Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Europe continued......Milan

After a somewhat lengthy interval, I will continue my rambles about Europe. After finishing up in Geneva, we took a 4-hour train ride south again, and arrived in Milan. We spent one day and night in Milan and my sole desire was to visit the Duomo di Milano or the Milan Cathedral. This is a great example of Gothic architecture and is the fourth largest church in the world. For us, it was an awesome sight to behold and it dominates the square. As usual, when you visit any major tourist sight, you will find it surrounded by tons of tourists restaurants and shops, which aren't always the best in terms of food, but great in terms of the view. Because we wanted to sit down and enjoy the view of the Duomo and watch the people passing by in the square, we picked at table at one such spot. After, some pizza and beer, we were ready to move on.

The other main sight to see in Milan is right next door to the Duomo and that is the Galleria Vittorio. This is a upscale shopping spot built in the late 1800's and its beauty can be found by looking overhead at its arching glass and cast iron roof. The floors of the Galleria are beautiful also, and worth a picture or two. From the Galleria Vittorio, we just walked along to see what we could see and along the way we enjoyed some gelato, which one can never have too much of, and then we headed back to our hotel for dinner in the area.

It was nice to enjoy the evening sitting at a sidewalk table and watching the street life. As I think I may have mentioned before, in Europe it is not unusual to see people sitting at restaurants late at night, even on weekdays and we found this a very relaxing to just sit and have a table for the evening. In the morning, off to Rome..........

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Pia's Trattoria - Gulfport, FL

Checking out Gulfport for the first time, my family and I stumbled upon Pia's quite by accident. We found a street parking space that happened to be right in front of Pia's. This place looked so cute, and with a nice crowd of people sitting inside, we figured it had to be good. We grabbed a seat outside, which is where most people were dining. The outside dining area was like a nice little secluded oasis, with blowing fans and plenty of shade. The music playing in the background alternated between typical Italian music and blues and it lent nicely to the atmosphere.

For drinks, we order a carafe of the house pinot grigio. We ordered the pesto pasta, the pasta di bologna, and the sea scallops with ravioli in a butter sauce. Everything was very good, and my favorite was the sea scallops and ravioli, which was the special of the night. For dessert, we tried a Stromboli filled with chocolate and strawberries and served with whip cream that we thought was wonderfully decadent. The service was good and it it was a relaxing place to spend a couple of hours.

Pia's Trattoria - Gulfport, FL
3054 Beach Blvd South
Gulfport, FL 33707

Pia's Trattoria on Urbanspoon

Paddy Burkes - St Petersburg, FL

I was happy to see the opening of newcomer Paddy Burkes Irish Pub to St Pete. I have already been there a couple of times with my family and it is a nice place to grab a pint and unwind. They offer a nice menu selection and a decent choice of beers on tap.

On both of our visits we have had the onion rings and we love the horseradish and tomato sauce that comes with them. The burgers there are good and they have some interesting options for your burger, and I thought the Belfast Burger with a fried egg on top was especially good. If I am at an Irish pub, I do tend to like to try the more typical Irish fare. The Irish stew was delicious and I loved the leek scones that were served with it, although the stew was so filling that I hardly needed the scones alongside. Also, depending on your appetite, you can order a small or large stew. I ordered a small stew, and even with some help from others, I was not able to finish it all.

One thing I did miss out on one of my visits was the shepard's pie. They don't have it on their menu, but as I was eating my stew, I heard another server listing it as the special of the night. As, I mentioned in an earlier post, I love shepard's pie, so I was sorry to miss it that night, even though I really enjoyed my stew. So, moral of the story is remember to ask your server for the specials of the night, if they forget to tell you. I look forward to enjoying more of Paddy Burkes.

Paddy Burkes Irish Pub

100 4th Street South
St Petersburg, FL 33701

Paddy Burkes Irish Pub on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Chambery, France

When we recently traveled to Geneva, we knew we couldn't go there without traveling to France. Geneva is right next to the border of France, and Chambery was only about an hour and a half away by train. We chose Saturday as the day we wanted to go to Chambery because we knew it would be market day. Once we arrived there, it was a short walk to the center of town and to the Saturday market. It was a very charming walk, by the way. Another reason we picked Chambery was because it wasn't a real touristy destination. They had a few tourist sites and a few tourists, but it was largely just a typical French town, with the locals going about their normal Saturday business. The market was large and really cool. Everything was there, such as: baby chicks, baby geese, cheese, bread, bakery goods, fruit, vegetables, seafood, meat, clothing, etc.... After the market, we took at stroll to the Elephant Fountain, which is one of the main attractions in town and we saw the castle of the Ducs de Chambery.

Of course, we had to stop for lunch. That was a little bit of an adventure, but fun. I say adventure because as this was not a major tourist destination, we encountered less English speakers, but like I said this made everything all the more fun. So, we found a nice restaurant and we had a nice server who was able to speak a little English. My husband and son had a breaded turkey cutlet and lyonese potatoes, while I had a breaded somthing that was in the family of "like a chicken, but not a chicken", but I never actually knew what it was. Whatever it was, it was delicious. With this all we enjoyed a rose wine, that everyone seemed to be drinking in Europe. It must be a popular summer wine because I have never seen it in previous trips to Europe, but then I had never traveled in the summer before. We enjoyed various treats for dessert and then it was time to head back to the train station. It was a lovely day and it was nice to experience the day to day life of a Saturday market day in France.

