Hazel’s Tropical Shower

I love using stuff I already have to set up a party. I really hate to have to buy plastic or paper decorations. I think of it as if I were just decorating my house with that theme instead of party decorations. You wouldn’t put a plastic table cloth on your table normally so why do it for a party? If you stick with mostly white serving pieces and table clothes you can mix in smaller things to give it the look you want.

I wanted tropical but not luau. So first, Pinterest. Then I looked around my house to find stuff that felt like those images. We used plants and flowers in Hazel’s great grandparent’s yard and we filled in with stuff from Amazon. I tried to buy biodegradable plates (made from palm leaves), cutlery (made from wood), cups (from corn) and paper straws. All on Amazon.

Outside we used my neighbor Rhonda’s idea and we spray painted the pineapple leaves, we gathered coconuts, halved small watermelons, and hibiscus from the yard on top of split leaf philodendron also from the yard to make center pieces for the outside tables.   


Inside we strung garland from Meri Meri (Amazon or the Meri Meri website) and a pennant banner that we added the letters – Hazel to. We hung tissue fans over the table, (be sure to get the tissue ones, the heavier cardboard fans fell down) and floated balloons in the pool (you need to weigh them down maybe add a little water in the balloon before you blow it up they blew out of the pool, that’s why we don’t have a photo) and tucked extra flowers and leaves around the house. I have pillow covers from the Bali trip that we used to cover existing throw pillows in the house. Little stuff that just added to the theme. But use big statements. One big hibiscus is better than a lot of little things. Your house already has a lot in it so you want to make a statement and notice it. Try to clear some of the usual away and just add pieces that make sense for the party.


For the table I like to have lots of layers. If the table isn’t a folding table leave some of it showing, it’s a layer. Then add a runner and some cloth napkins that go with the theme. Then add something overhead or really tall items in the center and work around that. Have 3 tall pieces varying in size and add things under the platters like other platters or trays or plates to give them different heights as well. You can use almost anything as long as the platter is stable on it. I have some old canisters from So.Ny Market Trading Co. that work perfectly. They look good and add height.

Mix and match colors and patterns and textures just keep within your theme. The big basket lantern is from Target. It’s a lantern but we used it as a vase.


For the bar we picked signature drinks and bottled drinks that looked good with the theme as well. Watermelon juice (Tropicana), cucumber vodka, and club soda and Cucumber water. The bottled drinks were from World Market and Publix. We set out prepared cups with straws and limes on a tray so people could easily serve themselves. I only had one pedestal for the drink dispensers that looked right with this theme so I borrowed the homeowners casserole dish and turned it upside down. Perfect.

For the food…

Curried Chicken Salad
Shredded rotisserie chicken with diced apricots, celery and green onion, chopped cashews and a dressing of sour cream, curry paste, lime juice and honey. Salt and pepper always.

Ham Salad
Store bought diced ham, drained crushed pineapple, diced red and green bell peppers with a dressing of sour cream, mayonnaise, Dijon mustard, lime juice and honey. Salt and pepper.

Shrimp Salad
Thawed frozen, deveined, shelled, cooked medium shrimp cut into 3 pieces and the tails removed, with diced cucumber patted dry, green onion and a dressing of sour cream, mashed avocado, onion and garlic powder, and lime juice.

All three served with Hawaiian rolls

Rice Salad
Cook white rice according to the package but replace the water with equal parts coconut milk and pineapple juice. Stir in curry paste, onion and garlic powder into the liquid before you add the rice. Cook according to the package then fluff and stir in shredded coconut, drained crushed or pineapple tidbits, chopped green onions, and chopped cashews. Serve at room temperature so if you make it the day before and refrigerate it, take it out long enough before you serve it to come to room temperature.

Brie with Dried Apricots and Golden Raisins
Slice the top off the brie then warm it in the oven for a few minutes to make it oozie. Put the dried fruit in a microwave safe bowl and cover with apple juice, heat for 30 seconds to a minute to rehydrate the fruit. Drain and top the brie with the fruit.

Fruit Bruschetta
For the tropical feel we diced strawberry, kiwi, mango, and pineapple but you can use any fruit that you like. Toss it with a dressing of lime juice and honey and serve with toasted bread. Pinterest showed it already assembled but we had too big a crowd. There wouldn’t have been room on the platter for 50 of them and they would have gotten soggy.

Spicy Pineapple wrapped in Bacon
Toss pineapple chunks in habanero hot sauce and brown sugar then wrap with 1/2 a slice of bacon and broil until crispy. Turn over and broil the other side. Serve warm or room temperature. We learned the hard way, don’t wrap the bacon the night before, the pineapple is too acidic and works like a tenderizer. The bacon was all mush by morning and they had to be rewrapped.

Sugar Donuts with Pineapple Toppers
We’re not crazy, we bought the donuts. Toppers are from Amazon.

The wooden cutlery and palm plates are in the background of this photo. BTW. And the cutlery is in a well washed planter, like I said I look around my house for stuff.

Coconut Pound Cake with Mango Jam, Strawberries and Macadamia Nuts

I used Dottie Grantham’s pound cake recipe which I love and switched the milk for coconut milk then added shredded coconut. Topped each slice with mango jam from Scullery Kitchen Provisions, homemade whipped cream, diced strawberries and nuts.

This makes 1 bundt cake or 2 loafs. About 20 slices. For the party I halved each slice.

