Our US map

I’ve got a thing for maps. I grew up looking at the world map my grandfather kept next to the pool table in the basement that tracked all of my grandparents’ travels (they went to every continent but Antartica). I used to look at all the lines on that map (my grandfather drew lines, tracing every trip they took) and imagine myself following them. I wanted to see every single place they had been and more. That cherished vintage map now hangs on our basement stairs and I think of them every time I go past it. It is one of my most special possessions.

My grandparents’ map

Lately I’ve been drooling over the maps I saw in catalogs – world maps or US maps, framed and meant to put thumb tacks in for every place you’ve visited. But they start at about $170 (minimum  – many are over $200). Which seemed pretty ridiculous for a map. So I made my own.

I ordered a 36×24 map from Amazon for about $5. I actually got both a world map and a US map (it’s hard to fit a lot of pins close together on the US in the world map, so we did both maps so we could show every place we’ve been in the US). Look carefully at the colors on the map. I ordered one world map only to realize it was mostly pink which just looked ridiculous in the room I wanted to hang it in.

Go to your local office store and buy a piece of foam board that is at least 36×24 (about $10). Go to Michael’s or JoAnn’s when frames are on sale and buy one you like that will fit a 36×24 map (mine was about $30).

Our world map

Take the glass out of the frame and use it as a template on the foam board. Cut the foam board with a utility knife.

Make sure the map actually fits on the foam board (I had one map that was supposed to be 26×24 but in reality was a few inches smaller).

You can either lay the map on the foam board and place the frame over it to hold it in place, OR you can use a spray adhesive to spray the board and attach the map to it. It really depends on how secure your map feels without the adhesive. I did one each way. It’s much easier if you aren’t using the adhesive, but your frame might not be tight enough to keep the map from buckling without it. Do not put the glass in the frame!

Hang it on the wall. Buy colored map pins to mark every place you’ve visited. We decided that we would put a pin in every place we had stayed in overnight together. For cruises we marked each port of call.

You just saved yourself at least $130! This also makes a nice gift. I made one for my parents.

I’ve got a thing for maps. I grew up looking at the world map my grandfather kept next to the pool table in the basement that tracked all of my grandparents’ travels (they went to every continent but Antartica). I used to look at all the lines on that map (my grandfather drew lines, tracing … Read more

As I look back on our travels, there are moments that stand out to me in my mind like postcards. Beautiful places, important moments, and stand out experiences that are head and shoulders above the rest. They’ve created a kind of gallery of snapshots in mind, which I mentally thumb through at times, to relive them.


– Crossing the border from England to Scotland and driving up through the sheep-dotted hills of the Borderlands. I waited my entire life to go to Scotland, land of my ancestors, and when it actually happened, I cried with an overwhelming sense of homecoming.

– Gondola ride in Venice. This was one of those surreal moments when you’re doing something that is a bucket list item and is something so idealized that it doesn’t even seem real when you do it. I felt as if I was holding my breath the whole time, willing myself to remember every single second.

– Waikoloa Beach, Big Island of Hawaii. This was the beach of my dreams. Smooth, placid

Waikoloa Beach, Hawaii

blue-green water, flat sandy beach and shade from palm trees. I remember thinking, am I really here in this paradise?

– The bridge from the mainland to Hilton Head Island. The bridge gently spans over a Low Country tidal creek, which meanders among the weeds with pluff mud visible. I’ve had a thing for tidal creeks ever since.

– The waves crashing on the rocks outside a cottage in York Harbor, Maine. It sounded,

York, Maine

smelled, and looked divine, but it also brought back my childhood, when I spent two weeks each summer on the Penobscot Bay. It was like being reunited with an old friend. The ocean was still there, waiting for me.

– Ellis Island. Most people have their big travel moment at the Statue of Liberty, but for me it happened at Ellis Island. I could almost see, hear, and feel the immigrants walking from the docks and through the doors. They were still there in that big echoey building and I felt my connection to my ancestors deeply at that place. My skin prickled with their nearness.

– The library at Monticello, Virginia. Thomas Jefferson’s library room absolutely


overwhelmed me with emotions and strange connections. All of his belongings and furniture are there and the bed he died in is in the room, next to his desk. Another place that moved me to tears.

– The Blue Grotto, Capri, Italy. This moment felt surreal, as if I were watching it on TV. I will never forget the soul-wrenching blue of the water, as we rowed twice around the grotto, chills running down my back.

– The sky of New Mexico. People talk about Montana being the land of the Big Sky (I haven’t been there yet and I’ll let you know if I agree once I get there!), but New Mexico to me was about the wide open sky, which reached down to hold up the land.

– The view from Pike’s Peak. It was if we were on top of a tiny, pointy skyscraper, and all

Pike’s Peak, Colorado

the world was laid out beneath us to see.

– Touring the White House. Sometimes I think, was I really there? It seems amazing that we walked in the steps of the presidents and world leaders when we went through this iconic building.

– Glastonbury Abbey, England. The mythical burial place of King Arthur and Guenevere. The town is one nutty hippie hang out, but the quiet beauty of the ruins here spoke to me deeply, whether or not the leader of Camelot really did rest here. It was a place that felt sacred and spiritual to me, when very few places ever do. It was a moment of connection, seeing this place from the legend, when our children’s middle names and our dogs’ first names all come from Arthurian literature.

– Hell’s Gate, Kawartha Lakes, Ontario Canada. We rented a houseboat and explored this lovely area of lakes connected with many locks. The most memorable part of the trip was navigating Hell’s Gate, a very dangerous, narrow passage filled with rocky outcroppings. I don’t even think we have a photo of it since we were so busy trying not to wreck our boat! It was spectacular in the combination of water and sharp, pointy rocks.

