Sadly we left the olive fields of Sicily to head to the lemon and orange groves of Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast.  I think all of us would have stayed in Sicily for longer – so much to see and do, plus amazing food.  If you happen to have a chance to go to Sicily, definitely stay longer.

The Amalfi Coast was another place none of us had been before.  This is the land of lemoncello – a liquor made from all of the fresh lemons grown in the area.  It is in the many shops on almost every street, as well as in cute trucks parked on the roadways.

We flew from Sicily to Naples and got a ride down to Sorrento. We opted not to have a car for this week.  Instead of driving the Amalfi Coast ourselves, we booked a driver to take us for the day, which was a good call.  The roads are narrow and windy and you can’t believe the huge buses that eek their way around the corners and through this villages – it is crazy!!  Plus, everyone was able to enjoy the views which were incredible!!  Be prepared for a long day – we were gone 8 hours – a long day for all of us.


It truly was a beautiful setting.  Villages hang onto the coast – it’s a wonder how they ever built these towns.  We went to the picturesque town of Poisitano where the pathway leads you down to the waterfront and you can look up to see the colorful houses hanging above you. 


Amalfi was perched right at the water’s edge and had a beautiful church.  Ravello was very different in that it was at the top of the mountain.   There was a quaint town square with paths winding through the town.  My parents and I visited the Villa Rufolo that had beautiful gardens and incredible views.  The girls were pretty tired by this time, but some gelato always seems to perk them up.  

We all decided we were glad we had seen the Amalfi Coast, but we would definitely not want to be there in the summer time when you would be stuck in bumper to bumper traffic and wandering the towns filled with tourists.  This was the right season to go.

We had an amazing lunch at Trattoria Ciccio along the way.  We wouldn’t have found this place without our driver and it was a treat.  Perched up high, we sipped our prosecco while enjoying the view.  Then dug into our delicious meal.   We started with grilled squid that was out of this world and then shared spaghetti baked in parchment and a simple grilled fish –  delicious.


The rest of our time in Sorrento we spent exploring the towns of Sant Agata and Sorrento.  We thought about taking day trips to Capri or Ischia, but ferry schedules, weather and more long days didn’t really appeal to us this time around.

Sant Agata is  small town with one main road.  It was a short 10 minute walk from the house we were staying.  Mom and Dad were able to find a small grocery store to stock us with some essentials like prosciutto, salami, cheese and bread.  For such a small town, they had some excellent restaurants – Mimi’s and Lo Stuzzichino were both great!

We also spent a few days in Sorrento.  We stayed quite high up on the mountain above Sorrento, but we walked all the way down from our place one day.  It took about an hour, but was neat to see the old roads and also the houses along the way.  We figured out the the bus that afternoon and got pretty good at taking it from our house – it was about a 20 minute ride. 

In Sorrento we went to the port, perused the pedestrian street with all the little shops and gelatarias, sipped lemoncello, cappuccinos and prosecco.  We had a great lunch at Zi n Tonio’s and my parents, Claire and I even took the little train ride around town.  All in all, Sorrento was a good stop.  We had some meltdowns and the girls needed some breaks, so my parents were really introduced to our life on the road – it’s not always easy.

The woman who owned the house where we stayed made beautiful pottery.  She had a little studio downstairs and the girls had fun each painting a mug and saucer.  These are the things that keep them entertained.  I knew Europe was going to be a different part of the trip for us.  We had spent so much time in places where we had animal encounters or beaches.  Europe is a lot of historical site seeing, which let’s be honest, isn’t always interesting or fun for kids.  So we are always on the hunt for kid friendly things to do like making pottery. 


We also found a great place for a cooking class – Frattoria Terranova.  Cooking classes are great for all ages and a fun way to spend time together…..with no fighting might I add 🙂  Frattoria Terranova was even higher up the mountain than where we were staying.  An Agritourism that specializes in cooking classes.  We had a blast!  Francesca was a great chef.   Her grandfather had purchased the land 100 years ago before there was really anything up there.  People thought he was crazy.  Her dad then had a vision to turn it into a farm and agritourism place to stay and take classes.  This vision came to fruition and it is a labor of love with the whole family taking part. 

We started the class with a demonstration on how to make mozzarella.  So interesting to see.  Claire and Lauren made their own batch and did a great job.  They have their own cows at Trattoria Terranova and in high season they make fresh cheese every day.  Farm to table is the best way to eat!

