When We Were Wieners-By Dave


We just spent two weeks in Wien, Osterreich (Vienna, Austria). We truly lived like the Wieners (Viennese), and Wieners live a good life.

Vienna has always been a special place for me, I spent a semester here in the fall of 1992 when I was in college. To give you a sense a how long ago that was, it was the first time I heard of this thing called “email.” It was easily the best part of college for me. I roomed with kids from the University of Denver and Oklahoma.  We had orientation in the Austrian Alps.  We had the 2nd pick of housing, so we had a huge flat without a live-in hausfrau (landlord) so we could throw parties.  We were also one of the few places with cable TV so everyone came over on Saturday for Notre Dame football.  On weekends we went to Prague, Budapest, and Salzburg.  I went to Oktoberfest in Munich ALL THREE weekends to meet with other classmates who were studying all over Europe.  I remember it was so packed in the Lowenbrau tent one weekend that I had to sneak in through the kitchen.

So I was really excited to show Kelly and the girls the city. Surprisingly most of my German came back to me so it made things a little bit easier. I’m pretty sure asking for a table in German scored us a table for 5  at the famous Schnitzel restaurant Figlmuller when all the other tourists were turned away and told they were booked all day.


Schnitzel as big as your head

Vienna was easily the most mellow city we have visited. Its beautiful, clean, and refined. You can hear classical music or opera everywhere. Everyone bikes here as well. While we were there the weather was amazing, mostly warm and sunny, which was a stark contrast to the last time I was here, I remember wanting to see the sun every once in a while. The other HUGE thing that I noticed is that Mexican food finally made it over, we even had a Chipotle like restaurant down the street from us, Gorilla Kitchen.

Here were some of the highlights from our two weeks in Wien:

Schloss Schonbrunn- The summer palace of the Hapsburg monarchy. It’s the Versailles of Austria.  Marie Antoinette, before she went to France and lost her head, grew up there. Amazing gardens, a zoo, tons of outdoor trails. The girls loved hanging out there so much we went back 3 times, mainly to spend time in the maze garden and the children’s playground. They also visited the children’s museum where they dressed up like royals and learned about life as a kid in the palace.


Hanging at the Schloss



Acting imperial came way too easy



Setting the Royal Table


Maze Runner

Visiting my old school and old apartment – I had been in touch with my old school, The Institute for European Studies (IES), Vienna- and had arranged a tour while we were there. Our tour guide, Penelope, who is an aspiring opera singer, not only made us feel welcome, but she also came over and watched the kids for a couple nights!  The school was pretty much the same as when I attended.  It is in an old city palace, complete with red carpet, a mirrored ballroom, and ornate ceilings.  I sometimes found it ridiculous that I was taking classes there.  We also stopped by my old apartment building and neighborhood.  The biggest change was that they got rid of the old phone booth across the street where I used to put a million coins in to call home. I feel old just typing that.


Thanks Penelope!

The Brats- The Wieners take their Wieners seriously. The first place I took the girls was the old hot dog stand across the street from the Opera house – the Bitzinger.  Hot dogs with cheese in them, spicy dogs, white brats, red brats, curry brats, spicy mustard, sweet mustard, amazing pretzels, the freshest, burn your nose hairs off horseradish.  Pair that with all kinds of awesome beers-what’s not to like?


The Ultimate Hot Dog Stand


Lunch Weiner Style

The music and art  – Going to an opera or classic music is like going to the movies in Vienna. We took the girls to a concert with symphony, opera and a little ballet dancing to give them a taste of it all.  We also went to a children’s symphony of Peter and the Wolf. Probably wasn’t their favorite thing, but the music really reminded me of being back in Vienna.  Kelly and I even got to sit for awhile in front of the Opera House and watch Macbeth live on the big screen.


Watching Opera Outdoors

Hallstaat – About a 4 hour train ride from Vienna, Hallstatt is an ancient town that was the center of salt mining in the region.  It is probably the most beautiful place that I have even been.  We took the steepest funicular up the mountain, put on some canvas overalls, and took a tour of the mines. By the way, this is where Hitler hid stolen Nazi art (per George Clooney’s film Monuments Men). The best part about the trip was sliding down the wooden slides the miners used to get to different levels.

The day we left we rented electric boats and a huge Swan paddleboat and got out on Lake Hallstatt.  The girls couldn’t be happier – they each had a chance to drive us around.  From here you could really see why they girls thought that Hallstatt looked like a storybook village.