– Wild horses crossing the road. We’ve encountered these twice – once on the highway in

New Mexico wild horses

New Mexico and once at the Assateague National Seashore in Maryland. Both times they were beautiful, free, and full of spirit.

– Lobster in the rough, Boothbay Harbor, Maine. Before we took the kids to meet my Maine, my husband and I went there on our honeymoon. We still believe that the only way to eat lobster is at a picnic table, with an ear of corn cooked in the lobster water, and a bag of potato chips, with the ocean over your shoulder.

– Swimming with the dolphins, Key Largo, Florida. I just remember laughing and laughing with pure joy as we swam with the dolphins and they pushed us through the water.

Glacier Bay, Alaska

– Glacier Bay, Alaska. The utter stillness that surrounded our ship in the bay is something I won’t ever forget, then the quiet being broken when the glacier calved, making a big splash. It was dramatic and it was also terrifying. The glacier was light blue and the water was deep dark blue. The air was clear and biting, and it seemed we were alone in the wilderness.

– The Milky Way, Finger Lakes, New York. Although my family now owns a cottage in the Finger Lakes, for several years, we rented one on Cayuga Lake for a week each summer. One night, after we had put our preschool daughter to bed, we were sitting by the fire, stargazing. It was a remarkably clear night and the absence of ambient lighting made it possible to see what felt like the entire galaxy. We could clearly see the cloudy clusters of stars making up the Milky Way. My husband went inside and woke our daughter, bringing her outside, to  stand at the end of the dock, so she could look up and see this beautiful universe she was our center of. She doesn’t remember it, but we do.

What are your postcard travel moments?



As I look back on our travels, there are moments that stand out to me in my mind like postcards. Beautiful places, important moments, and stand out experiences that are head and shoulders above the rest. They’ve created a kind of gallery of snapshots in mind, which I mentally thumb through at times, to relive … Read more

Usually when we travel I spend a lot of time finding just the right place to stay. This time, I let go of that and we stayed where our tour company placed us. I carefully checked out each place before we signed up, however. It was a relief in a way, not to have to make those decisions, particularly in a foreign country where it’s hard to know what to expect.

All of the hotels had bidets which my kids were horrified by, I was fascinated by and I later learned my father always used as a wine bucket when he was in Europe. We had some trouble getting the TVs to work but were surprised at the many different language channels to be found! All had elevators that seemed to have been retrofitted into the building, making them tiny and scary. Every hotel had a breakfast buffet that was nearly identical (more on that at the end of the post). Overall, we did well with our hotels.

Hotel Giorgione, Venice

A guide met us at the Venice airport and took us by water taxi to Venice, where we walked down an alley, through a campo, down a street and into our hotel. I was already overwhelmed by the beauty and other-worldliness of Venice, but when we stepped into our hotel, I felt like I was in a fairytale. The first thing I saw was a gigantic Murano chandelier – so big it hung almost to the floor and was roped off. The lobby felt very elegant and genteel with glided furniture and mirrors. The hotel desk was my second favorite thing about the hotel. Behind the desk were cubbies from which hung big tassels with the room keys. You hand in your key before leaving and pick it up on your way in. I’ve never stayed anywhere where you did that and I just adored the tassels!

Hotel Giorgione

The rooms were on the small side, but they continued to feel very European and elegant. We did not have adjoining rooms, or even rooms on the same floor, which was less than convenient. The baths were modern, in contrast with everything else.

The third best thing about the hotel was the afternoon snack. Every afternoon they set out cookies and iced tea (peach or lemon). We hit that table with a

Afternoon snack

Breakfast courtyard in Venice

vengeance every day!

The elevator was tiny and terrifying. There was a room with a pool table, and although my husband and son played, technically they weren’t supposed to because you had to be 18 to play pool (apparently because they gamble on pool in Italy).

breakfast in Venice

Breakfast was served in an elegant dining area with an outdoor courtyard. The birds were very aggressive in the courtyard, however, so we stayed inside. The breakfast staff berated my son one morning for putting a croissant through the toaster (“Not for croissaint!” they scolded him).

This was my favorite hotel. It was within reasonable walking distance of San Marco and the Rialto Bridge, yet it was set apart enough to be in a quiet area. It felt comfortable and friendly while very, very different from American hotels.

Hotel Plaza Lucchesi, Florence

The lobby of this hotel was elegant

The view out the Hotel Lucchesi window

but there was never a soul in it. This hotel had the largest elevators, but they were not big enough to hold us and all our carry on bags (they were large but had a low weight limit). One of us always had to take the stairs! The rooms were comfortable but not spectacular. I did love the big windows that had wooden shutters you could close to keep out the heat, or open for a view of the Arno.

The front desk was helpful. The breakfast room was comfortable and attractive. The biggest downfall of this hotel was its location. Yes, it was directly on the Arno which

Inside Hotel Plaza Lucchesi

made for a lovely view, but it was just too far from the Ponte Vecchio and the center of Florence for our tastes. It was billed as walking distance, but we found it to be quite a hike, particularly after walking all day in the city.

Bailey’s Hotel, Rome

This was our least favorite hotel. There was no lobby to speak of (2 chairs). We thought we were getting a quad room. What we got were two connecting rooms. One was quite nice with a big bed and bath. The other was very tiny, with room for a bed and nothing else and a bath that had a shower stall, no tub and was the size of a closet. The concept I imagine was that the parents would get the big room and the kids

Inside the bordello, in our robes

would go in the small room. We have a 20 year old daughter and a 14 year old son and there’s simply no way they are sleeping in the same bed with each other. It would come to blows. So my husband and son squeezed in the tiny room, leaving the big room to the ladies.