Pizza making is not as easy at it looks, we had some good laughs watching papa knead his dough and Dave making the craziest amoeba shaped pizza his first go around.  But it all turned out great and tasted pretty good too.  We laughed a lot and were proud of our creations.  They treated us to delicious fresh bruschetta and an interesting twist on the traditional pizza – fried pizza dough with a little tomato sauce and basil on top.


We loved the people and atmosphere of Frattoria Terranova so much that we made dinner reservations for our last night and we weren’t disappointed.  Eddie, our waiter, took care of us and ordered things for us to share as a table.  There was so much food!!!  Bruschetta with fresh tomatoes and tapenade, fried mozzarella balls with broccoli in the middle, deep friend cauliflower, grilled artichoke with broccoli and cauliflower, bean soup, fava beans with peas – and this was just the antipasta!  For the main course the girls had homemade spaghetti with fresh tomatoes and basil while we had two grilled fish – swordfish and scorpion fish – a delicate white fish drizzled with olive oil, capers and tomatoes.

We weren’t done yet.  Paolo brought out the biggest dessert platter we had ever seen – it was two stories high!!  Fresh fruit on the bottom and a choice of different cakes and treats on the top.  Too much!!


What a way to finish out time in Sorrento.

As I write this, we are on the road again.  We picked up our van this morning to head to Tuscany.  An oversight on my planning – I didn’t realize the drive was a little over 5 hours.  I thought I had kept every drive to no longer than our trips to Tahoe – 3 1/2- 4 hours.  Oops – and Dave is driving on his birthday.  To make it a little easier on us, we rented a 9 passenger van, so we are barreling down the Italian freeway in the biggest van we’ve ever driven.  But we all have our own seats and there is no luggage at our feet or bags stuffed around us, so hopefully we will make it up there with our sanity.

The Island of Sicily – by Kelly and Dave


(Internet has been spotty, so we are behind in our posts.  Better late than never 🙂

When we were planning where my parents should meet us on this crazy journey, we decided on Italy and were excited to meet on the island of Sicily where none of us had ever been.  We had been anticipating seeing them for a long time and were so excited to see them at the airport!!

The first thing we noticed when we left the airport was the mountainous terrain and the sunny Mediterranean weather. We really didn’t know what to expect from Sicily. Would everyone look like extras from the Godfather?  Just kidding.  We were, however, looking forward to eating Sicilian food.

We stayed a few nights in Palermo figuring my parents would be jet lagged and not wanting to move around too much.  Palermo is an old chaotic city and the traffic and driving reminded us of Asia.  It was a little bit of a shock especially since we came from car free Venice, but you get used to it pretty quickly.  After being in the passenger seat of some crazy driving in Asia you learn to just let go and go with it.

Palermo is a big city, but we stayed in a cute place – BB22 – in the old quarter.  It was right in the thick of it all, but on a pedestrian street, so it wasn’t too loud or noisy.  There were stands set up with purses, music, shoes and clothes.  Restaurants were nearby, as was the market street called Borgo Vecchio.  There we were able to hit the butcher, the baker, the fresh fruit stand and small store with meats, cheeses, and your few basics.  It was fun to show mom and dad how we had been living for so many months.  Local markets are my favorite!

We spent time walking around the city – the port, the streets, the cathedral. We stopped at cafes, bought local wine from a cute Sicilian shop and soaked up being in Sicily.


We of course needed to try to local favorites, so my dad found cannoli at this great stand on the way to the cathedral.  I didn’t order one, but one was handed to me and I have to say, it was the best cannoli I had ever had!!!!


But our highlight in the area was a trip down to Terrasini, a small fishing village outside Palermo.  Such a beautiful coastline.


There we were treated to a traditional Sicilian lunch by our friend Tina’s aunt Lina.  I had heard that Italian food gets better the further south you go, and we were not disappointed! How lucky we were to be invited into a locals home and treated to such a feast!  She cooked all the local dishes to give us a flair for the Sicilian cuisine.  We had olives, stuffed sundried tomatos, arrancini, fried sardines, sicilian pizza, pasta al forno and more.