The funniest part about visiting Hallstatt was that the tourists there were 95% Chinese. When I asked a local why, she mentioned that someone in China built an exact replica of the town of Hallstatt (unbeknownst to the Austrians) as a Chinese housing development.


Room with a ridiculous view


Salt Miner Chic


The magic rocks the Sleestack used in Land of the Lost


Our Swan Lake








Sliding Salt Miner Style


Escape Hunt – The girls of course loved another day at Escape Hunt.  We first found this mystery game in Portugal and the girls had been waiting to find another one ever since.  This is where you get locked in a room and try to figure out the clues in order to get out in an hours time.  This was just recently opened in Vienna and great fun – we did a Mozart mystery and liked it so much, we did The Third Man Mystery as well.


From email to Facebook – Thanks to modern social media, I found out that an old childhood friend from the 4th grade, Phil Nery, was going to be in Vienna for work at the we were, so I had a chance to catch up with him at a cafe. A nice surprise.

I was really glad that I made it back. The girls all loved the city and said they would miss it. Maybe they will study here one day. For now they are Wieners at heart.


Spent many hours at this (formerly) smoke filled cafe


Our almost daily gelato run

Next Stop: Switzerland
















We’ll Always Have Paris – by Kelly


Bon jour from Paris!!!  Our time here has been amazing.  We love the city and the people. And who doesn’t love fresh baguettes, croissants, pan au chocolat and crepes.  The girls are in heaven!  We have definitely dragged the kids all over the city thanks to our friend Jennie who came to stay with us for almost 3 weeks.  We were counting down the days until she came, and now we’re counting down the days until she leaves so that we can rest 🙂  I don’t think I have been this tired the entire trip!!!  That being said, she has been the best tour guide!  She lived here many years ago, as well as in Dijon, and speaks fluent French, so that has been an added bonus.  We will be sad to see her leave.  Unfortunately the hours that Dave spends learning Japanese will not help us here.


Our Airbnb in the Bastille neighborhood couldn’t have been better – top floor with huge windows and sky lights and the big hit with the girls, the swing in the living room!  Serge, the owner, greeted us and made us feel right at home.  His music collection is quite extensive – from classical, to Elton John, to The Pet Shop Boys, French rap, to the pièce de résistance – AC DC, which our girls have now grown to love. Gotta love eating breakfast and watching them bob the heads to the beat of the drums.

It is on a fairly quiet street in the Bastille neighborhood, but around the corner from restaurants, grocery stores and the metro – which we mastered quite well.  Plus, if you’ve been reading our blogs, you know that a close outdoor market is a huge bonus and the one here is amazing.  It puts any San Francisco farmer’s market to shame I hate to say.  We have been sure to make it each Thursday and Sunday for fresh olives and tapenade, roasted chicken, fruits, vegetables and of course a crepe for lunch.  We have a great boulangerie on the corner where many baguettes and pan au chocolates have been purchased.  The neighborhood is not without quirks.  We have still not been able to bring ourselves to go into the Cafe de Chats.  Chat, for those who don’t know French, means cat.  And cats are in abundance in this cafe.  They sit on the tables, on the chairs, the counters, they are everywhere.  As I write this I am still disgusted at the thought of eating there, especially after seeing countless cat food bowls on the floor.

I can’t even begin to list all that we have done here.  The weather hasn’t been a hindrance – we’ve had cold, light rain, warm, muggy and even hot.  We have hit the museums, the parks, the palaces, the ferris wheel, numerous carousels, and even found trampolines in Tuileries Gardens.

We really love staying in one place for an extended period of time.  You don’t feel rushed to get it all done in a short time, you get to know the neighborhood and you get to relax.  People couldn’t believe that Jennie was coming all the way over here to stay in Paris for 3 weeks, but we haven’t even done all that we wanted to do.  When planning a future trip, pick one place and do it well.  Don’t feel like you have to check the boxes.  And pack light!

As far as highlights, here they are:

Art History – I feel like my girls have gotten an art history degree on this trip.  They don’t always love museums, but we try to pick the ones we think they will enjoy.  Here in Paris we visited L’Orangerie and Musee Marmottan for Monet.  The girls loved his paintings and in both museums they sat and did their own art work.  They loved the ipad audio guide L’Orangerie has for kids.  It’s great to see them sit down in front of a painting while listening to the guide.

