9 Lessons on Feeding the Body – on the Cheap!


Ah restaurants! One of the intense joys, and most frightening aspects of extended travel in an unknown city is deciding where to eat. I’ve picked winners so good I was blown away – and losers so bad, I feared for my digestive system. But along my culinary journey into the unknown – I have learned some important lessons – which I happily share.

Lesson 1: Believe in the Impossible – I’m a budget traveler – which means I travel on under $50 a day – a seemingly impossible task actually. I’m definitely getting tired of reading how travel under $100 a day is impossible. Not true! I’ve done 8 big trips in the past 10 years – and trust me – budget travel is possible. You can try almost everything a country has to offer – aside from the seriously touristy junk – just by living more like locals – and less like accidental tourists. Just have faith.

Lesson 2: Grocery stores can be your Friends – Seriously – that’s where locals shop, right? And many grocery stores these days cater to locals who have no time to cook at home. Often you can score entire meals that just require a bit of re-heating – but are properly prepared, and come with friendly advice. In a grocery store in Thailand we happened on a clerk with time to spare – and she gleefully gave us a full guided taste tour of all the offerings! When she finished – we stuffed! Best Dinner, ever! Another advantage of grocery stores – price tags! So you know what things cost without having to bargain. That’s a lot easier on a poor language frustrated budget oriented foreigner. Yes you might get a bit better deal at the markets – but the advantage of knowing before you hit the cash that you’ve stayed on budget is a huge plus – particularly the first few days.

Lesson 3: NEVER eat in a restaurant with only tourists as guests. Consider – if all the restaurant is catering to are tourists – what does it say about their repeat clientele? If the locals are there – there must be a reason. My favorite places are filled with happy locals – I fondly remember a breakfast in Puerto Rico where the local police force were enjoying the Puerto Rico version of donuts and coffee. Hot food, quickly served, Delicious.

Lesson 4: Avoid Buffets like the Plague – I’ve never really understood Buffet eating. First off – I have a fairly tiny appetite – so I’ll never eat enough to make it worth the price. Second – who ever saw locals in a buffet? Even here in Montreal – I’m very picky about going to a buffet – and if I do – you can be sure it’s going to be amazing. Third – Hygene issues abound. People put their hands on the food – and then decide not to take it. Yuk. And they cough and sneeze and blow their noses right over what may become my dinner. Yuk again. Ordering from the kitchen doesn’t guarentee that hygene rules will be respected – but at least my food is only exposed to the kitchen staff and servers – and I can hope they have been well trained. Exceptions to this rule – I do like buffet breakfasts – particularly the ones included in my room rate. Why – because I love eating fruit and drinking unlimited cups of coffee!

Lesson 5: Never eat in an empty Restaurant. I mean – why would you want to go where no one else has gone. What does that say about food turn-over? Unless the kitchen is making the food literally to order – an empty restuarant means that the food is sitting, cooling down, increasing in bateria count – waiting for someone to enter. Nope – not for me. I want a restaurant with a good crowd – at least partly locals – and a positive vibe. I’ve traveled with people who feel sorry for the hostess of an empty restaurant – but not my style – and hardly my recommendation.

Lesson 6: Avoid Hostess out on the street trolling for customers. Come on – be serious – why do you think they are out there? Because business is great? I don’t think so. They are out there because business is bad, and they think this will improve matters. But I don’t want to eat where business is bad – nor do you!

Lesson 7: Share the meal. In Europe, at lunch time, restuarants will often have a 3 course special. The Intrepid Traveller and I have discovered that there is enough food in one 3 course lunch to serve us both. Problem – not all restaurants are willing to serve one ‘lunch’ for two people. So – we ask. I’m actually amazed when the host says – “No Problem” – but it happens more often than not. Result – Delicious food and on budget!

Lesson 8: Don’t be afraid to ‘eat in’. A bottle of wine (2 Euros in most of Italy), Sausage, cheese, bread… You are feeding the soul when you eat like this – and it’s easy on both the budget and the feet.

Lesson 9: Walk Out if you must. Oh – this is so hard for us to do. We try not to be trapped in places we can’t afford – but it has happened. And the trick is to realize that you are in the wrong place, appologize and leave. Yes – it’s embarassing – but at least you are being honest. Be sure to look a bit ashamed – I always imagine the other diners are feeling a bit sorry for you.

