Monthly Archives: March 2015

Rome: Day 4

19th March 2015

On our final full day in Rome we wanted to tour the Colosseum so we had booked a tour online and headed off to begin our tour. We really only did tours in Rome because I don’t have much knowledge about Roman culture and its history is so in depth and ancient it’s hard to grasp the reality of it sometimes! The tours tend to be decent, but usually lacking and really short. You learn a few facts and wham, it’s over. I think if you can find some tours for a good price I’d look into them, or even look for apps and things that you can do on your own. I really loved the private tour we listened to at the Louvre and I’m sure there are things out there that I just did not look into.. next time though!!

This is actually the REAL name of the Colosseum, Amphitheater Flavim.

Then of course we had to get lunch after our tour. We found a little pizza shop off the beaten path and had wonderful pizza! Fresh buffalo mozzarella for me!!

After lunch we continued to the ancient ruins as our ticket from the Colosseum included free entry into the ruins of the Roman Forum and Palantine Hill. A lot of this was overwhelming for me, but it was neat to see the final resting place of Julius Cesare!

I also looked up Anthony Bourdain’s recommendations again and was able to get gelato from one of the best gelaterias in Rome!! YAY! Gracchi! It was also close to our b&b!!

After an exhausting day of walking around Rome we headed back to our hotel to gather our thoughts and decide on dinner. Of course I start searching and searching the internet for a really unique meal for our last dinner in Europe. I came across a restaurant called Romeo that was near our hotel and we thought we’d walk by and see what we thought.

 YES WE WILL EAT HERE! HOW AMAZING IS THIS CHARCUTERIE?!

Below is the most amazing prosciutto and FRESH buffalo mozzarella and they gave us complimentary FRESH ricotta that tasted like absolute HEAVEN.. OMG it was SO good!!

A classic Italian cocktail, the Negroni!

Amazing fresh pasta!!

Sausage stuffed calamari!! YUM!

We also realized we never had tiramisu in Rome so of course we ordered it, and this is what came out!! We made a video of how this bad boy opened but I can’t find it, but let me just tell you, it was amazing!! It really did taste like tiramisu too, even if it doesn’t look remotely like the cakey substance we’re accustomed to here in the U.S. Ultimately, if you couldn’t tell, I would HIGHLY recommend you visit Romeo if you’re ever in Rome. Even though it looks fancy, it wasn’t over priced and it was amazingly delicious!!

The next morning it was off to the airport to leave Europe and end our 2.5 week trip.. I was definitely sad to give up our relaxed lifestyle of eating when we wanted, drinking when we wanted (at every lunch!) and just doing what we wanted. It was also nice getting to spend every day with hubs. Although Rome really tested my patience with him, but it wasn’t just him it was also Rome testing my patience.. As you can tell Rome was not my favorite city we visited. To be honest it was my least favorite city. It just didn’t agree with me and I wouldn’t be in a hurry to visit again. I knew I wasn’t too found of going in the first place so I hate to think it was my preconceived notions, but it was just the lack of hospitality, the overwhelming amount of tourists and the overall amount of garbage and broken glass everywhere making the city dirty. I know people love Rome and I can see potential I really can, but it just didn’t capture my heart. I really wish we had visited Florence instead, but we can save that for next time. We did get yummy pizza and gelato so that’s a win in my book. But the pictures prove it is a beautiful city!!

I just can’t wait to get back to Europe though. I want to explore France more, I’d like to visit Germany, England, Austria, Belgium, Greece.. the list goes on and on!! And hubs and I agree we’d go back to Venice in a heart beat! Of course we’d love to go back anywhere in France.. We still can’t get over how much we loved it! We actually just bought a learn French CD too so hopefully we can brush up with the French visit Raleigh in September!!

What’s your ideal Europe trip?! Where have you been that you’d recommend? Where do you want to go? I’d LOVE to know your thoughts!!