I did not care for the decor in the rooms – bordello red is how I would describe it.

The breakfast area was pretty awful. It was an interior room on the second floor with no natural light and florescent lighting. They had tiny cafe tables, so we could not all sit together. The maids kept their carts in the doorway, so that provided a spectacular view. It was an unpleasant way to start the mornings.

The hotel was not conveniently located within walking distance to anything. It was supposed to be walking distance to the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain, but we found it to be much too far.

Hotel Cesare Augusto, Sorrento

The gardens at Cesare Augusto

Our final hotel was this once grand hotel in Sorrento. It was clearly something in its heyday, but unfortunately I don’t think anything has changed since then! It is perched nicely at the edge of the main district of the town, so you can easily walk anywhere. It has a huge lobby, with furniture from the 70s. There are photos all over of Sophia Loren staying there, smooching the owner. I think they froze the hotel at that moment.

The rooms were large but the furniture was old. The beds were incredibly uncomfortable. We ended up piling blankets on top of the mattresses then putting the sheets over them and sleeping on top to try to get some padding beneath us. We did have adjoining rooms which was perfect.

The breakfast room was a huge dining room with many waiters mulling around. It was comfortable, but still felt dated.

Outside the back door was a lovely patio with gardens and porch swings and an old broken fountain that would have been nice if it worked. There was a pool on the roof, but it was quite small and there were people crowded around it. Not our speed.

The hotel staff spoke little to no English and were not very helpful at all and were often unfriendly. We definitely would not stay here again.

Hotel Breakfasts

Every hotel had an almost identical buffet breakfast. Here’s what we could always find:

– scrambled eggs

– croissants

– fresh fruit (cut up melon and whole oranges and apples)

– pastries and cakes

– yogurt

– coffee

– juice

– toast and a toaster machine

– bacon

– cold cuts and cheese

By the time we came home, I never wanted to see scrambled eggs or croissants again! What are your favorite hotel breakfast foods?


Usually when we travel I spend a lot of time finding just the right place to stay. This time, I let go of that and we stayed where our tour company placed us. I carefully checked out each place before we signed up, however. It was a relief in a way, not to have to … Read more

Hands off veggie buffet at Aurora

The Amalfi Coast of Italy was stunning in its scenery. It was the furthest point south we visited and I looked forward to exploring the culinary delights of this region.

Day One

We arrived in Sorrento after a stop in Pompeii. Our Pompeii tour guide told us THE place to eat in Sorrento

1/2 pizza 1/2 calzone

is Aurora pizzeria, on the Piazza Tasso, the center of the town. Aurora is more than just a pizzeria – they own two more restaurants next door, so it’s a compound at this point. I was pretty excited about dinner here. You walk past the side of the restaurant and there is an open window into the pizza kitchen, where you can watch the chefs making the pizzas and baking them in the wood oven.

The restaurant has what looks like a small buffet near the front. This is a selection of vegetables for the

Pizza oven at Aurora

“selection of vegetables” listed as a starter. My daughter and I each got this. Just when we thought we had the hang of this whole Italy thing, they showed us we did not at all. It’s not a buffet in the American sense. You go up with your waiter and you tell him which items you want and he fills your plate. Now, this is hard to do when really I just wanted a tiny taste of everything, but I felt like a huge pig to ask for this. There were also cheeses on the buffet but I was told “no, no” when I pointed to them. Turns out they were extra.

Fish at Zi’Ntonio

The vegetables were cold on the buffet (previously cooked) and stuck in the microwave once we selected them (I am not a fan of the microwave approach here). Despite this, all had interesting flavor combinations. It was a nice selection. My son started with ravioli Caprese style and my husband had stracciatelli soup, which is very similar to egg drop, and thus he loved it. For our secondi, we went with pizzas and calzones. My son got a Romano

Deboning the fish

pizza (anchovy, mozzarella, tomato, and mushroom). He enjoyed that. My husband got four cheese pizza which we thought was a bit boring (no sauce). My daughter got a calzone Napoli (cottage cheese, ham, and mozzarella). She liked it for the most part, but again, there’s no sauce, so it is kind of dry. I got the Aurora No. 4 which was supposed to be half pizza, half calzone with ham, cheese and mushroom. It ended up being a calzone with just one little flat part. I wasn’t a fan. A pizza without sauce

Unnamed fish

is like a sandwich as far as I’m concerned. I don’t care if it is red or white, it needs something to make it tasty. Overall, we were disappointed by the pizzas.

Day Two

A guided tour took us to the town of Anacapri on the island of Capri where a lunch was included in our tour. Hands down the worst meal of the trip. You know you are in trouble when you are asked to choose between “fish or meat.”

Wild strawberry cake

Sorry, but I need more details! Which fish, which meat, and how is it cooked?  Everything here was pretty bad – cooked in huge pans and served at the table by the waiter. Just disappointing.

We rebounded however and dined that evening in the Marina Grande area of Sorrento (on the waterfront) at a restaurant recommended to me by my hair stylist who grew up in Naples and visits Sorrento often. Zi’Ntonio Mare was magical. It’s situated on a pier over the water, next the sand

Sorrento Lemon Cake

beach where we came and swam the next day. Mount Vesuvius is in the background. You can see the cliffs of the coast and hear the water lapping.  The language barrier was heavy here, and because we ordered some specials I am not exactly certain what we had! I started with a Caprese salad which was perfect. Then I had a special which was fish. I originally ordered something else from the menu and was told they were out of it. The waiter suggested this fish instead, the name of which I could not


understand, but which he said was like a sea bass. It was fantastic. White, flaky, mild, but filling and full of the flavors of the sea. My daughter had linguine with scampi and these shrimp were huge and delightful. My husband had spaghetti with clams (which I think he ordered just about every other day on this trip!) and then sea bream baked in salt. The sea bream was fantastic. I’ve had salt-crusted meats and fish before and it is always a surprise how non-salty they are, and how the salt crust keeps the moisture and the flavor inside. My son had ravioli and deep fried squid and

Inside L’Antica Trattoria

shrimp. Every item on the table was magnificent, but we weren’t done yet. My daughter had cannoli and the rest of us shared a wild strawberry cake (teeny, tiny, amazingly sweet wild strawberries all over this moist cake) and a lemon cake, a specialty of the Amalfi Coast. The cake is baked inside a meringue. This is on my list to replicate.

