Quanta Basta

Sometimes traveling can feel like home. For us Il Borghetto in San Gimignano definitely feels like home. Seventeen years ago Monsieur and I came here with G and Pops to celebrate respectively our first and their 35th wedding anniversaries (shhh we were child brides). Back then we vowed to come back, it only took seventeen years. What were we waiting for?

The view of the Pergola and the valley beyond from Il Borghetto

Il Borghetto is owned by the Bimbi Family. Sandra and Riccardo are sister and brother and along with their lovely partners (and spouses) Simona and Nicola, they have lovingly restored a 15th century villa on the hillside below San Gimignano in Tuscany. Overlooking vineyards and olive groves, they have created a little slice of heaven. Converted into several self-catered apartments, the Bimbi’s are the consummate hosts. After 17 years, we were welcomed back with open arms, hugs and kisses.

Three nights a week, the matriarch of the Bimbi family Silvana, creates a traditional Tuscan meal for the guests to enjoy. To this day the best meals I’ve ever had were made by Mamma Silvana and served by Simona, Nicola and Sandra under the pergola at Il Borghetto. Lovingly selected Tuscan wines accompany and never disappoint. Everyone is made to feel like a special guest at the Bimbi’s home. Stories and laughs, delicious food and an amazing view make for the most memorable evenings.

Monsieur with a plate of Silvana’s papardelle with ragu
GG and the Godfather on their terrace at Il Borghetto

One of our evenings, the family arranged for a cooking class. As fans of Italian cuisine we were all about learning how to re-create some of these dishes. Patrizia our teacher, brought fresh ingredients from her garden including her own homemade Limoncello (spoiler alert: its boozy!). Paired up with 3 other delightful Canadians, a sweet Brit and charming American we set to work with Patrizia at the helm. We made zeppole with zucchini flowers (a savory doughnut), zucchini stuffed with meat sauce and handmade gnocchi with a tomato, ricotta and basil sauce. For dessert an apple tart with just a hint of limoncello for flavour. Patrizia taught us that Italians only eat what is in season, hence the zucchini heavy menu. The tomatoes for the sauce were from her garden last summer, she canned and preserved them herself. The garlic oil we made was using last season’s garlic from the braids in her cellar as this season’s garlic was still a week away. She taught us that the essence of Italian cooking is really “Quanta Basta”, my new favourite Italian phrase. “How much salt Patrizia?” ”Quanta basta!” she replied. Just enough. Literally a pinch… unless you need more than a pinch, just some. You know, quanta basta!

Patrizia and Team Quanta Basta
Little baby handmade gnocchis

For dinner, our partners and travelling parties joined us for the feast. Enjoying Patrizia’s wine selection, we were all very impressed with ourselves that we MADE all of it. Time will tell whether we can successfully recreate this meal without Patrizia’s watchful eye.

In this part of Central Tuscany, you can’t swing a dead something without hitting a charming hilltown. San Gimignano is perhaps THE most charming of the lot and is just a 10 minute drive from Il Borghetto. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, San Gimignano is a walled medieval town with about a dozen of its incredible towers still intact and in use. Since we were here 17 years ago its clear that San Gimignano has definitely been added to the map of must sees in Tuscany. It took us 3 tries to actually get here, the first two attempts thwarted by overfull parking lots. Our bad, we kept arriving in time for lunch. We learned that the early bird gets the parking spot and the table for six.

A view of San Gimignano and its towers

Sangi is a cute collection of charming shops selling local ceramics, leather goods and linens as well as wine bars, gelato shops and lovely trattorias. Sandra and Simona sent us to an incredible restaurant called La Mandrogola. Off the beaten path, behind the main street on Via Diacceto (which is only wide enough for a scooter) we were charmed by the sweet terrace and delicious Vernaccia de San Gimignano recommended by our server. Her response when we asked for a recommendation ”Why wouldn’t you drink the wine from here?” Of course, she was absolutely right. I can’t remember what we ate, but I’m sure it was pasta and steak and tomatoes and cheese. All I know is that it was yummy and that we were charmed yet again by boundless Italian hospitality.

Pops and his rental car

Il Borghetto is a fabulous home base to explore Tuscany. Situated half way between Florence and Siena along the A1 Autostrada, its easy to get around in a rental car (you definitely need a rental car here). Just be sure to navigate by town and not highway numbers. In 17 years, the advent of Google Maps meant for far less navigational disputes on our travels. Volterra, Monteriggioni, Barberini Val D’Elsa are all easy jaunts. Pisa, Arezzo, Montalcino and the Tuscan coast are slightly farther afield but still very easy day trips from the Villa.

We decided to stick closer to home this time, pooped after our Paris departure and power sightseeing in Florence, we only chose to visit Siena (totally worth it – the Piazza del Campo and the Duomo are amazing to see). We also found the charming Barberino Val D’Elsa on the recommendation of an Italian waiter in Paris and had great pizza at both the Cafe Bijou and Triocco. The latter has a terrace overlooking the valley, lovely spot.

Piazza del Campo in Siena
The view from Barberino Val D’Elsa plus a cheeky photobomber

We’re grateful for Google reviews this time around. Before we choose a restaurant, we always check the Google review rating. Nothing under 4 stars, the closer to 5 stars the better. We’ve never been disappointed. This rule applies to the coffee shops all the way up to the Ristorantes. We also have a rule never to eat close to the tourist attractions. Walk a block or two off the beaten path and you’ll see the Google ratings jump.

The luxuries of Il Borghetto are not found in daily room service or a Michelin star. They are found in the warm welcome of the Bimbi Family. The genuine and heartfelt hospitality is unmatched in any other place we’ve stayed. Saying goodbye we couldn’t help but feel sad and a little teary. Like long lost friends, our only lament is that we waited too long to return to Il Borghetto, next time we won’t wait so long. To quote Patrizia, Il Borghetto is for us Quanta Basta – just enough and so much more.

A teary farewell to the Bimbi’s at Il Borghetto

Aunt Flo

(Editor’s Note: For those following along, our stops in Carcassone and Les Baux de Provence actually took place before we left Paris. Italy is the beginning of our ”hard travel” period of 3 months on the move every few days to a week. Just in case anyone is confused by the chronology. I know I am!)

It was finally time to say Au Revoir to Paris and Buongiorno to Italy! Hard to believe that we were already bidding farewell to our home away from home in the 2nd Arrondissement and heading out to begin three months of heavy traveling.

