Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

Paris-Malta-Rome 2011 Part 4 Rome

I only stayed in Rome for 2 nights, and I think I slept for about 24 hours while I was there. I was zonked. My first trimester was not rough by any standard, but I was so tired. Luckily my main goals in Rome were eating and shopping. I quickly discovered that shopping there is too expensive, so I focused on the eating. I had found a budget hotel near the Campo de Fiori, which was great because there is some amazing food there. The Forno on the square is fine, but the best pizza I had was at Forno Roscioli just east of there. YUM.  I ate there twice.

I did not stray too far from the Campo de Fiori– I did walk up to the Pantheon and even across the Tiber, close to the Vatican. But then I took a taxi back and just stayed in the neighborhood. Which is worthwhile, it’s a great neighborhood.
Rome Campo de Fiori vegetable market

This guy was luring in everyone with that cute puppy, but I really wanted the picture of him and his truck. The wide-angle lens paid off!
Rome Campo de Fiori characters
Another Ape.
Rome Ape 50 tiny truck

The evening in the Campo de Fiori.
Rome Campo de Fiori

And the cat sanctuary, which is also close to Campo de Fiori.
Rome cat sanctuary

I was so glad to get home, but I loved my European adventure. It’s probably my last overseas trip for a while, with the little one on the way. I look forward to telling her when she is older that I took her to Paris, Malta, and Rome when she was just the size of a sesame seed.


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Paris-Malta-Rome 2011 Part 3 Malta

We took the bus to the ferry to the bus to the taxi to Xlendi Bay on Gozo, the second-largest island of Malta. I have to say that the ferry ride was downright creepy. It was easy to notice a lack of birds on the coastline– there were only about 3 gulls on the whole ferry ride, and no little sandpipers or curlews or terns or cormorants or any of the birds you normally see from ferries. The whole time on Malta, I saw mostly pigeons and house sparrows, and even those were few and far between. It is depressingly denuded of wildlife. Anyway, this was on the eve of the change to a new bus system. The “old” buses were run on a contract where certain drivers had certain routes, and I suppose they own the buses. The buses are almost all orange-yellow, and vary in age, many being pre-1980s by my guess. They are, however, very stylish.

Malta 2011
Malta 2011

Anyway, at this time there was a certain excitement and a little bit of a rebellious attitude from the bus drivers, who were putting on kind of a car show of their old buses and acting like teenagers by honking the horns and just kind of being silly. We stayed on Xlendi Bay and enjoyed seafood and a walk to the salt pans, which were really beautiful.
Malta; Gozo salt pans
Malta, Gozo salt pans
When we woke up the second day, the switch had happened to the NEW bus system, Arriva. We actually took a tourist bus that goes around Gozo to the famous sites. We saw the Azure Window.
Malta, Azure Window in Gozo

And some other spots on Gozo, then enjoyed a beautiful swim in Xlendi Bay. It was nice, but a lot of things were closed and we just wore ourselves out trying to get around. We took the ferry back to Malta, where the new bus system was creating chaos all over the island. The new bus drivers had apparently not learned routes or schedules. Beachgoers who had been waiting at bus stops continued to wait as our full bus drove by. It was crazy. It took 2 hours to get back to Valletta, when it had taken 1 hour to get to the ferry. Our reward, though, was dinner at Legligin wine bar. HOLY COW. So good. And even kind to the vegetarian/pescetarian/non-wine drinking preggo.

We spent the next day relaxing in Valletta, avoiding bus rides. We saw the Caravaggio of St. John the Baptist in St John’s Co-Cathedral, which is just fabulously ornate. The floor is covered in inlaid marble tombs, some of which have skeletons or other interesting pictures. No surface is unadorned here.
Malta, St John's Co-Cathedral

We also visited the Grand Master’s Palace, which was somewhat disappointing but I have to say that the armor display was more interesting than I expected. People used to be tiny!
Malta, Grand Master's Palace

And we visited the Archeology Museum. Oh, and ate at Ambrosia, which was also fabulous. The last day, we went to the walled city of Mdina and watched some festa fireworks in the distance. I will not discuss the bus ride home except to say I somehow managed not to throw up. I really hope the buses have gotten it together since then! Me in Mdina:
Malta 2011

I would probably never have gone to Malta except that my friends were there, and I’m glad I had a chance to go. The Maltese people that we met were really wonderful, I loved talking to them. It is so beautiful there, and the history is amazing. I’m really glad to have gotten to see the islands in depth instead of just one a one-day cruise tour. There are some really great hidden spots that are worth seeking out.