Day Three

After a morning at the beach, the


kids collapsed at the hotel and my husband and I did some shopping and brought sandwiches back.  We also brought back

Another wild strawberry cake

a wonderful little wild strawberry cake which was just as wonderful as the on we had the previous night. Where are the Italians growing all these wild strawberries? Why can’t we get them at home? What strikes me about the sandwiches is that they only have meat and cheese

Angel hair and prawns

on them. You can’t get lettuce or tomato or anything else, at any kind of traditional sandwich shop.

Dinner that night for our final evening in Italy was at L’Antica

Lamb medallions

Trattoria, chosen in most of my guidebooks as “the” place to eat in Sorrento. It was truly a beautiful setting. There is a small restaurant inside, but most of it is outside under an arbor. There is artwork and pottery all over and the service was quite elegant. I began with gnocchi (always good no matter where we had it) then had pesce bandieri with fried prawns. The husband had angel hair pasta with prawns served in half a lemon (loved the presentation and as always, loved the prawns), then

Pesce bandieri with prawns

lamb medallions with Mediterranean herbs. Unlike the lamb in Rome, this was cooked properly and was delicious. The son had ravioli and the daughter had quail. We finished our last night in Italy with another Sorrento lemon cake I’ve really got to work on replicating this) and a plate of lovely cookies.

Italy was the best food I’ve had on a trip, hands down, anywhere to date. I would go back in a heartbeat. The

Sorrento Lemon Cake #2

beauty of it was none of us gained a single ounce. As always on vacation, I lost weight because we are constantly moving and you just eat less when someone else is portioning out all of


your food.

The Amalfi Coast of Italy was stunning in its scenery. It was the furthest point south we visited and I looked forward to exploring the culinary delights of this region. Day One We arrived in Sorrento after a stop in Pompeii. Our Pompeii tour guide told us THE place to eat in Sorrento is Aurora … Read more

beef rolls

The next stop on our culinary tour of Italy was Rome. I was quite excited about Rome and it really was a wonderful place to visit. It was spectacular to see so many ancient sites. Rome is home to some of the best restaurants in the world, however, I’m just not into spending hundreds and hundreds on a meal. Instead, I am always seeking restaurants that are somewhat casual with just damn good food. I was hoping Rome would provide that.

The photos in this post are appearing a bit ahead of my descriptions (since there are so many!), so I hope you won’t mind reading and then looking up to see the corresponding photos.

Day One

Fettucine with meatballs

We arrived in Rome before lunch and checked into our hotel. The hotel clerk was very helpful and friendly, so we decided to ask him for a lunch suggestion. He told us the Spanish Steps were within walking distance of the hotel, so we asked for a place near there. The map of Rome that we had makes everything seem close by. Getting to the Spanish Steps alone was quite a hike. Once there, he had us walking blocks and blocks and blocks. The streets and writing on the map were miniscule, and as always, the GPS on my husband’s

Cured meat with ship’s cheese

phone was useless. We got to where we thought the restaurant was supposed to be. We asked one person where it was; he pointed straight ahead. We walked and walked and finally asked someone else who pointed us back in the direction we came from. At that point we gave up. We took a cab to the Trevi Fountain area and ate in a bar (a “snack bar”) where we ate pizza at some tables crowded inside it. I gave that pizza a discerning look because they had sheets and sheets of different varieties just


sitting in the case (unrefrigerated) and they quickly heat them up in an oven when you order. It was about 102 degrees there that day and the thought of those pizzas sitting out all day made me wary, but we did survive.

For dinner, we decided to talk to the desk again, assuming we were idiots and just couldn’t find the lunch place. They recommended a place just down the block (perfect since we were exhausted from walking), Ristorante La Pentolaccia. It looked to have the

My very sad, very overdone lamb

same kind of vibe as the places we loved in Venice and Florence (old, family-owned, “real” food).  The place was crowded and loud, which detracted from our meal. We enjoyed an amuse bouche of spinach and ricotta quiche in puff pastry which was light and tasty. Then two of had fettucine with tomato sauce and meatballs. We had to ask for Parmesan cheese (they don’t normally have cheese on the table in Italy for pasta). The pasta was excellent (it is chewier and more flavorful than our pasta – even though I cook it al dente, I cannot quite replicate it), however we found throughout Italy that their tomato sauce lacked the hint of sweetness we are used to in sauces here at home, and which we prefer. We also had tortellini in beef broth (this was so simple, but so amazingly delicious), cured meats and cheese (the menu described it as “ship’s cheese” which is how Italians pronounce “sheep’s cheese.”

Chocolate fountain

This has now become our standard family pronunciation) with ambrosia honey (amazing). Another item was air-dried beef rolls with bleu cheese and walnuts. This was a nice combo and the beef was aged and had a deep flavor. Also on our table was roast lamb with the ever present potatoes and oxtail with carrot, tomato, and celery (my husband grew up eating oxtail soup, so he had to get this and did enjoy it: basically a roasted piece of meat with a bone through it).