In 2005 we traveled to Italy to celebrate our first wedding anniversary. We fell in love and vowed to return. Back then we started cooking up our plan of an extended stay in Europe and hoped that one day we could realize that dream. So it made sense that the next country where we would spend the most time would naturally be Italy. Craving La Dolce Vita, we have booked a month in Italia and the first stop is Florence.

Santa Maria della Fiore (aka The Duomo) in Florence

After experiencing Florence for the first time in 2005 on an afternoon trip fighting the hordes of tourists on bus trips, we knew we needed to come back and spend a few days. With such a short stay here (and in most cities) we’ve taken to booking tours so we can try and capitalize on the time and soak up the local sites/ sights (which is it?). For Florence we booked a tour called ”Walking in the Footsteps of the Medici”. The Medici were the Godfathers of the Renaissance. By creating a positive and open society, Cosimo I was a patron of artists and architects like Donatello and Brunelleschi. Our tour started at Palazzo Vecchio and the epic Piazzo della Signoria with its many statues and most famously the replica of Michaelangelo’s David (the original has been moved indoors for safe keeping at the Accademia Gallery). Along the way our guide pointed out the many towers of Florence, with the most famous and perhaps the tallest here at the Palazzo Vecchio, but in fact there are lots around Florence of varying heights. She also pointed out the many bridges between the buildings that are common here and in other Tuscan towns, built for the nobility to walk from house to house without having to brave the dirty, smelly and plague ridden streets below. The concept of ”never burning a bridge” comes from these passages as warring families would burn bridges between their homes and towers when they fell out with each other. Pretty interesting.

Fountain of Neptune in the image of Cosimo de’ Medici I at Piazza della Signoria

Along our tour we did a speed visit to the Uffizi Gallery. While not as big as the Louvre or Musée D’Orsay, the Uffizi is sizeable and has many important works by the Italian masters. Most people come here to see Botticelli’s Birth of Venus but my favourite was his Spring. We were happy for the guide who snuck us around line-ups and fast-tracked us through the boring parts. Lets face it, no matter how much of an art-lover you are all museums have boring parts!

We ended the tour at the Medici Chapels. Built as a Mausoleum and memorial to the Medici Dynasty, the family is all buried in these epic Chapels. Michaelangelo’s Sacristy with many unfinished works is worth the price of admission and the Chapel of the Princes is equally amazing. The Medici held much power here in Tuscany and in fact across Europe as preeminent bankers and within the Catholic Church with Princes, Queens and Popes counted in their number.

Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus at the Uffizi
Look up in the Chapel of Princes at the Medici Chapels

We were very lucky to connect with Monsieur’s cousin D, who hosted us at the Westin Excelsior Hotel’s incredible rooftop bar with a 360 degree view of the city. Florence is breathtaking and the vantage point from here is amazing. Its worth the €20+ price for cocktails just to be able to take in this view and see all the sites (seriously… sites or sights? Both work!) from the Duomo to the Ponte Vecchio and the Tuscan villas beyond.

What a view towards the Pitti Palace! From the rooftop of the Westin Excelsior

D was our food guide, arranging for us to have dinner at Cantinetta Antinori. Inside the Villa of the Antinori wine family (a name that’s been in the wine business here in Tuscany since 1184), we had a great dinner in the courtyard. If you’re heading to Florence, make a reservation now! You won’t be disappointed. This is where our month long pasta eating contest started. There will be no Atkins diets here in Italy my friends!

At Cantinetta Antinori, its all about the wine of course and kids drink free!

This early June trip is coinciding with a heatwave and drought. While Italy is hot in the summer, we arrived to temperatures well over 30 degrees. This makes it a bit tough trying to get out and wander for sure. We tried to walk to the Pitti Palace (another Medici masterpiece) to enjoy the Boboli Gardens, but we quickly realized that our arrival at the gates of the Palace was nowhere near the entry to the Gardens. The thought of walking for another 20 minutes in the opposite direction of our hotel just to find shade was too daunting. So we called an Uber and headed back across the river to the air conditioning.

The Little Kid was very keen to see Galileo’s Finger at the Museo Galileo. The rest of the crowd wasn’t as interested, so Monsieur and I did not want to disappoint and off we went. You’ll be shocked to learn that there was no line up to enter this museum and we were able to breeze through in about 30 minutes. Lots of globes, lots of telescopes, some interesting models of the various baby birthing positions (“Euw GROSS!” said the Little) and finally Galileo’s finger. A bizarre relic to be sure, but how could we miss it?

Galileo’s Finger

Florence is truly an outdoor museum. Everything is breathtaking. The sounds of the bell ringing from the tower at Santa Maria della Fiore just makes me happy (as a matter of fact, I always get a little thrill when I hear the church bells here in Italy – they are so pretty).

Here in Florence we start the busiest part of our European tour. We’re on the move a lot (more on the logistics later) so we’re all feeling ready for a day or two off. Next stop: Tuscany!

A Week in Provence

Following our stay in Carcassonne, we wanted to add another stop and Provence seemed like the best idea. Just 2.5 hours by car from the fortress town, we set up camp at the Western edge of Provence at Les Baux de Provence. Another incredible fortification town, we stayed at the sweet Baumanière at the base of the hill. If the Visigoths were going to invade, we’d be the first line of defence. Armed with the stinkiest of cheese and the palest of rosés, I’m sure we could distract them from their conquering ways.

Beautiful Baumanière with Les Baux in the distance

Les Baux is a lovely home base from which to explore Provence. Just 40 minutes from Avignon, 20 minutes from Arles and only an hour from Aix-en-Provence, this area also is where our favourite french town is located. Saint-Rémy-de-Provence is home to just under 10,000 residents and is a charming place with lovely restaurants, shops and a fabulous (and vast) market on Wednesday mornings that literally fills the streets of the old town.

We had been on the go pretty much non-stop since Venice, so we were very happy to arrive in a place where the pace was decidedly less hectic than Paris. With summer arriving early in Europe, we were also happy to enjoy some warm, sunny afternoons by the pool. The only trouble were the uninvited guests…

Provence is home to some of the most voracious mosquitoes we’ve ever seen including the Tiger mosquito. These things are seemingly active all day and night and aren’t satisfied after one bite. They are hungry little suckers and they will bite you over and over again. Monsieur and the Little are very prone to very itchy reactions so we didn’t make a move around Provence without locally acquired bug spray (we liked the Cinq sur Cinq brand) and anti-itch cream. We put the Little to bed with a dose a Benadryl to help ease the itchy swelling.