Bella Brava has a New Chef, yayyyyyyyyy!

I was so excited when I heard my favorite chef, Domenica Macchia, was going to be the new chef at Bella Brava. My family and I went to Bella Brava this last Saturday, knowing that she was joining Bella Brava, but not sure if she would be there that evening. I am happy to say that she was and she looked real excited about it to boot. It was the outgoing chef's last night, but Domenica had a few feature items on the menu. We tried her fig caprese salad with a reduction sauce that that was divine and the organic tomatoes that came with it actually tasted like tomatoes. Most of the time I am scared to order salads or dishes with fresh tomatoes because they usually taste like mush, but this was not the case at Bella Brava. For the main course, we tried the gnocchi in a gorgonzola sauce that Domenica had made that very same day. The gnocchi were light and exactly what a gnocchi should be, while the sauce that was served with it was pure comfort food and delicious with the glass of Chianti I had ordered. Now we are anxiously awaiting as Domenica adds her touch to the menu and look forward to the changes she will make to it. For those of you who watch Food Network, she said think Malto Mario. She wants to emphasize rustic food or food like an Italian family would make. I know we will be waiting with knife and fork ready.

Bella Brava
515 Central Avenue
St Petersburg, FL 33701

Bella Brava on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Geneva....Old Town

Without a doubt, the scene around the lake dominates Geneva. However, take a trek up a VERY steep hill and you will find yourself immersed in the old town of Geneva. Here take a walk on cobblestone streets and catch a sight of Hotel-De-Ville. A must see is the Cathedral St Pierre. It is rather a contrast to some of the flashy cathedrals you will find throughout Europe, as if they didn't want their congregations to be distracted. However, despite the lack of grandeur, it reflects the beliefs and feelings of the people and its architectural structure is something to be admired.

The day that we chose to visit the old town, it was the only time of our whole trip that it decided to rain. This wasn't anything that fazed us, as we are used to traveling in the rain in Europe and always come prepared. It rather lent a lovely atmosphere to the day. After climbing to the top of a VERY steep hill, we decided it was time for lunch. We picked a rather touristy spot because we didn't really want to take the time to venture very far at that point. After looking over the menu, we decided to go with fondue, again. However, just to reassure, that was our last fondue of the trip and we did try other things. Fondue......yummm...

After lunch, we took a leisurely stroll wherever our feet might lead us and we found ourselves outside the golden domes of the Russian Church in Geneva. A short walk from there, and unfortunately for me, we found ourselves on a ferris wheel ride. However, I made it through, and everybody was pleased with the views of Geneva from the ferris wheel.

Again, we walked down the hill and wandered along, with a few stops along the way. We stopped at a Mexican restaurant for beer and a coke, and to cool down. A little later, we found ourselves outside a gelato shop that we had stopped at a previous evening. This is one of the spots in 0ur trip that my Spanish major came in handy. Nobody spoke English there, but one of the ladies asked if I spoke Portuguese. I said no Portuguese, but that I speak a little Spanish (I tried this in Spanish, of course). The nice lady behind the counter was so happy that I spoke Spanish, or at least attempted to speak it, and treated us very nicely. So, we carried out our transaction in Spanish and everything worked out fine. I guess it was all about the effort. The positive outcome was that I am making an effort to refresh my Spanish, yay! By the way, the gelato was delicious and we ate a lot of gelato this trip due to the hot weather. You would be amazed at the lines you would see outside gelato shops, even at midnight.(Again, Europeans are out much later, as a whole). One night, we were in a line at midnight, and we were the cutoff. People kept coming and trying to get in, and they had to lock the doors. Wow!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

On to Geneva......

Upon arrival at the Milan airport, our first effort was to make our way towards Geneva. This entailed a number of steps. First, we needed to take the Express train to Milan, which was about a 40 minute train ride away. Then, we need to take a metro train to Milan Centrale station, so that we could travel to Geneva. At Milan Centrale, we purchased the train tickets via the automated machine because the line looked like it would take about an hour to get through. At this point, you might be wondering how this was accomplished even though we didn't speak Italian. Well, it all progressed quite easily because the ticket agent spoke English and all of the machines had the option to choose English as your language, thank you very much.

The only unfortunate part about our train ride from Milan to Italy was that the air conditioning was out on this particular train. Fortunately for us, this is the only time this occurred on our trip. So, a train ride and four hours later of struggling to stay awake, we arrived in Geneva. At this point, we revived and were alert enough to enjoy our surroundings. We had booked a room at the Novotel in Geneva, which turned out to be quite nice and quite hi-tech. (As a side note, Europe is quite technologically ahead of us in certain aspects, and maybe I will get into that more on another post if the mood strikes me.)

After checking into our room, we took ourselves and the handy map the hotel gave us and went for a short walk down to Lake Geneva, which was very beautiful. After that, we were in the mood for food. We opted for a restaurant close to the hotel that was recommended to us, which turned out to be a good choice. Being in Switzerland, we had to be hokey and go for the obvious choice, especially when traveling with a child, and we ordered the fondue. There was no way to go wrong with fondue, along with a Swiss beer. The service was lovely and unhurried. In Europe, I tend to notice that people take several hours when dining and the staff NEVER hurry one along.

All in all, a lovely opening to our trip.