The worst item was the lamb. It was served well-done and was simply awful: dry, chewy, stringy, and flavorless. As always, our waiter was

Spaghetti Pie near the Vatican

deeply concerned if we did not finish every last morsel on our plates (they were always very upset and thought we didn’t like the food if we didn’t finish it: we explained over and over we loved it but didn’t have room!), however I had to tell him I thought the lamb was overcooked. He insisted it was perfect. I explained we normally eat lamb that is at least pink or medium rare. So odd, considering you can’t get a piece of beef that is less than bloody anywhere in Italy that I could find! This was the worst item we were served on our entire trip.

Dessert that night (and each night in

Fried Mashed Potatoes

Rome!) was at a gelato shop around the corner that had dark and white chocolate “fountains,” really just a stream of chocolate that was running continuously from a little faucet. Our hotel desk clerk told us to go there. He was in awe of the “fountains.” They didn’t excite us much but the gelato was excellent (even if everything was completely in Italian and they did not have it out in mounds so you could see it, so you had to try to ask what the flavors were). You would order your gelato and they would hold a little wafer cookie under the “fountain” then stick that in the gelato. It was puzzling to us because it simply wasn’t that wonderful. If they had made gelato sundaes with it, I would have been more interested.

Day Two

Amazing pizza in 4 styles

Our second day in Rome was a very busy one, with our tour of the Vatican. The tour was in the early afternoon, so we headed to Vatican City to shop and eat lunch beforehand. We had a hard time finding a lunch venue. Everything was very touristy, with the dreaded picture menus that scream bad food. We ended up in one place where we had some pizza and a spaghetti pie that was unlike anything I saw anywhere else in Italy. It was pretty good, but it was clearly made ahead and reheated, so it just wasn’t as fresh as I would have liked.

We arrived back at our hotel that night completely wilted (it was incredibly hot inside the Vatican) and worn out, but decided

Delicious drinks at Ginger

that we wanted to have some really good pizza for dinner. Again, although I had done months of research, we wanted to hear what the desk clerk recommended. We explained we wanted the best pizza in Rome and what did he recommend? He gave us directions to a place a few blocks away. He gave us his card and said to give it to the restaurant and also promised to call ahead and reserve a table. We were excited – good pizza recommended by a Roman. We arrived at the restaurant and it

Baguette sandwich

was completely empty. It was rather formal looking. We handed the card to the hostess/waitress who didn’t seem to care much. We were seated and the menu had ONE pizza on it. ONE. This was not a pizzeria. We felt terrible, but had to get up and leave. We could not face another meal of pasta and meat. By this time, we were in full hunger meltdown and needed to feed everyone quickly. We recalled passing a place as we walked from the hotel and decided to head there. This was called Al Forno della Soffitta Via Piave. It was exactly

Snacks with the drinks at Ginger

what we were looking for. Tons of amazing pizzas made in a wood oven. A busy, happy restaurant with friendly servers.  Jackpot. We started with fried mashed potatoes (kind of fun, but similar to what my grandma used to do with leftover mashed potatoes) and a Pollo salad (with chicken and corn) and a Toto Salad (with parmesan and artichoke). Delicious, fresh, and amazing, and as always so much better than salads at home. I still can’t get over how good all the salads were and how stunningly fresh the ingredients were as well. In Italy, there is no such thing as yellow lettuce, brown edged lettuce, unripe tomatoes, or wilted greens.

Then it was time for pizza. You could order small pizzas or get one

Gnocchetti with red prawns

giant one with 4 types on  it. We did this and got Margherita, Fume (smoked mozzarella and ham), four cheese (with a cream sauce) and Funghi (mushroom with anchovy). The pizza was fabulous and we got to sample all four kinds. All was right with the world — we finally had some outstanding pizza! I loved the smoked mozzarella and ham and the Margherita was classic. The crust was crispy on the bottom yet soft enough to enjoy chewing it. It had a fab woody flavor from the oven. A true experience.

Day Three

The third day was another busy walking day: Colosseum and the Forum. And again, hot as hell.  We


grabbed a quick lunch this day at a snack bar: this time we had sandwiches. One was a tomato and mozzarella on white bread and one was a salami and cheese. The snack bars serve identical sandwiches all over the city. They’re fast and easy and so much better than fast food you get at home.

For dinner that night, we decided to wander around the Spanish Steps. We poked in some shops and stumbled upon the perfect restaurant. It is called Ginger. It was my ideal restaurant. First of all,


everything was organic. OMG. We have one organic restaurant in Buffalo. I am sure there are many others in Rome. It was also all locally sourced. Everything was creative with a  fusion attitude. AND they had wonderful fruit smoothies. We had died and gone to heaven. I had an Alessio smoothie: passion fruit, apple, and strawberry. My daughter had a mojito passion cocktail (and I could have actually drunk this, it was so good): rum, lime, brown sugar, mint and passion fruit. Delish. My son had a Caffe latte shake. The drinks came with a lovely little board of meats and cheeses that was lovely to

Spaghetti alla bottarga

nibble on.

One of their specialties are these great sandwiches on super skinny mini-baguettes, so we had to try one of those: Lungarhette (cured ham, figs, and arugula): I really love figs combined with savory elements! The baguette is made on the premises and was the perfect texture. I had the gnocchetti with red prawns, cherry tomatoes and basil (not a sauce: they were fresh) with shaved cheese on top. Husband had spaghetti alla bottarga with dried tunafish, eggs,and clams and really enjoyed the flavors of the fish. Daughter had carpaccio of swordfish, salmon, tuna with avocado, tartar sauce and sprout salad with a side of the ubiquitous potatoes. The fish was fresh and silky and complemented by the avocado, something you don’t see with fish at home. My son had tortellini with meat and pecorino and then entrecote (steak) with potatoes and rosemary. The food was all fun, flirty and delicious.

