Sunday, October 14, 2018



Like a father obsessed now that we're back I wanted to do some calculating about our trip. I wanted to remember what we had done before we had time to forget and then to see if we all had a similar reaction to the high and low points of our trip. In my nerdy compulsiveness I put together a paper list of the thirteen places we had visited in chronological order. I then passed out the lists taking one myself and made Rick & Emmy, despite their groans, asking they give each of the places a number from one to thirteen in order of their preference. Surprisingly or maybe thankfully the tops and bottoms of our lists were very similar. The middle choices were a little up and down. Here are some highlights:
Number one on all of our lists was Armena. This was a no brainer. Virtually every time we cross the pond either as the first stop on our trip or as the period at the end of our holiday Armena always holds that spot.
It may be difficult for many people to equate travel with home but this is the symbiotic relationship of those two words for us when we say the word "Armena". There are many people who have weekend homes but not many that have travel homes.
The other top spots on our journey were not as firm but pretty close. Montelcino was a solid second. There's very little that can match a meal at Boccon Di Vino,
an afternoon spent with Ilaria tasting wine
or an evening gelato run at Why Not. If ithe gelato at Why Not was good enough for Michelle Obama it was certainly good enough for us.
We had a few more recognizable spots near the top of our list. It's always a good thing for us to go to Rome at the beginning of our trip. That way we can get most of our impulse shopping out of the way so we can concentrate on other things ... like eating.
Mykonos got up close to the top mostly because of its unique character. Our hotel started out on very shaky ground but soon became one of our favorite stays. It's absolutely on Emmy's "must return" list, only next time with her friends instead of her parents.
The last stop in London wetted our appetite for a return visit. We'd all been there before but it was years ago when Emmy was more interested in finding platform 9 3/4
than hunting out Christian Dior jackets at a vintage clothing shop called Rockit.
Even the places at the bottom of our lists weren't complete failures. Tinos gave us a great lunch even though there was very little else to see or do unless we were going to do the annual crawl up the hill from the seaport to the church on our hands and knees.
We got to see the Uffizi in Florence despite fighting the crowds everywhere else we went. We thought we were going in off-season only to find out Florence has no off-season!
Our biggest disappointment was Kamara, the beach on Santorini. Black sand makes for black water. It just wasn't very pretty and attracted a whole different type of traveler than we were accustomed to meeting. Since Emmy's whole reason for picking the Cyclades Islands was to swim in the clear aqua waters of the Aegean we really felt we let her down but she was very gracious about it.
So here's some hints and things we learned on this trip:
1. Try to pay for as much as you can before you go. It makes budgeting so much easier and less stressful when it comes to deciding whether to buy that new fall coat or two cases of wine rather than one.
2. Don't be afraid to ask for an upgrade at your hotel. There are all sorts of reasons why a better room might have become available. If you can come up with some sort of sob story about your previous hotel or travel fiasco the sympathy card works every time.
3. The best restaurants are rarely on the main streets but down narrow side streets with little signage and definitely no one out front trying to coax you in with the promise of the best food anywhere.
4. Remember that the Europeans are much less uptight about their bodies. They share bathrooms, they change their clothes on the beach, they have open-air pee stations for men and some hotels have clothing optional areas at their pools. We can verify having  seen all of this and then some.
5. Take your daughter to a drag a show. Embarrassing your children is one of the best joys of parenting.

6. Balance your travel with shopping, going to museums, eating and relaxing. Don't try to do too much. Stop for a cappuccino when you need to or spend an afternoon sitting by the pool with a good book instead of insisting on seeing one more Medieval sanctuary.
7. Always wear sunscreen and please, please don't let your fair skinned daughter fall asleep by the pool. It's going to cost you big on cover-up cosmetics and OTC pain relief remedies.

8. Have a nonverbal signal you can use when you see someone from your family is getting a little ornery. It stops fights and breaks the tension without having to say something you'll regret.
9. Eat something you've never had before. You're out there to experience a new culture. Jump in. If you don't like it you don't have to finish it.
10. Engage with the locals. Who knows? You too might find your other family from another country.