Our hotel is home to a famous three Michelin starred restaurant called Restaurant L’Oustau de Baumanière, which certainly looks lovely. But as you’ve probably gathered, we’re into more simple cuisines. Instead our favourite spot in the area is Bistro Pieds Dans L’Eau. Yes, you got that right. We’d rather eat at a place called Bistro Feet in the Water instead of a three Michelin star restaurant. Pieds is a charming place located at the main gate of the town, with a large patio which in the heat of summer offers tables in the fountain where you can literally cool your heels over lunch. Pieds is a crowd-pleaser for our gang. Offering a simple family-style service, we loved the whole roast chicken and lasagna. No one complained and the only reason any food was left on the table was because of the hefty portions. If you do come here, be sure to save room for their house made desserts. The Little ordered the Rum Baba which arrived with an extra shot of rum on the side just in case it wasn’t rummy enough already.

No time to take pictures of our plates until after we’ve eaten. The food is that good at Bistro Pieds Dans L’Eau. PS we kept our shoes on this time….

The market in Saint-Rémy is a common occurrence in many (all?) cities and towns across France and Italy as far as I know. The produce, the cheese, the bread, the salami, the local herbs and salt, the leather sandals, the knives, the olives, the olive oil, the preserves, the sundresses… you name it, someone has set up a stall and is selling it. Its worth planning a visit to a town for market day. Parking is a challenge, but lunch will be a treat.

In addition to being a charming little town, Saint-Rémy has some interesting history. It’s origins are traced back to Roman times and the nearby ancient ruins of Glanum, eventually leading to the development of the settlement of Saint-Rémy. The birthplace of Nostradamus, the town was also home to Van Gogh for a time while he was a patient at the local Saint-Paul Asylum. Here he painted the very famous Starry Night and Lilacs to name just a few.

Speaking of Van Gogh, we also took a ride down to Arles to see its well preserved Roman Coliseum and Amphitheatre. Van Gogh lived here for a couple of years and painted his famous Cafe at Night. The cafe is still there, painted yellow and now serving some pretty mediocre fare for slightly higher prices than its neighbours on the square. We ”took one for the team” and had lunch on the Terrasse. Luckily a fellow traveller warned us that they only accept cash so we were able to cobble together enough Euros to pay the bill.

The café in Arles made famous by Van Gogh, still with its yellow awning. Not sure if the burger is as good as it was back then.

In our effort to avoid the Michelin stars, we ventured out for some dinners. Trying to stay close, we enjoyed a pile of pizzas at Pizza Brun in Maussane-les-Alpilles. A tiny little take-out restaurant with a collection of patio tables on the sidewalk outside, everyone was happy with their thin crust pies. We also discovered Chateau d’Estoublon just 10 minutes down the road from our hotel. A beautiful Chateau, d’Estoublon is a winery and olive farm and home to a great restaurant with a creatively named restaurant, Table. We had a lovely dinner on the terrace overlooking their beautiful gardens.

Provence is idyllic. Sunny and warm, with beautiful vistas and delicious wine and food. The olive groves are plentiful so be sure to bring home some delicious olive oil. We were too early for the lavender and sunflower fields but have seen them in the past, they are incredible to see. We marvelled at the massive rosemary plants worked into the gardens at Baumanière. We enjoyed the tranquility and our kids enjoyed the swimming pools.

Monsieur and the Pops hoofing it up through the town of Les Baux

Battle Royale

For their eleventh birthday, the Little Kid (who is now much less little) requested that we all go to Carcassonne.  GG & Pops have now joined us so we were a tidy little group of six.

Nothing makes an ancient castle more luxurious than an inground swimming pool!

Carcassonne is located in the Occitanie region of southern France about halfway between Toulouse and the Med.  We decided that it might be simpler to fly to Toulouse from Paris as the train wasn’t direct and required a change in Bordeaux.  Well, after the hour long car ride to CDG and an almost 2 hour delay departing Paris the train looked way more appealing than what was supposed to be a short flight.  Anyways… we finally made it to Toulouse, picked up our rental cars and made our way the hour long drive to the medieval city of Carcassonne.  

This was our second time to Carcassonne, the first time was 3 years ago when we stopped for an hour on our way from Provence to our friend’s wedding in Auch.  We were so amazed, we vowed to return for a few days so we could really experience the town and the Little decided that it should be their birthday trip.

It worked well that we could line the trip up with the arrival of the Grandparents as we knew that the Pops would love this place.  And at last we were back.

Carcassonne is a UNESCO World Heritage Site which dates back to Gallo-Roman times around 100 BC.  It was a stronghold for the Visigoths and the Cathars before falling into the hands of France.  An important battlement built to protect the crucia trade routes from the Mediterranean and all countries to the south through to Northern Europe and the Atlantic coast.  Now it’s THE place to buy arms for your kids!

The birthday kid sporting the latest in medieval armoury for children

Seriously! Every piece of medieval weaponry, with the exception of perhaps a full size trebuchet, are available in kid-sized replicas in every other shop within the city walls.  Battle axes, cross bows, swords, helmets, shields, you name it.  Everything your little Chevalier in training might need to be able to learn the ways of medieval warfare.

Our Little picked up a Battleaxe last time that never really recovered after we had to dismantle it for the flight home.  This time, they opted for a wooden crossbow complete with suction cup arrows.  The crossbow lasted about a day and a half before the trigger broke off.  Not exactly medieval quality.  We certainly would have lost the town in a siege had we been left to defend it with these subpar weapons!  We don’t even need to mention how gullible we were to drop almost €40 on this piece of crap!

Armed to the teeth for an awesome birthday

We decided to have the full Carcassonne experience and chose to stay at the Hotel de la Cité within the walls of the fortress.  We weren’t sure what to expect, but in fact what we found inside was an utterly charming and comfortable respite from the hordes of tourists outside our window.  A beautiful courtyard, filled with songbirds and a swimming pool.  Plus there was champagne and chocolate mousse cake to celebrate the birthday!

Nutella crepes for the birthday breakfast

The highlight of the trip was our tour guide Remi, who steered us around the fortress showing us how the architecture was as important as the army defending it.  The amazing loopholes built into the walls for archers to aim their arrows, the death holes inside the massive gates where they could drop rocks on unsuspecting invaders below, the crooked drawbridge that defended against battering rams and advancing cavalries.

At the gate to the city

I asked the Little Kid mid-tour how they were liking their birthday trip so far.  “Oh my GOD” they said.  “I had no idea that this whole place is just about DEATH.”