We left Rome feeling well-fed and happy. Someday, when we are traveling without kids, I would love to go to Rome and seek out more hidden dining gems (and maybe I’ll spring for one of the super-pricey spots!).

The next stop on our culinary tour of Italy was Rome. I was quite excited about Rome and it really was a wonderful place to visit. It was spectacular to see so many ancient sites. Rome is home to some of the best restaurants in the world, however, I’m just not into spending hundreds and … Read more

Fusion salad at Gilli

Heading to Florence, I was looking forward to the area specialties, including bistecca (steak) and ribollita (bread soup). If you’ve been reading along, you know that Florence overall was a bit of a disappointment to me on our Italy trip, but how did the food measure up?

Day One

We arrived in Florence after the beautiful train trip from Venice. The scenery was to die for. We dined that night at Trattoria Pallottino, which was within walking distance of our hotel, kind of in the backstreets of the area. I didn’t really care for the feel of this area: sort of dirty, cramped, and just

Sea bass carpaccio at Osvaldo

nothing nice to look at. Unfortunately, it was nearly impossible to get back to the hotel afterwards because there was a big concert and many streets were blocked off unless you an entry ticket. Getting back was a bit tricky! I had the ribollita here and it just confirmed for me that I don’t like ribollita! It was tasty, but I just don’t like mushy bread in my soup. Other items on the table included lasagna, beef entrecote (which came with those magic potatoes I told you about in my Venice food

Melon, ham, dark chocolate

piece), gnocchi, and fusilloni with ricotta, basil and tomato. Everything was pretty good here.

Day Two

Our first full day in Florence was a busy one, with our tour and visit to the David. We ended up in Republicca Piazza for lunch at Gilli, an historic cafe right on the plaza. There are three restaurants right on the plaza, all over-priced. It was one of those moments where the entire family was in a meltdown over hunger, so we had to act fast. We sat inside in the blissful air

Salumi and cheese plate

conditioning. There are many, many table outside on the piazza, but it was far too hot to even consider sitting outside. This felt a lot like the Caffe Florian in Venice – historic building, ancient restaurant, and serious, professional waiters. We shared a fusion salad (salumo, brie, apple, walnut) and French fries (it was one of those moments). My son also had spaghetti Bolognese.

For dinner that night we asked for a recommendation from the hotel and hit the jackpot. We went to Club Culinaria Toscana da Osvaldo (Piza dei Peruzzi 3r). This is a teeny, tiny little


place run by a very talented chef. It was comparable to our last meal in Venice, where we dined at an old family-owned restaurant. I think the owner was our waiter. He was so friendly and kind to us and made us laugh and feel at home.  It is one of those unforgettable meals. I began with a plate of salumi, cheeses, and marmalade (an amazing selection of local


flavors) which was to die for, and then had pici (like spaghetti but it is more tubular) with basil and pine nuts, tomato and garlic (this was simple and elegant). Our daughter had melon, ham, and dark chocolate to start. This was our first experience with the melon/proscuitto trend and we all loved it – and the dark chocolate was amazing with it. She then had tagliatelle with honey, almonds, basil and clams (this was a delightful mix of flavors). My husband had a carpaccio of sea bass (he loved it but I am just not a fan of raw seafood) then

Fried sea bass and strawberry mashed potato

fried sea bass with strawberry mashed potato and spinach (the strawberry mashed potatoes sound weird, but were really good).. Our son had sliced beef with rosemary, mushrooms, and you guessed it, those potatoes I still haven’t figured out how to make.

Don’t worry, there was dessert of course. I had the torta di nonna (grandmother’s cake, which was moist and had nuts in it). Husband had zuppa inglese

Beed and those potatoes

(trifle), daughter had almond biscotti (which came in a wooden bucket) and vin santo to dip in. Son had chocolate mille-feuille with saffron cream. Every bite was amazing. We could have stayed all night had there been room in our overstuffed

Dunking biscotti

stomachs for more. It was a magnificent experience – personal, warm service in a homey, very Italian setting. This is the best of Italy.

Day Three

On our third day, we took the train to Pisa (where, if you’ve

Zuppa Inglese

been reading along, you know my husband sprained his ankle). So that was a bit of a disaster. We ended up grabbing lunch at a pizza place in an out of the way back alley on the way to the train station. It was a bit off the

Chocolate Mille-Feulle

beaten path and our server spoke no English, so communication was difficult! Our pizza was just ok, I would say. This was our first pizza in Italy and it was thinner and smaller than pizzas at home, but there are so many places in the US to get thin crust pizza

Torta di Nonna

that it honestly was not any kind of revelation for us.

We took the train back to Florence and enjoyed our final meal in Florence that evening. Again, we asked for a recommendation from the hotel and again they were spot-on. This time they sent us to Buca San Giovanni, directly on the Duomo piazza. They had tables outside on the square, but they also had tables inside, down a flight of stairs in the basement

Pizza in Pisa

where it was cool and comfortable, even though those stairs were treacherous. Again, this was another family-owned restaurant that had been open for years. Dining in that basement felt so ancient and truly European, as if we should have been surrounded by casks of wine and catacombs. Instead, there were signed photos on the walls of Italian politicians and celebrities. My husband still thinks there was a

Bread with fondue

photo of an NHL player, but we voted him down on that one!

We knew we were in for a lovely meal and were not disappointed! I had risotto with artichoke and ewe’s cheese

Risotto with artichoke

then sliced filet with parmesan and rocket. The risotto was magnificent. The filet was tender and wonderful. My husband had Tuscan bread with fondue of rosemary and mushrooms on it, then filet rossini with foie gras and truffle in a Madeira sauce.