1 lb butter (4 sticks) at room temperature
3 cups sugar
6 large eggs (please get cage free eggs)
1 tablespoon vanilla
2/3 cup milk (which I exchanged for coconut milk)
4 cups flour
pinch of salt
1 cup shredded coconut (for the coconut version only)

Cream the butter and sugar until it looks like icing. Add the vanilla, pinch of salt and one egg at a time. Alternate adding flour and milk. Scrape the side and toss in about a cup or so of shredded coconut if you are doing the coconut version.

Pour into a greased and floured (I just use Pam for baking) pan and bake at 325 for 1 1/2 hours. According to Google a loaf pan should only take 1 hour and 10 minutes but mine took the 1 1/2 hours. Just keep checking it after 1 hour in 15 min. You want the middle to be firm and not liquidy feeling or giggly but you don’t want to over cook it either. The center should just slightly bounce back.

Lovely lovely party that was a team effort. Can’t wait for Will’s little sister to arrive.


Ballin in Bali

This place is paradise. The people are so genuinely friendly and lovely. Smiling and helpful. Pretty much everyone speaks English. But they really appreciate when you take a second to learn some Balinese or Indonesian. Suksma | thank you and pagi | good morning were all I could remember. I suck at learning other languages.

So the flight there, yeah. Not fun. 2 1/2 hours to New Jersey, 2 hour layover, 15 hours to Hong Kong, 5 hour layover, 5 hours to Bali. With a 12 hour difference. Fortunately getting there if you just stay up until your normal bed time and then sleep you should be close to straight when you get up. Coming home for some stupid reason is not the same.
It’s been 3 days and I’m still waking up at 4am.

2017-03-17 Bali La Joya 12

Bali is part of the Indonesian Islands, the string of islands between the Vietnam peninsula and Australia. Most of the other islands are Muslim but Bali is over 80% Hindu. They are very open and welcoming to all kinds of travelers. They have small temples (not actual buildings but little places to make an offering) at almost every business and larger ones at homes. Then there are the big temples that are a group of buildings inside a wall. Everywhere you go there are little palm bowls full of flowers and incense burning. It smells lovely.

It’s really hot, Florida in August hot but I didn’t think it was as humid. You were hot and sticky the whole time but you just get used to it. At night you shower and sleep in the a/c. Their rainy season is I think November to April so we were there just at the end of the season. I think it was perfect. It rained just like Florida afternoons for a couple of days and all day one day. Otherwise it was fine. The rain would cool things off. I didn’t really notice a lot of bugs or mosquitos. We came with 10% deet repellent just to be safe but about halfway through I forgot to use it and didn’t have any problems. You can check the CDC’s website to see what shots or precautions you should take when traveling to a certain country. They kind of go overboard. We ended up just getting tetanus shots and taking antibiotics in case we got a back case of Bali Belly. Fortunately as long as you only drink bottled water, don’t swallow when brushing your teeth, only use ice if it’s a specific shape not just broken up, and don’t eat that the sketchy places along the street or from street vendors you should be fine. If it looks like it’s dirty don’t eat there.
There are lots of clean beautiful places to eat.

Their money is crazy – 100,000 Rp equals about $8. So we were walking around with millions, hence the Ballin in Bali. Download the Currency + app or another simple app. But once you figure out what 100,000 is worth in dollars it’s pretty easy. Most things are some combo of 100,000 or 50,000. So 800,000 Rp is 8 x $8. Everything is ridiculously cheap. Our 4 star 5 course world class meal with wine at each course at Bridges in Ubud was $64 pp, yes $64 pp. Our full day at the Karsa Spa – 1 hour massage, 1 hour body treatment followed by an essential oil bath full of flowers, 1 hour foot massage, and a pedicure $72. Yes, $72. It’s crazy and the flight was the same as getting to Europe about $1,000. But once you are there
you’ll spend a fraction of what you’d spend in Europe.

Don’t bring dollars or travelers checks (if they even still have those). Just use the local ATMs to get out what you need each day or whenever. They have them everywhere. Most banks have a daily limit to take out cash so check with your bank on that amount and let them know you’ll be in Bali. Ours had a limit of $400 for each card holder. Also, call your credit card company to let them know too. Most places wanted cash. The larger restaurants and hotels will take credit cards and larger purchases but clothes and other tourist type stuff you need cash. Same thing for paying a driver or taxis or tips. Most restaurants include a service fee of 10% so they aren’t expecting a tip. But come on. Leave 100,000 Rp. It’s $8. The average person in Bali
makes $8 a day so you’ll make someone’s day.

So as far as packing and travel tips (then I’ll stop talking and post pictures). They pretty much have any toiletry you might need and as stated earlier it will be cheap. So don’t worry too much about pharmacy stuff or toiletries just pack what you normally would and get something you missed there. Or if it’s something hard to pack get it there. They have sunscreen and bug spray (you need both). Just bring any prescriptions obviously.

For the flight | pack a good pillow for the plane both our long flights were over night which really helps you be able to sleep. I used this one I got on Amazon and it worked great (I’m a side sleeper so trying to sleep sitting up is hard). I also recommend wearing sandals then taking socks. So you can slip off your shoes easily but won’t have stinky feet. They feed you constantly so you really don’t need snacks. I took a bunch of stuff and we didn’t eat any of it. Take a little travel tooth brush and toothpaste so when you wake up towards the end of the flight you can brush your teeth. It helps. Maybe deodorant and some nice wipes too.

