Finding My Love for Italy

I’m so happy to have had the opportunity and the pleasure of visiting some of the amazing top cities of Italy, and discovered I am so very much in love with this destination. The sights old and new, the smells, the food, the wine, and of course the people all make me close my eyes, smile and wish I were back in this soulful place.

As I arrived into Rome, the first thing that really stood out is that even though it was October, it was 80 degrees … how wonderful! I had 3 sweaters I should not have brought along, but worse things have happened. I was on a guided tour of Italy and we started with taking a bus to a restaurant for an authentic pizza dinner. Of course, the sights were amazing on the way. The Colosseum, The Pantheon, the Government center all took your breath away. Where did the archeology and technology come from in ancient Rome? Not only were the buildings functional, but they were also beautiful and artistic.

Like the adage says, “When in Rome…” That evening we were treated to a wood-fire baked authentic pizza dinner. The smells of the fresh made sauce and the creamy mozzarella on a crispy crust filled the restaurant with deliciousness and warmth, like mama’s house, or was that the Chianti?

Day two brought our visit to the Vatican. The architecture and the art in every corner were spectacular, whether modern or ancient. I especially appreciated Michelangelo’s fresco ceiling and I was humbled at the “Touching the hand of God” painting. I was being silly but thought the Pope has a great job to be able to work and live here. Other grand pieces I enjoyed was the huge pineapple staircase outside in the courtyard and Bramante’s stepless spiral staircase on the inside.

Saint Peter’s Basilica was exquisite. I normally go to mass at the Cathedral of St. Paul, MN, so I am used to a huge church, but not like this. It is about 4 times the size with gold craftsmanship and porcelain tiling all over everything, even the ceiling. The paintings were larger than life all celebrating God and his disciples. No matter what religion you are, you will appreciate the hard work people did bringing this place to life.

Next on the itinerary was driving through the classic Tuscan countryside with the tall Cypress trees to get to the College of Preugia where we were greeted warmly by Marta, one of the last of the family textile weavers in all of Italy. Her studio was a 12th century church that housed 6 full-sized looms that were big enough to make blankets. After Marta gave us a lesson of how to set up a loom and to weave, I learned that the weaving was the easy part. The tough part was the details that go in to setting up the loom precisely to create patterns that tell a story, griffins, grape vines, falcons, fountains, made me truly appreciate the Italian art in this form that was being created before my eyes.

Florence was our next stop. Again, the sights from the familiar landscape of the city made me smile. The square was so fun and alive with people, and churches and shops and street vendors. A major feature of the area is the Duomo. (The famous domed church.) With its massive size and detail, I was in awe. Florence is known for its quality leather products so of course, I picked up a couple of handbags from the street vendors. Florence is where I had my first taste of lavender gelato in Italy. I don’t know if I can have gelato anywhere else when I started at the top.

That evening was a memory I will never forget. Our group was taken to an Italian villa and farm owned by an actual Italian Countess named Giada. The villa has been in the family since the 19th century and is still producing Olives, Olive oil and wine. I was in heaven.

After a Prosecco greeting in the courtyard of the Villa, we were given a tour of this amazing building and then settled in for some of Giada’s cooking. What an honor. It was a white linen dinner that started with a handmade dish of ribbon pasta, then salad and roasted chicken that fell off the bone. She finished the meal with a fresh baked limoncello cake. Delicioso! What a lovely evening with great food and new friends.

On to Bologna! This was a city filled with charm and vibrant sights and sounds of the Bologna Marketplace. There were fresh fish markets, bakeries, fruit stands, meat shops, and fashion houses for as far as the eye could see! For lunch I had the best pasta bolognaise I have ever tasted, alfresco with red checkered tablecloth and just watched the people of Bologna go by.

Off to Murano and the Vetreria Artistica Colleoni (Murano glass Company) for a lesson in glass blowing! Blown glass is another art that is coveted in Italy. From the most delicate pieces of jewelry, to sculptures, to the most spectacular chandeliers that are famous around the world, glass blowing is a skill that is made up of technique, speed and talent. The showroom just sparkled with color and light of the different pieces that could have been purchased.

The last stop was the best for last … AAAH, Venice. Our group was there on one of the rainiest days I have ever seen and still was a glorious experience. The view of St. Mark’s Square, the canals, the gondolas, the cobblestone streets and sculptures created what every photo I have ever seen conveyed, only better. I was there and I was in awe. Everything was so beautiful, even the water taxis! The city was alive with old and new everything and welcoming people everywhere. Walking the bridges was a challenge, but so fun and I captured some great photos and memories I will never forget.