Hope you enjoyed #dillmanstakeeurope #dillmanstravel 😉

Rome: Day 3

17th March 2015

Day three in Rome was dedicated to visiting the Vatican. Before we had left for our trip we were looking through our credit cards and opening a new card that would help us acquire points, but also has no foreign transaction fees while abroad. While we were doing so I also realized I had points on another card. I realized we could use our points for tours so we booked a tour of St. Peter’s Basilica. We took an 8/9:00 appointment to get our tour underway before it became too busy. (If you book a tour, go through the security line, into the front of the Basilica and there is a big table that has different tour groups.) It took us a minute to find our beginning location but we found it, picked up our headphones and were off on our tour. The basilica is very grandeur and overwhelming. I don’t have a lot of knowledge of Catholicism but it was very beautiful being among so much history. (That and I could relate to watching Angels and Demons.. whoops!)

It’s hard to fathom but all the letters around the top trim are actually larger than most people. The letters are all 6 feet tall! Definitely helps you grasp the enormity of St. Peter’s Basilica!

Still not sure about the whole entombed Pope thing.. This is really the body of a deceased Pope.

It became a ritual to rub this pope’s foot and your sins would be cleansed.. why not?! His foot was almost rubbed off!

This picture just makes me think of Ewen McGregor in Angels and Demons by Dan Brown..

Everyone loves to see the Swiss Guards in their amazing outfits! After our tour of the Basilica we inquired about the Vatican museum tours. We opted not to do an official tour and just wander around the museum on our own, but FIRST it was lunch!!

On high recommendation from friends, and also Anthony Bourdain, we headed off to Pizzarium Bonci! Created by chef Bonci, this is not your average pizza joint even in American terms. There is no where to sit and the pizza is actually CUT (with scissors) by the slice! It is also weighed so you must tell them how big or small you want your slice. They use the most fresh and seasonal ingredients so all the pizzas are different. They claim he’s invented 1,500 different pizzas! The best pizza must come from good dough and the dough at Pizzarium must rise for over 24 hours and is a recipe that’s over 200 years old. You must try different slices and always try the simple tomato sauce because although simple, it’s amazing. The longer you sit there the more pizzas come out and you wish you could eat ALL of them!! And don’t forget your beer or wine off to the side, they have great craft beers and great wine! Pizzarium is a MUST VISIT!!!

If there’s anything I would teach anyone visiting Europe in general, EAT YOUR MEATS! Especially the pork.. you see that proscuitto?! YUM! Eat all your charcuterie, you won’t regret it!! Then you’ll get back to the US and won’t be able to find anything as good.. sad!

 Then it was back to the Vatican to tour the museum!

Had to be immature because this statue above is so silly to me!! We really did not take in this museum as you should but we had a hard time concentrating on all the religious art as most of Europe is consumed in it and it all starts to look the same.. After a while we just really wanted to get to the Sistine Chapel and see what it had to offer.

I don’t have any pictures of the Sistine Chapel because they’re not allowed, although people are ALWAYS taking photos. It’s also supposed to be a quiet place although they are herding you into the room like a bunch of cattle where you can’t move and they’re forcing you to move so you can’t actually take in the grandeur because it’s overshadowed by the mass amounts of people, yelling guards, and asking you to be quiet.. By FAR the most touristy place we visited was the Vatican. It was overwhelming and you were always in lines in the museum trying to get to the Sistine. We honestly just wanted to skip everything and just see the Sistine after a while but you had to maze through the whole museum before you were able to visit. It was a bit exhausting..

I really appreciated this Papel Robe by Matisse!

After our visit to the Vatican we headed off for dinner. The restaurant we scoped out was near the Pantheon so we decided to go inside and check it out. It was very unique and different considering this was one of the first real churches!! The open skylight allowing for the rain to not affect the surroundings was really a neat feature that you don’t see every day and just being in a building from 120AD is mind blowing!

Then we grabbed some cocktails and appetizers at a neat little bistro where we enjoyed the nice weather and extreme people watching!

Finally we were off for dinner. We entered this off the beaten path restaurant I had found on one of the nice travel blogs. So we opened the door and asked for a table and were immediately told there was no availability… ALL night. The restaurant wasn’t even full. We felt that because we were tourists we weren’t welcome because it did say it was a locals joint. We were supremely disappointed. Then we found another restaurant on a list that we set out to find. We began to walk around and around because the map said we kept passing the restaurant.. WHERE is it?! Finally we realized it was CLOSED, due to being shut down by the city for a week?! What the?!.. Then it was down to just picking a random restaurant.. sigh.. Dillmans 0 – Rome 15..