So – enough advice about feeding the body – although I can’t resist just reminding my loyal readers that the best advice ever is just to be curious – be willing to take chances, and follow the locals. Budget travel doesn’t have to be cheap travel – and you can eat really well if you find the right places!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Suggestion 3 – How to Travel far from the ‘Madding Crowd’


Be a cultural Chameleon

This is a lot tougher than it sounds at first because the idea here is to do as the locals do. And sometimes that’s – well – scary.

Chopsticks for example. The Intrepid Traveller isn’t that great with chopsticks – she’s a lot better today than 10 years ago – no question – but still – they are a challenge. So doing as the locals do when it comes to eating with chopsticks – a challenge. And I’m rarely comfortable eating with my fingers out of a common pot – color me food cautious. But I do try.

Using public transit. I actually love taking public transit – that’s what people do you know – normal people – the kind without tour guides and money for taxis and private drivers. But the idea of getting on a bus when you don’t understand where the money is supposed to go, exactly what the bus route is, and who is going to be sitting next to you – scary – just plain scary. Metro seems easier somehow. The routes are easier to read, and if you get confused – just get on a train heading the opposite way. But Metro isn’t nearly as much fun, or as good a way to see a place – as an old fashioned bus. And in many countries – buses are cheap. Dirt Cheap. So – take a risk the next time you travel – try the bus. Go to the end of the line and stay on. The bus will turn around and take you back home (you hope) – and you’ll get a very different view of the city you are visiting.

Eat in restaurants where locals go to dine. Oh – this is another easy to say, hard to accomplish task! The restaurants that I look for when I’m traveling have locals inside – but often that means no English menus – and maybe even no typed menus. I’ve gotten by with a combination of smiling hard – and pointing at what looks good on someone else’s table. Restaurants to avoid – ones with no customers, ones with people standing outside to usher you in (nothing says tourist trap like that move), ones with English/German/French – but no local language on the menu listings outside, ones with pictures displayed prominately out front, and buffets. Definitely avoid buffets – that’s food posioning heaven! Restaurants to savor – ones with lots of customers who look and sound local, ones with meals that look interesting on other customer’s plates, and ones with table-clothes. I’m a sucker for table-clothes. (Ok – those probably aren’t for locals – but they always look so appealing!) I am also found of restaurants that have grills visible – so you can see your food cooking while you wait.

One cavet on food – I’m always a bit iffy on food sold from stands on street corners. I know that those are often the most local of places – but I want to see them cooking my food before I’m going to eat it. Pre-cooked food that is just sitting there is a buffet – and I always avoid buffets!

Have an open door policy. If a door is open to a church, a museum, a public space – I tend to walk in. Why? Because I’m not sure what I’ll find – but sometimes it’s amazing. I’ve walked into weddings, funerals, baby events, kids choir practice, organ rehersals, and yes church services. And I’ve never ever been sorry. Locals do churches – and so should you. Best local church event – ever? In Florence we happened on the 200th birthday part celebration for the founder of one of the main churches. All the local kids were dressed fit to kill – they had a full high mass (insense burners etc.), the priests were all wearing their full dress outfits – and the kids were performing. It was so so beautiful. The other guests – family and friends of course. A truly local happening – right in the center of one of the worlds most touristy cities.

Be curious when you see a crowd – be really really curious if they seem happy. I’ve seen coq fights in Bali because I couldn’t figure out why a bunch of men were gathered so tightly around an open space (give the birds room, eh?) – I’ve watched people creating art on the street while people gawked – and I’ve enjoyed showy events like bands, singing groups and the like. If people are gathering – there’s a reason. Don’t be crazy – but don’t turn around and go back to your hotel either. There’s always someone around to ask. Case in point – we were in Korea and noticed that people were getting cushions and sitting on seats surrounding an open stage. Hmmm – they looked local – so worth checking out. It was a Korean version of a Gong Show – a school was show casing the work of their students – and the crowd were mostly parents and friends. It was great fun! And more importantly – real. Naturally, we attracted interest – only foreigners in the crowd – so after the show, two young students approached us to ask if they could interview us for their teacher – in English.

The moral here – be comfortable about joining in – particularly if you see groups of locals as compared to groups of foreigners. You’ll might be surprised at how much fun unplanned to you, but highly planned to the locals – happenings can be!

Signing off to check out that group of youngsters all dressed in white in front of that church…. The Soup Lady

Suggestion 2 – How to Travel far from the ‘Madding Crowd’


Connect with people, and try to understand them.

Oh – interesting. How do you ‘connect’ with people in general – and with people who live in a different place and speak a different language in particular.

