Travel Tuesday – Nice is Nice

Happy New Year! I hope everyone enjoyed their New Year celebrations. 2012 is already off to a good start!

This week in Travel Tuesday, Bernie and I head to Nice, France and discover that there is such a thing as a sand-less beach.

After leaving La Spezia, we headed to our next country, France. Our first stop was 2 days and 2 nights in Nice, France along the French Rivera. After checking into our hotel, Bernie and I decided to go walk around and see some of the sights of Nice. First, we stopped in a modern art museum. Modern art is not really our favorite, but we decided to check it out anyway. It was pretty empty and small, but there were some cool sculptures.

Then we headed to the Natural History Museum, which was really should have been called the National History Room. This place was TINY! We walked past it about 4 times before we finally stumbled upon a nondescript door. Once we walked in, a man at the front desk starting speaking French to Bernie. Bernie then replied (in French) that he only spoke in English. That was weird, we thought. Then we realized that Bernie was wearing a Chateau t-shirt, a Boston area restaurant that his parents’ neighbor owns. Oops. He must have thought that Bernie spoke French because he was wearing a t-shirt with French on it.

The museum had a lot of stuffed animals and objects in clear boxes. We enjoyed looking at all the weird stuff. There was also animatronic men. Very odd museum.

After walking around museums, we were ready to go outside and explore. We ended up climbing Colline du Chateau (Castle Hill). It was a hot day, and climbing wasn’t fun, but once we got to the top, the views were spectacular.

Once we climbed down, we decided to get some food. Before traveling to France, we always heard from people that the French in general don’t like American tourists. Since we had such positive experiences in Italy with the locals, we didn’t think twice about the same thing happening in France. Overall, however, I would say that the French in Nice were not quite as friendly. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that they hate American tourists, but we didn’t always get the best service and had to ask twice or three times for things. This wasn’t the norm everywhere we went, but at this particular lunch it was. We sat down at a cafe and ordered our food. There was a misunderstanding about what I ordered (the waitress didn’t understand my english) and I got a salad I didn’t order. When I told her that this wasn’t what I wanted, she threw her hands in the air and started speaking French, really really fast. I decided to just let it slide and had the first food fail of the trip. The salad was really generic and something that you would get at a bad American fast food restaurant. Fail.

After our food fail, we walked around and shopped a little bit. Nice had a ton of shops! I didn’t end up getting anything, but Bernie ended up getting some clothes. Clothes shopping in Europe tended to be a challenge for Bernie. His muscles are too big for all the shirts – he would end up having to get xl or xxl sizes just so that his arms would fit in them.

Later that night, the whole tour group met up for a big dinner. It was one of our fellow traveler’s birthday so we were all ready to celebrate. The highlight of the dinner was ordering “big beers” – yes, this is how they were described on the menu. These mugs were massive.

All the ladies!

The guys!

Then we headed to Ma Nolan’s – an Irish pub for Jon’s birthday. The bar reminded me of an Irish pub in Boston – live music, good drinks, and lots of beer. I felt very much at home – I am Irish afterall. They also had Kilkenny beer – one of my ancester’s home town brew.

We had such a good time and it was a great way to unwind after a long day walking around and exploring.

The next day we had a whole free day to ourselves, so Bernie and I headed toward the beach. On the way, we stumbled upon a weekend market. There was everything from fresh seafood and fruits and veggies, to homemade crafts and soaps.

Once we got to the beach, we discovered that Giuseppe wasn’t kidding when he said the beach was rocky. It was all rocks! Not a drop of sand to be seen. With a little maneuvering, it was pretty easy to make yourself a bed to lie on with the rock. We never went into the water, but it was beautiful.

After napping for a good couple of hours on the beach, we stopped for some yummy seafood. Finally – some good French service and French fries!

After resting at the hotel and taking a shower, we met everyone in the lobby for a special trip to a certain famous casino in the second smallest country in the world, second to the Vatican.

Until next time!

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Italy – Part Two

I hope everyone’s Tuesday is going well. It was actually sunny in Boston today!

Last week, I shared part one of the two-week vacation my boyfriend and I took to Europe this summer. This week, I thought I would share part two, which includes our final stops in Italy.

After leaving Rome, we got on the bus to travel onward to Florence. During the bus ride, we stopped for a couple hours in a small medieval town called San Gimignano. As we drove up the hill to the town center, we passed thousands upon thousands of acres of olive and grape fields. That day was literally the only day that it rained the entire trip and the countryside looked pretty spectacular in the mist, so I could only imagine what it looked like during the day. Of course, all of our jackets and rain stuff was packed in our suitcases under the bus, so we had to make do with what we had, which were two hoodies. No worries.

Walking through the town, we felt like we were walking back in time. The architecture was incredible! After getting meat sandwiches and eating them under an awning to get out of the rain, we walked around, and eventually made our way up towards the top of the town.

The views were spectacular! Too bad it was raining so much, as I’m sure on a clear day we could see much more. After a couple hours we met back up with the bus and made our way to Florence!

Upon arriving in Florence, we checked into our hotel. This was my FAVORITE hotel of the entire trip! It looked like it was an old apartment building or house made into a hotel; there were probably 20 different staircases, and we all got lost trying to find our rooms. Every floor had a sitting area with different magazines and books. There was period furniture and decor — so Italian! Our room was the cutest thing in the world, including the tiny bathroom that Bernie did NOT fit in. This became a theme of the trip.