We of course had to hit The Louvre because the girls wanted to see the Mona Lisa, but they also loved the Egyptian wing and Greek statues – we could have stayed there a lot longer, but we were exhausted.  See the Mona Lisa and move on to something else – it’s a great museum that I’m sure many people miss once they see what it’s most famous for.

We also loved the Musee D’Orsay for Monet, Degas, Van Gogh and Serat.  The girls are getting pretty good at picking artists out; I’m quite impressed.  We also headed to the Montmarte area which in the past was home to many artists – Pissarro, Degas, Matisse, Renoir, Picasso, and Dali to name a few.  The artist vibe still exists and we thought the girls would like to walk around the Place du Tertre and see artists at work.  Yes, it’s touristy, but if you can get past the people asking you to have your self portrait done, you can find some beautiful art.

One artist, Dec, took a liking to the girls and took the time to explain how he used the oil paints on canvas.  Such a treat to have a mini lesson from a real artist.

Each girl found a painting that they liked and added it the collection they have amassed from this trip.  It will be fun to open boxes we have shipped home and see what treasures we have.

To finish off the art history, we took an awesome walking tour about graffiti in Paris. Why not show them something completely different in the world of art?  It was super interesting and informative.  I wish we would have done it towards the beginning of our time here because we could have kept are eyes out for all of the artists we learned about. They are all over the city.

A tip – before going into the museum, head to the book store and have kids pick out a few post cards of paintings they like and want to look for.  A scavenger hunt always holds their attention.  Also, buy the Museum Pass if you are here even for 2 days.  It makes it easy to skip the long lines.

Tip about Musee Marmottan –  A bonus after we left Marmottan was that there was a park across the street with an old carousel just getting set up.  The men were actually pulling the old horses out of a storage area and hanging them on the hooks.  The girls were each given a stick that they used to try to catch a ring each time they went around.  So it was like a mini jousting carousel. They of course thought this was the greatest carousel they had ever been on and proceeded to go about 4 times!  Claire immediately started devising a way she could build one in San Francisco.

Versailles – Versailles was one of the day trips we wanted to do with the girls.  Dave and I had been there over 20 years ago and although Jennie had been a number of times, she never quite experienced like we did.  We opted to rent bikes in the garden and it was the best outing!  We got to ride around most of the massive garden, which most people never get to see because it’s just too big.  Even in the cold weather, everyone had fun biking the trails along the Grand Canal and over to the Grand Trianon where we locked the bikes and walked into Marie Anointette’s hamlet.  This was something that looked like it belonged in Disneyland, like any minute Snow White’s dwarves were going to come along singing, “Hi ho, hi, ho it’s off to work we go.”

Tennis – Of course  Paris was planned around the French Open.  Dave had to make it to Roland Garros.  We bought tickets for two days and have now added a third.  We weren’t sure what to expect sine our only experience at a Grand Slam was in Melbourne.  Well, Roland Garros is much different – smaller, a little fancier, not as much hoopla, but it made it seem much more family friendly.  There are no tickets sold at the gate and you can’t even get close to the entrance unless you have a ticket, so it seemed peaceful and easy, crowded, but not overcrowded.  The girls were able to get autographs of numerous players with almost no effort.  And we saw some good tennis too – The Bryan Brothers playing doubles, Americans Bethany Maddox-Sands and Madison Keys,  the crazy Ferrer/Monaco match, Coric/Tomic, and the first night we were also able to get up in the stands for a bit of the Andy Murray match that got called due to darkness and went into a 5th set the next day. The girl also sat down with American Shelby Rodgers at a meet and greet – she has since gone on to win two more matches and is in the 4th round!  All in all, tennis was great.  We even turned Jennie into a tennis fan 🙂  And now that we’ve made two Grand Slams, I’m still trying to figure out how we can make it to Wimbledon next month 🙂

Eiffel Tower tour – As far as tours go, we were told to do the Fat Tire Tours Skip the line tour of the Eiffel Tower.  Any time you can skip a line, it’s worth it.  Juan Carlos made it fun and informative.  I don’t need to say  much here, but it was the Eiffel Tower and it’s pretty amazing.

Of course we did a boat cruise on the Seine, saw Notre Dame, the Arc de Triomphe and Saint Chapelle.  We walked the Marias and along the banks of the Seine.  We walked a lot. We happened upon the festival of bread, which was a big hit – a tip given to us by a waitress – where huge mixers and ovens and bakers were at work baking baguettes, croissants, pretzels, brioche – all to win a prize we think.  We were just fascinated watching it all happen and eating the fruits of their labor.