I finally was able to try Cacchio e Pepe, which is pretty must olive oil and pepper but it was quiet good although it doesn’t photograph nicely.. ha! All in all dinner wasn’t bad, and it was always nice to have fresh pasta! Then it was time to turn in for the evening..

Rome: Day 2

13th March 2015

On Day 2 we set out with no real plans of Rome. I really didn’t put much planning into Rome since it wasn’t high on my to-visit list so we just tended to wander around and decide to go places we were interested in. We did plan a tour of the Vatican on our third day by using our credit card points!! WOO! We also knew we’d want to save the Colosseum for our final day in Rome.
Since we were so close to the Castel Sant’Angelo, we were really intrigued. We also realized that it was the final scene in Angels and Demons where the intercept the bomb from Ewan McGregors employee and enter the tunnel that goes into the Vatican. Which is actually pretty true because the Castel was used for Vatican purposes. It was actually built between 123 and 129AD as a mausoleum for Emperor Hadrian. It later fell into Papel hands and became a fortress. It’s now a museum and it was a really cool museum with GREAT views of Rome. It used to be the tallest building in Rome!

The Ponte Sant’Angelo bridge is made up of 10 different angels representing the different aspects of the Crucifixion of Christ. They were commissioned by Bernini.

Then I had to get gelato right?! I made it a point to get gelato practically ever day..

After gelato we set off for lunch and shopping because I desperately needed new shoes because my toes hurt so bad from all the walking through Europe. Since I had to throw some of my shoes away after playing golf in France.

I surprised myself because I couldn’t find shoes I liked and I knew I wanted some kind of sneaker so I settled on a leopard van that I thought would be fun with black! Ha!

We got suckered into going into a museum dedicated to Leonardo DaVinci. Turns out it was more of a replica kids museum because you could touch and play with everything in the museum.. Ah you live you learn. Dillmans 0 – Rome 2.

Then we were able to make my hubby happy by watching one of the first NFL games of the year while in ROME.. Turns out we were NOT the only Americans that had the same idea. We met exchange students and even honeymooning couples!

After the game we heard great things about walking around Ancient Rome at night while it was lit up. It was beautiful, until we realized it was close to 11 and hubs mentioned that the metro might close early like it does in Boston.. but it couldn’t right?! This is a huge tourist destination right?! OH BUT IT does close early….. Dillmans 0 – Rome 5, after we have to take a taxi from the train station which was further away than when we hopped on the first metro.. My thoughts of Rome were quickly dwindling.. Not to mention all the broken glass on the ground and pushy wait staff and pedestrians that come straight towards you on a sidewalk when no one is around… UGH! In the mean time, some pretty photos for your viewing pleasure.

xoxo,
Amanda

Rome: Day 1

11th March 2015

After our wine tour day in Tuscany, we hopped the train early in the morning from Arezzo to Rome. Rome is interesting for me to talk about. I never really had an urge to visit Rome frankly. My husband really wanted to go and I wanted to go to Florence. I also really wanted to go to Venice, so I let him have his Rome. I found a B&B on Tripadvisor (of course), OM2Rome, close to the Vatican for our accommodations because of their reasonable prices and relied on their metro system to get us from the train station to our B&B. The beds were nice and comfy, we had a large room, the breakfast was decent but definitely not the best. I think maybe next time we’d stay closer to ancient Rome versus the Vatican but you learn for sure! It was still a walkable location for us, but by the time we made it to Rome my feet were really starting to not be happy with me.

We arrived in Rome pretty early so we dropped off our luggage at OM2Rome and headed out for a day of exploring and eating. We didn’t really have anything on the agenda, we just sort of set out walking. We stayed really close to the Castel Sant’Angelo next to the Tereve river so we crossed it every day on our walk towards Ancient Rome.