Friday, October 12, 2018


We arrived in London bags in hand around seven in the evening of our last night on our holiday. After our arrival from Rome we took the Heathrow Express into Paddington Station.
Our hotel, the Hilton London Paddington was a part of the Paddington Station train terminal. When I made the reservations I was fully aware of the toll three weeks of vacationing was going to weigh on us.
I figured the least amount of inconvenience and the shortest distance we'd have to traverse with our luggage was going to be the safest option. Since the decision for this hotel was done under my supervision I knew I was going to be the one to take the heat if there were any snags. Luckily it all went to plan.
Once in our hotel room my party pooping partners pooped out and left me to go out on my own that evening and take all the pictures I wanted while they ordered room service and went to bed (well actually Rick had work to catch up on). Even though I asked for a map at the front desk I wasn't willing to go too far away from the hotel. I wasn't too sure of the area and I needed to sleep and eat at some point too.
Every time I'm in London I never seem to lose my fascination with the many forms of transportation that we New Yorkers share with out British counterparts, except theirs seems so much more intriguing. Their taxis are big and black with back seating ample enough for Shaquille O'Neal to spread out his legs
Even though the older double-decker buses had for the most part been retired the new ones in the light of night held a certain beauty far superior to the buses that plow through the streets of New York.
It's amazing how the British can even transform a shop as common as a shoe repair into a place of integrity and style. Our local shoe repair store is such a visual eyesore you can barely get through the door because of the clutter and dirt.
There are many ways we'd be better served by emulating the Brits despite their stiff upper lips and a passion for hunting dogs
London is a city of pubs and the neighborhood around the hotel did nothing to sully that reputation. The neighborhood certainly appeared to be a good place for a pub-crawl.
There certainly appeared as if there were plenty of willing participants on a Thursday night getting their weekend off to an early start with a pint of this and a glass of that.
There's something so English about the architecture of the British pubs that puts most American bars to shame. It's more than the design. It goes deeper into the culture where the pubs are much more a part of the community and serve as social gathering places for neighborhoods and small towns. There seems to be a real joy here of song and raised mugs. The American bars seem sadder in comparison with only the sounds of clicking pool balls instead of the laughter of children running under and around the tables.
The following morning we were giving ourselves until one in the afternoon to go out and accomplish two goals. Emmy was determined to hit one of the vintage clothing stores she had researched prior to our trip. The recommendation had come from a British vintage fashion blogger she follows. Since the store was in Covent Garden our second goal was to go back to Covent Garden Market.
We knew travel would require cabs once again. As it turned out it took over a half an hour to get from our hotel to Covent Garden. Traffic in London is extremely slow on the narrow streets of Merry Ol' England. We wanted to make sure Emmy got to her vintage store so the address we gave to our cab driver was the one for her store, Rokit.
After entering Rokit, Rick and I quickly learned we no longer fit under the category defined as vintage. We've now fallen in to antique. The store was a treasure trove to Emmy. To us it was a sad reminder of our impending irrelevance.
After we were able to pull Emmy out of the disco era we headed over to Convent Garden Market. I had done some scouting while Emmy was at Rokit and Rick had lost himself in a sale at the French Connection. The Market was only a few blocks away.
There's always something going on at the Market and that Friday was no different.
A stationary runway show was on display where the mannequins wore nothing but live flowers.
Some of England's best designers both floral and fashion lined the arcades of the Market with corsets of greenery and billowing skirts of pastel roses.
The floral finery spilled out into the vendor carts surrounding the buildings housing the market. There were gorgeous nosegays and bundles of floral arrangements strewn everywhere
Rick and Emmy took the time to engage the woman behind the Flower Bar and School. I'm not sure but I think Rick might have signed up for a class and scheduled a trip back sooner than I had expected.
London, for me, is a candy land for my eyes from the traditional pub architecture that defines a culture
To the kitsch of an almost Disneyland quality to its commercial heritage.
There's always something unexpected and delightful everywhere you go. It might have been the restraining of our visit to a too short morning that made us yearn for just a little more time before we'd have to return. I'm not completely sure but coming back to London, I think, is back on our bucket list and as long as we feel we can keep adding to the list we're more than happy to know we're still alive with new adventures to dream about.