Jennie and I rallied one night and went to Centre Pomidou on Nuit des Musees – Museum Night.  One night a year museums stay open until midnight and allow people in for free. We figured we should experience it since it happened while we were here.  And people were out and about.  We actually had to stand in line, but we didn’t mind.

We also ventured out in the rain for one last ice cream at Berthillon before Jennie left and also ran in the rain to the Eiffel Tower to see its lights flicker at 10pm. (This happens at the top of each hour for 5 minutes – quite a treat to see).

And no city would be complete without mentioning friends.  My parents and I met Jill in Italy while wine tasting at the abby where we stayed at in Tuscany.  We had been in touch and she happened to be in Paris while we were.  Pretty crazy and cool. We had a great time getting to know her over wine and tequila and at the house. She has really done some extensive travel in her life, which was interesting to hear about. Dave and her instantly got along since she was also learning Japanese. Also a tennis fan, she got tickets to the French Open once we told her we were going and she met Jennie and Dave at Court 1.  Check out her cookbook, Better on Toast.

Dave’s high school friend, John and his wife and kids, live outside Paris in the cute area of St. Germain.  The last time Dave saw John was when they were both studying aboard in Vienna in 1992 during college and John happened to live on the same street where Dave was going to school!  We took the train out one afternoon to have dinner with them.  It was great to meet his family, have a home cooked meal, and listen to Dave and John relive their glory days.

And as I write this I am making plans with the friends we met in London, The Sweitzer Family, who is the cousin of our friend from college.  They are the other family traveling the world and they just arrived in Paris today and happen to be in our same neighborhood. Such a small world!!  We’re all excited to see them this week!

And of course, Jennie.  She made the trip what it was.  We loved having her here and it wouldn’t have been the same without her.  Her love and excitement for Paris helped get the girls going many days as she rallied them out the door.  Her need for pictures and a daily selfie made us all laugh.  Her love of wine made for great evenings.  We are all so lucky that she took the time to be with us.

Another great stop on our journey, which sadly will be coming to an end sooner than we would like. So now, we are planning the last few stops of this amazing adventure.

Next stop: Vienna.


London Calling By Dave

London was like a warm blanket for us. It feels very much like home, except with less tan people and everyone sounding much smarter than me. We forgot how nice it is to be back in an English speaking country. I remember having the same feeling when we landed in Sydney in December after spending 4 months in Asia. You relax a little bit more. You don’t have to think as much. We didn’t even have to wait until we landed, we felt it as soon as we boarded the British Airways flight from Rome to Gatwick when the flight attendant, who sounded like Ms. Moneypenny, greeted us.

Ever since we landed, I have been trying my best to do my fatherly duty to utterly embarrass and annoy my kids by saying Londontown! in my best (still bloody awful) English accent every chance I get. Also brilliant, wicked, and bloody hell. Kelly used the word gobsmacked the other day. Parents have to get their kicks somehow.

Surprisingly London wasn’t really on the radar for me, which in hindsight was a big mistake. We had some time between Rome and Paris. We were thinking Copenhagen and Amsterdam, but  we found a free flight to London and the girls love Harry Potter so it was a done deal. As a final sign, we came across this listing on Airbnb:

“Get a slice of music history at this historic home one of the oldest recorded streets of London! Originally built as a part of building housing a dairy (yes with cows and all that), this house was converted in the 1960s into a recording studio. From 1964, this house was the premises of Sound Techniques, one of the best-known independent recording studios in the country.

For the next 10 years, some of the greatest rock bands such as The Who, Pink Floyd, Jethro Tull and Elton John recorded here. Apparently, Eric Clapton still lives on this street!”

I was a little worried about the girls getting a contact high from the walls.

So here are some highlights from our stay here:

-The food! I know it’s weird to say it, but there is too much Italian food in Italy and Spanish food in Spain. I mean, I loved it all, but after 5 weeks in each country I wanted sushi or Mexican food. So London has been great for that. We have had Indian food, BBQ ribs, and Ramen.  And yes, these are very first world problems.

-Is London expensive? Hell, yes it is. Our BBQ ribs and crab dinner cost us $200 USD and two drinks cost us almost $30 USD. So we offset that with cooking at home and taking advantage of the all the free museums. We really don’t like eating out all the time anyway, so having a kitchen is key. The one thing I do miss is BBQing on a grill, which we haven’t done since Australia.