How right they were.  Neither did I.  Perhaps not the ideal spot to celebrate an eleven year old’s birthday but nevertheless, here we were.  At least the hotel served some mean Nutella crepes for breakfast!

Carcassone is impressive.  You can see how Walt Disney used it as visual inspiration for his recreations of fairy tales.  Definitely worth a stop if you’re in this part of Europe.

Lady Carcas at the gates to the city

A Free Woman in Paris – Part Deux

I’m sitting in our Parisien apartment, suitcases packed up and ready to head out in the morning to start the rest of our adventure. Our last day in Paris wasn’t spent in a spectacular fashion. Just a cafe lunch at the same place we visited the day we arrived and some errands. Walking back from the drycleaners, I tried my best to drink it all in.

Living in Paris for the past three months, I’ve enjoyed the sparkly Eiffel Tower moments and incredible Louvre-y art moments and fascinating historical site moments. But the things I enjoyed most of all were the mundane, normal, every day moments. The way the waiters all wear down vests when its cool. The smell of exhaust from the scooters when the light changes green and they all take off from their pole positions. The fact that you need to package and weigh your produce before you hit the check out in the grocery store. The thoughtfulness of women who always carry a tote bag for their shopping so they don’t need to ask for a plastic bag. The sight of the searchlight atop the Eiffel Tower swings over our apartment every few minutes every night. The reality that people greet one another with a Bonjour before they start any conversation or transaction. The feeling when you fumble through a restaurant order in French and the waiter is just so proud of you for trying. The clinking of wine bottles being dumped into the recycling bin outside the restaurant back door across our courtyard. The cool breeze that hits you the minute you get close to the Seine or the feeling of the gale force wind whipping all the way from La Defense, through the Arc de Triomphe, down the Champs Elysees, up the Jardin des Tuileries and into the Cour Napoleon at the Louvre whipping up the dusty pea gravel.

GG and the Little mastering the art of crossing the street in Paris – you have to give them the hand or they won’t stop!

If anyone wondered what my goal was living in Paris for this time, it was all of this. To experience Paris with all its ups and downs and marvel at all its incredible beauty.

Tomorrow, we’ll head out and won’t be back in France again on this trip. We will of course be back sooner rather than later, but I will always appreciate this time here to try to feel like a local. To have someone ask me for directions and be able to give them, in French. To have mastered enough of the French language to be able to crack a joke with the taxi driver or the waiter. To know shortcuts to get places. To ”have a guy” where we get our roast chicken/ bread/ berries/ flowers. To know which streets have the best trees to walk along on a hot day. To know which cafes will have a table for you on a sunny day.

I loved our days walking up and down Rue Montorgueil or Rue des Martyrs picking up things for dinner. I loved the fleeting moments when I got lost, only to walk a little further and know exactly where I am. I loved stumbling upon awesome things like Porte Saint Martin or the amazing Village of Saint Paul in the Marais (sign me up for any tour that starts with ”The Secrets Of…”).

Kids on the Seine

Living in a big, bustling metropolis was a lot for us Vancouverites. But we figured out how to manage on foot, to buy only enough groceries that we could carry, to find the best and closest dry cleaners etc etc. We coped with living on the 4th floor (aka 5th floor in North America) with only a phone booth sized elevator which is now currently broken – wish us luck with the suitcases tomorrow! We survived French plumbing and electrical. We learned to live with the smells and sounds of a city full of life. The constant sirens – one guide reminded us that they just turn them on to show off.

We’ve packed up our winter clothes and school supplies and sent them home to Vancouver. We’ve cut ourselves down to two suitcases and four rolling carry-ons. We’ll see how we manage! But European rental cars are not forgiving on space and schlepping on and off trains can be daunting with more than one bag each.

The bags are packed to head to home

Monsieur and I have travelled a lot in our lives and we love it. But even with the experience of travel and for me being on tour, we forgot that while its exhilarating and amazing it can be equally exhausting and stressful. Moving around a lot means new beds every few days and it means packing and repacking bags. It means not quite eating the way you’re used to. It means being able to go with the flow when things don’t go as planned or as expected. It means missing home and routine more than you ever imagined. Every day we feel grateful for this opportunity and try and roll with the punches when it gets a little rough.

For now we say “À bientôt” to our Parisian home and look forward to all the new experiences and adventures awaiting us on the road.

An-“twerkin’”

I was doing a little research to see which artists might be playing Paris while we were here. One of our family faves, Dua Lipa was scheduled to play on the Little’s Birthday but alas we had already booked a trip out of the city for that day. However, we saw that Miss Lipa would be playing in nearby Antwerp, just a short 2 hour Thalys train ride away. We thought, why not? We could check Belgium and Dua off our list.

Miss Lipa is about to hit the stage in Antwerp

We decided to just make it a quick overnight. The Thalys train is easy and fast. Within 2 hours, we were on the platform at Antwerp Centraal trying to figure out how to escape the behemoth station. We found our way out, completely missing the beautiful station above. After an almost disastrous run in with a chain of bicycles (watch out, they do not stop) we managed to hail a taxi and head for our hotel.

Antwerp Centraal and apparently a Russell Crowe look alike

Antwerp is a mix of old and new together. Driving to the hotel, we were amazed at the new and old architecture intermingled. Our hotel was located conveniently in the old town. We dropped our bags and headed out on foot to check out the city. We arrived just in time for the Leather Fetish Festival! It was great to see such a liberal and LGBTQIA+ Positive city.

Old Town Antwerp is a lovely maze of cobbled streets and sidewalk cafes. No one was interested in the Moules, but we did jump in with both feet and enjoyed the Frites! We were completely flummoxed language-wise. Flemish, Dutch, French – all blended. Antwerp’s proximity to the Netherlands made it more Dutch-y… not the Tim Horton’s doughnut. We remembered our Danke’s and did our best. The only real trouble we had was back in Paris at Gare du Nord. We were trying to find our departure platform on the board, but it seemed that the two Thalys trains listed didn’t stop in Antwerp, but they did stop in Anvers. Guess what… Anvers = Antwerp in French. And don’t forget the other name, Antwerpen. Well, there was our first foray into Belgium’s multi-faceted languages.

Antwerp/ Antwerpen/ Anvers is lovely and charming

We wound our way to the riverside and realized that in addition to being the centre of the Diamond industry, Antwerp is Europe’s second largest seaport and has a long naval history. The medieval fortress of Het Steen still standing on the shore of the Scheldt River was very impressive. Interesting to see the many new apartment buildings overlooking it as well as the statue of Lange Wapper, a local legend. Without knowing the story, it does look like a giant with two dudes looking up his skirt.

