Thursday, April 21, 2011

Happy Feet

After breakfast, I visited the shoe store a block away from our hotel and got these:

Please excuse my ugly feet but I love my new sandals! They kept my feet happy today :-)
They are made out of Crocs material and so comfy. My kids got them for me as a late birthday gift!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A foodie's playground

Oh the food!!! After breakfast this morning, we walked a short ways to the tourist trap shopping spot - the open air street market at San Lorenzo. So much fun! They had beautuful leather goods, shoes, jewelry, and lots of scarves. We picked up some great gifts there and then walked into the enclosed Mercato Centrale. It was full of food stalls and it was lunchtime - bingo! We walked around a bit, then settled on the following: ciabatta bread, assorted olives, a hunk of Parmigiano Reggiano (which is not expensive here at all), some wonderful soft gorgonzola, salami, prosciutto de Parma, roasted bell peppers, fresh artichoke hearts (one of my favorite delicacies here), and some dried fruit. It is so easy to buy things as all the merchants speak English well, and the prices are good. We found a nice place to sit in the Piazza and had an impromtu picnic. It was utterly delightful and I love that the kids enjoyed all those foods. And as a bonus, we have about 1/2 pound of leftover Parmigiano in our hotel fridge. Be very jealous!

Then something amazing happened as we left the piazza... we saw Rick Steves!! He was shooting one of his travel videos, but we had to interrupt him, meet him, and get our picture taken with him. Rich was so pumped and even asked him to sign the Rick Steves' travel book on Florence that he was carrying. He has been reading that travel books for months. I'm glad that Rich could have his day made by such an event!

Next we headed over to the Uffizzi gallery, and checked out some pre-Renaissance and Renaissance art. Oh, and a lot of naked statues. Too many naked statues in my opinion, really (well, I suppose one is too much...). We didn't go to the Acadamia to see Michaelangelo's David, but rather just glanced at the exact replica for free near the Uffizzi. I know it's art, but it's still ackward.

We then hit the famous Ponte Vecchio which is a bridge lined with tons of jewelry stores, and we window shopped. Florence is such a fascinating place to take in, it's pretty much the oldest place I've ever been. Around 7:00 pm, we made our way over to a restaurant that was
recommended to us by one of Rich's colleagues as a good sampling of family owned, rustic Tuscan cooking. The place was small and hopping, but we got seated right away. In the kitchen were three ladies that looked like Italian Grandmas! After getting some help decifering the menu, we ordered all our food. Surprisingly, they brought out our pasta dishes right away, and then when we were finished we were brought our salads. Interestingly, the salads weren't as expected - insalata pomodore that Drew and Stephanie ordered was just a plate of tomatoes, and my arugula salad was just that- a plate of arugula with no dressing, served with a lemon wedge. The pasta dishes were simple but good. And the fresh buffala mozzarella that I ordered rocked! The food was cheap and good, but just not what we expected. Very plain, but a good experience.

After yet another stop at a gelateria, we made it back to the hotel. We have done a lot of walking! I really am kicking myself for not bringing a pair of sandals and some cropped pants - the weather has been so warm and I can't stand wearing socks and jeans. I may hit a place tomorrow and get me some nice leather Italian sandals. Arrivederci for now!

Isn't it beautiful?

Stephanie, Drew & Emma taking a granita break after walking around a warm, crowded and stuffy art gallery.

Breathtaking Firenze.

Ahhhh... Firenze

We arrived in Florence yesterday afternoon- our hotel is incredible! It's called Loggiato del Serviti, and it's actually a converted old monestery! It's not a large hotel - it appears that there are around 15 rooms- but our room is large- two stories! It has wood floors and area rugs, beautiful windows and canopy beds. The bathrooms are, well let's just say interesting. Let's just say they are much different than here. They have bidets, like our French bathrooms. It's disturbing to see a soap dish next to the bidet- don't want to even go there. Anyways, the most exciting thing so far is that we found out that Rick Steves is staying here right now. For those of you who have ever travelled to Europe, you will understand how thrilling that is(he is the leading expert on travel in Europe and has many travel guides and videos). We hoped ti bump into him at breakfast but the lazy Americans got there too late. Speaking of breakfast, it is included with our room, and was lovely. Best cappuccino of my life to date, warm croissants, yogurt, granola, fruit, prosciutto, cheese - all served on fine linen and very nice table settings. A breakfast like that would have set us back 50-60 euro (around $75). France was so expensive, and I can already see that Italy is much more reasonable. Dinner entrees at a Paris cafe (casual place) are around $15-18 euro, and at a nice ristorante last night here in Florence entrees were around 10. Our dinner last night was amazing!!!! Exactly what I imagined and dreamed about. We had appetizers of prosciutto and shaved parmigiano reggiano over arugula, an antipasti which included sundries tomatoes, artichoke hearts. Mushrooms, peppers, olives, etc. But please know none of them came out of a can or jar. We all ordered pasta of some sort and it was all fresh and housemade. I had risotto with artichokes, mamma Mia!!!