-Surprisingly, the weather!  We have had the most insanely great weather for London, it’s been summer-like, in the low to mid 70’s.  And London, like San Francisco, is a much more cheery place when the weather is great. We did get a little rain towards the end of our stay, but it was still pretty warm and no big deal.

-London has some of the best museums and parks we have seen and they are all free. We spent hours in the Natural History Museum and the Science Museum. The girls learned a ton – minerals, earthquakes, volcanoes, how flamingoes get their pink feathers, evolution and more.  Hyde Park on a warm sunny day was just a fun place to be, we checked out Kensington Palace which had an exhibit of Royal fashion that the girls loved. Then we went back another day because Kelly wanted to have high tea.

-We met up with another family doing an around the world trip-The Sweitzers! Steve, Polly, and their daughter Sadie sold everything back home and are currently on an around the world 2.5 year (!!) trip-pretty amazing.  They are doing a ton more countries than we are seeing.  Polly is the cousin of our dear college friend, Julie. We originally were supposed to meet up in Granada, Spain, but it didn’t work out, and through the power of social media we found out that our families were both in London at the same time. I know the girls were excited to hang out with someone new; and it was fun talking about the ups and downs of doing such a trip. The girls had such a good time they had a sleepover over at their place!

-I have to say that the cabs in London beat out the Japanese cabs as our favorite on our trip. Not only do they have character and can fit 5 of us pretty comfortably (two facing three in the back seat), but the cab drivers here are so friendly and knowledgeable that they have pretty much been tour guides for us on every ride.  One cabby told us Voldemort (Ralph Fiennes) once sat in the seat I was in on our way to our muggle tour (all Harry Potter speak for those of you who haven’t read the books) to another giving us the details of Bob Marley’s residence here. We have also loved using the Tube, ridiculously easy and you hardly ever have to wait for a train for more than a couple minutes.


-Can someone from London please explain to me why I kept seeing grown women riding razor scooters in Chelsea?  Is this where they all went after the dot com bust?

-The land of Harry Potter- We took the girls to the Warner Brothers Studio Tour of Harry Potter just outside London.  This is where they filmed all the movies.  I will hopefully have the girls blog about this in more detail.  The twins just finished reading the series and are huge Harry Potter fans, just like Claire.  Claire actually said it was the best day of her life.  For me, it was just mind boggling how much work it took to make those movies.  Years of work for some people for 2 minutes on film.  We also did a pretty good muggle walking tour of London.  Muggles are non magical beings in the Harry Potter world.  Our guide Scott was pretty entertaining; and it was a good way to see a lot of the major landmarks while keeping the girls interested with all thing Harry Potter.

-We also took the kids to see the play Matilda, which was impressive because most of the cast were kids themselves.

So thanks London for giving us a much needed English speaking break as we push towards the tail end of our adventure. You were brilliant.


Next Stop: Paris






La Dolce Vita – by Kelly

Well, I left Rome today with a lighter backpack – unfortunately my camera was stolen. Bummer, but in 8 months of traveling, this is the only thing that has happened to us, so we have been pretty lucky.  The funny thing is that the last time I was in Rome, 22 years ago, my camera was stolen as well.  An omen?  Who knows.  I didn’t let it deter me – thank god for iphones that take pretty good pictures.

What can you say about Rome?  The whole city is a museum.  Everywhere you look there is something historical, amazing or beautiful to see.  It was the last stop on this journey for my parents, so we tried to make it a good one.  We had some major things to see while we were here, plus the twins were receiving their First Communion, so this was going to be a special time in our trip.

The Colosseum was walking distance from where we stayed, history right in our backyard. We made sure to walk down there the first evening just to see it.  I stood in awe.  It always amazes me to see the things you read about in History books up close and personal.  It makes it so much more real.  


The Vatican was our first big day of touring.  These days can be hard with kids, so we opted to get a guide.  Catia was great!!  She geared the tour towards the children, plus having a guide allows you to bypass the massive lines that were already there at 9am.  We were given the name of the tour company, Walks Inside Rome, by our friends in San Francisco and would highly recommend it to anyone traveling here. We were also using our Mission Rome book for the girls, the same one we had used in Barcelona.  This makes touring like a scavenger hunt throughout the city and Catia was happy to help us find the things we needed while we were on tour.