I gather Lange Wapper didn’t wear underwear?

Before the concert, we needed to grab a quick dinner. With the help of Google and their reviews (our rule is to never eat anywhere without 4 stars on Google), we found a lovely Greek restaurant called Mandraki at Kaasrui 13, around the corner from the imposing Cathedral of Our Lady. The food was great and the service was fun. We even managed some light conversation with some locals who were very friendly and welcoming.

Dua was playing the second of two shows at the Sportpaleis, Antwerp’s big arena. She was fantastic and the audience was one of the most enthusiastic I’ve ever seen. Maybe its Antwerp, maybe its Dua, maybe its because people have been starved of live music for two years. I’m not sure, but it was a riot. People danced and sang along to every song from the minute she hit the stage. To be fair, Dua’s got plenty of hits so there was no need to dig into any deep album cuts to fill time. At the 90 minute mark, Dua took her encore and we made a quick escape to try and get a taxi. We had luck and 15 minutes later we were all happily tucked into bed in Antwerp.

A seemingly happy Dua Lipa fan

The next morning, we had a few hours before our return train to Paris so we headed out on foot for a bit of breakfast. We found a tiny cafe called Love at First Bite, run by two lovely women and were treated to an outstanding breakfast including Belgian waffles of course! After breakfast we decided to just wander a bit and get lost. We stumbled on a fabulous market of arts and crafts in Grote Markt (Great Market Square) in front of the gorgeous Antwerp Town Hall, a stately and stunning Renaissance building. The market was great fun to explore, with unique and cool finds. We loved the beer garden area complete with a hot dog vendor and a live DJ. What a way to spend a sunny Sunday morning.

Lucky stumble upon the Swan Market at Grote Markt

Soon, we were back on the train to Paris marvelling at how much we loved lovely Antwerp with promises to return.

The sweet statue of Nello and Patrasche in Antwerp

Oh Mickey, You’re So Fine

With the arrival of G’s bestie, we thought this was probably a good enough reason to be brave and book a day at Disneyland Paris. Our kids are of course big fans of all things Disney. Monsieur and I are not such big fans of the Disneyland experience but as parents we have to do things for our kids. And well, I think the kids were very happy. After weeks of schlepping through museums, churches, castles and old towns we were about to enter the Happiest Place on Earth… well at least in Europe.

The three amies at the entrance to Chez Mickey

Have I mentioned how awesome the train system is in Paris? We walked for 12 minutes to the Auber metro station and hopped the RER train that took us to Gare de Chessy Marne-la-Vallée. Walking out of the station, we realized we were walking straight through the gates and into Disneyland. How easy was that? Pretty easy.

Again, the internet is amazing and we found the whole park entry experience very simple with our Disney App and e-tickets. We had been given the tip to use the Premier Access service, which for an additional fee per person gives you fast lane access to many of the more popular rides in the park. While this is a bit of a scam, if you budget it into your day you can maximize and see a lot. On a cool weekday in early May, the line-ups at the park were still long enough to make Premier Access worthwhile on most rides. Who wants to spend the day waiting in line when you can walk right on? Now, I could go on about how unfair this is of Disney but I’ll keep the post happy and not bitchy. And besides, it was awesome for the kids to cram in every ride (some twice) in our short day in the park.

Indiana Jones was a fave and the kids went back to ride it again

The first thing to know about Disney in Europe is that it is EXACTLY the same as Disney in the US. The only difference that I noticed was that Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is Blanche Neige et Les Sept Nains AND next to the ice cream stand on Main Street USA was a Champagne cart. Soooo, you know… I do not ever remember there being alcohol so readily available at Disney in Anaheim, let alone CHAMPAGNE! For the record, it was Disney’s vintage and Monsieur and I guessed that it was a headache waiting to happen. I already paid to be nauseous after the Star Wars ride, I didn’t need to drop €20 for a migraine.

I didn’t know that Snow White’s name was Blanche!

The last time we did Disney, the kids were 7 and 3 years old. Well, Disney with teens/ pre-teens is so much more fun for us than rolling through with a stroller and a diaper bag. After one or two roller coaster rides, we decided that we were much better suited to finding a perch at the exit of the rides and happily scroll on our phones while we waited for Les Enfants.

Since we were in France, I did expect the food to be better than it was. Industrial fast food is the same everywhere, pretty crappy. For dinner, we found our way to the Ratatouille Ride and Chez Remy’s restaurant. I don’t know which one made me more sick, the ride or the restaurant? The ride is a 3D video ride where you view life in the restaurant from the viewpoint of a rat avoiding capture. The restaurant is a lame attempt at mediocre french food, served by a very grumpy waiter who needs you to eat the 3 course meal in under 30 minutes. As I said to Monsieur, what did we expect? The chef is a rat! I can say that the ratatouille was good. But I mean, how hard can it be to get ratatouille right? Huh REMY? HUH????

The oh-so-realistic fountain outside Remy’s.

By 9pm, we were all beat and decided that we were far more interested in hopping the train back to Paris than sticking around for the fireworks. The kids were happy with all that they accomplished at Disneyland that day and we were happy that they were happy. But we were all even more happy when we got back home and were able to tuck ourselves into bed for the night.

The Little with their mouse ears. Its not a day at Disney without some sort of merchandise item that you’re likely never to wear again!

Les Amies

Being away from home for 8 months is hard for the kids. As much as they are loving the adventure, there are many days when they miss home, school and most of all their friends. Luckily through some amazing fancy footwork and very brave parenting, The Big Kid’s best friend flew over to spend 10 days with us in Paris. After a sleepless night for her parents, sweet A arrived in Paris at Charles DeGaulle airport into the waiting arms of her BFF. Both of our kids were equally happy to have someone their age to hang out with and most of all to spend time with someone that wasn’t us.

An absolute trooper, A came straight off the plane and jumped right into sightseeing. We wanted to squeeze in as much as possible and G was very excited to share Paris with her pal. I think we managed to check most of the sites off A’s to do list with visits to The Louvre, Musee d’Orsay, Disneyland Paris (a post for another day), Eiffel Tower, Versailles, Jardin du Luxembourg and L’Arc de Triomphe.