This is a pretty important question – I have issues meeting my next door neighbors – how do I start up a conversation with someone in Bali? Berlin? St. Petersburg?

Well – in my case – it’s actually easier to meet people when travelling then it is when I’m at home. This is particularly true when I make itinerary decisions that put me out into the public eye – staying in youth hostels for example.

When you stay in a youth hostel – you might not qet quality time with locals – other than the hosts of the hostel – but you can be sure to get quality time with travellers who come from radically different backgrounds and parts of the world. I’ve meet and become friends with families from Polynesia while in Korea, chatted with people from Australia when in Rome, and memorably spent time avoiding Americans in almost every hostel I’ve been in! So – youth hostels, home stays, temple stays, Air BnB – staying anywhere other than a name brand hotel is going to put you in a position of getting to know other people. There is nothing quite like sharing a toilet and a kitchen to force conversation!

Another idea – do a group tour with a company that doesn’t cater to your kinda of folks. I know – it’s hard to break away from just booking with someone based in your country of origin – but the rewards can be huge. We have friends – really really good friends – in Germany and Switzerland because we booked our Botswana Safari thru a tour group based in Europe.

But neither of these ideas will net you local connections. The best way I’ve found to met locals is to smile. Ask Questions. Be interested in what they are doing. My travel partners sometimes get annoyed at me because this slows me down – but the net results are sometimes so amazing! I had dance lessons in Bali because I asked how to bend my fingers just so. I met a bride and groom on their wedding day (and have the pictures to prove it) because I wanted to know why there were fancy decorations outside of their home.

I wandered into a wedding in Vietnam in similar circumstances. Just color me curious – but if I see something interesting – I don’t rush by because I’m on a mission to get somewhere else – I slow down, look, watch, listen, admire, act interested. Language barriers amazingly drop away when your actions say – I’m curious!

Companion advice – don’t be judgmental. This is their world – admire it!

Another – well, let’s call it a trick – I photo-bomb. Seriously. If I see someone taking a picture of someone in their group – I’ll either offer to help – or I’ll join the photo. This is a huge ice breaker for most folks! They laugh – and then we do a group shot – and then logically start sharing our experiences – where are you from, where are you going. I’ve bonded with all kinds of people this way – and had people do the same with me. One memorable experience – in Japan on top of Mt Fuju. We saw people eating eggs with black shells – and were curious. We bought some too – and sat down to figure out what next. And here’s the fun part – people around us noticed our attempts – and immediately came over to offer advice, to give help – and to have their picture taken. I don’t speak Japanese – in those days few people in Japan spoke English – but we had a blast. Made our day!

Similar experience in Bali – we offered to help 3 gals get a group shot – and ended up learning that they were friends from Java – celebrating their 50th birthdays by taking a trip to Bali! We chatted for a few minutes – exchanged email addresses – and moved on. Surprise – a day later – a photo of us, taken by them – just to say hi.

And my last, but not least, piece of advice. Talk to the kids. Smile at them, chat with them, pick easy words and see if anyone knows them. Often there will be one kid in the group that is a bit braver than the rest – and they will at least try to speak to you! Kids are the best hosts in a new (to you) country – and they don’t worry so much about what you are thinking of them. Just a smile works wonders. Hand bumps, high 5’s, even low 5’s all act as ice breakers with kids. They are generally thrilled to know they can relate to someone so foreign – so strange – and yet willing to smile with them.

So – Connect with people – new people – when you travel. Your travel experiences will be richer for the time spent seeing what it like in their shoes. And often the fit is surprisingly great.

Attached is my favorite group hug from Bali – the boys and I spent a good 5 minutes trying to chat – and ended up only knowing each other’s names. But that was enough to ensure that these young men will always have a place in my heart!

Signing off to go smile at someone – The Soup Lady

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Napoleon’s Elba – More Dancing, More Food, More Fun – Part 2


To catch up – do read Part 1 of our Elba Weekend first – but to quickly recap – we were invited to be part of a grand ball held in Napoleon’s Honor on Elba – the 200th anniversary of his first ball there. An opportunity we just couldn’t miss! So we didn’t. We went with full period dress – expecting to have a ball – and a ball we had.

The weekend started well – First up – period theatre attended by Paulina Bonaparte, Napoleon’s sister who visited him on the island. She is ‘played’ to perfection by Irina Mishanina a lovely Russian lady with more changes of clothes than I have birds in my yard. Glorious, stately, and very nice. I’m pleased we had a chance to get to know her.