Filet with foie and madeira

Our son had macaroni with meat sauce and porcini mushrooms then filet with the magic potatoes. The daughter had tagliono with porcini mushrooms and truffle cream sauce, then chicken turnover with fontina and raw ham.  There wasn’t a thing on

Chicken turnover

the table we didn’t thoroughly enjoy. We were stuffed, but managed to share two desserts, a bittersweet chocolate basket with cream and strawberries (beautiful to look at and to taste: simple and sweet) and a soft chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.

After dinner we emerged onto the piazza in the dark but the

Filet with parmesan

outside of the Duomo and Baptistery were lit and there were vendors selling little toys that you could shoot up in the air and they would light up and make a noise. We stood around for a while and just soaked up the atmosphere there. It would have been lovely to dine on the piazza that night had it not been so very, very hot when we arrived!

Chocolate basket

Other Delights

Throughout our trip, we ate gelato almost every single day in the afternoon. Since dinner is later in Italy (no one serves before 7), we always needed a little something to get us from lunch to dinner without dying of hunger. I didn’t deviate from what worked – I had chocolate or dark chocolate almost every time but everyone else enjoyed other flavors. Gelato is displayed in shop windows in giant mounds. It is scooped from the back of the mound so as not to destroy the beautiful

Windows of tantalizing sweets


display. In all the cities in Italy, the streets are filled with these shops with their tantalizing mountains of gelato (which is less creamy than ice cream but more deeply flavorful). When we came home, ice cream just didn’t taste good

Pizzas in a window

to me anymore!

Heading to Florence, I was looking forward to the area specialties, including bistecca (steak) and ribollita (bread soup). If you’ve been reading along, you know that Florence overall was a bit of a disappointment to me on our Italy trip, but how did the food measure up? Day One We arrived in Florence after the … Read more

Check out my second guest post on My Itchy Travel Feet about buying unique and special mementos on your travels.

Check out my second guest post on My Itchy Travel Feet about buying unique and special mementos on your travels.

Spaghetti Frutti Mari

A huge part of our trip to Italy was the food. I have a friend who lived in Italy until he was 13 and who has returned many times. He told me the food is just fresher tasting there. I knew that Italian pizza is different than the corner pizzeria and I read up on local specialties of the areas we were going to visit. I was prepared (such a sacrifice) to eat several courses at dinner. I thought I knew what to expect. I had no idea how incredible the food was going to be.

Today I begin the highlights of our culinary journey. Today’s post is about Venice, the city I lost my heart to. It’s pedestrian only streets, glorious canals, romantic bridges, and cozy campos were the stuff of fantasy. Fortunately, so also was the food!

Our first meal in Venice was confusing. We were jetlagged and not used to the extreme

Our first Italian gnocchi

heat. We needed to eat and it didn’t matter where or what. We had sandwiches and salads a place in a campo near the Rialto. It was meant to merely be fuel. It instead was stunning. The salad was lettuce, tomato, and fresh corn (this was a constant in the salads we had all over Italy and it was always wonderful) with oil and vinegar dressing (the only kind in Italy). The salami sandwich was out of this world with delicious thin bread and flavorful salami. I knew right away that Italy was going to work out! Our first meal was next to the Grand Canal at the Ristorante Floridian. Spaghetti Fruitti Mari, gnocchi and caprese salad were all stunners. The seafood in the pasta was a wonderful mix of shellfish and fish and all of it was fresh. The gnocchi was tender and perfect. The caprese (first of many) was fresh and bright.

Tartuffo at Caffe Florian

On day two in Venice we had lunch at the Caffe Florian, the oldest cafe in Piazza San Marco, dating from 1720. I think the waiters might have been around then too (that’s an interesting point about Italy: the waiters are all older, distinguished Italian gentlemen for whom this is a respected career OR they are Asian or Indian immigrants). You sit at the chairs in the square and an orchestra (4 dudes, not really an orchestra) play music. The menu is ancient. We enjoyed some sandwiches (club sandwiches and a ham on croissant). We had to have dessert and worked our way through an amazing tartuffo, a lovely plate

Italian cookies at Caffe Florian

of cookies (where in the U.S. are cookies on the dessert menu? NOWHERE. WHY NOT?) and a dish of fruit and ice cream. Your food arrives on a tray which balances on a tiny table. It was an experience to sit in this beautiful, gigantic square, facing San Marco and eat. It was particularly interesting, because the summer before this we went to Vegas and had lunch in the pretend Piazza San Marco at the Venetian hotel, after a gondola ride on their pretend canal! Let me just say, the real thing is much better!

That night we dined at Ristorante Giorgione, next door to our hotel (this turned out to be their last night before closing for the summer holiday, so we got lucky). Some items that graced our table: baby scallops with polenta, farfalle with lamb ragu, sea

Baby scallops

bream, and sea bass. The seafood was all excellent. The baby scallops were delightful. Usually when you get them in the States, they have been frozen and overcooked, making them like little balls of gum. These were tender and sweet. The sea bream was light and moist and  a

Delightful sea bream

true joy.

The third day was our last in Venice and we dined well! We had lunch on the island of Murano, at Al Vetrai, along the main street of glass shops. Again, I had a salad (Insalata Mediterranea), and again it was stupendous. When you think of a good salad here at home, it generally means one that is filled with lots of things like meat, cheese, olives, croutons, garbanzo beans. In Italy, the salads are simpler and come out as an explosion of color and all of the vegetables taste like they came right out of the fields. There was no brown or wilted lettuce and there were definitely no unripe tomatoes. This salad had shrimp and mozzarella on it. Dressing was a bottle of olive oil and one of balsamic vinegar. Perfect. Other dishes at the table for that lunch included a fish lasagna, traditional lasagna, and a fried

Insalata Mediterranean

seafood plate. The seafood plate was so full it was falling off the plate and was far more than one person could eat.  The lasagnas were much like lasagna here at home, with spinach in them, a rich sauce and a deeply browned top. Each piece was about the size of an index card and about three inches thick.