Ok now for the good stuff,

We stayed at a beautiful smaller resort when we first got there. Again, lovely people who own it. They have nicely appointed bungalows with a/c and wifi. There’s an open air spa and a restaurant. Two beautiful pools that over look the Indian Ocean. You can walk down steps in the cliff to get to a very small very rocky beach. Really too rough to swim, my husband ended up cutting his leg. If you want a smaller cozy very relaxed kind of place I highly recommend it.
You can find it on Airbnb | La Joya

Breakfast by the pool

2017-03-20 Bali La Joya breakfast by the ocean

Very laid back and relaxing. Secluded. the only down side is it’s not in a great area and there isn’t really anything near by. It’s between Jimbaran Beach and Ulu Watu south of the airport. If you are planning on just hanging out by the pool, getting massages, and eating at their restaurant for a couple of days I recommend it. They take great care of you and the view is ridiculous. But, if you want to go explore you might want to look on Airbnb for a place in Ulu Watu. Jimbaran has several high end hotels, Four Seasons and Intercontinental but they are also isolated. Ulu Watu is surfy. Kuta is party central and very surfy.

We spent a day at Seminyak for shopping. The shops are nicer here than by Jimbaran Beach and there are a lot more restaurants you’ll want to eat in. The shops are less roadside and more boutique. It’s still not Ubud but it’s getting there.

Ginger Moon

Most of the food in Bali is Asian mixed with a weird idea of western food. I am very grateful their menus are in English but their descriptions sometimes get confusing and the waiters don’t really understand when you need further description so you end up just going for it. The only time I ordered something I really didn’t like was at a very touristy place next to the rice terrace and it said mixed vegetables on a salad. It was hard boiled eggs, bean sprouts, and lettuce.
Not tasty. I ate the side of white rice.

Ginger Moon was mostly Asian and very good. In Seminyak.

We also found a cool French Bistro place called in Seminyak.

The Corner House

In Ulu Watu we stopped on our way to a local temple to eat at

Single Fin

Forgot to take pictures of the food but it was delicious. Very fresh and lots of salad. The tuna sandwich says tuna loin so we expected sliced tuna, it was tuna salad. But it was good tuna salad. Most places have fresh bread they bake. And every place has freshly made fruit juices. So good. You can combine the different fruits too. Banana, just banana takes like a smoothie. There were surfers down on the beach, live music later in the day and the shops were all surf shops. Just thought I’d share the random guy who was walking around with a monkey on his back.

After lunch we headed over to the Ulu Watu Temple. It was ok. the walled walk along the cliff was beautiful but the actual temple wasn’t outstanding. Lots of tourists. In fact a group of girls walked up to me and asked me to take a photo. I said sure then realized they wanted to take a photo WITH me. Which was odd. Apparently, the surrounding countries learn English in school and like taking pictures with English speaking tourists because it shows they
were able to talk to us in English. Okey Dokey.

Ulu Watu Temple

There are lots of tourist traps. This silver shop was flashy and the prices were crazy. If you are paying American prices for anything you are paying way too much. Just be careful of that. Most of the places we stopped at were 1/5 of the cost of America.

2017-03-20 Bali on our way to Ubud silver store

There are also all these beach BBQ places. Most of them were just gross. They have obviously old seafood and the room you walk through to get to the beach, the place where you pick the seafood and they grill it, it smells like garbage. Then they seat you at folding tables and chairs with satin table cloths and chair covers on the beach to eat and watch the sunset. I’m assuming there are nice ones but all I saw were the tacky gross ones. I don’t recommend it. I ordered only the vegetables and was still worried I was going to get sick.

After exploring the area around La Joya and the airport we headed inward and north to Ubud. This was my favorite area. All the cool old stuff is here. By many accounts it’s the cultural center of Bali. You can get to volcanos, temples, rice terraces, coffee plantations, shopping and pretty much anything else they offer from Ubud. If I ever go again I would just go straight to Ubud when I get there and just spend a couple of days at the end of the trip
at Jimbaran Beach to unwind.

We stayed at the Private Ubud Villas in the Penestanan area of Ubud. It’s about a 10 min walk down the hill to downtown Ubud. But there are plenty of taxis at the top too. This little area was perfect. There are a lot of Australian yoga types here. So lots of coffee shops and vegetarian restaurants. It very quickly felt like we lived there. It was easy to get
around and not too far from downtown.

The villas like most of the homes are a walled in courtyard, most with a pool and beautiful garden. The kitchen and living space is open air the bedrooms and bathrooms have a/c. There’s wifi and we had a house keeper Wayan that came everyday to bring clean towels, make the bed, tidy up, take out the trash and make us breakfast. There are also really nice resorts right in Ubud one of them we happened to have lunch at Alaya Resort it was in Ubud
near the Monkey Forest on Jalan Hanoman

Here are some pictures of the Penestanan area, gardens and
rice terraces we past every day.

And our favorite little breakfast place that was across the street from our villa


They had delicious coffee, fresh fruit juices, yogurt bowls, avocado toast, eggs with asparagus and pancakes with caramelized banana and strawberries. My husband says the best oatmeal he’s ever eaten. We even brought home a wooden bowl just so he could eat oatmeal in it.

We tried black rice pudding for breakfast at another local place down the street.
Tasted very similar to oatmeal.

