Friday, September 16, 2011

Hands down, Italy is the best place for a meal!

Have you ever had a meal that made your mouth water just thinking about it?  Or better yet, is there a particular food/dish that you get excited about?  Well, my trip to Italy made EVERY meal that way!
The Italian culture, well, European culture for that matter, is much different than the American culture in many ways.  First and foremost, meals are a bonding, savored, relaxing occasion.  Families and friends are united over food.  Meals take hours, and it’s ok! 
Now, onto the food.  Oh my gosh.  The flavors, the aromas, textures…everything comes together to make a meal full of fabulousness.  Every ingredient that is in a particular dish is fresh, possibly even from the owners garden.  You can taste every ingredient with each bite.  After you are finished with your meal, you are full, but it’s not that uncomfortable feeling where you just want to put your pajamas on and fall asleep.  After a meal out there, you feel refreshed, full, and, at least in my eyes, are pondering where and when the next meal is going to take place!
When you’re from America, the mentality is the bigger the better.  The more food you have on the plate, the better the meal.  Ingredients are loaded with preservatives.  When you have a meal, most of the time it’s you eat and run.  Foods and flavors aren’t savored.  In America, we eat with family and friends, but when the meal is over, you get up and go.  It’s not a relaxing event, but it still brings people together.
I did my deed on enlightening you on some of the differences in Italian/American foods; however, I am very hungry and craving a good old dish of Italian pasta.  I might be making my flight back to Italia sooner than I had planned!

-Written by Lauren Greco

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ideas For A Trip To Spain!

File:Palacio Real Madrid.jpg
Ahhhh, Spain!!!  So beautiful and captivating in its own right.  Like no other European country!  You’ll want to visit many areas of this fabulous country, starting with Madrid, the Spanish capital.  Madrid is famously known for its art and culture and seventy-three museums within this city prove it!  A must to see is the Prado Museum, if you enjoy fine art and Western culture.  This museum is Madrid’s colossal of the arts!  May I suggest you hire a tour guide or purchase a guide book before touring the Prado; in other words, do the research before and have a plan!  Works are on display by many famous artists including Diego Velaquez, Francisco Goya, and Hieronymus Bosch.

You won’t want to miss The Royal Palace of Madrid, the King’s official residence.  Take an early morning tour to avoid the crowds and you’ll be delighted with the rooms, art, and other collections; check out the Royal Armory, Furniture, and Silverware collections.

While in Madrid, also take in a colorful and entertaining Flamenco dance and music performance. Sip on Sangria; eat the famous Spanish dish called, Paella, made of seafood and rice!  Visit the “Bear and the Madrono Tree”, the symbol of Madrid.  This sculpture is located at Puerta del Sol, Madrid. Don’t miss the charming cafes in Plaza Mayor.

Be sure to visit Toledo, Spain’s ancient capital, which is located directly southwest of Madrid. Toledo is of historic interest and it’s also known for its manufacture of swords and knives, which goes back to the days of the Romans.

South of Toledo is Cordoba.  Visit the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos – Fabulous!  This fortress served as one of the primary residences of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon.  Enjoy the beautiful fountains and gardens. You’ll need at least two hours to tour the fortress!

Southwest of Cordoba is Seville, no more than a 90 mile ride.  In Seville, may I recommend the Alcazar, a beautiful Islamic palace with a fusion of Spanish Christian and Moorish architecture.  The Alcazar is also known for its history and luscious gardens.  Another historical site not to miss is the Seville Cathedral (Cathedral de Seville).  This cathedral dates back to the 15th century.  Absolutely majestic in appearance!  Christopher Columbus’s son, Diego, is buried here in a tomb, amongst other notables.

If you stop by Granada, located Southeast of Seville and Cordoba, be sure to visit one of Spain’s top attractions, the Alhambra Palace and Gardens.  The Alhambra is one of the world’s finest examples of Moorish architecture.

The French Riviera of Spain is called, Costa del Sol, located at the southern tip of Spain, along the Mediterranean Sea.  What better place to kick back, enjoy beaches and resorts, and stroll along the Mediterranean!   Millions of tourists are attracted to Costa del Sol every year and it’s easy to see why…beautiful beaches, sunshine, glistening, blue sea!   Beachwear shopping and cafes are at an abundance here!  Visit the many quaint villages that surround the area too, time permitting.

While traveling throughout Spain, be sure to check out Spain’s olive oil, and Spanish wines!

Friday, August 26, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hidden Behind The Iron Curtain-Sopron, Hungary

While visiting Vienna, we realized that the Hungarian border was only about an hour away, so I figured why not check out something new?  The only image I can picture of the former Eastern bloc was Prague, and that was an unchanged gem from the middle ages.  Thanks to my suggestion, we decided to contact a driver to take us to Sopron, Hungary, which is one of the first major towns in Hungary.  Our guide's initial reaction was, "Why on Earth would you want to go there?"  This alarmed me, but as an explorer I wanted to see everything, regardless of a little concern from our driver.