Later that day we enjoyed macarons at a shop near San Marco. This little shop had a whole case of macarons, as well as candy

Huge fried seafood platter

and gelato. The macarons were light and airy and a perfect little pick-me-up for the afternoon. This was also our first experience with the granita, essentially a slushy. They’re sold all over Italy, sometimes in really fun flavors, like melon. My son had many of these throughout the trip and they were perfect when you needed something cold (which we did just about every day!) but didn’t want the richness of gelato. Mostly, these were sweet but once in a while you would get one that was on the sour side, so it was a bit unexpected. The lemon ones were almost always sour.

Our dinner that night was one of the most memorable. A La Veccia Cavanna was in the same general area as our hotel, essentially right behind it. We walked in


and knew this was the real deal. The restaurant had awards and signed photos all over the walls. It is a family-owned place that appeared to have been in business more than 50 years. The walls were simply covered with proclamations and art

Macarons in the afternoon

that seemed to have been created by an owner or family member.  There were autographs from Italian celebs. The lighting was dim. The tables were big. The waiter was clearly a family member (they all showed the family resemblance in the photos, so we knew!). There was an amazing first course buffet we could have had (with a huge ham hock of prosciutto), but didn’t. The food was stupendous. Everyone got a free bellini and everyone sipped it. My husband and I just do not care for alcohol, but enjoyed a few sips of this lovely fizzy peach beverage (our 20 year old


daughter was kind enough to finish them off for us!). Even the 14-year-old thought they were pretty good.

Dinner included: big ravioli (called tortolloni), tagliolini with lobster, beef carpaccio, beef tenderloin with wild mushrooms, sole menuiere, and spaghetti with clams.  The ravioli were very thin and delicate. The tagliolini with lobster was one of our top dishes in all of Italy. At the time I announced it was the best thing I had ever eaten (I think I said this about once a day). The beef tenderloin had a completely different texture than the beef here

Spaghetti with clams

at home. We must talk about the potatoes that came with it.

Beef tenderloin with the world’s best potatoes

This was our first experience with Italian potatoes and they are on my “must learn how to make list.” At almost every meal, we had a dish that came with potatoes. They are cubed and roasted, but they are superbly soft and tender on the inside and crazily crispy on the outside. I’ve got to experiment with roasting them at high temps to see if I can replicate it. I’ve simply never had potatoes that good.

The sole was deboned at the table and was very lemony and

5 Star Tagliolini

delicate. We also had dessert at this wonderful restaurant: tiramisu (invented in Venice, so it was a must!), lemon torte with chocolate chips, and a cream filled cake. A complementary plate of cookies also arrived (we might not have ordered so many desserts had we known). We overate that night and didn’t regret it for a second. We felt welcomed and

cared for in this homey and warm restaurant that truly did make you feel like “when you’re here, you’re family” (now I know why Olive Garden commercials say that!). I didn’t want to leave.

Venetian tiramisu

I have one more food experience to share with you from Venice: the stores. We drooled at many a window and went into a grocery store. Now, keep in mind that there are no cars in Venice. If you live there, you carry your groceries on foot or by vaporetto. I saw many Italian women with little wheeled bags with their groceries in them. The pasta aisle was the biggest thing in the small grocery store. In a shop with about 6 aisles, it was one entire aisle. Clearly there was a need to fill there!

Venice was a food lover’s dream and I particularly loved that there was magnificent seafood and equally terrific pasta everywhere. I could eat in Venice every day of my life I think.

More dining posts to come. What did we eat in Florence, Rome, and Sorrento? How much weight did we gain? What was the stellar dish of the trip? Were we convinced to try more alcohol? Stay tuned to find out!

Temptation everywhere

Delectable sweets in windows

More types of canned fish than you can imagine

Pasta aisle

A huge part of our trip to Italy was the food. I have a friend who lived in Italy until he was 13 and who has returned many times. He told me the food is just fresher tasting there. I knew that Italian pizza is different than the corner pizzeria and I read up on … Read more

I bought these polka dot mugs in Italy and they make my mornings so happy! I have a thing for polka dots; I have a whole board on Pinterest with polka dot items.  Polka dots make me so happy. They are round and bubbly and cheerful. I once had a white t-shirt that had tiny little polka dots around the bottom hem. I slaved over that t-shirt, to keep it clean and white looking so I could wear it over and over again!

I usually like to buy things while traveling that are unique to that region or that depict or bring to mind the area. This time though, I bought these mugs just because I HAD to have them. I passed them in a shop window near our hotel every day in Sorrento. On our last day, I decided I needed them. The shop was closed! I almost cried. Fortunately it was just closed for the afternoon and was open again that evening when we walked by.

I bought these polka dot mugs in Italy and they make my mornings so happy! I have a thing for polka dots; I have a whole board on Pinterest with polka dot items.  Polka dots make me so happy. They are round and bubbly and cheerful. I once had a white t-shirt that had tiny … Read more

I’ve got a guest post up on Donna Hull’s amazing travel site, My Itchy Travel Feet with advice and tips about how to find unique souvenirs on your travels that will make excellent mementos. I hope you will check it out!

I’ve got a guest post up on Donna Hull’s amazing travel site, My Itchy Travel Feet with advice and tips about how to find unique souvenirs on your travels that will make excellent mementos. I hope you will check it out!