The BEST restaurant in Ubud was Bridges. We ate there twice, I could have eaten there every night. World class atmosphere, service and food. Just outstanding. It’s this beautiful restaurant built under a bridge on the side of the cliff leading down to a river. As with everything it’s open air so each level it open to the view of the gardens and river.

Gorganzola Apple Brulee with Rucola Salad
pickled fennel, orange and candied pecans

2017-03-20 Bali Ubud Bridges 18

Wild Mushrooms and Polenta
with caper and tomato relish, fresh pea puree and vegetable terrain

2017-03-20 Bali Ubud Bridges 20

My travel friend’s favorite part of the meal, the palette cleanser

Strawberries with a lime sorbet

2017-03-20 Bali Ubud Bridges 19

Another beautiful spot to eat is right downtown Ubud and has a garden courtyard in the back and a bar facing the street in the front to people watch.
The food was great, fresh, and unique and the service was great.

Oops Restaurant and Bar
No website but it’s right across from the market in the center of town.
Just a few blocks from Starbuck. Yes, Starbucks.

Our spa day was at Karsa Spa set in the middle of a rice terrace
ponds, flowers and fountains everywhere.

The massage rooms were open air with a garden around you the ceiling fans made it perfectly comfortable. After the body treatment you slide into an essential oil infused tub full of flowers.

The view from our pergola while getting pedicures

The rice terrace was really beautiful to hike through. The area around the terrace was very touristy, I wouldn’t recommend any of the restaurants but look through the shops. There were a couple that had stuff I hadn’t seen yet. It’s free to hike the terrace but in a couple of places you’ll come across someone basically being a gate keeper and asking for money to pass. 50,000 for our group was fine. Most places were free to get in but then you paid a priest or someone to show you around or someone who was selling palm hats in the field. $4 for a group of 8, not bad.

2017-03-23 Bali Rice Terrace 2

2017-03-23 Bali Rice Terrace 17

After the rice terrace we visited the coffee plantation. This was set up a little more for tourists. People greeted us, took us on a tour, there were people demonstrating how they roast the coffee and you got a free tasting of several teas and coffees like chai, ginger, and cocoa. A cup of the coffee where the luwak eats the berries, poops them out then they roast the pooped out beans was 50,000 ($4). It was actually deliciously smooth no wonder people
pay $30 a cup for it here in the US.

While we enjoyed our tea and coffee sample we couldn’t help notice the extremely hard working ladies just below us. They would carry up empty bowls from below, another lady would fill them with dirty then they would carry them on their heads down below to the construction site. Up and down. No special safety gear. Just hard work all day in the heat.

2017-03-23 Bali Ubud Coffee Plantation 20

Our driver told my husband about a hike up one of the volcanos, Mount Batur. They left at 2am to get to the mountain by 4am so he could be at the top by sunrise. His guide Madi was yet another tough ass Bali lady. She kept asking him if he needed a rest and
would say hati-hati which meant careful careful.

We visited a traditional village out in the country side. Where there are bamboo forests and rice terraces and little beautiful villages. The villages are walled in and each “home” is a walled in space with several small buildings inside. some are open air some aren’t. Most have a temple in the front then the old historic building for tourists like us to see then more modern buildings where they live. Open air kitchens, stable for a pig, gardens. The family that lived there welcomed us in and explained how they used to live.
Did I mention how friendly and sweet these people are?

Nearby was the oldest temple in Bali. I forgot to write down the name of it. Just like the smaller spaces, there is a wall with a grand door in this case at the top of a lot of steps. In side are many smaller open are buildings. Some are for preparing things for
worship some are for actual worship.

We then visited the Tirta Empul Water Temple. As with all the temples, to enter you need a sarong. Then if you want to go in the water you pay for a water sarong, go into a coed changing room. Yeah, that was awkward. And change into the water sarong. We all had bathing suits on under. I wrapped mine around my neck the guys just around their waste. Some people were in there in their clothes with the sarong just around their clothes. So whatever works for you.

The priest gave us an offering, had us clear our minds and meditate for a minute then explained we choose a place for our offering at one of the fountains then started at the left and worked right taking 3 sips of spring water and then dunking your head 3 times to cleanse you inside and out. The water was cool but not cold, there were Koi in the pond with us and the stones aren’t comfortable to walk on. But it was a really cool experience. I definitely recommend it!
We tipped our priest 150,000 Rp ($12) for helping us.

Aside from the spring and the pond you get in there were Koi ponds and
the usual buildings all the temples have.

Near Ubud was another spectacular restaurant Sayan it overlooks a valley, river, and rice terrace and across the valley you could see one of the Four Seasons on Bali. It had a pond on it’s roof

Once again delicious. Best chocolate cake ever and it was flourless.

Some cool stuff I noticed with the food, they put salsa and dips in little banana or palm leaves they fold into little bowls. Everything is natural no plastic stuff, wooden bowls, plates lined with banana leaves, so pretty. There was always fresh fruit and herbs. They slice their limes different. Just the ends, not sure what they do with the middle of the limes. They make a dipping sauce from sambal a tomato based sometimes spices sometimes sweet condiment and mayo. I think if you took ketchup and sweet chili sauce you might get something similar.

Our last adventure was in the Ubud Monkey Forest. Ok, not a fan of this one. The monkeys are really aggressive and know you have bananas so they come running over and climb all over you looking for the bananas. You can’t shove them off or they might bite you and they are all over the place. Yeah, not a fan. But if you don’t mind the crazy monkeys all over you for sure go.

