Rome for the Night

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We’re looking ahead to Spring – Aix en Provence for the Easter Festival.

We often find ourselves spending a night in Rome on our way to or from other places in Italy, as we did last month, and we enjoy the opportunity to savor the sights and tastes of the city even with just an overnight.

We’ve found a favorite little four-room inn, Relais Cavour, housed in a Roman palazzo that is a ten minute walk from Rome’s Termini Train Station, from where it’s an easy trip to the airport.  With comfortable well-equipped quiet rooms – excellent beds, a sleek bathroom, space for our luggage, superior wifi, and plenty of electrical outlets – it’s a perfect fit for a one night stay. Breakfast can be delivered to your room – there are a table and chairs in each room – or if you’re leaving early, in a to-go bag.
The Monti district, a few minutes walk from the Inn, has gotten a lot of press in recent years regarding new restaurants and boutiques, and is well worth a wander. When we spent a night there last fall, I mentioned the district and Kirk found an old-Rome trattoria on Yelp that we tried out – and LOVED. One of the best Carbonaras I’ve tasted! When we were at the Relais in January, arriving from the airport just in time for a late dinner, we tried to remember the name to find it again – we’d just finished a few days in Malta following a private tour for a guest who was seeking out her roots on the Adriatic Coast of Italy so we hadn’t planned for Rome except for booking a room! Couldn’t find it on Yelp, so we just started walking in the general direction, and after wandering down one cobbled street that didn’t look quite right, we tried the next one and there it was, at via dei Capocci #4- Trattoria al Tettarello! I had that memorable Carbonara again, and Kirk enjoyed one of the best steaks he’s ever had, along with an excellent bottle of Rosso de Montalcino. With unbelievably good prices and a cozy intimate down-home dining room, it’s a place we’ll return to again and again!
In addition to the fun Monti neighborhood, Relais Cavour is also within walking distance of Rome’s number one sight, the Colisseum!  It was a pleasure to walk to that icon at sunrise last fall before heading for the airport for the long flight home. We circled the massive structure, stopped for one last good Italian coffee, and gathered our bags at the Relais to be on our way.
Another Roman beauty is even closer – Santa Maria Maggiore, which we pass on our way to dinner at al Tettarello. And if you have a little more time, the Campo dei Fiori market, always a delight, isn’t too far. Nor is the glorious Pantheon, and just around the corner, Kirk’s favorite coffee pause – Sant Eustachio. So even with less than 24 hours, it’s easy to enjoy a mini Roman Holiday!

A Marseille Celebration

14 juillet – Bastille Day, 2018
Marseille, France

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“Where can we see some great Bastille Day fireworks near Aix?” we asked our in-the-know French friends…and Marseille was the top reply – now we know why! In addition to festive fun (Kirk’s birthday happens to be the same day as France’s National Holiday, you may remember!) we were looking forward to an air conditioned respite from the oppressive heat, and a swimming pool thrown in for good measure! Right on the historic Vieux Port, the Radisson Blu was a perfect choice – with a fabulous view from our 4th floor windows! Although we were tempted to stay in the marvelously cool room (you don’t know how much you miss air conditioning until you live without it for a while!), we decided to relax poolside instead – cooled with a refreshing dip and breezes as we basked in the sun, the 17th century Fort St. Nicolas looming beyond. Since Marseille is such a big city, I always imagined it as hotter than Aix – but no, it’s seaside location tempers the heat nicely – it’s bearable to stroll around near the water, unlike on those 89 degree afternoons in Aix. Enjoying the beautiful architecture as we seek out a restaurant for an early (for France, that is – around 8) dinner, we find many well-recommended spots right near the Vieux Port, and request an outdoor table at L’Oliveraie, on restaurant-lined Place aux Huiles. Jazz from the restaurant next-door entertains us as we relish a delicious dinner under the olive trees – we do recommend this place!
Police and Emergency Medical Teams are setting up all around the Vieux Port in preparation for the fireworks at 10, and early arrivers are claiming their spots chosen for the best view. After a sunset stroll along the water, we head up to our room, waiting for the show. Just after ten, the streetlights surrounding the port turn off, music booms from the speakers, and here we go! 16 pontoons are lined up down the middle,