The theatre building was built under the orders of Napoleon, and finished just one month before his daring flight back to France. I can’t say that the performances were worth writing about – but Ben, our very British host who is currently living in Italy, did his best to explain audience behavior during the period. As we are seated in a box seat – we are allowed to visit other boxes – Victor even went to greet Paulina, but got too embarrassed to say anything to her! There is much flirting, waving of fans, and catcalls from the ‘floor’, particularly if one of the men in a box takes off his waistcoat. Simply not done!

After the theatre we had a light dinner (lack of seats was hard on old legs – but I scored one of the 5 tables for 4 that were provided – and we quickly became a group of 8) – and then 2 hours of period dancing under the stars. While onlookers could have joined us – they didn’t. Everyone dancing – and there were almost 155 of us – all period appropriately dressed. Victor was definitely the most dashing in his Marin de la Garde outfit. There were a smattering of other soldiers, many well-dressed ladies, and lots of music, laughter, and fun.

Saturday started early with us getting on a bus to tour the very tiny island. We visited Napoleon’s ‘summer’ house – built-in just 3 months. Perched high on a hill overlooking the main town of Elba, it was small, compact – and hot. Very, very, hot. I was relieved when we were summoned back to the bus for the ride to lunch.

Lunch was a period picnic – sailcloth spread on the ground in a lovely home on a far corner of the island. This was the location, and the house where Napoleon, ever the showman, spent his first night on Elba. He wanted to make a grand entrance into the main city – and needed to ‘freshen’ up after the fairly long voyage. Rumor has it that he spent his last night on Elba there as well.

We sipped champagne, chatted about this and that, waved our fans, and generally relaxed in the shade. My favorite part – meeting other guests! People came from everywhere to attend the event – including Austria, Australia, England, France, Germany. Malta, Russia, and Canada. Ok – we were the only 4 from Canada – out of the 155 – but hey – we looked good.

Back to the hotel for naps (I went swimming), a lovely but too quick dinner, and then to the Grand Ball. Held in the Ballroom of Napoleon’s ‘Palazzo’ turned museum – it was a tiny space for such a large number of guests. This was compounded by the fact that at the last-minute – the organizers were informed that the huge late night dinner spread could not be placed in the Museum proper, but had to go in 1/3 of the already small ballroom. But never mind – we were there to dance, and dance we would.

Many of the women sported trains – some longer than others – so watch your feet was pretty much the rule. The musicians were talented, the dance master tried his best to remind us of the steps required, and the company was simply too much fun. Even though I wore my ball gown, I frequently danced as a man – which just means to the left of the ladies – the steps being exactly the same. Given the heat – I’m glad I wore my silk dress. Victor as usually looked dashing – but found the heat pretty oppressive (two layers of heavy wool over his cotton shirt) and took frequent breaks.

During one of which he danced with ‘Paulina’ at the bequest of the photographer. You can check out the pictures all over Facebook – I think everyone but me got a photo!

Try following this link for pictures: https://mbasic.facebook.com/profile.php?v=timeline&timecutoff=1378867100&page=6&sectionLoadingID=m_timeline_loading_div_1420099199_1388563200_8_6&timeend=1420099199&timestart=1388563200&tm=AQAWkKRvhRVUpz66&id=126463247927&_rdr

I danced every dance – Victor and I admired the work required to create all the food, and I slugged down water. At some point during the evening there was a thunderstorm to end all thunderstorms – which occasioned much oohing and ahhing. Lucky for us -we grabbed a taxi home just as the dance ended – otherwise we’d have been soaked and wool takes a really long time to dry! Others were less lucky – either they walked ‘home’ in the rain – or had to wait over 2 hours for a taxi. Timing is everything.

Sunday morning dawned bright and clear – as if the thunderstorm had never happened.  Our hotel provided breakfast – and while it wasn’t the most amazing feast – the coffee was delicious, and I was able to get 2, 3 ever 4 cappuccinos! And most fun – other people we’d met were also eating breakfast there – so we had pleasant company.

The plan on Sunday was to sail on ‘La Grace’ – a completely wonderful new boat designed to look exactly like a 200-year-old sailboat. 2 masts, tons of sails, and hemp lines running everywhere and a crew of at least 2 dozen seamen – we’re talking serious sailboat.

There are 3 sailings to choose from – I convince Victor to sign up for the last – late afternoon sailing. You are more likely to have a breeze, the sky is likely to be glorious, and most importantly – there are likely to be fewer takers – so more chance to take a turn at the helm.