The food kept coming!  She spent all day cooking for us and we are so thankful.  Plus it was so nice to sit with Lina and her son, Joseph, and hear about life in Sicily.   We also got a chance to meet her daughter and grand daughter.  Italian families are close and have a strong bond which was evident in this family where everyone lives walking distance to each other.  Her brother in law even stopped in while we were there just to bring her some fresh flowers.  It was a highlight of our time so far in Sicily.  My mom is hoping we can bring the traditional Sunday dinner home with us to America.

Our next excursion was leaving Palermo and driving down towards the town of Agrigento to see the Greek ruins at the Valley of the Temples.  This was no small task.  We had to fit 7 of us in a mini van with all of our luggage.  Needless to say, we had suitcases under our feet, bags shoved beside us and in between us, but we made it.


It was refreshing to leave the big city (which was quite a challenge with all the one way streets) and see the beautiful country side of Sicily.  The land is beautiful – from the big rocks and cliffs, to the sea, to the countryside.

The place where we were staying, Mandranova, put us amid olive groves with a view of the sea. It was an agritourismo, which is basically an Italian farm or ranch that also has lodging. What an incredible find.  The farm has been in the family for generations and it was fantastic!!  It had been a vineyard for years, but was transferred to olive orchards about 20 years ago and has now grown to 10,000 olive trees.


The owners, Silvia and Giovanni, have made this a place to remember. Some of the apartments were in a former small train station on the property. The food was amazing with Silvia and their son in the kitchen.  We had an amazing pasta the first night – simple with roasted vegetables and fried zucchini crisps on top.  We also had a fresh salad of oranges and fennel one night with marinated lamb that was incredible.

We were treated to a private tour of the olive oil facilities by Giovanni while we were there as well.  This really explained the ins and outs of olive oil production, which was very interesting.


He made it very entertaining for the girls as well.  Did you know that the terms “first press” and “cold pressed” are just marketing terms that don’t mean anything?  Supposedly Mandranova olive oil is one of the best in the world!!  And they have the awards to prove it.  Sicily is know for great, flavorful olive oils. Claire loved pouring it on everything.  Would highly recommend checking this place out to anyone going to Sicily.

We were in the area to see the ancient Greek temples. Sicily has some of the best preserved Greek ruins outside of Greece. What a site to behold.  Just seeing them was amazing, but to walk around a place with such historical significance was remarkable. Some of temples were destroyed because people needed the stone to build the nearby port or for building a castle. Don’t you just love people?  Our guide, Nicoletta, was perfect and was able to tailor the tour towards the girls.  Claire is in 6th grade and the history is focused on ancient civilizations, so this was perfect for her.  Plus, she loves Greek mythology, so she was able to really talk with Nicoletta and understand all about the gods and goddesses.  She even made a video while she was there and Lauren created a great slide show of all of the temples.

Although we were sad to leave Mandranova, we packed up the minivan once again and drove to the beautiful resort town of Taormina.  This is a town high up on the cliffs overlooking the Ionian Sea.  It’s amazing how they were able to build these towns clinging to cliff sides.  The main town was really just one long street, Corso Umberto, with smaller alleys branching off.  We walked this many times while we were there and were amazed by all the small shops and restaurants that lined this town.  We stayed at a great hotel, Villa Belvedere, overlooking the sea with a view of Mount Etna – the largest active volcano in Europe.



The main thing to see in the town is the ancient Greek theatre built in the third century BC.  It reminded Dave a little bit of the Greek Theatre in Berkeley but with better scenery.  It really is amazing that these historical places are still here for us all to see after so many years.  The theatre has an incredible view of the volcano and on the backside you can see mainland Italy.  The girls enjoyed exploring the nooks and crannies of the theatre while we were there.  They also enjoyed the granita that they had on the way out –  a sweet treat like shaved ice.


Our time in Sicily came to an end.  We are on our way to Naples.

Restaurants we tried in Taormina – Zuccarro and Terrazzo Angelo


Exploring the Canals of Venice – by Kelly and Dave

Venice is such a magical city. Where else can you be in a city with no streets and no cars, just canals and boats?  It was quite the opposite of the crazy, loud streets of Vietnam we wandered many months ago. From the moment we got on our water taxi from the airport to the return trip, we felt like we were in another world. By the way, taking an old school wooden boat from a dock at the airport for the 25 minute ride into Venice could be the coolest mode of transportation we have taken on this trip. We felt like movie stars.