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First of all, when my friends decided they were staying in Malta for the summer I had to look up where Malta was. I knew there were the Knights of Malta, the Maltese Falcon, Maltese dogs, and that it was somewhere in the Mediterranean. To save you the trouble, in case you are as geographically ignorant as I am, here is a map.

Malta map

Malta joined the EU in 2004. The language there is Maltese, which is the only Semitic language written in Latin alphabet. I did not see any Maltese dogs there, and the Maltese falcon is now extinct on Malta. Actually, there are no nesting raptors on Malta because of illegal hunting which has denuded the islands of many birds. As a birder, this made me not want to go there. I detest poachers, and apparently these can be quite threatening to birders as well as birds. But I was there in summer, which is neither prime birding nor prime poaching season.

I stayed in Valletta with my friends at an apartment in a building that must have been 500 years old. The city is walled and has been a strategic port for centuries. It has old, hilly, narrow streets that are lined with traditional buildings with balconies.
Malta 2011

Sometimes the streets are crowded with Maltese people doing business, and sometimes with cruise passengers following umbrella-wielding tour guides. Malta is a Catholic country, and the first day we went to see St Pawls or the Church of St Paul’s Shipwreck, which is very ornate and holds several relics, including a wrist bone.
Malta; St Pawl's wrist bone relic

The next day we hit two sites that everyone should see in Malta– the Hypogeum and Casa Rocca Piccola. The Hypogeum is older than the Egyptian pyramids. Get tickets in advance, because they only let in 80 people per day. Casa Rocca Piccola is a charming house full of Maltese history. If you’re lucky enough to get one of the family to take you on a tour, it is a fabulous experience. They are very British for all their Maltese descent; full of dry wit and charm; and they know everything about Malta. Maltese artists, authors, history, anything. Their house is filled with beautiful art and historical artifacts, not to mention the bomb shelter.

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Paris-Malta-Rome 2011

This summer I took a trip to Europe to visit friends who were living in Malta over the summer. On the way there I stopped in Paris, and on the way back I stopped in Rome. It was so lovely! I had just found out I was pregnant a week before I left, so unfortunately my plans for drinking red wine and eating stinky cheese were dashed. But I was lucky to wander at my own pace and to be able to visit my friends, who took such good care of me.

Paris was great, of course. I stayed in the Latin Quarter at the Hotel Diana, which was perfect for a solo lady traveler. It was so close to everything! It was right down the street from the Musée Cluny, aka the Musée National du Moyen Age. They had some amazing things– my favorite was a small black room with backlit stained glass.
Paris, Musee National du Moyen Age

These statues had been stolen from Notre Dame, defaced (literally), and stashed in the basement of a bank until they were discovered in the 1970s.
Paris, sculptures from Notre Dame

And this set of tapestries was beautiful. There was a group of schoolkids in the room with their teacher telling them some fairy tales, it was hilarious.
Paris, Lady and the Unicorn tapestry

I wandered by the Delacroix museum, which is a little hidden treasure. I really enjoyed sitting in the little garden. I got to go to Ladurée for macarons! I ate them on the Pont Neuf and then walked through Louvre courtyards and the Tuileries, where kids were pushing sailboats in little ponds. Went to see Monet’s water lilies in the Musée de l’Orangerie, which is a great display.

Then I wandered through the Rodin Museum’s sculpture garden. It was funny being there after just having seen Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, which had a long scene filmed there.
Paris, Le Penseur

I wandered by the Hotel des Invalides. And, of course, I had to see the Eiffel Tower.
Paris 2011

I ate at a little place called Les Cocottes, which was right by the Eiffel Tower and was fabulous.
Paris, Turbot at Les Cocottes

…And finished off the day with Berthillon ice cream on Île Ste Louis. Yum!