Italy was a dream! I hope that you have the opportunity to visit this beautiful country and I would be happy to assist with the planning.

Honeymoon in Croatia? Who would of thought?

France or Italy or Greece are classic European destinations for a lovely honeymoon, but Croatia? That destination may be considered random, or is it?

Located just on the other side of the Adriadic Sea from Italy, Croatia has as many attributes as the popular Europe destinations have. There is wonderful ancient architecture, beaches and national parks but Croatia has so much more that makes is special.

First of all, Croatia has very comfortable temperatures all throughout the year. With the worst average lows reaching only 50 degrees in the winter and an average high of 80 degrees in the summer, you can enjoy Croatia most of the year without having to bundle up too much. May and September are the best time to visit.

Another offering Croatia provides is white sand beaches and clear water from the peninsula of the Zlanti Rat Beach which attracts huge crowds to relax in it’s beauty or if you are into a more private beach Stiniva Bay on Vis island.

The ancient city of Dubrovnik is the heart of Croatia. It is surrounded by an ancient wall, Dubrovačke gradske zidine that was built to protect this seaside city. It is recommended to go to the top of the wall to experience some of the best views of the city.

If you wish to enjoy some nature that Croatia has to offer, Croatia has 8 national parks great for hiking and camping. Plitvice Lakes National Park is even on the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites. There is also a fun fact that Croatia is proud of, (TV show) Game of Thrones was filmed there.

So why else should you go to Croatia? There are so many other reasons why. Being a seaside city, of course the seafood is AMAZING. Fresh oysters and octopus are specialties of the region. And for the wine officianatos, the white wines coming out of Dalmatia are to be tried and enjoyed.

And finally, do not forget the summer festivals. Croatia hosts some of the most famous music festivals in all of Europe, Ultra Europe, Outlook, Sonus and fresh Island. And for high end entertainment, there is yacht week to be enjoyed in the summer.

So if you are looking for a “new” destination, Croatia has all the old world and new world charm to entertain all of your senses.  

Decisions, Decisions. Should I All-Inclusive on my trip and why?

There are so many components to consider for your trip and two of the major ones to think about is food and beverages when you are there. How do you decide?

The first thing to consider is what destination are you going to? If you are thinking of Mexico, or the Dominican Republic or Jamaica, the all-inclusive inclusions at each property are designed to wow the client and be a memorable representation of what each resort is about. The level of food quality and beverage quality is designed to be so amazing that if you choose to not leave your resort on your vacation will leave a smile on your face. Karisma resorts has Gourmet Inclusive offerings that you won’t want to miss. I have stayed at these resorts and the food is immaculate. The HardRock (Riviera Maya) is also known for it’s generous resort credit’s that is standard for every room. Resort credits are exclusive to every property and they do have rules for how to use them, but different amenities may include couples massage on the beach, romantic dinners on the beach, or even equipment rentals.

For Mexico, Dominican Republic and Jamaica there is true VALUE in having the all-inclusive option added. Aside from value, there is convenience meaning your do not have to bring your purse or wallet to the beach and usually you can eat and drink what you like, as much as you like and it is all taken care of already. The value still remains even if you day trip or leave your property.

However… There are always exceptions to the rule. Puerto Rico and Aruba are the top 3 places where experiencing the culture of the area is experienced by getting out and dining at the actual restaurants of the destination. Food is the soul of many of these destinations and experiencing the true flavors will always be a pleasant memory and make you want to come back. Aruba and Puerto Rico are especially wonderful destinations for that.

The attributes for not doing all-inclusive is that everything is close in the city. It is inexpensive and easy to get around via taxis and public transportation. What is really fun about Puerto Rico is the amazing local foods that you find in food trucks on the street!

Deciding to do all-inclusive or European plan starts with the destination you are at and deciding what is going to provide you with the most memorable experience with the most ease of accessibility.

Italy Honeymoons David Letterman Top 10 Style

When thinking about what is really the draw to Italy for a honeymoon, I found a list of top 10 rated cities in Italy according to TripAdvisor. I believe these are some great options for a romantic honeymoon of a lifetime.

10) PORTOFINO is a high-end fishing community with colorful architecture going up the side of the hill. It is charming and great for many strolls along the waterfront and lovely photo-ops. Portofino is in Northern Italy and close to Genoa.