2017-03-27 Bali Ubud Monkey Forest 2.jpg

As we walked home from downtown Ubud we came across the beautiful Lotus Pond Palace. It’s tucked behind the Starbucks and the Lotus Café. It’s easy to miss because of the pergola in the front. There’s a pergola behind the Starbucks that you can sit and enjoy the pond or
eat at the café but the menu looked mediocre.

While we were there is was Nyepi. That’s the Hindu new year. The day before is a little like Mardi Gras. They party and build these cool floats called Ogoh Ogoh. Each nearby village or neighborhood (didn’t quite get a clear answer on that) makes one then the day before Nyepi they carry them to the main temple in Ubud. There’s a whole performance that goes with the presentation of the Ogoh Ogoh. There are smaller ones that children make and carry and larger ones the adults make. On the day before Nyepi they also have temple services and after we saw people carrying these beautiful trays with fruit and desserts, not clear what they were for.

2017-03-27 Bali Ubud Ogoh Ogoh 10.jpg

These guys just added to the atmosphere

2017-03-27 Bali Ubud Day before Nyepi 4

Then on Nyepi it’s their day of silence. You can’t leave your home or hotel, no lights on, no entertaining, no eating. For tourists they just asked us to stay inside, keep the curtains drawn so you couldn’t see our lights and keep the cooking to a minimum. And obviously be quiet. It just made for a relaxing day to read. I know the hotels abide as well but I’m not sure if you have to stay in your room or just on the hotel grounds if you plan on coming to Bali during Nyepi you might want to check that out. A couple of tips. Don’t wait until the day before to get cash from the ATMs they were all out and the day after Nyepi it was afternoon before we found one we could use. The grocery stores were slammed to. Think day before a hurricane when everyone thought it wasn’t going to actually hit but a the last minute realize it will.
So get food, supplies, and cash out 2 days before Nyepi.

After Ubud we headed to the Intercontinental Bali Resort at Jimbaran Beach. Wow. Just wow. If I was going to Bali again I would go straight to Ubud to stay for most of the time then stay at the Intercontinental for 3 days at the end. They have everything there and lots of activities, yoga classes, cooking classes etc. A beautiful spa. The buffet and show with traditional dancers was meh. The dancers and entertainment were great but the food was just ok. It was a lot of odd Asian food. I guess at the end of the trip I was just tired of that. But they have a great breakfast every morning and the other restaurants were great. There’s one by the pool and the Sunset Bar and Grille over looks the ocean. Fresh lovely salads and sandwiches. Served in awesome wooden bowls and with snacks like bread with a mango jam and some kind of cheese spread, Bali peanuts and little coconut cookies with the coffee. They also had a white wine, apple cider, elderflower drink that tasted like apple sangria.

So here’s the lobby

And the endless pools and gardens, yes you can swim in those pools

Pool side dining

and the Sunset Bar and Grille and Apple sangria

The spa

And of course our room

Leis when we checked in with a refreshing local drink and chilled wash cloths. Beautiful rooms with turn down each night and they didn’t get there at 7am to clean it. Every toiletry you could need. 4 different restaurants, the beach, I don’t even know how many pools, club level rooms and club lounge the size of a restaurant, endless activities and it was $137 a night. Yep.

What a great trip. Its a really long way to go but so worth it.
I would go again in a heartbeat and would barely change a thing





That’s Amore

So much to do in Italy and we tried to do all of it.
Rome, Siena, Florence, Bologna, Verona, Como, Bellagio, and Venice!

2016-08-23 Florence Academia David 9

So let’s start at the beginning. As always I made a list of things I had to see then figured out what cities they were in then organized the trip so we didn’t waste time driving back and forth. This time no trains. I was so stressed using the trains in France. Doesn’t mean I won’t ever use them again but I was really easy with the rental car.

We used Dark Rome for most of the tours. They started off doing creepy tours of tombs etc. in Rome and are now in many countries doing all kinds of tours. It was pretty much a one stop shop for everything we wanted to see. So much easier to get the tickets in advance and not worry about where you need to be and getting tickets. And lots of times you skip the regular lines like at the Uffizi in Florence or San Marco in Venice. The tours are amazing and you learn so much more than if you just walk through. The guides love what they do so they really get into it. Expect to tip them $5-10 per person.

Restaurants were tricky finding places. There’s a lot of stuff on tourist type places like Trip Advisor but I never trust those sites. The are, well, touristy. High priced low quality food and service and usually really tacky atmosphere. So I looked at things like Mario Batali’s favorite places or Eater.com is really great.

Arrived in Rome at 8am their time 2am our time but we just dropped our bags at the Airbnb and moved on. We were definitely dragging but it really helps get you on track with the new time zone if you just immediately adapt. Our Airbnb was perfect. Look for location, something near the sites you’ll be seeing and something that’s updated inside up still has the charm of the country.

We stayed at Sistina 8 Luxury Apartment

It was in walking distance of almost everything, quiet neighborhood beautiful inside and the host was outstanding.

Our host suggested several restaurants, every one of the ones we tried were great. Rome had tons of tacky places on the main streets that looked nice but if there’s photos of the food don’t eat there.

Via Borgognona n 43

Borghese Gallery | Tour of the Home and Garden
Beautiful Bernini statues in this private home

After the tour of the home and garden the guide walked us through the public garden that ended at a terrace that over looked Rome we walked back towards our apartment past the Spanish Steps. Which is beautiful but just an area with upscale shopping.