The girls exploring Paris

I won’t give you a play by play of the full 10 days as that seems like overkill. Maybe we’ll just talk about our day at Versailles. Around an hour’s train ride from Paris, the Palace of Versailles is a must do if you’re ever over here. Originally built as a Hunting Lodge by Louis XIII in 1623, it was expanded by Louis XIV to an incredible Palace and in 1682 he moved his court and the government here. The Palace is massive with its impressive Chapel, Apartments, Museum, Gardens and the almost as incredible smaller palaces of the Grand Trianon and Petit Trianon. Its overwhelming.

Once off the train, its just a short 10 minute walk through the town of Versailles (a very cool little place) and you’re at the Palace gate. Tickets are only required to enter the Palaces, the vast Gardens and grounds are free unless there’s some special event (fireworks, concerts etc). Our pre-booked tickets for the Palace were scheduled for the late afternoon and it was lunch time so we made a beeline for the Gardens and one of the many restaurants.

The view of Versailles from the Grand Canal

I’ve been to Versailles twice before but always in the winter, so it was very cool to see the Gardens in full swing and the tourists flocking. We knew that there were golf carts available to rent to explore the Gardens and to get to the secondary Palaces, but since its Spring and tourism in Paris is back on track, the line was way too long and the supply of golf carts was way too small. We headed out on foot, stopping at the first restaurant on the map, La Girondole.

The map indicates that this is a restaurant, but what we found was a glorified snack bar. Chicken nuggets and burgers again! Although to be fair, this is France so I was able to get a quiche and Monsieur a baguette sandwich. AND they did have lovely Tarte Framboise for dessert. We would have been smarter to hold off as La Flottille Restaurant at the beginning of the Grand Canal looked much lovelier.

Speaking of the Grand Canal (a massive man-made, t-shaped basin in the second half of the Gardens), I booked our tickets with a row boat rental. How idyllic, I imagined a scene with all of us in a rowboat with parasols and corsetted dresses. Nope, instead we found a loud-mouthed boss on the dock yelling instructions at us. We crammed into the boat. The little, because they are under 12 was required to wear a life jacket much to their chagrin. Ironically, I’m quite sure that if we had capsized, the water was only waist high and we could walk back to shore.

Monsieur was relegated to rowing and off we went. Rowboats are frigging hard to row, especially with 5 people in them and in a man made lake with about 200 other rowboaters equally as inexperienced as us. With Monsieur at the helm, his back to the bow, the rest of us we’re left to hurl directional advice:

”Dad, watch out!”

”Slow down, you’re going to hit that boat.”

”Go left, left, I said left. No my left. Oh shit, I mean right.”

”Oh my God they’re going to hit us!”

”Don’t hit the swans! They might attack us!”

”I feel sick.”

“Can I get a gelato?”

After 5 minutes we decided we were good. We could check “Rowboating on the Grand Canal of Versailles” off our list.

Monsieur on the high seas

Continuing our journey on foot with gelatos for the road, we made our way to see the Grand Trianon which was built by Louis XIV as a respite from court. Its easy to see why the French Revolution happened with all the opulence here at Versailles. We didn’t make it over to the Petit Trianon. One Trianon is a enough for one day.

Realizing we were quite close to our reservation time for entry to the Main Palace, we decided we needed to hoof it back through the Gardens to the Palace door. Sheesh, these Gardens are VAST. It was a walk for sure. We made it back just in time, covered in pea gravel dust and ready to soak up some history!

The highlights of the tour are the Royal Chapel and the Hall of Mirrors. But its also great fun exploring all the portraits of the French Kings and their courts. Man, there were some hair-dos! It is fascinating to see the worn steps and think of all the people that came before us over the past 350+ years.

Hall of Mirrors, Versailles

Versailles is an easy afternoon trip from Paris and well worth the time to explore any time of the year. Next time, I want to go on bikes and a picnic.

As for our lovely guest, I think she enjoyed her stay with our gang. We had a ball sharing Paris with her and I think that the kids built some memories that they will treasure forever. As far as I’m concerned, that’s mission accomplished.

With thanks to the McL Family for sharing their girl with us 🙂

Zurich is Cheesy

From Venice, we flew to Zurich. Just a short flight over the Alps, we figured we’d take advantage of the opportunity to see another city and Zurich to Paris is an easy train journey. So why not?

Where Venice is chaos, Zurich is serene calm. A beautiful, leafy city set on the stunning Lake Zurich. Surrounded by rolling foothills, it is picturesque. Arriving on a Friday night with a hotel in what seemed to be a business district surrounded by bank offices, we welcomed the quiet. But we were hungry. Looking for an authentic Swiss experience, the concierge at our hotel recommended a restaurant just outside of town called Chäsalp.

“Just a little ways outside of town” is actually a 10 minute Uber ride from the City Centre, we were grateful that Zurich is blessedly small. The Uber driver pulled into the long driveway and dropped us in what seemed like a deserted but lovely farm out in the country. It felt like heaven, even if we had no idea how we would get back to our hotel. Having been in Paris and Venice, we miss trees and we miss grass. Chäsalp has a beautiful set up, with many picnic tables and a small playground area. As much as we miss nature, the Little misses playgrounds so they were very grateful for some swings and slide. Monsieur was grateful for the outside dining area. Why do you ask? Well…

The view from Chäsalp

The house specialties at Chäsalp are fondue and raclette. Now for all of you who know the Monsieur, you know well that he is not a fan of cheese, especially smelly cheese. As we found our way inside the restaurant we were greeted to a full frontal assault of the aroma of fondue. We expected that a fondue restaurant may smell a tad cheesy and Monsieur had steeled himself for the experience, ready to “take one on the chin” for the rest of us. He was prepared to grin and bear it, until we walked in. He looked at me, threw his arms in the air and said, ”I can’t. I’m out.” Luckily, the aforementioned outdoor dining area was vast with just one other couple enjoying the fresh non-cheesy breeze. ”Would you mind if we sat outside?” I asked the server. She shrugged and motioned towards a lovely table between the swing set and the slide. Monsieur was very appreciative and the Little welcomed the opportunity for more playground time.

Super yummy, yet very smelly fondue in Zurich

We ordered two different types of cheese fondue. The traditional and one with bacon after the server told us we needed at least two. Lets just say one pot would have easily fed a family of four, let alone our family of 1 fondue fan, 2 maybe fondue fans and 1 absolutely no fondue whatsoever fan. The traditional fondue was in fact delicious, best I’ve ever had. The fondue with bacon was of course delicious as we felt our arteries clogging with every bite. Lets just say the bacon isn’t really necessary when you’re dipping chunks of bread in a pot of melted cheese. The big kid and I tucked in to the traditional and didn’t look back. We had pepto bismal at the ready when we got back to the hotel.