Arduina and Michel take the multiple sailings seriously – including acting the part of parents saying good-bye from the dock as a younger couple wave madly from on-board!

We arrive on the dock about 30 minutes before time to sail – to an adoring crowd keen to get pictures with the gloriously dressed men and women. Who knew I’d married a peacock? Well Victor was definitely the hit of the parade. Literally everyone was keen to be photographed with the brave solider – and of course the solider was pretty keen to pose. I helped by holding on to purses, umbrellas, and light jackets while their owners snapped away to their heart’s content.

Eventually we wave good-bye to our adoring fans and are ‘piped’ on board to be greeted by the captain. We cast off – ‘motor’ around to the center of the harbor – and then – raise the sails and sail off into the sunset. A nice breeze gives us a solid headway – and we pose for picture after picture. I do get my chance at the helm, Victor gets to pose holding the lines – and we even get to watch some of the braver re-enactors climb to crows nest. Not sure I’d try that – definitely not in my dress.

A fight breaks out between 2 of the crew members – to the delight of the guests. Words, Knives, and Swords fly – and the winner is declared. I’m a bit surprised that the captain didn’t call both fighters to task – but then again – this isn’t really 1814!

All good things – including great weekends – must end. And we sail back into the harbor to a welcoming crowd of onlookers. Our group of 6 makes our way – in period dress – to a near-by fish restaurant to relax, de-compress – and enjoy more delicious food. And of course – after dinner – there’s a must stop at an ice-cream parlor. I did mention that the ice cream on Elba is outstanding.

Tomorrow it’s a reverse of our trip in – but with more luggage since 2 of our friends decide to join us in our car for the 2.5-hour trip to Florence. A wonderful weekend with great friends, fine food, super dancing – and tons of fun.

I loved Elba. Probably will never go back – there’s just much else to see in the world – but I’m glad I got to visit this tiny island. And I totally understand why Napoleon was really glad to leave!

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Napoleon’s Elba – Flash of the Past – Part 1


Elba – tiny Island – big place in History!

In 1814 Napoleon abdicated as Emperor of France, and accepted being the Emperor of Elba – a tiny island just off the coast of Italy. When he arrived – he described Elba as a village of fisherman – and set out to ‘modernize’ it. He had a home turned into a ‘Palazzo’, he had a theatre built, he built a summer home in just 3 months, he even smuggled Marie Walewska onto the island for a quick romantic visit.

And it is known that he gave grand balls.

Fast-forward 200 years – and a group of English Country Dancers from Florence (believe it or not – the kind of dancing done in French Society during the 1er Empire) decide to hold the first ball in Napoleon’s ballroom in 200 years. And we’re invited.

How could Victor and I miss such an opportunity?

And to make it a weekend worth the travel time – not only would there be the grand ball – there would also be a public dance featuring all the people willing to dance on a outdoor plaza at the foot of Napoleon’s home. There would be a dance workshop – a period picnic in the place that Napoleon spent his first (and last) nights on Elba – a visit to Napoleon’s country home, a mid-night period-correct swim, and a chance to take a 2 hour sail on the “La Grace” – a wooden sailing ship the same size as the one Napoleon used to escape from Elba in 1815.

So – we figured – hey – we’re going to Montmirail two weeks before (check out my blog – re-enacting 101) – let’s extend the trip to include the weekend in Elba. We made the best decision ever – we invited our dance master friends, Arduina and Michel to maybe join us. They agreed. And because they are dance masters – they also decide it would be a good idea to practice the dances in advance.

So – while still in Montreal 2 other couples joined us for the practice sessions, followed by a period appropriate dinner party. Great start to a fab holiday, no? The dance practices were fun – dinner was amazing. Turns out that Stephan’s family makes their own smoked salmon – and he arrives, fish in hand – with a slicer. Best Salmon ever. Meal ends with a period correct Croque-en-Bouche. But enough about a dinner party – this blog is about Elba.

Ok – so – first Montmirail, then Venice, then Nice, then Elba. To get to Elba, you must take a ferry – and I love boats. Getting on was a piece of cake, even with a car. Nice being off-season. Anyway – on, lovely ride, off. Find the hotel. Done, Done, and All Done.

Since the first dance practice was that night, we ate quickly and then walked up and up and up. Elba is a hilly little island – and Napoleon picked the top of the highest hill in the biggest town to make his ‘home’. And we were having dance practice near-by.