We stayed in Venice for a week, which some might think is too long, but we loved it. We really got a chance to explore the narrow streets and shops. We didn’t even do all the big tourist attractions, we just enjoyed ourselves.  We were fortunate to have beautiful weather and used the time to explore the city by foot.

We rented a great apartment in the Dorsoduro neighborhood, which was perfect. We were so happy not to be near St. Mark’s Square or the Retiro Bridge where it was a sea of people on their Easter holiday. Our area was quaint and right along a canal.

We didn’t venture out too much for food since we had a grocery store nearby, but we were lucky enough to have the best restaurant right across a bridge that you could see from our window – Osteria Alsquero. This was a little place with few tables inside and mobs of people every day all day eating out on the ledge overlooking the canal and the boat yard where they repair gondolas.

Along with their Italian tapas that were served, you can order a prosecco or wine spritzer. I didn’t care too much for those – they didn’t compare to the tinto de verano in Spain – I miss those.  We ate at Alsquero almost every day for a quick lunch or lite dinner. And of course the girls had their fair share of gelato now that we were in Italy.

We were fortunate enough to meet a friend while we were there.  Dave happened to call our Santa Clara classmate Tom Green back home and Tom mentioned that his brother Christian and his family just got into Venice the night before! So of course we met up with Christian, his wife Mia, and their daughter Maggie for drinks! Small world.

 The few things we did do while we were in Venice, we loved and would highly recommend.

The Peggy Guggenheim Museum was fantastic. This might be one of my all time favorite museums. The collection was in the palazzo where she lived. There were paintings by Picasso, Kandinsky, Mondrian, Ernst (her husband) and Pollack.  Plus Alexander Calder sculptures and mobiles. We all had our favorites. Dave had been there before when he was studying abroad in Vienna and ran into his favorite Picasso (On the Beach) in the foyer 20 plus years later. The girls didn’t think many of the pieces were that hard to make – maybe we have some future artists in our midst. 

Glass blowing – we didn’t make it to Murano, but we found a great little store where the people we so friendly. We watched him blow glass for at least an hour. Such an amazing talent. The girls were fascinated to see what he could create.

Gondola ride – A trip to Venice isn’t complete without a gondola ride through the canals.  Crazy to think that there were once close to 10,000 gondolas on the canals, now there are only about 400. It wasn’t as romantic when you have 3 kids arguing over using the camera, but it was still cool to see the back canals of the city. Some of the hotels had docks that lead you into the lobby-crazy. At least no one got thrown overboard. When traveling with young kids you need to have your expectations properly calibrated.

Mask making – If you’ve ever been to Venice, you have seen all of the beautiful masks all around town.  Why did the Venetians wear masks?  As young men being trained to be future merchants, Venetians usually set off at age 15 or so to travel and learn their trade.  After being a traveling bachelor in foreign lands for several years, being back in relatively small Venice could be quite…confining.  So men wore white masks when they were out on the town to have a good time without anyone noticing them.  Women also wore masks at some point as well.

I read about a place named Ca Macana, where we could learn about the history of the Venetian masks and paint our very own.  This is the place that made masks for Stanley Kubrick’s movie Eyes Wide Shut.  All of the masks they have for sale or for you to paint are hand made. We learned the process for making the masks, as well as different techniques to paint them.  Then we set out to decorate our masks. We got to choose from a variety of plain masks and put our own twist on them.  The girls loved this!!  They each made two masks and took great pride in how they painted them.  Another great art lesson on the road.


Our stay was fantastic!  Arrivederci, Venice!


Portugal – Part 2 By Kelly

Location makes a big difference in your experience when you travel-obviously. My cousin Francisco was generous enough to give us the use of his airbnb apartment in the Mouraria neighborhood – one of the oldest areas of Lisbon.  Steep stairs take you up narrow, winding, cobblestone streets with some amazing graffiti (if you are into that).  Francisco’s apartment had a charming square beneath it with 3 fantastic restaurants-Portuguese, Mozambique, and Nuevo Portuguese.  It was the perfect location between the town square and the top of the hill where Castelo de Sao Jorge is located.

We may not have done everything most people do when they come to Lisbon, but we didn’t mind, our main goal was seeing family as much as we could.  Some days we had to ourselves, some days we might see Francisco for lunch and a couple of days we had the full guided tours by Francisco, Maria Helena and Fernando.  On those days, we took two cars and hit the roads around Lisbon.  What a treat to spend that much time with our family getting to know their country.  Here are some highlights and pictures from those days.