If you’re worried about Monsieur at this point, he was very happy with his order beer and his schnitzel in the light spring breeze. He was even happier when the fondue pot was cleared away. When the server returned to pick up the fondue course, she asked why Monsieur was at the far end of the table. ”He doesn’t like cheese,” I explained. She shrugged her shoulders and rolled her eyes, missing the point of Monsieur’s grand sacrifice for his family.

Schnitzel was the perfect alternative to the cheese for Monsieur and the Little Kid

We were pooped after our time in Venice constantly on the move, so we decided to take it easy in Zurich. Our friends P & M who used to live in Zurich sent some recommendations of things to see. Per usual, we decided to set out to explore on foot. Situated close to the shores of Lake Zurich and the Limmat River, we easily found the old town. Sadly for Monsieur, there were plenty of cafe’s serving fondue and raclette but luckily those spring breezes kept his cheese induced nausea at bay.

Zurich on a Saturday was charming and quiet as friends brunched on patios and strolled the shopping streets. We did our very best to pivot to German after a week of stumbling through Italian. I think I thanked a shopkeeper in Norwegian at one point. Tussen Tak Madame!

We stumbled upon the Grossmünster, the grand reform church in the Old Town. We didn’t go in, the kids get the creeps from churches and constantly fear conversion I think. But it was quite majestic from the outside, so good for you Reformers.

Along the Niederdorfstrasse, lots of Cheesy meal options

For lunch we found the Bauschänzli Beer Garden along the Limmat. From the road, this looked like an elegant riverside restaurant. While still reasonably elegant – all of Zurich is elegant – everyone was happy with the bratwurst and beer lunch we had at picnic tables. The kids had cokes, don’t worry! We were doing our best with the German language menu but when we thought we were ordering hot dogs, the bratwursts arrived. Luckily the kids didn’t care and were hungry enough not to fight it.

The Big and the Little loved the Beer Garden lunch at Bauschänzli with the Limmat and Grossmünster in the background

That evening, we were a little sluggish from all the wheat, dairy and meat products. Luckily the hotel was kind enough to find us dinner reservations at Sala of Tokyo, where we had one of the priciest sushi meals ever. Remember we’re from Vancouver where sushi is basically fast food and Zurich is one of the more expensive cities in Europe, so there was some sticker shock on the price of the california roll.

Strolling along Lake Zurich

Before we knew it, it was already time to head back to Paris. Swiss trains do in fact run on time. We were booked on a commuter train to Basel, connecting to the French TGV train. The commuter train portion was a little confusing as we were given some conflicting information from the conductors, but we managed to hop on the right train and made the connection in Basel easily as the TGV was on the very next platform. We marvelled again at how easy and comfortable the European train system can be. In under 5 hours we were back home in Paris!

One habit we have gotten into is picking up snacks for the train ride. All stations have a store where you can get chips, snacks, drinks etc. The kids are always happy for a cheeky pack of Haribo sweets. We usually hit up the Paul or Pret à Manger where you can find great baguette sandwiches, croissants, pastries and pre-made salads to take away. We learned not to rely on the snack bars on the trains as they tend to sell out or have limited options.

Zurich is a beautiful city. Charming and friendly, quiet and safe. It felt very natural for us Canadians and made a nice change from the hustle and bustle that we’ve been used to.

Everywhere you look, one of the many clocktowers in Zurich

And If Venice is Sinking

Venice may not exactly be sinking but its definitely sloshy.

Late night walk awaiting Acqua Alta

We made our way to Venice for a sneak peek at the incredible Venice Biennale Arte 2022. Our friend Monica Reyes organized some tickets for us to be able to attend what ArtNet called the Art Olympics. What a treat! Venice is already a feast for the eyes, add in some of the most exciting and interesting artists in the world today and its eye candy overload.

But first, Venice is sloshy. You may recall in my Amsterdam post the claim that Amsterdam has more canals than Venice. Sure that may be true, but where Amsterdam is an orderly and tidy concentric collection of canals, Venice is a spider’s web that has withstood the test of time and the elements. We started our experience with a water taxi from the airport, the sleek long canal boats that serve as Venice’s taxi network hauled ass out of the ”boat garage” through a narrow channel that was some of the roughest water I’ve ever been on. The wake from all the many boats speeding through creating a tumultuous mess of water. Clearly an example of why marinas have no wake speed limits. Finally out into the open lagoon, we were amazed at the organized chaos of boats headed in each and every direction. Our captain apologized profusely that he needed to stop for gas, we didn’t care! We were boating!

First glimpse on a Gondola and when I realized my black and white striped shirt wasn’t exactly the best fashion choice for Venice.

As the Captain turned onto the Grand Canal, our first glimpse of this incredible city, we ooohed and aaahed at our first gondola sighting. I scrambled to get a picture, disappointed that I’d missed the exact right angle. Little did I realize that there are literally hundreds, if not thousands of gondolas traversing the canals of this city.

Passing under the Rialto Bridge, our captain took a left onto a narrow canal towards our hotel. Navigation is tricky and the plethora of gondolas requires the water taxis to drop down to a crawl. The drivers and gondoliers all yell back and forth to each other as they navigate through the narrow passages. Amazingly, there is no road rage and no one hits anyone else. The gondoliers are a fascinating species, using a single narrow oar they manage to steer these long boats around tight corners and tiny corridors. Like yogis they kick up their legs to push off walls with their feet, crouching at the last minute beneath bridges all the while manually pushing the boat along and singing to boot. What a tradition!

The non-Vegas version of The Rialto Bridge
Gondola traffic jam

I packed for our 3 short days (which by the way is exactly enough time to visit) in Venice basing it on the mild balmy weather we’re having in Paris. I didn’t take into account that since its sitting on water that in mid-April, Venice is likely to be a bit damp and chilly. Luckily, every designer brand has an outpost on the island and there were plenty of options to buy something new.

We came to Venice for the opening of the 2022 Biennale. Held every two years, this year’s installment, “The Milk of Dreams” was delayed by one year due to Covid so 2022 was a big one for the art world. The Biennale consists of two very big exhibition grounds – the Giardini and the Arsenale – and a collection of many sanctioned and unsanctioned exhibits all around Venice. The Arsenale, originally built in 1104, has served as an armoury and shipyard over the centuries. The main exhibit hall extends for literally hectares as you walk from room after room of works of art from the surreal to the sublime. By the end I was ready for the exit and needed a break from all the sensory overload. We were amazed when we finally found the exit that we were now on the other side of Venice! I preferred the Giardini as it felt more manageable with one large exhibit hall and several small national pavilions.