9) TERRACINA is a beach-goer’s delight. It is a costal town with white sand beaches and blue waters and combines ancient with new architecture and features the Temple of Jupiter. Terracina is approximately 100 miles from Rome and an easy train ride to the beach.

8) TIVOLI is a hillside town featuring gorgeous lush gardens, thermal springs and premier pools. The city features famous hotels residences such as Villa Adriana. If Italian gardens are your interest, Tivoli is an easy 20 miles northeast of Rome.

7) SORRENTO… Shopping, Sights and EATING! Sorrento is world famous costal town in Southwest Italy for earthenware and pottery. It faces the bay of Naples and is home of the Piazza Tasso, a café lined square.

6) TUSCANY. Imagine renting a red Porsche convertible and enjoying the Italian countryside. There is the Leaning Tower of Piza, The architecture of Florence where the David resides, and the coast is known for scuba diving and windsurfing. There is also world famous fashion houses, wineries and the food is world famous.

5) PIEDMONT is a primer area that in the northernmost part of Italy, sharing a border with France and Switzerland. In fact, there are alps on 3 sides of Lake Maggore in Piedmont so the views are stunning. Piedmont is also the home of 170,000 acres of vineyards and known for it’s spas.

4) CINQUE TERRE is built up the side of a cliff so being able to walk steps is a must. It is a charming, quiet city with no cars and is famous for its bakery in the center of town that wafts the fragrance of fresh focaccia bread and is also famous for world famous pesto.

3) THE AMALFI COAST is a UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE that starts south of Naples and includes the beach cities of Sorrento, Positano, Amalfi and Salerno. This is another area to drive your red Porsche along the coastline for catching  beaches, fabulous sunsets and vineyards.

2) ROME. Aah Rome. Where every travel photo depicts its lovely ancient ruins, inter-city markets, churches, café’s and world-class shops. Rome is capital and the heartbeat of Italy.

1) AND THE WINNER IS… VENICE! The charming city made famous by water canals (No roads) and gondolas. From buying chocolate or gelato at Marco Palace buying jewelry on the Rialto Bridge, Venice has the delicious decadence of a city where all of your senses come alive.

Spring Break Alternatives After Hurricanes Irma and Maria

We all know that the Caribbean has suffered a horrible hurricane season this year with the devastation caused by hurricanes Irma and Maria. Many of the destinations will take months and even worse case scenario, years to recuperate.

All is not lost for winter and Spring Break 2018, though. There are many destinations in the Caribbean that did not get hit by Irma or Maria. Mexico is also a very safe and still wonderful choice too.

As of the beginning of October, probably the worst hit is Puerto Rico where people are without food, supplies, water or electricity. Barbuda, Dominica, St. Maarten and the US. Virgin Islands were not devastated as badly, but it will be some time before they are back on track and functioning as per usual, although cruise ships are already preparing for docking at many ports of call that were hit.

What didn’t get hit is a very nice list. Two of the major destinations, with their non-stop flights out of Minnesota , were not devastated or even suffered one bit of damage are the Dominican Republic or Jamaica. Each of these islands have their own personality and distinctions that are very popular with American tourists looking for culture and gastronomy.

Other more remote Caribbean islands that were passed over were St. Kitts and Nevis, Bahamas, Haiti, Martinique, Antigua, St. Lucia and Aruba. If you are interested in Caribbean islands that are a little less accessible, but gorgeous and relaxing, the Caribbean is still an option.

Lastly, Mexico is still a fantastic choice for sunshine, white sand beaches and teal blue water. There are many activities to experience and the scenery is wonderful. Mexico’s welcoming hospitality is still intact, and the food and beverages are still top notch. Tourist safety is the number one priority for both American Travel Agencies and Mexico. You can have as much nightlife as you wish or as much relaxing as you wish, for safe memories that will last a lifetime.

Treat Your Culinary Desires on your Honeymoon!

Mexico is where it’s at for great culinary experience—thinking Peruvian, Italian and Asian food on your honeymoon!

The Riviera Maya is home to the El Dorado Maroma, Playa Maroma. It is where you will be surrounded by white sand beaches, teal blue water and swaying palm trees in the warm Mexican breezes. The property is gorgeous, lush with green foliage and flowers. The El Dorado Maroma is also home to it’s first of a kind in Mexico, Palifitos, over the water bungalows just like Fiji without the long plane ride.

So if you like diversity with what you eat, the El Dorado has plenty to keep your palate entertained. Lima Limon is a Peruvian style restaurant featuring signature cerveches and Peruvian style prepared meat and seafood dishes, and the presentation is just as beautiful as the white sand beaches … 5-Stars.