We drove to the western most point of continental Europe to Cabo da Roca.  Such a beautiful coastline and interesting to think how far west we were.


No day would be complete without a delicious 2 hour Portuguese lunch, which we had at A Toco do Julio in a little town called Colares.  Nondescript from the outside, but lots of character on the inside with ham hanging from the ceilings. This was locals only.  We ate lamb, grilled octopus and of course drank some Portuguese wine.


Next we drove to Ereceira.  This was a little seaside fishing village that is also known as a good surfing destination.   I can only imagine the crowds during the summer.  It was nice to be there when it was quiet.


We headed up to the town of Mafra, a cute town with boutiques and cafes on the streets leading up to the Mafra National Palace, which had also been a Franciscan monastery.  This is quite an impressive site.  King John V built this beautiful palace for his wife beginning in 1717; quite impressive.  We stopped at a cafe just down the street for a local treat Francisco said we had to try – fradinho – a traditional Portuguese tart filled with sweetened white beans, almonds and egg custard.  It was very good.  A little coffee and come treats for the girls and we were off again.DSCF5762

We were beginning to run out of daylight as we headed up to the town of Sintra.  We were able to drive through the cute town and see the lights of the castle on the hill.  It looked like a fairy tale here as we drove through the winding streets.  Due to the late hour, we weren’t able to spend time there, so this town will be left to explore on our next visit to Lisbon.  We ended our day having a fantastic meal at Fernando and Maria Helena’s.  Such a treat.

Our second touring day took place the following week.  We added Gui and Henrique to the mix, so we had two full cars. We hit two more fishing villages – Sisimbra and Setubal. Such beautiful towns and striking coastlines.

And of course we ate another amazing meal, this time at Baluarte do Sado in Setubal.  Francisco says this is the best place to get fresh fish.  He picked the fish he wanted them to grill for us – salmonette and massacote.  Both were delicious.  The salmonete is a fish that only eats shrimp; delicious!

When we were on our own, we walked up to the Castelo de Sao Jorge.  It was only a short 10 minute walk from where we were staying.  It sits atop one of Lisbon’s highest hills you have amazing views of the city, the Tagus River and the bridge.  You are able to walk the walls and climb to the top of the towers.  It’s amazing to walk amongst something so old and to see the amazing artifacts in the museum.  We were treated to some beautiful random peacocks that run around the grounds-the girls loved them.


The girls had fun all week with their cousins – a couple of sleepovers, many games of hide and seek, mine craft and more.  I think they solidified a relationship that will last. The girls now want to learn Portuguese.  They had the most fun at a place called Escape Hunt.  This is a very cool place where you try to solve a mystery with clues they give you to get out of a locked room within an hour. Dave and I did it with the girls one day and they wanted to go back and try it again with their cousins.   It was legitimate.  It took us almost right to the hour to get out of the room – and they say only 33% of people are able to do so.  The kids were beyond excited when we picked them up that they had solved their room as well and even before a group of adults!!

We were sad to leave Lisbon.  We spent out last few days at Alexander and Ana’s house.  Had a great family meal to end our stay.  We know we will be back and I’m sure my girls will travel to Portugal on their own when they can.  Thank you to all who made our trip to Lisbon special!!


Mouraria restaurants:

O Trigueririnho – a quaint, raditional Portuguese restaurant filled with locals.  Francisco ordered us Carapaus, a grilled fish with Spanish sauce, as well as Iscas a Portuguesa – fried pork liver cut in thin slices with butter sauce and boiled potatoes.  Not something I would normally order, but when in a new place, try new things.  It wasn’t that bad.  The fish was excellent.

O Corvo –  new restaurant that actually opened while we we there and will do well.  Small plates with a portuguese flair

O Cantinho do Aziz – a Mozambican restaurant with delcious food.  Fish stew in coconut milk was amazing!

Other Lisbon restaurants:

Confeitaria Nacional – great pastries and coffee.  An institution in Lisbon since 1829

Caneca de Prata – Dave and Francisco had a pork sandwich that was delicious

Tapas and Friends at Hotel Vincci Baixa – Dave had sesame crusted tuna, I had codfish – both very good.