Simone Leigh’s “Sovereignty” was the Official US presentation for the Biennale. Her work was breathtaking and poignant. It was my favourite. I won’t try to describe it as I won’t do it justice, but I recommend you check her out. We were also excited to see Stan Douglas’ exhibit at the Canadian pavilion. A collection of recreated photographs from 4 different uprisings that occurred in 2011.

There were also some strange pieces including one room where two women sat on the floor and just sang minor notes back and forth at each other in a call and answer. I dug as deep as I could into the esoteric part of my brain to try and understand it but I came up empty.

Simone Leigh’s ”Brick House” bronze sculpture at the entrance of the Arsenale site of the 2022 Venice Biennale

In addition to the two main exhibition locations, there were several other art shows around the city. We happened upon Anish Kapoor’s show (famous for the Cloud Gate in Chicago – the big reflective bean sculpture) which was interesting and a little disturbing. But I did like the room where he placed Vantablack spheres and orbs on the walls which made them look three dimensional and concave.

Anish Kapoor’s ”Sky Mirror” at Gallerie dell Accademia in Venice

We also tried to get in to see Kehinda Wiley’s show (famous for the Presidential portrait of Barack Obama) but we happened to show up exactly when they were doing a press viewing and there was no luck. Canadian sweet-talk will only get you so far in Venice, especially when trying it on an American publicist.

The two non-Biennale highlights were the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and Murano island. Peggy Guggenheim’s former villa situated along the Grand Canal is now a lovely museum housing her Modern Art Collection. Peggy was part of the famous American Guggenheim family. Niece of Solomon Guggenheim, she had an incredible eye and was good at connecting with artists and her collection is vast and impeccable; Jackson Pollock, Warhol, Dali, Rothko you name it. Definitely worth a visit when in Venice.

The Little and Papa Leone on the Gondola

Our trip to Peggy’s place – I imagine that Peg and I are good friends, who wouldn’t want a bonne vivant of a pal with a fabulous villa on the Grand Canal – became a little adventure. We mapped our way over to the museum and figured it was about a 20 minute walk. Like Monaco, Google Maps in Venice doesn’t always work very well as the streets are so narrow and compact. On our way, we passed a Gondolier Station (Statzione? I don’t actually know what’s called, but its kind of like that show Taxi where all the drivers hang out, except these drivers are all wearing striped shirts and straw hats.) Monica asked Danny DeVito (aka the Gondola Boss) and managed to negotiate a trip for us over to Peggy’s. We piled into a fabulous gondola with Signore Papa Leone our gondolier. He was about 6’5”, 60 years old and sporting a hefty pasta gut. Yet, Papa Leone managed to navigate us around. He only stopped singing to yell out point of interests along the way – Mozart stayed there, Opera House etc. He swiftly steered us across the Grand Canal and straight up to the dock at Peggy’s. We climbed out of the boat and walked straight into the Museum. We had bought tickets, but this was the backdoor. I don’t know how we managed that, but it was a laugh.

The view from Peggy’s place.

Murano island is about 40 minutes from San Marco Square by boat. Our hotel arranged a tour for us. Whats the charge we ask, ”Oh no Signora, its complimentary.” A lovely water taxi picked us up and took us to a dock where a team of greeters were on hand to meet us and help us out of the boat. We were swept inside immediately to the studio where two master glassblowers were hard at work on a special order of glasses. We watched the men in what seemed like a choregraphed dance as they crafted glasses before our eyes. As each glass came out of the fire for the last time, the master would hold it up for us to see and everyone in the room would applaud. When they finished, our guide took us to see ”some of the items that they make here in the studio, with no obligation to purchase of course”. Seven rooms and two (maybe it was three) floors later with a receipt for a set of our own glassware in hand, we were shephered back to our awaiting water taxi and taken back to the dock of our hotel. I couldn’t tell you what there is to see on Murano as we were herded in and out with no chance of further exploration. It felt a little like one of those hotels that gives you an extra special cheap rate as long as you take the Time Share tour. I guess we’ll see if our new glasses make it to Vancouver.

Chandeliers in Murano

On our last night in Venice, Monsieur and I were very fortunate to attend the Canadian party to celebrate Stan Douglas and the Canada Pavilion. It was our first post-Covid party, and we realized we’re very out of practice. It was a great event, but we’re old and staying out past 9pm is hard work. It was also very strange to be in a room with hundreds of people eating, drinking and chatting. It was a super cool event, but we decided to call it a night around midnight. Kind of glad we did. We left in the rain, taking a shuttle boat back to our neck of the island. The town was preparing for Acqua Alta – high tide and rain meant there was a chance of flooding. A frequent enough occurrence this time of year that there were raised walkways at the ready for our whole stay throughout the city. Tonight, they were set up along the Grand Canal, through San Marco Square and all the way back to our hotel. We didn’t venture further to see how far the network travelled but I’m quite sure they are everywhere. We also noticed the small barricades/ dams in every doorway that can be slid into place to protect the buildings from flooding. We were tucked into bed by the time the tide was highest so we didn’t see it first hand, but walking home the water was very close to breaching.

In Venice for all three days, the lyrics from ”And If Venice is Sinking” by Spirit of the West played in my head. In spite of the constant threat of a too high tide, beauty IS religion here, John Mann hit the nail right on the head. And Marini’s little man left me laughing too.

Marini’s “Angel of the City

A friend likened Venice to a postcard and I think this is absolutely true. Venice is home to only about 38,000 residents. The rest of us are all interlopers. Coming and going through the sloshy canals, to spend three to four days experiencing life in this romantic destination. But you see, with the hordes and hordes of transient folks, the truth is Venice is a community designed to cater to tourists. When you’re a traveler and you want to get to know the local culture, you may feel a little disappointed by Venice. Sure, its picture perfect and a piece of living history. But its hard to find great local food when there isn’t a local population to support the scene. I get it. Tourists are a demanding and pushy bunch who take everything they can out of a place and leave a pile of filthy luchre in return. But, I think I prefer a gentler and more natural form of travel. It seems a good idea for Venice to charge an entry fee, after all the whole place is a museum. In the meantime, I’m grateful for the opportunity to have seen such a beautiful place. Do we need to return? I think I’m good.

Monsieur et Madame overlooking San Marco Campanile