Piazza Navona, home of the Fontana dei Quattro Fumi, Fountain of the Four Rivers designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini in the 1600’s for the Pope.

The Pantheon, built in 128AD, it is one of the best preserved ancient Rome buildings, and you can see why. It really was in impeccable condition for being that old, but it still blows my mind how modern buildings really eclipse ancient Rome. When I mean modern buildings, obviously these are a 100 to 200 years old, but in perspective I still can’t get over how much it encroaches on the ancient.

Below is the Piazza Foto Traiano, or the Trojan Forum ruins that was inaugurated in 112AD.

After we wandered on the ground level we headed up the Capitol Museum (the large white building you saw in the above photo) and captured some beautiful views from above the Trojan Forum and the Ancient ruins.
 

After exploring we headed off for lunch! Of course I had to get pizza and the white pizza with proscuitto was one of the best! I wish I could find the same thing here in the US and I’ve tried but it’s no where near the same.. Sigh. Then I got gelato of course..

After an exhausting day we went to dinner at a local mom and pop restaurant that had come recommend to us and then we decided to walk towards the Vatican to see it at night. They say Rome is quite the sight to see at night because of all the lights. The Vatican was surely beautiful at night. We had arranged a tour for later in our stay.

Rome is definitely an interesting city. It was the most dirty city we visited, lots of trash, graffiti and broken glass. Such a shame to see honestly. It was also the most touristy place we visited, even over Paris. The pace of Rome is also much more pushy than Paris is, especially the waitstaff. It was definitely an adjustment after having such wonderful experiences everywhere else we had visited in Europe. What do you think of Rome?

xoxo,
Amanda

Tuscanmagic: A Tuscan Wine Tour

9th March 2015

One of our main reasons for visiting Arezzo was for a true “Tuscan” experience, which to me, is a wine tour!! We knew this was the main reason for visiting so we began searching tours around the region. Since we didn’t have a car we needed a tour with transportation and an affordable price. I came across a company called “Tuscanmagic” that offered all the things we wanted in a wine tour. The tour included: pick up from accommodations, a visit to two different wineries, a stop in Pienza for lunch and pecorino cheese tasting, and we were treated to a trip to an abbey to hear monks singing.

Our day started with a pick-up around 9am, in the rain… We were so disappointed that our whole trip had been rain free until the day of our tour, and it wasn’t just rain it was foggy too so you could barley see the surroundings. It was disappointing but we could prevail and drink great wine!!

We set off towards the town of Montepulciano for our first wine tasting of the day. We stopped at the cellar of Ercolani in Montepulciano. Montepulciano has actually been seen in movies such as Twilight: New Moon and the English Patient. The cellar was actually located in an old prison where they used to use torture tactics on the prisoners. You’ll see a picture of some of the devices below, one of them a chastity belt… it does NOT look fun!!

The chastity belt in the bottom left had corner.. eeek!!

After visiting Montepulciano, we drove over to Pienza for lunch and some cheese tasting of pecorino cheese which is one of the major products of Pienza.

We tried our first taste of Lemoncello at the restaurant, La Buca di Enea. We had amazing meats and cheeses, pasta and we got a bottle of wine. All of lunch was included in the price of our wine tour, which still makes our full day wine tour an excellent value!!
Normally the tour allows for more time wandering around Pienza but since it was so rainy we headed to the Sant’Antimo Abbey outside of Montalcino. The abbey was built in the 1200’s and is home to an organization of Monks who regularly worship everyday in the Abbey by singing hymns. The public is invited to listen to the hymns but photos are prohibited of the Monks. The Monks actually live on the property and even make their own beer and wine!

We were able to stay and listen to the monks and it was truly a very special experience. It’s amazing the history Europe holds compared to the US and what you really can experience through the culture and history of the different regions.

After our visit to the abbey we headed to our second stop of the wine tour, but the best stop as well! We visited a winery, le Potazzine, in Montalcino. The winery was actually on the vineyard itself so we were able to witness the grapes growing on the vine and see the production area as well. The winery is a small boutique winery that doesn’t export to the US unless custom ordered. We loved our visit so much and we ended up ordering 12 bottles of wine and we don’t want the wine to end! Although we can reorder, it’s not an easy price to ship wine from Italy. Maybe we’ll just have to fly back and bring it back in our suitcases instead! We would highly recommend this winery to anyone!