If you are anywhere with crowds be very aware of pick pockets. Don’t put money or passports or anything important in a backpack. Just jackets and water and stuff like that. I carried a small cross body purse that I held in front of me in areas like that. The problem is it’s not a scary area. Its friendly and beautiful and full of other tourists. But that’s where the pick pockets are. We didn’t have any problems but we were careful too.

Slept in to catch up on our sleep then off to the Catacombs Tour. You can’t take pictures in some of these places so I’ve added photos from online.

Also, bare shoulder and thighs are frowned on in any place of worship so either cover those areas or bring a scarf to wrap around you or over your shoulders. If it’s cool weather that’s not a problem but we were there in August and even though everyone said it would be terribly hot we were pretty comfortable as long as we stayed out of the sun. But we are from Florida. I brought a maxi skirt and kept it in my bag and just slipped it on over my shorts when needed. But don’t worry, if you forget they are happy to sell you a paper wrap for $1 to cover yourself. They are serious about it.

Capuchin Crypt Tour

Monks ran out of places to bury their dead and were given a new location. The moved all the bodies to this new place but it still had limited space so the monks would be buried for a certain amount of time then exhumed and the bones would be cleaned and they decorate the rooms of the crypt with them. Very macabre and so very cool.

Then we toured a Roman tomb that was found in the fields outside of the old Roman wall.

Then came the San Clemente Church tour

There was a pagan temple that was then used to store grain then they built another pagan temple on top of that. Then a church on top of that. Then the San Clemente Church on top of the church from 1100. One day the priest at San Clemente noticed a sound of water. As he investigated under the church he realized there was another whole church under his church. So they removed all the old rubble and it was pretty much intact. He continued investigating the water sound and then discovered the temple to Mithras who was worshiped around 1 CE. There are several springs that run under Rome they eventually found the source of the sound of water came from a spring that ran under the temple.

Gusto Osteria

Beautiful little bistro by the Mausoleum of Augustus.

Later that day we went to a little pizza place 2 doors down from Gusto, meh. The only pizza I had in all of Italy that was even as good as pizza I’ve had in local upscale places was in the artisan hipster area of Rome called Trastevere and at a place in Venice. Otherwise it wasn’t any different then any other pizza place you’ve ever been to. One funny thing was every place had a hot dog topping. They said the English love it. Ok, weird.

On to the Vatican, standing in the Sistine Chapel and looking up at Michael Angelo’s work was breathtaking. You can’t take pictures and you can’t talk. So it’s pretty incredible. The tour is of the Vatican’s extensive pieces in their museum and then of the Sistine Chapel and of St Peter’s basilica. Many of the marble and statues in St Peters were just pilfered from temples elsewhere in Rome that were no longer important. But all of them in one place. Wow. and as usual there’s always that creeper part of the tour.
Once in a while there’s a special pope who gets mummified and
placed in a tomb for everyone to see. Yes. Ew.

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The Vatican Museum

The third picture shows part of the building as white. They are restoring the buildings to their original state, which was white. The ceiling in the hall of maps was incredible. These rooms were just stuffed with tapestries, ancient statues, murals it’s just incredible.

St Peter’s Basilica

Marble marble marble. The famous statue of Mary holding Jesus after he was taken from the cross is now shielded by glass because some idiot jumped up on the statue a few years ago and started hitting it with a hammer. We took the earliest tour we could get, less lines it was actually not very crowded. In fact the tour guide said how lucky we were apparently be prepared to barely move. We were there in August as I already mentioned. August for them is hot but it’s also the month everyone takes off for holiday. So there’s weren’t a lot of American tourist but there were Italian tourists. Which I imagine was better.

The Coliseum

There were many arenas built all over Rome and Italy in fact we saw one in Verona. They referred to this particular one as the Coliseum because originally it had a giant statue in front of it that they referred to as Colossus so to easily explain which arena you meant you’d say the coliseum meaning the arena with the colossus statue. The statue is long gone now. Before the arena was built for the masses Nero began building a ridiculous palace on the spot with a man made lake probably fed from one of those underground springs I mentioned. He died before completion and they destroyed the palace filled in the lake and built the coliseum for the people. Part of the coliseum is built on where the lake was filled in. When an earthquake hit Rome the side of the coliseum that was over the filled in lake crumbled. Below I have photos of the what it looked like originally with the statue and photos of the surrounding buildings that used to be there both how they originally looked and how they look now.

Constantine’s Arch

Which just like most of the monuments and churches he used statues and marble taken from older temples.

Athena’s Temple which is right next to the Coliseum

These buildings were right next to each other there are temples and arches and palaces all jumbled together. Everything was built very close together. Think of it as downtown in any large city with all the skyscrapers close together. The 2 on the left are what they originally looked like the one on the right is today.

Palatine Hill is were the word palace came from. The giant homes built on Palatine Hill were all emperor’s homes eventually they were referred to palaces because they were on Palatine Hill. It’s pretty amazing what Augustus’ palace looked like compared to just a few emperors later. On top of the hill were all the palaces then below was the forum or downtown. Looking at it now is confusing until you think of all these ancient building as skyscraper then it makes sense. Same thing I’ve added a photo of what it originally looked like.

Augustus’ Palace

They discovered this not too long ago. Its under the ruins on a hillside of Apollo’s temple.

Simple rooms with some of the earliest examples of perspective used in murals.