The Vatican is overwhelming to say the least.  But not only did we see typical things on the tour, but we went to the Egyptian Museum and saw a real mummy!!  The kids loved that, plus some amazing sarcophaguses and hieroglyphics that were over 2,000  years old!!!  The Sistine Chapel was beautiful of course, and we all learned a great deal with Catia.  She really took the time to teach the girls all that they would see before they went inside, which makes it more fun for them to hunt for things while they are looking up.


The Sistine Chapel – By Grace – Michelangelo painted some of the Sistine Chapel.  He did the ceiling, which took him 4 years and the wall which took him 7.  One of the most famous paintings is on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel where Adam is reaching his finger to God.  The Basilica was fascinating.  There were lots of things to see.  We learned that when the Pope says mass, the altar is above St. Peter’s Grave, which I thought was interesting.  There is a tradition where some doors in the church are only opened every 25 years for The Jubilee.  This time they were open and we got to walk through the Jubilee Doors which was very exciting.  

 We were worn out when all was over, but we were able to con the girls into making it to lunch.  They actually might not have had much of a choice once in the cab.  We figured with a little lunch, they might have a little more energy to hit a few more sites.  We had a great cab driver that told us not to eat near the Trevi Fountain – our next destination – since everything around there was touristy.  He dropped us at Osteria de Fortunata, which put us within walking distance.  Gotta love that when we drove up there was an old lady literally making fresh pasta in the window and when we walked in, it was full of Italians.  Perfect place for us!  Gotta love a cab driver that will help out the tourist.  With full bellies and a little grumbling from the girls, we set out for the Trevi Fountain.  We happened upon the Pantheon along the way.  Grace was not to happy to stop, but how could one walk right by?  Claire absolutely loved this!!  With their coins thrown in the fountain and a little gelato, I would say we had a full day of touring.

Since the girls were missing their first communion at home, thanks to our friend, Father Mike Russo, we were able to celebrate it in Rome.  Pretty amazing – see the Vatican one day and have your first communion in the most Catholic city the next.  Lucky ladies!  Father Mike put us in touch with Father Kevin Kilgore who was perfect for our family.  From New Jersey originally, Father Kevin is just about done with his time in Rome and heading home in a couple of months.  We were lucky to have met him before he left.  We met him at Pontifical North American College on Gianicolo Hill where he led us to the North American Martyrs chapel, a small chapel that seated no more than 20 people.  It was such a personal ceremony and something I think the girls will remember forever.


 We were also lucky enough to go up to a newly built tower at the college that is supposedly the highest point in Rome.  From there the views of the city and St. Peter’s were amazing!!


Since mom and dad were leaving the next day, we went back to their favorite neighborhood joint, Naumachia, and had dinner.  We hated to say good bye to them.  How quickly a month went by.  I feel like we were just meeting them in Sicily.

We rounded out our time in Rome with a final day of site seeing – the quintessential Roman sites – the Colosseum and the Forum.  To walk in the Colosseum was surreal.  Almost 2,000 years old and to think gladiators walked the halls with animals that could take them to their death.  We decided to book Catia again and it was a great decision.  She was the teacher for the day and the kids had the most amazing classroom!  When things get tough, which they often do, I keep trying to remember that this is why we did this trip, to take the girls places they would have only read about in books – the world is actually their classroom, to meet different people, try new things, an amazing experience for sure, exhausting, but amazing.


Next stop – London

Staying on the 2nd Floor in Lucca by Dave

We left the countryside of Tuscany for the walled, Medieval town of Lucca. To be honest I had no idea what to expect. Kelly and her mom planned most of Italy, and after 8 months of planning logistics I was more than happy to just come along for the ride. I knew there really wasn’t a lot of touristy things to do in Lucca, which again was fine by me.

But before we got to Lucca we had to stop by Pisa for the kids. I had seen Pisa before during my college years for the obligatory 1 hour stop. I don’t really get the appeal but I understood why the kids wanted to see it. Also, thankfully my father in law Doug was at this point more than happy to drive (and park) our 9 person beast of a van in order not to deal with the periodic outbursts from my kids on car rides. Our trusty Garmin GPS speaking proper British English (nicknamed Sarah) got us close enough to the leaning tower.

We just followed the crowds, and boy it was crowded. The girls took the “look I’m holding up the learning tower” pics and they lined up to go up the tower until we found out it was 18 Euros each.  So we grabbed a quick lunch and drove another hour to Lucca. What I will say about the leaning tower is that is probably the nicest lawn I’ve seen in my life.