Definitely some of the most fantastic wine!!! By the time it was over we were surprised how sleepy we were on the drive home!! As soon as we did start driving home, the clouds started to part and we were able to start really seeing Tuscany for all its beauty. It really was beautiful to see and I’m glad we were able to be given a little peak even if it was for just an hour or so. We really enjoyed our wine tour. Our guide Stefano was highly knowledgeable and passionate about the wineries but all the region of Tuscany. The nice thing about our tour was also that it was just myself, hubs and Stefano so it was very private and intimate. I really appreciated that considering I really wanted our trip to be special and the tour provided those intimate moments of the Tuscan dream. I highly recommend anyone thinking of visiting Tuscany to look up Tuscanmagic. It’s a great value and a perfect outing for a day even if you don’t have your own car!

Arrivederci!
Amanda

Arezzo, Italy

5th March 2015

When we knew we were traveling to Italy, we wanted to go to Tuscany to do wine tasting. Originally we had thought about Florence but instead we ended with Rome on our list so we began searching for a location in Tuscany that was located off the train between Venice and Rome. I came across a town called Arezzo in my searches and started exploring what it was all about. It’s about 50 miles southeast of Florence and is named after Guido d’Arezzo, a medieval music theorist, who is the founder of the standard music stanza. It is only home to about 100,000 people and has a lot of history to it. A lot more than we were able to learn as we took a train on September 11 to Arrezo, arriving around lunch time in Arezzo for an afternoon of exploration.

But first finding somewhere to stay was THE priority. I began to search on my trusty TripAdvisor and found the #1 B&B in Arezzo was Chiusa dei Monaci, an old mill from the 1100’s that has been turned into a wonderful B&B with the most friendly owner, Cinzia, who is like your mom away from home. She was absolutely the most friendly person and so welcoming. Her pride for her town is awe inspiring and she even worked for Prada. But her breakfast was out of this world. Homemade pastries, cheeses, meats and the BEST cappuccino in Italy! We loved our stay at the B&B, it was so welcoming and beautiful on a nice day. The only down side was getting to town. Cinzia dropped us one day, but you definitely need a taxi. It seems most people in Tuscany end up renting cars to get around, and that clearly makes sense!

Once our train arrived in Arezzo we were on our own figuring out our way which I probably should have done a better job preparing myself upon arrival because when we got off the train we went on the wrong side of the tracks if you know what I mean… We thought surely this CAN’T be Arezzo?! So we headed back to the train station and out the other side to be pleasantly surprised to find taxi’s and more accurate civilization. We also happened to find a street market with different vendors and so we stopped for some lunch with some fresh sliced porchetta.

After lunch we continued exploring the town of Arezzo and made our way to the Piazza Grande, a medieval square in the center of the city, with different pieces of the square being built in different centuries starting in the 13th century. Between the 16th and 17th century, the Saracen Joust tournament was held regularly. It is an ancient game of chivalry in which jousting games were organized. Although the noble version no longer exists, they do historical reenactments each year in the Piazza. Pretty cool little fact!

After wandering we built up an appetite that we had been planning all day which required authentic Italian food that we could not get anywhere else. Cinzia recommended a lovely spot for dinner called Osteria da Luchino, in which she said that they make all homemade pastas and we were NOT disappointed! The pappardelle pasta with ragu was SO amazing and when I couldn’t decide between that or the ravioli they allowed me to try both. And of course we ALWAYS had wine at every meal. The charcuterie we had in Italy was some of the best as well. I wish we could get the same quality here in the US!

After dinner we headed back to the B&B to rest up for our wine tour of Tuscany the next day. Arezzo is definitely a cute pit stop in Tuscany if you’re looking for a quiet town off the beaten path and we could NOT recommend Chuisa dei Monaci any more, we LOVED the B&B and Cinzia!! She even sent a Christmas email to us! So adorable.

xoxo,
Amanda

Gondola rides in Venice

4th March 2015

Forgive my husband for chatting at the end, but I just wanted to show you the little video I took while we were enjoying our gondola ride! It was definitely romantic snuggling up to hubby taking in the real Venice away from others.