Mio Cuccina Italiana specializes in classic fresh fish dishes like Carpaccio and Frutti di mare and homemade pasta, daily in an intimate restaurant setting.

As for Asian, the staff at Kiyoko does a fantastic job with a selection of Sashimi, teppanyaki and other specialties. Chef will even customize a meal for you.

If the Caribbean is what calls you, there is plenty of opportunity for fabulous gastronomy as well.

Sandals is always a wonderful luxury go-to in Jamaica, but the Sandals Royal Plantation raises the bar for French inspired cuisine, Escargot, La Coquille du Pecheur, and of course nightly featured chef-prepared entrees. And of course the red wine will be flowing.

If afternoon tea is the experience you desire, scones, pastries and clotted cream served on fine china is available.

For a little more casual dining with high-end flair, try the Wobbly Peacock Gastro Pub. With traditional mahogany furnishings and an inviting atmosphere, The Wobbly Peacock features Confit Salmon and Lamb Rump as two classic Brittish entrees.

So whatever destination you choose in Mexico and the Caribbean, there are endless options for fantastic gastronomy to go with all of the beautiful beaches.

Michelle is finding the love for Paris… Again!

Aaah, Paris. The city of lights and love. This has always been and always will be one of the greatest places in the world for ALL of your senses to be aroused. From having a cup of coffee and taking in the view of the Eiffel Tower, at Printemps Department Store’s rooftop café, to enjoying an evening of Burgundy wine and a full-course meal at Le Cinq, the premier restaurant at the Four Seasons George V, Paris, the smells and tastes of this city would whet anyone’s appetite for all it has to offer. Theater buffs will want to visit the Moulin Rouge for a Cabaret show while architecture buffs can marvel at the Neoclassical structure of the Arc de Triomphe and many other famous buildings. If you like art, the Louvre Museum, home to the famous Mona Lisa painted by Leonardo da Vinci, awaits. Lastly, don’t forget to take in some of Paris’s best scenery with a leisurely stroll along the River Siene to get the true feel of this lovely place.

Some of the popular food and wine festivals around Paris include:

From late January to early February, Loire Valley wine tastings La Renaissance de Appellations, Les Vins Anonymes, and La Dive Bouteille.

February 11th to 14, Taste of Paris returns to the Grand Palais. This festival features more than 18 chefs and 60 different dishes.

February 23rd to 26th, the Salon du Fromage will feature 165 producers, farmers and cheesemongers from 13 countries for a celebration of all things dairy.

March 6th to 8th, Omnivore, the food festival devoted to “young cuisine”. The city of Montreal will be this year’s guest of honor.

March 20th. Jour du Macaron, to celebrate macarons and raise money for charity.

June, Salon de Vin RDF will  welcome hundreds of winemakers to the Palais de Bronginiart for 2 days of tasting.

Late September, La Fete de la Gastronomie, a 3 day celebration of the Gallic gastronomy, including markets, tastings, cooking classes, picnics and fashion shows.

Late September, Street Food Temple, featuring trucks and stalls in and around Le Carreau du Temple.

With all of this and so much more to experience, there is a certain irresistible feeling of this city that has never really been diminished.

I can help you make your visit to Paris what you would like it to be from educational guided tours that offer time to explore on your own, to a completely crafted vacation of your lifetime with all the things included that you wish to do!

Let me know if you want to go!

Paris Restaurant

Michelle’s Cancun/Riviera Maya Adventure

I visited Cancun/Riviera Maya October 2014 and was pleasantly surprised at the 2 resorts I stayed at. First we stayed at the Marina El Cid then we moved to the Fiesta Americana.

The Marina El Cid is in the Riviera Maya, approximately 30 minutes from the Cancun International Airport, was delightful. I stayed in an oceanfront room with Lovely views of the resort and the ocean. The room I stayed at was spacious with fun things like a pillow menu and aroma therapy. There were even chocolate covered strawberries waiting for me when I arrived. I was thoroughly impressed with the property’s authentic Italian restaurant. The food was superb!

The white-sand beach was beautiful, but the sand was very compact. I spent most my down time at the pools.

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At the Fiesta Americana, Cancun my best memories were of the delicious, authentic Mexican meal we were treated to of Osobuco, watermelon salad and hibiscus margaritas which were amazing! At the end of the day having cocktails brought to me as I sat in my beach chair, watching the sun go down on the powdery, white sand beach that was studded with new baby palm trees made me very happy.

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