Once we drove into one of the few gates through the massive city walls of Lucca and down the primarily pedestrian streets, we got a pretty good vibe from this place. We stayed at Palazzo Busdraghi which had 15 or so rooms and was in Rick Steve’s guidebook. It was old school but pretty nice and right in the middle of town. During our first night there we were the only guests.

We had a couple highlights during our stay in Lucca. The first one was being shown around town by our friend Dannys relatives, Domenico and his daughter Beatrice.  We couldn’t have asked for better guides of Lucca. Domenico was a career journalist ,native of Lucca, and general man about town. Both he and Beatrice were constantly being greeted by friends on the street as they took us around, pointing out interest shops, churches, and buildings. Domenico has also spent a good amount of time in the Bay Area and goes back on a regular basis. I never really realized this, but he said that most of the Italians in San Francisco are from Lucca, followed by Sicilians.

During our first tour with Domenico he took us to a high fashion Italian fashion house-Atelier Ricci. It was one of those let’s see if anyone is home moments. Fortunately, Patrizia, daughter/designer, was home and the girls got to see a little glimpse of this world – the fabric, the sketches, the luxurious rooms where people not only get fitted, but small fashion shows take place. There were beautiful gowns and clothes out for all to see.  We even got to go into the back sewing room where 5 seamstresses bring the fashion to life.  The house itself was amazing.  This might have been the highlight of the things we saw in Lucca.  This isn’t in any guidebooks or on any maps – we only go to go since Domenico knew the owner.  I wanted to play it cool and didn’t take too many pictures but you can google it.

On another day Domenico took Kelly and I out to the countryside to see all the villas surrounding Lucca.  This was pure European old money, with massive, gated, landed estates everywhere. I expected someone to pull up next to our car and say, “Pardon me, would you have any Grey Poupon???” One recently went for $35 million, which some considered a deal from the original ask of $60 million.  Several of them had young (30-40s), single women living in them, not including servants of course.  I asked if they were the last living members of their family.  “No,” said Domenico, “The other members have their own villas.”  Oh to be born on home plate. So for all you single people our there maybe you should ditch tinder and hang out in Lucca.

Of course Dominico knew a good number of the owners socially and he called one of them who happened to be home so we can look around the beautiful gardens. There was actually a marathon the next day where you run through the gardens of several villas, including the one we just stopped at.

So as you can see we saw a side of Lucca that most tourists never see, and Domenico and Beatrice really made our time there very special.


Another highlight in Lucca was biking along the city walls. The girls haven’t biked in such a long time and we had a blast. When I am taking city walls, it’s as wide as two city streets with parklets and restaurants. Domenico said that up to about 10 years ago you could drive your car on the city walls. The girls loved it so much we did it two different days.

Lucca was a positive surprise for me, I really liked the relatively small size, the car free streets, and the biking culture. I find we are liking the smaller cities just as much or maybe more than the larger ones.


The gang in Lucca.

Next Stop: Roma





Rambling in Tuscany – By Kelly

We started our Italian adventure in the the olive orchards of Sicily, then hit the lemon groves of Sorrento and we are now in the middle of the incredible Tuscan countryside.  It is absolutely beautiful!  It is like a postcard.  Each time I look out at the vineyards that dot the countryside, I can’t believe it.  The drive in our big rig was not without problems, Dave lost a hub cab dodging scooters in Sorrento. He wasn’t worried though-he kept saying he was fully insured.  A little excitement and some laughs can make a long drive that much easier.


We are staying in the middle of nowhere, so it seems, at an abbey that is from the 10th century – Badio a Coltobuano.  Our family friend, Joe Mullen, stayed here a couple years ago.  We couldn’t believe how beautiful it was as we drove up the long drive. The abbey sits perched on a hill and overlooking the valley below.  It was a big facility, but at the same time quaint and charming.


Our 4 bedroom apartment was just what we needed with a huge fireplace we used almost every night.  The girls were in heaven with space to run around and explore – too bad it was too cold to use the pool.  But we spent out afternoons playing patanque with Papa and CC and lived like a local.

Our time here has been quiet, for the most part – we are traveling with 3 girls who might be at the end of their travel time.  Meltdowns are coming more frequently – Papa and CC are seeing them for who they truly are. Let’s hope we are still invited over for dinner once we get home.  Mom did want to start the Italian Sunday dinner idea, so I hope they don’t back out on the plan.  Once a week might be moved to once a month.

