardcover gardening books from the library, calendars of his abode, and visits to museums like the Musée d'Orsay.  When I first saw the green bridge over the pond, it was like seeing the paintings I was so familiar with all these years finally come to life.
The best part of visiting Monet's Garden is that it is always changing, depending on what time of year you visit.  As we were there in the spring, all the bulb flowers were in bloom and the bright purply blues and whites provided a nice pop of color against the gray April sky.
When also toured Monet's house, which was absolutely stunning.  We weren't allowed to take pictures inside but each room had a different feel and the yellow dining room and beautiful blue-tiled kitchen were gorgeous. It was a nice thought to imagine Mr. Monet sitting in his studio, painting the beautiful nature scenes outside his window.


An Afternoon in Rome

Rome was the first major city that captured my heart, during my first visit over 12 years ago.  I've been fortunate to visit several times since then and never tire of this ancient metropolis.  From walking across the lively Ponte Milvio every night back to the hotel, to eating fried zucchini blossoms and Roman-style pizza al taglio, I love this place.  So this summer when our flight back to the U.S. left at 6am, we decided to come up to Rome a day early from the south.  We took the free shuttle from our airport hotel into the city and made the most of our afternoon and evening there.  I made sure to make a requisite pit-stop at the insanely crowded Trevi fountain, because hey, after all these times, the coin tossing ritual seems to bring me back to this great city.  Here are some of my favorite moments from that day.
 Yes, that's a stroller with two real twin babies and a pet cat happily sandwiched in the middle.
 A simple yet delicious lunch of panini at Aristocampo on via della Piramide, just outside the city center.  We saw other diners eating fresh watermelon and tried to order it for dessert.  The waiter told us the cafe didn't offer it and pointed to a small fruit stall behind us.  After my mother was granted permission, she bought the watermelon, our waiter brought us a knife and plate, and we enjoyed the juicy treat at our table.
Bridge to Trastevere on our way to dinner
Year after year, this never fails to amuse me--the line for the cigarette machine at night near the Ponte Milvio.


Merry Christmas

Christmas is my favorite time to visit Paris.  The city of light becomes even more aglow in the twinkling holiday decorations all over the city.  There's nothing better than grabbing a vin chaud at the Christmas stalls along the Champs-Elysées and enjoying the beautiful white lights on all the trees.  Here are some pictures from my first Christmastime visit to Paris in 2006.  Merry Christmas and happy holidays to everyone.



 It was quite an adventure getting to Monreale this past July.  We followed the directions our hotel gave us by walking to Piazza Independenza and taking the 389 AMAT bus from there.  While we were on the bus, our driver told us that his bus line was no longer going to Monreale and where we should get off and transfer.  Seemed easy enough, right?  At the next bus stop, we waited, and waited, and waited, for a bus that never came.  We weren't the only ones.  We tried to tell a local woman of about 60 years old (wearing high heels and enough lipstick for the entire Rockettes) that the bus we had just come off of was no longer servicing Monreale.  She began to shout at us in jumbled English and Italian that we didn't know what we were talking about.  The other people at the bus stop looked uncomfortably at her public outburst and we decided not to argue.  The woman decided to hitchhike and proceeded to ask every car with a male passenger if they were going to Monreale and they all responded by ignoring her.  Finally we found a good man that told us that we should take the AST bus which was just down the road.  By that time, it had been a good two hours since we took off from central Palermo.  Despite an intensely difficult time getting there, Monreale was beautiful.  We didn't spend as much time as I would have liked due to the bus adventure, so I would like to return some day.  I only used my phone inside so the pictures do not do it justice.    


Oldest Tree in Palermo

 Tucked away in the Piazza Marina is Palermo's oldest tree, a Banyan fig tree more than 150 years old.  It is quite a sight with aerial roots coming from all sides, making it difficult to distinguish the main trunk.  In the summer it provides a nice shady respite from the scorching sun. 


James Beard Baking Powder Biscuits

The holidays are a great time to give a homemade gift to friends and family.  There's nothing like homemade biscuits, fresh from the oven and slathered with butter and raspberry freezer jam.  I grew up on James Beard's baking powder biscuits, which are so easy that there is really no excuse for the frozen break-off kind from the store.  When I was younger, my mom would always give us a little bit of dough to play with ourselves and bake in the oven.  If you're still looking for gift ideas, you won't be disappointed by this classic recipe.


Brioche and Opera in Palermo

 This place in Palermo near the waterfront was the first time I saw a waffle/gelato combo on the menu.  It was pretty scrumptious.
The more traditional brioche con gelato 

I highly recommend a tour of the opera house, the Teatro Massimo.  Although I was unable to visit La Scala during my visit to Milan a few years back, this more than made up for it.  It is the third largest opera house in Europe (after the Garnier in Paris and the Vienna staatsoper) and the interior is not only beautiful but perfection in terms of acoustical design.  In the summer months, the Palermo opera moves outdoors to the Teatro della Verdura.  And if you're not a music lover like myself, you should visit the Teatro Massimo for its place in cinema history- the final scenes of the Godfather III were filmed here.


The Beautiful Calabrian Town of Scilla

My mom always wanted to visit Calabria so on our way back up from Sicily this summer, we made last minute plans to see the region.  We chose the town of Scilla and we could not have been happier.  We stayed in Le Piccole Grotte Bed and Breakfast, a converted fisherman's cottage in the historic Chianalea district.  The view was unbeatable- I have never stayed in a place that close to the sea before.  Apart from a rowdy wedding party (that mistakenly tried to open our door one night with their key), it was so peaceful to sleep in La Chianalea as the streets are so narrow that only occasional golf carts pass by.  
Fisherman and swordfish statue with Messina, Sicily in the distance
View from bedroom
There is only one main beach to this town and it is rocky but beautiful.  I got stung by a jellyfish which was quite painful but I should not have been surprised because they were everywhere!  As I wasn't swimming with my contacts in, I mistook transparent jellyfish for plastic garbage.  
Right after, swollen
A few days later
La Chianalea
Ruffo Castle and church
Dinner on the beach with lights of Sicily in the distance
Giovanni, who cooked an amazing dinner for us the night before.  During the morning and afternoon, he worked at this cafe, and evenings he cooked in a restaurant on the beach.  He got to work in the teeny tiny kitchen and made us one of the best, freshest meals I have ever enjoyed.  The next morning before we left, we went back to the cafe and he made us our cappucinos.  


Paradise in Cefalù

My first (unknowing) exposure to the Sicilian seaside town of Cefalù came in the form of film from one of my all-time favorites, Cinema Paradiso.  A short train ride from Palermo, Cefalù is a popular destination for travelers from around the world, including other Italians.  Although the town can nearly triple in population at summertime, it has a sleepy, quaint quality to it.  The phrase, dolce fare niente has a significant meaning in this blissful paradise where everything moves a little slower.  
The medieval wash house, "U'Ciuni."  The river from the nearby mountains flows through here and into the sea.  According to Greek legend, the water here is actually the tears of a river nymph, crying in remorse after she killed her unfaithful husband.  Until recently, the women of Cefalù used this wash house to do their laundry by hand.  Now, it has been overtaken by tourists looking to cool off in the summer, with its refreshing water temperatures and shade.
Fun wedding photographers who let us turn the camera on them (In front of the Duomo)
Some of the most beautiful sunsets in Sicily are to be had in Cefalù