Thursday, October 11, 2018


You've only got three hours in problem.
We were gifted a space of several hours between flights from Santorini to Rome and then Rome to London. We started by leaving Santorini on a Vueling Airlines hectic flight where the boarding was mayhem.
The saving grace was the quirky nature of the other travelers who were so interesting I totally forgot we'd paid for priority boarding only to get crushed by the crowd once they opened the gate.
We landed in Rome at seven in the evening and were staying at the airport Hilton thinking there wasn't enough time to drag our luggage all the way into the city proper and then have to drag them all the way back the next morning even though we weren't scheduled to leave Rome until five in the afternoon on the next day.
Both Emmy and Rick chose sleep and lunch at the hotel as their day's itinerary. I got up and caught the 8:30 Leonardo express into Rome Termini. I made it to the train which was located in the airport but still a good ten-minute dash from our hotel just as the doors on the train were closing. I'd made a commitment to be back by one. Given the train would take 30 minutes in each direction I'd have a little over three hours to run the city.
My best plan once I got there was no plan at all. I quickly had to figure something out.
The first thing I knew was it was going to require using a cab to get to wherever I was going to go and I'd be using the same method of transportation to return. I hadn't been to the Pantheon in a while so that became my instant plan. I knew it was near the Piazza Navona so I hopped in a taxi, gave the driver my destination in broken Italian and off I went. I was so unprepared I hadn't even thought to bring a map and Rick was the only one of us who had a working GPS. I had to really trust my nose to get around and that was going to be a stretch.
Once my cabbie had dropped me off at the Piazza, I walked to the center and as I spun around trying to figure out what direction I needed to go to get to the Pantheon I saw a man pulling out a placard for an opera to be performed that afternoon at the church of Sant'Agnese in Agone.
As many times as I've been in the Piazza Navona I had never been in this church so this time seemed as good as any to walk in for what I assumed would be a quick peek. Boy a peek wasn't going to be anywhere near sufficient to take in the beauty of Sant'Agnese in Agone.
Lets start with the ceiling. Painted by Ciro Ferri I can't imagine the pain and eyestrain of lying on your back painting this rendition of the Assumption of Mary.
The dome is an absolute architectural marvel all the way from its ring of clerestory windows to its oculus piercing the interior of the church with a beam of light.
The Baroque interior both inspires and awes. The sheer volume of height given to the space as a design element forces you to look upward and spin around I delight.
Then every niche was carved and sculpted with bas-reliefs giving the surreal feeling that the saints and heavenly figures were in the process of extruding themselves out of the walls and forcing their way back into the world.
There are times when no plan can be the best plan. That's how I stumbled into another unexpected find. I was still a bit uncertain of which direction to head once I left the Piazza Navona. l kept doing a three-sixty eye scan as I began what I thought might be the right direction to the Pantheon.  Luckily my eyes caught a glimpse into another surprise: the courtyard of the Chiostro del Bramante.
Here's where time was against me. Inside the open courtyard was this juxtaposition of a pair of stone heads placed in defiant simplicity against the background of the beautifully tiered Renaissance cloisters. The current exhibit of dreams interpreted into space by a curated collection of artists would only be able to happen in my dreams if I was to make my three hour commitment.
Once I reluctantly left the courtyard of Chiostro del Bramante I knew my time was getting short but then another church with an open door and a pair of cherubs was too much to ignore.
The entire interior was another space more museum than religious edifice.  Everywhere you looked there were murals, huge oils, architectural details and magnificent sculptures to admire.
I still had a bit of a walk to the Pantheon. I'm not always great with directions and had gone initially in the opposite way I needed to go. Once I saw the same group of polizia twice I knew I needed to get a map or give up on trying and to window-shop as I did my little tour.
That's a real tough task for me as these streets were filled with some very interesting shops. Lucky for my wallet none of them had opened at that hour in the morning.
It was still too early for lunch
and I was too rushed to sit for a cappuccino in a café like this one with the most amazing display of cups turned into a Calderesque ceiling fixture.
Thankfully the street musician with a rabbit on his shoulder had only gotten to the tuning up stage or I might have been forced to stand for ditty or two if only out of curiosity. I really wanted to know what part the rabbit might play!
After the rabbit I miraculously turned the corner and there I was at the fountain in front of the Pantheon. I'd reached my chosen destination. Now after this everything would be a bonus.
Going into the Pantheon is equivalent to a contact sport practice session. It's packed. It's annoying, but it's remarkable. The structural phenomenon of the dome keeps your focus skyward and then the crowds seem less annoying. There's no way you can walk out of the Pantheon without a massive crick in your neck from admiring the dome.
Since I've been to the Pantheon many times before this time I spent focusing on the details. They were amazing. The response to the Pantheon on first sight is its immenseness but it is also so lush with its smaller moments.
Sculptures that are tucked into corners glow with an aura only an angel could produce. They ring the room with their angelic smiles.
Before I finally jumped into a taxi to get me back to the train station I thought I had enough time to stop for one last taste of Italy's gelato that stretched into

one last forkful of Italian pastry.
One last peek at the amazing public art of Rome
One more opportunity to appreciate how the men of Rome dress in their starched shirts, creased pants and stylish jackets even when the its sweltering outside because Roman men apparently don't sweat.
and one last cappuccino foamy and rich in a way you don't see anywhere else.
I made it back to the train with less than two minutes to spare and the doors closed right behind me, the same way I came. Arivaderci Roma. I'll be back.