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Chicago Part III

Day 4, Sunday May 22: We ran around like crazy again. We took the train downtown, and by this time we were pro enough (with guidance from our friends) to make a transfer! I felt like a real big-city girl. First order of business was to visit my friend Sue the T. rex. We share a name, you know.
Chicago 2011

The Lions of Tsavo made an impression, as did the temporary exhibit on whales. They had some really cool whale skulls that I have never seen– the strap-toothed whale and ginkgo-toothed whale for example. Really bizarre. I had a major whale obsession when I was younger, and they still amaze me. We also enjoyed the Egyptian mummies, of course.

The Shedd Aquarium is right next door to the Field Museum, but is apparently 1,000 times more attractive to families with children. Yeesh! It was loud in there. They have fabulous exhibits of species from all over the world. The oceanarium is great, but my favorite was the unobtrusive garden eels. Like sock puppets and whack-a-mole had a baby, only cuter.

Chicago 2011

The jellyfish (temporary) exhibit was great too, and my favorite was the upside-down jellyfish, which grow their own algae. They are little farmer jellyfish!
Chicago 2011

We ate pizza from Piece and watched Police Academy at home. I was beat.

Chicago is an amazing town, it was overwhelming. I can’t wait to go back. My wish list for the next visit: about 3 days in the Art Institute, an architecture boat tour, and churros and hot chocolate at Xoco. Well, pretty much more Chicago food. The restaurants there are amazing, and after all that walking you feel like you’ve earned it!

More photos are in my Chicago 2011 Flickr set.

Chicago 2011

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Chicago Part II

Day 3, Saturday May 21: We ate breakfast at Victory’s Banner, which is run by the followers of Sri Chinmoy. It is a very peaceful space and the all-vegetarian brunch menu is really delicious. I had eggs with pesto, feta, and tomatoes. It was lovely. We did not pound the pavement checking off tourist sites on Saturday, but relaxed with our friends and saw some of Chicago’s cool neighborhoods and hidden spots. We saw Lake Michigan.
Chicago 2011

And we went to Lincoln Park. The Conservatory there is worth seeing, it is in an old glass building.  There is an orchid room, with scented orchids.
Chicago 2011

And a fern room that is habitat for small dinosaurs.
Chicago 2011

Chicago 2011

We had dinner at the Hopleaf in Andersonville. I think the best thing I ate on the whole trip might have been the CB&J sandwich– cashew butter with fig jam and raclette cheese. Don’t knock it til you try it. Also, more beer.
Chicago 2011

We also took a driving tour of Evanston and saw the Baha’i temple. Huge!
Chicago 2011

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Chicago Part I

BT and I went to Chicago for a long weekend to visit friends and celebrate my birthday.  It was my first time to the city, and I might have bitten off more than I could chew but I loved every minute.

Day 1, Thursday May 19: The very first stop was Rick Bayless’s restaurant, Frontera. I’m a big fan of his and the restaurant did not disappoint.  We got in line at 4:30 and were seated at 5:30 and proceeded to stuff our faces with everything we could get and it was all delicious.  I am going to have to try some of the sauces from his cookbooks if they are as good as the restaurant’s.

Then shopping on the Magnificent Mile.

Day 2: Fabulous lunch at Longman & Eagle, out on the sidewalk on a beautiful day. Took the train downtown and went to the Sears Tower Skydeck, on the 103rd floor. I am really scared of heights, but I was determined to go out in the Plexiglas boxes on the side of the building. It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be.
Chicago 2011

Then to the Art Institute. I could have spent days in there. We did a whirlwind tour of the things we most wanted to see, including American Gothic and Nighthawks. Seurat’s Grand Jatte took me by surprise– I had no idea it was that big! Holy cow! I’ve seen it 1,000 times in pictures but I never knew!
Chicago 2011

We walked through Milennium Park and saw The Bean.
Chicago 2011

And ate dinner at Urban Belly–So good! Wrinkle beans, and the most complex aromatic vegetarian and non-vegetarian broth with noodles… hard to describe. But so good. And Chicago beer. They brew some amazing beer in that town.

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