Well, off to explore Florence! It's a beautiful day!

Here is a shot out of our living room window in Florence!!! Pinch me.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Paris to Pisa

I knew this would happen- no time to blog! Now that I'm sitting on a platform in Pisa, waiting for our train to Florence, I thought I'd catch up aa best as I can. Once we board, I have a planned nap, so we will see how far I get!

We concluded our time in Paris this morning. Our second and third days included many wonderful experiences, such as a trip up the Eiffel Tower at night, visits to the Louvre, Saint Chappell and Notre Dame, a climb to the top of L'Arc du Triumphe, as well as lots of wonderful strolls around the city. We indulged in many more croissants, pain au chocolat, and beignets! We even found a favorite patisserie, Paul, which we frequented on a daily basis after our bike tour guide introduced it to us. So delish! We had the kids try escargots, which they admitted were good! I will blog in more detail about our time in Paris when I can post pictures. Suffice it to say, we loved every minute. What a place! I loved speaking French and actually even started to think in French by the end of our time! It really is a must to have some ability to speak French in France. You don't see any signs in English, but most of the people that we came into contact with did speak English a little, and some restaurants listed their menu items in English below the French. We were sad to leave this enchanting place, but excited to see Italy!

Ok- note- we got on what we (and several other passengers) thought was the right train, and found some lovely seats- but some guy just entered the train and told us that this train wasn't going to move. Our train was about to leave in 4 minutes and we had no idea where it was. We dragged our luggage down a flight of steps and saw our train and jumped on. The train is full, with no seats left- there goes the hopes of my nap- so I guess I'll keep blogging! We are sitting on our suitcases on the platform between two enclosed cars looking really touristy. It's an hour to Florence. We've told that trains can be unpredictable in Italy.
So, backing up a bit, we took a flight from Paris to Pisa this morning, then checked our luggage at the train station in Pisa. We then walked through the town to the famous leaning tower. We stopped for some amazing gelato on the way... I had Nutella flavor- so good! We had a timed ticket to actually climb up the interior- what a trip!

I must take a moment to mention the perfect weather we've been having. As they say in Paris, "il fait beau" and it truly did! In Italy, it is more of the same. Sunny, breezy, and around 70 degrees. We ate dinner at a cafe last night at 9:30 pm and it wasn't even cold. We are most thankful for the added blessing the weather has been.

We will be in Florence for the next 3 nights. We don't have as much planned as we did in Paris, I think our only tickets are for the Uffuzi gallery. It will be nice to slow down the pace- the last few days have caught up to us all today. Looking forward to some nice Italian food tonight!

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Le premier jour

I woke this morning to a note in Rich's handwriting on the coffee table that read "gone quiche and croissant hunting." Moments later, the apartment door opened and Rich entered with a big bag and a bouquet of fresh flowers. He had 3 different kinds of quiche, croissants, beignets, and the most gorgeous strawberries. I don't know if it was because we are in Paris, or that I got to sit next to Drew as we ate, the actual food itself, or all three, but it will go down in history as one of my most favorite meals ever.

Last night was truly magical. We had dinner at a great little bistro, then came back to our apartment to freshen up (it had been almost 2 days since we showered last) and prepare to go meet Drew at the Eiffel tower. He had flown from Tel Aviv to Rome, then connected from Rome to Paris. He was then getting a cab to the Eiffel tower. We calculated that he would be there around 11:00 pm, and we vigilantly watched every cab that drove by to see if he was in it. Finally, we saw him- Stephanie ran to the cab and I just burst out in tears. After we all smothered him with hugs, we took pictures and walked back to the apartment. We all ate ice cream and talked until 1:00 am, then turned in. It felt like forever since I had laid down in a bed, having only about 3 hours sleep since we left home. It felt heavenly!

By the way, our apartment is amazing! It is in a great neighborhood, right on Rue Cler (a great place to shop and eat) in a charming building. There are six floors, with 2 apartments on each floor. A large spiral staircase is in the middle, and there is an elevator as well. The elevator is only for two people at a time- it is so small! You basically squeeze inside and pull closed a door that resembles a wooden baby gate and move slowly up. Kind of creepy, kind of fun. Our apartment is large- I estimate about 1200 sq. ft., with two bedrooms that each sleep two, plus a loft that sleeps two as well which is open and overlooks the living room, dining room,a kitchen and two bathrooms. The views are spectacular and the large windows swing fully open. We have several tiny balconies. It is perfect for us and is cheaper than what we would have paid for two hotel rooms. It really makes u's feel like we live here, whereas in a hotel setting you feel more like a visitor.

Well, today was in a word, perfect. After our lovely breakfast, we set out by bus to get an overview of the city. There really are no adequate words to describe how Paris makes you feel. It is, for one, the most beautiful place I have ever seen. It's like New York in a way, but a million times more beautiful, and with more charm than I could have ever imagined possible. I guess I would just have to say, we have all had our breath taken away by this city.