Once arriving in Sopron there was a complete cultural and architectural difference from Austria.  This area had the former U.S.S.R footprints all over it.  When driving in, you go through the outskirts of town.  Here, you see the familiar Soviet style housing buildings, which have now been painted, but still offer little to none in the comforts the Western world is used to.  We also saw such severely poverty stricken areas that they wouldn't dare share in their tourism videos.  It was almost hard to believe as my eyes took the sites in.  Our driver politely dropped us off in the town square, which immediately brought a sense of dreary grayness to my emotions.  We decided to take in a few shops and see the Firewatch Tower(get our quick fill in and get out). 
As I was walking around and taking the area in, I realized that nobody was smiling.  There was a sense of distrust when we tried to speak with individuals.  My personal opinion is that the people were opressed for such a length of time, that shyness and a lack of open communication were common things.  To think that in this day and age, there are such disparities, whether it be emotional, or economical, puts so much into perspective.   Has anyone else come across this while traveling the former Eastern bloc?   
           Gloominess aside, there were some rather interesting things to see and experience.  As you can see from my previous posts, I love writing about the Roman Empire....and behold Sopron had an old Roman fort in the middle of town!

    For food we ended up eating at the Best Western which oddly enough was one of the finest restaurants in town.  I would suggest going for the traditional Goulash. See picture below for the dining area. 
Best Western Pannonia Med. Hotel, Sopron, Hungary                       
When visiting the Eastern bloc, it is an emotional, yet awe-inspiring experience.  I'd love to hear your take on the Eastern Bloc...was it a trip to remember or a vacation you'd love to forget?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Train or Plane Between European Destinations?

My travel bug has returned.  Actually it never left!  We are currently trying to plan a trip and trying to decide how we are going to migrate from each of our destinations.  This is my question that I proposed to myself...
 I have had the luxury of both modes of travel between my European destinations.  It's very important to look at the pros and cons of each method of travel. 
Airplanes are all about speed, so if you have a limited amount of time this is the most efficient method.  The Con to this is that it will be more expensive, and usually isn't worth it if your destination by rail is less than 4 hours away. Also, many people are more timid when it comes to fear can definitely sway a person's choice for travel. 
The positive's of travel by train is that they are less expensive, can be extremely efficient, and you have an ability to view the countryside.  High speed rail is obviously the way to go, with speeds up to 210 kph, I remember the train from Rome to Naples only taking an hour (huge selling point).  One of my must gratifying train trips was in Switzerland, where without being on a train, I would've never seen the beauty of Lake Geneva.
The Cons- Longer train rides can be extremely tedious.  I have done multiple overnight trains (Paris-Frankfurt, Paris-Madrid), and let me say...sleeping on them is not easy, typically being loud, hot, and uncomfortable depending on the train.
What do you think?  Do you have any personal experience to share?         

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Westminster Abbey-London

In April 2011, the world witnessed history.  Prince William and Kate Middleton were married at Westminster Abbey in London, England.  People from all over the world were watching this event, whether it be on the streets of England, or in front of their televisions in the United States.  In December 2010, I was lucky enough to have walked through Westminster Abbey, and let me tell you, it was an experience I will never forget.
London in December is not what you would call warm.  It was actually pretty damp and when the wind started, it was downright cold.  It's very important to arrive at the Abbey before it opens,to avoid those dreadful lines. Our tour began at 9, so we figured we would get there at 850 and we would be one of the firsts in line.  Were we ever wrong.  People were lining up at 830! In the cold and damp weather, there was already a line that went over a block long.
Finally the doors opened up.  As you walk in, the sights completely overtake you.  There is an option to have a voice guided tour, which I recommend you take.  They give you a hand held device that speaks in your ear, along with a map, which tells you about everything you come across at the Abbey.
My personal favorite was the choir and its choral area.  The choir wasn’t present at the time of the tour, but as you are walking in this area, the choir is a songbird in your ear.  The intricate woodworking of the choral area is stupendous.  
All of the history that has been made at the Abbey, such as various royal weddings, funerals, and other services, stretches back hundreds of years.  Not only is it used for religious ceremonies and services, but the Abbey is also a monument to numerous famous people.  Some of the names you will recognize, like various literary names such as Chaucer, and Dickens, while others, you may not.  It is simply amazing to see the plaques and monuments that are dedicated to these famous people.
Whether you are going to the Abbey for the Religious symbolism, the historic significance, or just to see where numerous royals have made their nuptials, it is a place you must visit and tour on your visit to London.  Rain or shine, cold or warm…there is never a bad time to visit Westminster Abbey!

London Photos Of The Day.

Amazing, even in December.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Looking For The Perfect Sunset In Rome?

Commonly, couples will always want to find that perfect romantic place to end their day.  While in Rome if you want to catch a wonderful sunset, I would suggest climbing to the top of the Spanish Steps.  It allows you to be high enough to catch a westward view of the city, just above the buildings.  It's the perfect end to any day.  

Monday, July 25, 2011