Badia has an amazing wine cellar, which we toured and did a tasting. The oldest bottles were from World War II!

The nearest town to the abbey is Gaiole –  about 10 minutes away.  This is one of those Italian villages with one main street, a couple of shops, and a market – most close about 12:45 each day and don’t reopen until 4:30.  Dave is still unsure of what they do during that time. He keeps saying don’t they realize rent is a fixed cost?  Plus, they are closed on Sundays.  So, we are in the middle of nowhere 🙂  The locals seem to always have time to sit and chat with friends somewhere along the street – seems like a good life.  The area is on the L’ Eroica bike trail, so there were many bikers all along the winding streets of Chianti as well as visiting the towns.  The way to enjoy Chianti is driving from town to town.  This wasn’t always that exciting for the girls, so a couple of times Dave stayed behind with them and relaxed at Badia.  This is a win win for those of you who think Dave may be missing out – the girls get to relax and he gets to study Japanese.

One of the towns I was looking forward to seeing again was Siena.  Mom, Dad and Claire made the trek with me – with Dad at the wheel of our big rig winding through the beautiful countryside.  Parking was not so pretty, but we managed.  Once Claire had her gelato – a clearly messy one at that –  we wandered the streets.  


Siena was bigger than I remember, but what I really wanted to see again was the Duomo.  I so distinctly remember this from years ago and I was not disappointed.  The striped walls, which look black and white, but we learned from Claire are really green and white, make this unlike any other church I have seen.  The ceiling, the floor, everything was so beautiful.  Claire said it was her favorite church she had seen along with La Sagrada Familia in Barcelona.  We ate lunch at a restaurant on Piazza del Campo where everyone was lazing in the sunshine.


The other town we ventured to was San Gimigniano – a 13th century walled medieval town.  This time it was just mom, dad and me and none of us had ever visited this village before.  It sits up on a hill and you can see if from afar due to the towers that stick up into the sky.  There used to be 70 towers years ago, but now only 14 remain.  We really enjoyed this town and walked it all.  We went to the Duomo, much smaller than Siena with amazing frescoes. The town was quaint with different plazas where everyone sits to enjoy gelato or coffee, both locals and tourists alike.  The views from the wall were amazing – as is every view of this countryside.


To keep the girls interested, we toured a couple of different castles nearby – Castello di Brolio and Castello di Meleto.  Who wouldn’t love to see a real castle?  Broilo Castle dates back to the middle ages and has been in the Ricasoli family for 32 generations.  We got a great tour of the keep, which had the families old guns, helmets, crossbows and spears on display which we all found really interesting.  You could also see where the castle had survived some shots from Allied troops who were trying to get rid of occupying Nazis. Crazy.




Castello de Meleto was another castle in our area that we toured.  We were able see more of the actual castle than in Brolio.   This one had more frescoes on the walls, but the best part was the private theatre that is still in use today.  The backdrops were original and you could see the crawlspace the actors had to use in order to get on stage.  The family had their own small private box above their guests and would even enter at a separate entrance.  A really unique and surprising area to see in a castle.


We wine tasted at both castles, but I really enjoyed the wines at Castello di Meleto.  We actually went twice and ended up trying all the wines they offered.  They have a really nice tasting room and knowledgeable staff.  For someone who has never loved a chianti, I now have some great Italian wines that I do like.



We cooked at home some great pasta dishes and enjoyed the wine we purchased on our tours.  A good fire and some cards are a nice way to spend the evenings.

And we once again did a cooking class.  This one was held right where we were staying at Badia.  The kitchen was original – even the giant marble sink was the one used by the monks so long ago.  This was our fourth cooking class of the trip and I am expecting big things from these girls when we get home.   This class we learned how to make fresh pasta, raviolis and focaccia bread.  We are hoping to bring some of this to Sunday dinners if we can.  Not easy work – it might take all day to get dinner done, so not sure if it will happen.  Sunday is also golf day for mom and dad, not sure they’re ready to give it up 🙂  The girls got pretty good at the raviolis and even tried their hand at tortellinis.  The meal was amazing with the Badia wines to taste alongside.  A great day of cooking once again!

It was time to leave the peacefulness of Badia and the Tuscan Countryside.  We packed up the big rig for our last drive to Lucca.


 Next stop: Lucca


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.