Coolest thing – Victor immediately meets someone he knows! The official Waterloo (and this event) photographer – who recognized Victor as the person whose photo he used for the ad for Waterloo 2010. Way cool, eh?

Dance practice is fun – a bit hot, but fun. Good thing we’d practiced. It made us look like some of the better dancers – always nice to feel superior. On the walk back we find a ‘closing’ ice cream parlor that agrees to stay open just long enough to sell the 4 of us some Gellato and Sorbetto. Italian ice cream is awesomely good. I’m just saying.

Friday we spent the day relaxing – checking out the stone beach, reading, and generally just moving slow. Then at 4:00pm we got dressed (Period Correct of course) – and started the weekend event.

Quick comment on dress – Men of this period wore waistcoats, vests, stockings, and ornate watches, neck scarves. Or they wore their uniforms if they were soldiers. Women wore Empire wasted (regency period) gowns – different gowns during different parts of the day. I only have 3 dresses with me – my silk ball gown, plus 2 lighter cotton dresses for Friday, during the day on Saturday, and Sunday. I have a parasol, gloves, and appropriate jewelry. I do not have a wig – which is a shame since most women are wearing either hairpieces or full wigs to get the right effect.

And a comment on numbers – there are 155 dancers – about 2/3 women, 1/3 men. So often the women must dance the ‘male’ role. This results in some pretty funny multi-lingual adventures – We form circles for example, alternating man – woman. But if there are two women, is the ‘male’ on the right side? The dance master goes from person to person identifying their role. Man, Woman, Man, Woman, Man, ????..

—- My adventure continues tomorrow —

 

Signing off for now – The Soup Lady!

Eating Fancy – Rome – Part 3


If you are late coming to this blog – check out Eating Fancy – Rome – Parts 1 and 2. The following restaurants were my all time favorites – and without spoiling anything – well worth the price they charged.

Tied for top prize (I prefer one, my husband the other) are All’Oro and Open Colanna.

First All-Oro. We were recommended by the Sommalier at Open Colanna – and in later conversation, it turned out that he had worked there when they were in their smaller previous location. For the past 4 years – they have been located in the First Art Hotel – and the style and decor is strictly high-end Italian modern. Elegant, sophisticated, and supremely simple. Napkins were rolled into long tubes at the table, matching the vertical long tubes that held a single flower. Spot lights gave each table a feeling of privacy, although the space was actually completely open. There were about 12 tables in total, 7 of which were occupied. So like at Il Pagliaccio and at Open Colanna – the staff outnumbered the dinners. I kept wondering how they make money.

At All’Oro – the tasting menu was unique. Instead of a special menu – you got to choose your options off the regular menu – and I suspect they then split the standard fair into 2 dishes – one per person. In any case – the portions, even for a tasting menu, were tiny. That said – they were stunning.

My absolute favorites were the 2 ‘pasta’ offerings – both of which were inverted. Instead of putting the pasta in a sauce – they put the sauce in the pasta! You put the pasta in your mouth, and chewed. The flavors of the sauces, in perfect serving size, burst into your mouth. I have no idea how this was accomplished – but the result awesome. I absolutely loved the result – but the appearance and the flavors. Delicious and Surprising. Highly technical, but well conceived and beautifully executed.

For the main meal we opted for the suckling pig – 2 ways. Again, the portion size was tiny, but the flavors were intense. One portion was pork belly, intensely seasoned and cleverly sliced so that the fat was crisp and the meat/fat was juicy and tender. The other was a piece of pork that had been immersion cooked for over 14 hours. Wonderful.

Unlike many restaurants where the chefs either ignore the customers – or chat up only the ones that they know well – at All’Oro the chef came out several times to chat up several tables – including us! He explained that he and his wife have been running his own restaurant and got his star 5 years ago. 4 years ago, he was invited to move to this space in the Hotel – where he cooks not only from the fine dining room, but for the roof top terrace restaurant – open only when conditions permit. He even offered to take us up there – I’d have loved to see it. So All’Oro definitely rates high in my book – I don’t think I’ll soon forget either the pork dish – or those amazing ravioli’s!

Last – and definitely worth a visit – is Open Colanna. We ate 2 meals there – the first was lunch. at 16 Euro per person for all you can eat – it was probably the best bargain we enjoyed the entire time we were in Europe. There was a huge spread, each dish more delicious than the last. I loved the chicken in Turmeric Sauce – and they served tiny cups of tiramusu that explained why this dessert is featured on so many Italian restaurants. Needless to say – the place was packed. It a huge ‘open’ space – surrounded on 3 sides and the top with glass. The effect is a sun washed terrace – Italian modern design.