I don’t have any super great tips for getting a gondola ride because they are expensive, and they’re only about 30 minutes, but if it’s what you want to do go for it! We knew we had to do it, a true bucket list item. We did not go to Murano or Burano and the boat tickets there were around 20E so we figured by the time we said no to the Doge’s Palace and going to Murano, we were even to enjoy a romantic evening in one of the romantic places on earth. 

xoxo,
Amanda

Venice, Italy

3rd March 2015

Venice is truly a special place. It’s romantic, exotic, historic (established around the 8th or 9th century!) and extremely beautiful. It’s existence is truly a modern marvel. When you really think about Venice being built on 117 different islands intertwined by canals and connected by bridges, it really hits you how unique Venice is. There is NOTHING like it and there will never been any place like it. Sure you can say that about a lot of places, but when it gets down to it, can you REALLY compare Venice to anything else?! No, probably not. I feel lucky enough to have been able to visit and I wish we visited longer and I wish to visit again!

We only stayed one entire day, we arrived late on September 9th, around 8:30 and by the time we took the Vaparrato to the B&B and ate dinner it was after 10:30. We did wander for a bit, hubs had a beer in the streets and we met a nice couple from Kyrzakhstan who offered us jerky from their home town, we retired for our one full day in Venice. It poured rain that night and when I looked at the forecast it said rain for September 10th and I was so sad, but determined to make the best of it. BUT, we woke to wet streets and the sky clearing to allow us to take in the magic of Venice!

Here are MANY images of why Venice is SO special! (Sorry this is such a long post, it’s just THAT beautiful and I couldn’t decide which images I liked best, so enjoy the story.)

St. Mark’s Basilica in St. Mark’s Square. All the artwork is made up of mosaic tile pieces!

One of the few items we brought home with us is a piece of art, it’s actually the piece in the far left of the image. We still haven’t gotten the image framed yet but we hope to soon!

We didn’t go into Venice really having any agenda at all. We did head to St. Mark’s square first thing in the morning to beat the dreaded cruise ship tourist hoards and went into the basilica because it was free. We were going to go into the Dodge Palace but it was 16E a piece and by the time we reached Venice we had seen a lot of art. We also knew we REALLY wanted to take a Gondola ride and knew they were about 80E.. Quite the splurge but once in a lifetime.. Instead we just took the opportunity to wander around Venice, get lost, take in the sights and eat!! We popped into a local shop for lunch that was making homemade pasta in the window but we DID make prior reservations for dinner!

This guy I definitely didn’t intend to look at me but I thought it was SO neat that he was hand painting these Venetian masks! I just wish that he had not looked up at me! Ha!

We decided that we would take a gondola ride around sunset so that we didn’t pay the night prices but had a romantic glow to our ride. We had passed some side street gondolas and wanted to find them again because we wanted to start where it was more private instead of the grand canal (like above). It took a little bit to find the gondolas but we did!! It is an exuberant price to pay for a boat ride, but really it was SO special to see Venice from the water like it was meant to be enjoyed and it was even better with my husband next to me! Plus our gondolier even gave us some history on Venice.

After our gondola ride we were a bit early for our reservation so we had some wine and sat next to the canal and cherished the quiet moments that Venice had to offer. We also made sure to scope out our restaurant since things are hard to find in Venice! We did find it and saw that they did have an open table even though our reservation was for a bit later. The restaurant, Osteria Alle Testiere, had rave reviews and so I booked very early. They rarely have room for walk-ins so I’m glad we planned ahead. The chef goes to the market every morning to pick the freshest seafood to offer on his menu. It was a lovely meal and a great end to our evening in Venice!

We had such a nice night and it was a shame to leave early the next morning for Tuscany but all good things much come to an end.. Arrivederci Venice! Until next time..

Would you like to visit Venice?! We definitely want to put it on our list to visit again!

xoxo,
Amanda