After our bus ride, we hit a small boulangerie for lunch, where we dined on heavenly sandwiches- mine was simply goat cheese, lettuce and tomato- but the goat cheese had the texture of Brie and the pungency of blue cheese. The baguette it came on would have been a fitting meal in itself, it was that good. We then made our way to our scheduled bike tour. We had a 4 hour private tour with a wonderful English speaking tour guide named Nicole. We biked all around the city, stopping periodically to hear her describe many points of interest. We also stopped at a patisserie for a lovely latte and some pain au chocolat. It was an amazing way to learn about the city. We all thoroughly enjoyed the tour and Nicole.

Now we are about to head out to a nice dinner at 9:30 pm- you eat late here!

I'm trying out a new blogger app only iPhone - hopefully the photo of our breakfast will load.

All for now- I'll try to keep up on our days here since we have wifi at the apartment!

Friday, April 15, 2011

I like trains with wifi

It's kind of crazy getting wi-fi on a train from London to Paris! So i thought I'd blog!  As I type this out on my little iphone screen, we are riding through France- so surreal!  We are on the Chunnel which actually travels through a tunnel under water!  

We left LAX yesterday (Thursday) morning around 10:00 a.m., and after a short layover in Chicago, and a yummy lunch at Frontera, we boarded our plane for the 8 hour trek to London.  It wasn't as bad as I expected, but I think it was technically worse than a red eye.  We boarded around 6:00 p.m. Chicago time (4:00 in L.A.) and after an hour or so the sun set and dinner was served.  It felt very retro being served a 4 course meal -free!  The attendants were British and provided quite gracious service.  One kind attendant even offered the girls a special dessert (presumably leftover from 1st class as it arrived on a real china plate). Rich, however, missed dinner as he took an Ambien pretty much after we got settled in and went off to la-la land for pretty much the whole time! The girls and I stayed awake for a few hours, then medicated with a couple benadryl to help induce sleep.  We slept for about 2-3 hours and woke up about 45 minutes just before landing, finding the sun up and breakfast being served.  Our short night was over and we were ushered into the next day, feeling very strange and messed up, not knowing when we should eat or sleep next.  

Arriving in London, in usual Rich fashion, we made smooth connections on two subway trains to finally arrive at the Eurostar train station.  We wondered what handicapped people would do as there are many sets of steps (no elevators) we had to navigate with all our luggage. One one occasion a handsome young gentleman carried Stephanie's bag up a flight of steps!  Once at the Eurostar station, we breakfasted under spectacular architecture, the girls having crepes and Rich and I some eggs and pain au chocolat.  

Once this 3 hour train ride to Paris is completed, we we will go to our 2 bedroom (+ a loft)apartment in the 7th arrondissement.  Drew arrives in Paris tonight around 10:00 p.m. and it sure would be nice to get a shower and possibly a little nap before we go to the Eiffel Tower to meet him.  Hopefully I'll find the time to blog again soon or just post some pics.  We are all beyond excited to see him!

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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Whatever - the Public Library

Well, it's been awhile since I've had a "whatever" post. Not that my life isn't full of "whatevers"... I just don't always write about them! So, here's one for you.

Yesterday, I stopped at the public library to pick up a book that I had reserved. It was a profound work of literature, of course (well, honestly it was the Pioneer Woman's new book). I realized that Emma had the library card with her so I approached the librarian.

Me: Hello, I would like to check out this book but I don't have my library card with me. Might you be able to look it up for me?

Librarian: Yes, what is the name?

Me: Harasick.

Librarian: (searching her computer) Emma Harasick?

Me: Yes. (the card is in her name)

Librarian: Are YOU Emma Harasick?

Me: Why... no, that's my daughter ... it's kind of our family's library card ...

Librarian: I'm sorry, I can't let you check out the book since you're not Emma Harasick.


No, I didn't actually say that. I just thought it.

Me: So, I really can't check out the book because Emma isn't present? (can you detect a slight attitude?) Even though I'm her mother?

Librarian: That is correct. But, the hold on the book is good until the 15th, Emma can come and get it.

Me: That's OK. Don't worry about it (I'm thinking that it's not worth Emma's time).

Librarian: So you don't want the book to stay on hold?

Me: No, you can just put it back in circulation.

Librarian: OK (puts the book on the cart of books to be shelved).

So, I left. And then I got to is it that I can't check out the book that is under Emma's name, but I can make decisions about the book that is in Emma's name?? Hmmm. What if Emma came in tomorrow looking for the book and it wasn't on hold? Did she THINK of that? I mean, she went to such great lengths to ensure nobody took Emma's book.

In retrospect, what I should have done is walked back in, gotten the freshly shelved book that I wanted, applied for a new library card in my name (with a different librarian of course), checked out the book, and been on my merry way. But I didn’t think of it.


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