We loved lunch so much – the next day we walked back to get a reservation for dinner!

At dinner – the main dining area is closed, and the upper floor (hidden from view during the day) becomes the dinning room. There are only about 12 tables – and of these only 6 were occupied. With a wait staff of 4 – and an unknown number of kitchen staff – it was like having a personal dinner party.

The airy space – sun lit when we arrived, and gradually darkening as the sun set – was magical. You felt like you were floating among the buildings on every side. While not the over-the-top romantic feeling of Mirabelle – you still felt cared for and about. The wait staff had time to chat – to discuss the meal, to be sure your meal was memorable.

No – the chef did not make an appearance – I’m pretty sure he wasn’t there – but his sous-chefs did a wonderful job of following his directions.

As is expected, there was an amuse, a multi-course tasting menu, and this time there was a wine tasting menu as well. But it was free-form – the sommeiler opting for bottles he felt would compliment what we were going to be eating. The tasting menu featured much larger portions than the ones at All’Oro – which might be why my husband rated Open higher. They also served a variation on ravioli filled with sauce – this time the pasta were tiny hand-made Pyramids. Very neat. The main course was also suckling pig – a much larger portion of course. The meat was extremely tender, but in my opinion, not nearly as tasty as the version served at All’Oro. My only complaint – and this was a problem of my own making – on the menu at Open there was a souffle. This is one of my favorite desserts – and we asked that it be served. However, the dessert on the tasting menu was a chocolate fancy that according to the sommelier/Matre d’ was a prize winner. We allowed him to convince us to go with that option and while tasty – I missed having the souffle. Next time – I stand my ground. Souffle it will be!

So that’s the score. Open Colanna and All’Oro in first place, third place goes to Il Pagliaccio, and last and most forgettable (but a to die for view) – Mirabella.

Signing off – The Soup Lady

Eating Fancy – Rome – Part 2


Part One of this blog talked about the Mirabele – 1 Michelin Star, high points for location and Romance – nice music too – and a not so hot score for the food.

Next up on my list was Il Pagliaccio. This was a 2 star restaurant – tiny, tiny, tiny and stuck in a back street of Rome so challenging to find that our taxi driver had to use her GPS. Surprisingly to me – the door was locked when we arrived. But clearly the host was keeping an eye out – before I could recover from my surprise, the door was opened. We confirmed that we had a reservation – and were ushered in. There were at most 8 tables. And I never saw one flip. So quite the difference from the packed and a bit frantic atmosphere of the Mirabelle.

Like the Mirabelle – we opted for the 10 course tasting menu. Unlike the Mirabelle – there was no matching wine tasting. The sommelier helped my husband select a white wine by the glass, and a red that he felt would go with most of the courses. We were quite disappointed by this – going with most isn’t really quite good enough at this price range.

Again there was a napkin service, this time it happened before we were served a delicious green pea soup amuse that was divine. The courses were interesting – but hard to remember because the main server’s english was so heavily accented, we couldn’t understand him. I was impressed by the continuous simultaneous service – a nice touch. My impression in thinking back on the meal was good – interesting – but not stunning. I love it when a chef makes a dish for me that astounds me – that didn’t happen here. No cause for complaint – just nothing so outstanding I’d try to tell you about it.

I felt that the kitchen here was superior to that of the Mirabelle – but the restaurant lost points for location and view. I’m not sorry we tried it – but I wouldn’t rush back.

Signing off for now – The Soup Lady

Eating Fancy – Rome – Part 1


Eating ‘Fancy’ in Rome

Unlike the intrepid traveller, my husband considers high-end dining to be an absolute necessity when we travel. So it should come as no surprise that when in Rome – we dined right.

Don’t have a least one Michelin star? You are not going to be on our list!

So the next 3 blogs will be reviews of 4 – count’m 4 – Michelin starred restaurants, Open Colanna, the Mirabelle, All’Oro, and Il Pagliaccio. They all offered tasting menus of 5 to 10 courses, and elaborate service. But there were clearly highlights – and while not low lights – at least not so great lights.