Just a few decades later Caligula’s and Nero’s palaces each take up an entire block

  The Forum

Across the street from this was Hadrian’s Palace which was 10x bigger then the other palaces, all in ruins. When you’re walking around the forum you have a little better feel what each building it’s hard to understand what you’re looking at in pictures. The Tiber River would flood a couple of times a year. When it flooded it would deposit mud. The people of Rome would shovel the mud out their windows into the street where it would dry and harden. After many years of this the street would be higher than the front doors so they would either add a new story and make the first floor the basement or just implode the house into itself and build a new house on top. Because of this there are layers and layers to excavate in Rome. This very thing happened to the forum in a way that preserved it. A huge flood covered the area in mud after it had been largely abandoned. So it just sat there unused until it was excavated. I was really surprised how much of original Rome you could still see. I mean that’s 2,000 years ago. Pretty incredible.

 The Pantheon we didn’t get a tour for. It’s a beautiful building and defiantly worth walking into but I’m not sure you need a tour guide. Next to it is the Trevi Fountain. We were really lucky they had just spent a ton of time and money cleaning it for a fashion show. It was sparking white.

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There was a little ice cream place right next to where I’m standing here to take this photo. There’s a famous one on the corner that had a huge line but right next to the fountain was a smaller little place that was both beautiful and delicious with no line!

Ah Trastevere!

You’ll have to take a cab to get here but it was lovely. Lots and lots of little artisanal shops. Our friend bought some leather goods the best pizza was here and Pimm’s Goodthe cutest little bar and restaurant. A friend suggested this place and she nailed it. The owner (who is very good looking) joined us for drinks.

This awesome little walk up that only sold Toast.

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Then on to Florence

My favorite! Smaller than Rome with just as much to see.
A little more personal. Easier to get around too.

We stayed at Via delle Bombarde this beautiful apartment on the top floor in the middle of Florence. They even had a garage around the corner to park the car.

On that note. Don’t try to drive in Rome. We rented a car on the edge of the city and hopped right onto the highway. The highways were pretty easy to navigate but the round-a-bouts are murder. Google maps isn’t very clear on which exit so sometimes it took a couple of tries to get the right one. We drove to Florence and park then walked everywhere. They have mostly one way roads and then sometimes you can’t drive on them at all. The one day we took the car out to drive to Siena, what an f..ing mess to get it back into the garage. So if you are going to see cities in the area wait until you’re on your way to the next city you’re staying in and stop on the way. Leave your car in the garage. Trust me.

This was my favorite apartment.

All over Florence this artist named Blub painted little paintings.
Snapped as many as I could.

We also booked lots of tours in Florence but we wandered the streets more here. It’s much smaller than Rome. We came across this amazing restaurant and gift shop by accident and ate there many times. Because the food was about the same in Florence as it was in Rome, hard to find a good place that wasn’t touristy.

Le Menagerie

And the bistro

And…the gift and floral shop

Loved this place!!

The first palace of the Medici’s was in the center of town then they moved to the Vecchio which was the government building in Florence, but it was the biggest building so they took it as their palace. That was too dark and drab so they built the Pitti Palace on the other side of the river and so they wouldn’t have to walk past all the butchers (and their knives) on the Ponti Vecchio they built a secret walkway over the buildings on the Ponte Vecchio that led from the Pitti Palace to the Uffizi building. Uffizi means office it was originally built as government offices.

Palazzo Medici Ricardi

Medici Chapel and Tombs

We hiked up I don’t know how many steps to this breath taking view of the city from Michelangelo Piazza. It’s a park where everyone goes at Sunset. Just before sunset he hiked up just a little further to the church at the top. The cemetery is really cool with lots of large crypts. Unfortunately, the cemetery was closed for repairs.

I didn’t write down what church this was. The would bury their saints and priests and crusaders and other important people in the floor. Interesting enough, in St Augustine after hurricane Matthew, one of the wine shops was damaged and before renovating the owner offered the space to the government to excavate before he covered up the floor of the shop again. They found the remains of a couple and several children. They believe these remains are from the mid 1500s and would have been under the floor of one of the first churches built there. This church had really elaborate marble reliefs.

David at the Academia.
He’s really huge. The statues leading up to David are all in various states of being sculpted. Michelangelo was hired to sculpt 50 statues for a pope. When he died and another pope was selected they told Michelangelo they wouldn’t be paying him for the 50 statues. So he stopped working on them. Michelangelo always said he was freeing the statue from the marble. That it was already in there and he just had to find it. So when these weren’t finished they were referred to has the Prisoners. If you look closely at the full frontal photo of David below you can see in the bottom right corner a man’s head, that will give you the idea of scale. He’s huge.

The Uffizi

We saw both of these on a tour. There’s typically 12-20 people and they give you headsets so you can easily hear the guide even if you have wandered away from the group.

Afternoon drinks on a rooftop bar over looking the river
La Terrazza

Aperol spritzes and every bar had delicious snacks
sometimes even whole meals at happy hour.

Most of our meals were delicious but in more casual settings. We splurged and ate on a balcony over the river at the Hotel Lungarno

Roaming around we found this little corner bar. Spritzes and yummy cake.

The Duomo

Once again we ate at a place owned by the Hotel Lungarno group. We weren’t doing it on purpose their places just looked cool. This was the restaurant of the hotel directly across the river from the Hotel Lungarno. We needed a quick lunch in-between tours. Right place right time.

Day trip to Siena and we stopped at Bologna on our way to
Verona which was just one night on our way to Como.