The first night there, we did a little walking tour of the city center. We saw some statues, and walked around a bit before heading off to a group dinner. Bernie FINALLY got his steak at dinner — the balsamic steak. Apparently, we ate it wrong, but he enjoyed it all the same.

Florence Day 2

We began day two in Florence with a leather shop tour. Florence is the leather capital of Italy so we went to a leather shop to learn how they treat leather, how to recognize real leather, and how they make items out of leather. It was short and sweet. I was a little disappointed because I thought we would be walking through a factory, but instead, we sat in a room and the woman explained everything to us in about 15 minutes. Then it was time to shop. I picked up a bunch of souvenirs from the shop and even watched them emboss letters on one of the souvenir items.

Then it was tour time! Since we were spoiled with Pietre, our incredible and funny tour guide from Rome, we had high expectations. Our guide in Florence was very nice and she had A LOT to fit into an hour walking tour. We saw the copy of the Statue of David, Piazza della Repubblica, some really awesome bridges, (including the only one that Hitler didn’t bomb in WWII — apparently he liked it) the baptistery, Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore, and the bell tower.

After walking around, we decided to climb the Duomo with Clinton and Holly, two Contiki friends. The tour guide said that it would take about half an hour to climb all 400ish steps to the top. We decided we were up for the challenge! As we climbed, we noticed how small the staircases were. Bernie could barely fit in a lot of them.

He must have hit his head about 4 times going up and down. If you were over my height (5’4″) you were going to have problems. At one point, the staircases go from two to just one staircase to go up and down. There were some traffic jams, but people were mostly friendly and courteous. Then we got to the dome section.

Holy cow! We didn’t realize that the inside of the duomo was painted with such detail. The fresco on the inside is called “The Last Judgement” which features the seven layers of hell. We were in awe! Talk about worth it!

Before we knew it, we made it to the top. The view from the top of the Duomo is worth every painful step and every bumped head. I just wanted to shout “I’m the king of the world!” at the top of my lungs. It was a gorgeous clear day and we could see for miles and miles. We took a million pictures and spent a good 20 minutes up there scouting out houses that looked cool. We found one with a pool on top!

After making our way carefully down, we worked up an appetite and found a tiny sandwich shop that our tour guide had suggested. When I say tiny, I mean TINY! It was literally maybe 50 square feet and had a counter and wall shelves with drinks and other items. It was also 200 feet away from the pizza place that the Jersey Shore kids worked in – go figure. I got a delicious meat, cheese, and arugula sandwich while Bernie went off with Clinton to go get one of Florence’s delicacies, Lampredotto, aka: the fourth stomach of the cow. Immediately upon hearing what it was, I was not interested. When he came back with it, it looked like meat in some sort of spicy broth. Sounds promising.

I will kid you not, it was good. There were some parts of it that were a little too gelatinized for my liking. But overall it was good. The tripe (that’s basically what it is) was tender and the broth was to DIE for! Spicy and full of flavor. Apparently it didn’t always look this good however. Bernie said to me, “If you saw what it looked like when they were making it, you wouldn’t be eating it.” I guess they pulled the lampredotto from a big vat and just slapped it on the flattop in it’s full glory before cutting it up and mixing it with the broth. Yum.

Once we were done, we headed back to the hotel for a clubbing night out in Florence. A summary of our drunken dinner and trip to “Space” is coming next week, kiddos!

She’s the First at Finale

Lauren, Tammy, and me

This past Wednesday, I had the privilege of finally getting to meet Tammy Tibbetts, the founder of She’s the First, a not-for-profit organization that helps sponsor girls’ education in third world countries. The organization raises funds to send girls to school who otherwise could not afford it. My good friend Lauren knows Tammy personally, which is how she and I got started working with She’s the First. We held a fundraiser last year for girls in Haiti (check out the STF blog post about it here) and raised over $700. This year, we held another fundraiser named “Boston Gives Back” in November to send girls to school in South Sudan. So far we’ve raised over $1,500 and counting!

Tammy was in town for a conference so we decided to meet up for dessert at Finale, a dessert restaurant downtown. We chatted about the power of social media, the future of She’s the First, and the perils of being freelancers. Tammy is just a wealth of knowledge and has much more poise than someone her age usually has.

Finally, the desserts came out! Tammy ordered the cheesecake, which looked delicious! Lauren ordered the Boston cream pie which included mini whoopie pies (so cute!). I ordered the “seasonal cornucopia” which was a raspberry and blackberry cobbler with vanilla gelato on top. It also included a caramel nut bar and apricot cherry bread pudding with an anglaise on the bottom.

Overall, my favorite was the cobbler and the nut bars. The nut bars had big pieces of pecans and almonds with caramel holding it all together. Definitely a great balance of sweet and salty. The cobbler had big pieces of fruit and was just sweet enough.

 

 

The bread pudding was much more of a cake than a true bread pudding. It was a little too dense, but the anglaise was incredible! Lauren said hers was very good, and she said the whoopie pies were super chocolatey and decedent. I really enjoyed Finale. Even though I’ve been living in Boston for over 5 years, I had never been before that night. I would definitely go back.

 

If you would like to donate to mine and Lauren’s fundraiser, Boston Gives Back, we’re taking online donations through the end of the year. Check out our causevox page where you can learn more about our campaign and donate via pay pal.

Until next time!