and flare in unison with beautiful firework displays, while to our left, above Fort St. Nicolas, more fireworks fill the sky – what a show! Happy Birthday Kirk!
The celebrations  continue on Sunday – France is in the World Cup! But the day starts quietly, with a walk around the port (check out the mermaids!)  after the delicious buffet breakfast at the Radisson Blu.
You’ve heard of Savon de Marseille, I’m sure – now available worldwide, and one of the most popular booths at any south of France market – well why not buy fragrant olive oil soap right here in Marseille, IN the Vieux Port?One more delicious Marseille meal – fresh seafood -with-a-view at Caravelle – thanks, Corey of French La Vie for the recommendation!
Then under the so-cool reflective canopy we walk, snap a photo of ourselves, metro to the station, and bus back to Aix with revelers ready to watch the big game – yes, Les Bleus are World Champions again! Last time was 1998, and we were in Paris for that unforgettable revelry. Aix celebrates more calmly, we’re glad to say 🙂
What fun this second-largest city of France, Marseille, has been – we’ll be back!

The Delights of Medieval Bruges

May, 2017
Bruges, Belgium

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How about celebrating Mozart in the matchless city of Bath, England in November?

My vote for Europe’s most romantic town? It’s gotta be Bruges, a lost-in-time canal-laced charmer an hour from Brussels. It’s one of the day trips on our Amsterdam and Flemish Treasures tour each August, and we took a couple of days before our May tours in Provence to enjoy it again. The first time we visited was on a Valentine’s Day weekend in the ’90s, and we stayed right in the middle of Bruges’ most photographed spot, above, at a delightfully shabby hotel,  Bourgondisch Cruyce, that has since been renovated into a gorgeous 4 star luxe property.
This time we’ve checked into yet another lovely lodging to recommend, the Karel de Stoute, former home of a prince of the same name. One of his medieval towers is now our bathroom! Located in a part of town that we’ve never before explored, with a canal, of course, flowing nearby, it’s a delightful boutique hotel with the most fabulous breakfast buffet…tables laden with fresh fruit, homemade pastries and cakes, and anything else you’d want for a filling delicious breakfast.
So what caused this town to hibernate for over three-hundred years, thus retaining its medieval elegance? Having become wealthy through trading, with an essential outlet to the sea, the River Zwin, Bruge’s fortunes drastically changed when the river silted up in the 16th century. It was not until it was rediscovered by English and French Romantics in the 19th century that Bruges’ charms were uncovered…and today it’s the most popular tourist destination in Belgium!
It’s a short walk from our hotel to the main squares, the Markt and the Burg. This trip we just look at the neck-craning Belfry on the Markt Square – last time we climbed the 366 steps to the top for a great view. The green stall selling frites at the base has been there forever – and their not-french-fries (yes, french fries really came from Belgium, not France!) are worthy of the always-long line of customers. Step-gabled buildings line up along the square – especially pretty when the lights twinkle on at dusk. A short walk takes us to the Burg, with a lavish Stadhuis (town hall) and tucked into a corner, the Basilica of the holy Blood, its entrance guarded by gilded statues. Climb the stairs inside to the Upper Chapel, built and lavishly frescoed in the 12th century. With a unique bowling-ball shaped pulpit and vivid stained glass windows, it’s well worth a pause. 
Ready for a pause of another kind, we follow our noses to a fragrant waffle shop and enjoy one of Belgium’s signature dishes – yum! 2018 is a year for the Contemporary Art and Architecture Triennale, from May 5 to June 18, with a theme of Liquid City, and what fun it is to spot the art along the canals! Several installations are actual playgrounds – we’re careful not to fall in as we saw one man do as he stepped back for a photo of these billowing orange shapes! The contrast of super-modern with intricate medieval architecture is exhilarating – and the perfect weather adds to the pleasure!
Wandering along canals, down narrow lanes with homes garlanded with wisteria, through churchyards hemmed with espaliered fruit trees, til we find a favorite corner from years ago, we make our way to Minnewater Park, not far from the train station. The adjacent Begihnhof, founded in 1245, is one of Bruges’ most charming locations (especially earlier in the spring when the lawn is covered with daffodils!). Rows of small white houses originally built for lay sisters circle the lawn, and a spirit of peace enfolds the area.
We complete our day with another stroll as dusk falls – at all hours Bruges is a delight!