Let’s start with our final dinner in Rome – at the Mirabelle. The Mirabelle is on the 7th floor of a 5 star hotel in Rome – with footman, greeters, marble floors, elaborate decor, and attitude to match. Our taxi dropped us at the door, and we were greeted 3 times before we even made it to the restaurant. The restaurant itself earns its highest points for decor, location, and romance. It’s open to the air (but can be closed in by floor to ceiling glass panels). To say the view was spectacular would actually be an understatement. The sun was setting as we arrived and were seated, not in the first row of seats, but pressed up against a glass window. Our view was good, but not amazing. To be amazing, you had to get a table on the ‘terrace’ – and when we reserved, they were all taken.

True to its Michelin Star status – there was a napkin service (they use clippers to place the napkin on your lap, and elaborate ‘greeting’ dish of tiny amuses – mini cookies, tiny salty breads, and a delicious fried ball filled with risotto. This last was my favorite. The bread service was in two parts. Bread sticks and a seasoned mini croissants at one time, followed by a selection of various small rolls after the first course. I loved the croissants and ate both mine and my husbands. The rest of the bread was ultimately forgettable.

We choose the tasting menu of 7 courses – and my husband opted for the high-end wine tasting option that matched. Of the courses – none was knock you socks off special. I did like them – just don’t remember them. During dinner, there was live piano music – low-key American songs, sung for the romance of them. I kept thinking that a dance floor option would have been welcome – it would have been nice to have swayed to the music.

Dinner was followed by 3 desserts – a pre-desert of fennel ice cream (which I loved), and a ‘desert’ of Strawberry soup, also served with ice-cream. After that – they served a platter of friandise – always my favorite part of the meal.

Summary – high points for Romance, Location, View. Not so hot for the food. But they were incredibly busy. All the tables were full – and many flipped twice. So say what I will – they are clearly doing something right.
But on to higher points!

Venice – City of Delight


I love Venice

I knew I’d like Venice – I mean it’s all about boats and water and art – what’s not to like. But I didn’t plan to love it.

And I loved it.

Finding a place to stay was quite the challenge. My husband had heard of the Gritti Palace – but $1500 a night off-season – is a tad over any price range I’d feel comfy sleeping in. So internet searching happened – and I discovered ‘The Bert’. The Bert is a Bed and Breakfast on a yacht that is moored in a Yacht club on an island near the main island of Venice. And for me – it was the perfect place.

Breakfast on the stern deck, coffee and tea in the afternoon in the main cabin, and upstairs a bar and relaxing area for drinks in the evening.

We arrived late the first night – in the rain. Not fun, and not the best start. We had followed directions – taking one of the transport boats from the airport to the island dock. What we had not quite understood was that we had to leave the main dock before the shuttle boat for the Yacht could pick us up. And with our multiple pieces of luggage (re-enacting is not for the carry on only traveler) this was a challenge. But once the folks from The Bert had understood our challenges – they were quick to help.

We squared away our cabin – with private en-suite bathroom – tiny but efficient. It even had a bidet – although taking a shower meant getting the entire bathroom wet. Stephano – the captain and host extraordinaire offered to cook us dinner – for 30 euros each. We gladly accepted the offer – and I think had one of the most price effective meals of our stay in Italy. Our 30 Euros included unlimited wine (white and red), bread, an amuse, a pasta course, a main course, and dessert. Yummy – private – and served on the stern deck to the lapping of waves and the sound of crickets. Color me happy.

The Bert also provided an ample breakfast – including fresh eggs – cooked to your specifications. That plus unlimited cappuccino – I’m happy.

After breakfast, we either caught the Bert Shuttle to the island dock – or walked 10 minutes. From the dock to Venice was a short boat ride – we spent more time waiting for the boat than actually travelling. Once you figured out when the boats came (you can set you watch by them) – it was easy to time your travel. We quickly become very efficient at getting to and from the heart of Venice.

Venice. Oh yes – Venice. I had pre-planned our first 2 days to be sure that I got to see the ‘highlights’ – St. Mark’s Basilica and the Doge Palace. Then we had 2 days to wander on our own – most of which I spent visiting museums, and Victor spent on the internet.

Best museum adventure ever? I wandered into the First Public Library in Venice – and a lovely young female artist explained the drawings – she had written the story of the library – giving the ‘player’s’ – key among them Napoleon – Animal faces. Wonderfully complete, and extremely creative.

In the evenings, we ate. My favorite meal – Quadri. It’s been on St. Mark’s Square for over 100 years – and it rates 2 Michelin starts. Location is perfect, Service is amazing. Souffle was delicious. And as a parting gift – they gave us the menu to remember the meal. Nice touch. After dinner, we wandered the square, then took the boat home.

Sigh – Venice – perfect – absolutely perfect.