Siena was ok. I would stop on your way from Rome to Florence or visa versa but I wouldn’t go just as a separate trip. It was a mini version of Florence with not that much to see and a lot of tourists. Bologna was meh. We parked, walked a long way to find the one decent restaurant and left. The covered marble walkways were really amazing and the place we ate was great. It has a lot of shopping so I think that’s what people do there.
Just wasn’t our thing.


A church that they started to add onto then the plague hit and they just never finished it. The town gates, the view from the park we had a picnic in, a rustic church, various streets.


Verona was most definitely the shopping city. The outside streets were marble. Great mix of stores. Got my first pair of Birkenstocks there. I brought regular sandals. Big mistake. You need plenty of cushion in your shoe to absorb all the uneven cobblestones. My feet were killing me. Slipped on a pair of Birkenstocks walked out of the store with them and never took them off the rest of the trip. Huge huge difference. Not one blister either.

We stayed in a hotel here since it was just one night. Very reasonable. Steps away from everything, easy to park, snacks in afternoon and evening.
Nicely appointed room with great service.

Grand Hotel des Artes

The front desk recommended the restaurant where he had dinner and they nailed it. The last photo is in the bathroom. They put glass in the floor so you could see the original floor with the natural spring running by. Unfortunately I can’t remember the name and can’t find it on the map. Ugh.

The arena there is still used today for concerts. Adelle had just played there and they had an opera there the night we stayed. There’s too had some damage. They used cranes to get the huge stages in an out. The last 2 photos are of other buildings in town.

Then off to Como. Most of the city is well just a regular city. We drove past some pretty unimpressive areas. But the area near the lake, you forgot all about the rest of the city. The area we stayed was in the middle of the lake area. Also an Airbnb on Via Giuseppe Garibaldi

The communication with the host wasn’t as good hear but the apartment was nice. The apartment said it had A/C in the living area but didn’t explain the bedrooms were on a different floor. Which was fine because even in August with the window open and the fan on us we were completely comfortable. The hot water did not work though. They had special instructions but also said they had been having a problem. So by the time they finally came to address it it was our last day. Also, the person who was meeting us to let us in was very late. But aside from that,
the apartment was in a perfect location and was beautiful.

This is definitely a tourist area, lots of shopping but great shopping not trinkets and not super expensive stuff just beautiful shops. They have these huge buildings that take up the whole block then if you’re lucky they leave the “garage doors” open and you can see in and see that the middle of the buildings are open like a courtyard. Some have been converted to parking, some are still gardens. But you get a glimpse of where their “yards” were.

If you take your time you can find really great restaurants. The ones along the water were 99% crap. But we found the 1% and had the most amazing cocktails.


View of the lake. Crazy delicious cocktails and as with everywhere else, amazing appetizers for happy hour, like flat bread and pasta.

La Vita Bella

Right behind Lago, they are famous for their salads but they had great everything.

Some peeks into those courtyards

All along the water it goes from restaurants to parks to government buildings that used to be huge private homes. Here’s a look.

There’s a lift that takes you to the top of the hill overlooking the lake and the city. There’s a whole other city up there. The restaurants were all touristy so I wouldn’t try to eat up there but it’s worth a couple of hours to roam around and see the lake from the top.

We took the boat up the lake to Bellagio. Again very touristy but the boat ride was lovely and you stop in a bunch of smaller towns. Bellagio had touristy shopping and restaurants at the bottom. If you hike up higher you’ll get a great view and a little less touristy stuff and see some beautiful homes on the way.

Homes long the lake

Last stop Venice. Once again we stayed in an Airbnb. It was harder to find a nice apartment in Venice. Our place was nice but not the same as the other places. My most important requirement was a balcony. We were on the top floor and had a beautiful view. Venice is hard to get around on foot. If you’re just meandering it’s fine but if you have to tour or reservation you need to be at just give yourself plenty of time. After awhile of course we started to get the hang of it. But you constantly find yourself in a square and Google maps says things like take the northeast alley and gives a name. You can’t tell which way is northeast because you’re surrounded by buildings and none of the streets ever have the right name on them. So we ended up down a lot of streets that ended at a canal with no bridge. But Venice has an amazingly interesting history. To really get all that you need to have a guide on a tour. Also, if you did drive, drop the car at the rental place at the airport then take a water taxi over. It will probably drop you off at San Marco square. If you hire a private boat like we did you’ll need to get the directions from the owner to tell the taxi company because the address won’t be what’s on Airbnb. But they drop you off in front of your door. Handy.

Ca’ Del PIttore with Roof Terrace

San Marco Square and the Doge Palace Tour

The ceilings and walls in room after room were covered in paintings and gold.

San Marco Church you couldn’t take pictures inside but you could take them on the balcony outside. The 2 here from inside I got off of Google. Those are all mosaics not paintings. And at the one end when they started them the design is very Byzantine by the time they finish at the other end it is very Renaissance.

One of the places that was Mario Batali’s favs was Al Covo. I can see why. It’s family owned and run. The son was our waiter and the mom is the baker. Beautiful atmosphere, delicious food and great service.

Loved the Hidden Venice Tour. They took us to less obvious sites showed us things like where they build the gondolas and at the end we had a gondola ride. Lucky us the gondola in front of us had hired a guy to sing to them so we had entertainment for free.

Here are some photos of the Hidden Venice Tour

Gondola ride and views of the water