Weekend not at the beach

This weekend was hot!! We headed out to Ocean City, but never quite had time to take a dip in the Atlantic though I heard this year, the water is already warm. With the cookin’ temperatures (over 100 during the peak hot hours of the day), we set out so we wouldn’t arrive until later in the day. It was 4 or 5PM by the time we reached the boardwalk. After a quick stroll and stopping for pizza at Tony’s, we dropped off our things and then met up with cousins for a wonderful dinner at Sunset Grill.
Grilled Rockfsh with Crab Imperial
Grilled rockfish with crab imperial. This crab imperial was amazing. I’d never thought much of crab imperial before. It was always too mayonnaisey and salty but that was because I’d only ever had it at buffets. This one was so different and so good I didn’t even recognize it at first.

Soft Shelled Crab Sandwich
Soft-shell crab sandwich. It came with 2 meaty crabs! So good.

And the dessert!
Chocolate peanut butter cake
Chocolate peanut butter cake. It tasted like a Reese’s peanut butter cup.

I am coming back to this place!

After, we went to Seacrets, a bar/dance club/restaurant. It is giganto with various themed dance halls. Watch out, their Pain in de Ass drink is strong. The cousins outpartied us and had the juice to move onto Fager’s Island while we had to call it a night at 12:30. I think I’d like to go back to Seacrets, but for dinner, so I can float on one of those little tubes, plus it’d be less crowded.

The next day, we had brunch at another very delicious restaurant, Dirty Harry’s. It’s actually in Delaware, close to the border of Maryland. Their crabcake sandwich is outstanding and I loved the seafood omelet. Packed full of crabmeat, scallops, and shrimp with the right amount of Old Bay. It was so good, I am coming back to this place too!

Brunch made us sleepy so instead of making it out to the beach we ended up falling asleep on the couch then heading back.

What a relaxing weekend even if we never quite made it to the beach.

World Cup Mania

My dad is such a soccer nut. He went to Costco to buy a 19-inch TV just to watch the World Cup. With a 90-day return policy, he was planning to return it after the matches but I think they’re enjoying it too much so it’s going to stay. That return policy is such a marketing success. After 90 days, you’re too attached to the dang thing. Literally. He lugs it to work then back home to make sure he catches every single game. My mom is a good sport about his obsession and actually gets into it sometimes too.

Overpacked

I overpacked. It wasn’t too bad though. Just 2 dresses I never got to wear and a little sweater that went with one of the dresses. Turns out we never really dined anywhere too fancy and the few times it was dressier, it was too chilly for a summery dress (Paris). For a 12 day trip, that wasn’t too bad and they were just-in-case we found a fancy place we wanted to try anyway.

What I packed in reality:
5 pants (2 jeans, 1 casual non-denim pants, 1 yoga pants, 1 black cutoff pants (the last 2 are sleepwear and I wore the yoga pants during the travel back)
6 t-shirts/sleeveless tops
2 night shirts
2 button down shirts
2 long sleeve shirts
1 skirt
2 dresses (unworn)
1 light sweater to match a dress (unworn)
1 fleece jacket
1 light jacket
Benadryl (came in handy with allergies and bug bites)
Contacts and all the gear that comes with it
Jewelry (earrings and necklaces)
Sunglasses
Hat
2 Umbrellas
moneybelt
sunscreen
face products
dental hygiene necessities
makeup & remover
1 pair of flipflops
1 pair of sandals
Cameras & chargers with the European power outlet converter
3 4GB memory cards
Gorillapod
1 backpack and 1 camerabag purse
Travelbook

I wore:
A pair of jeans
A long sleeve top and a sleeveless top
A pair of very comfortable sneakers “my potatoes”

On a side note, last night one of our chinchillas, Gina I believe, started barking, kind of loudly and rhythmically. I’d never heard it before. They’re nocturnal so I’m used to them making noises, chewing, scratching, throwing cardboard about, but I’ve never heard them bark at night or during the day. The most they do is squeak. It was 2:30AM and I thought she was hurt or maybe Marco was crushed by his foodbowl. He thinks he’s a toughguy flipping over his heavy marble mortar bowl to the floor. They were quiet when we turned on the lights to check on them and both were just fine. Then when we left, the barking started again. It was rather cute. I’m bugging them right now. I like to pet Marco as he sits there with that flat expression on his face. Boinky boinky to his head.

Ahhhh…

This is the break I needed after the vacation. A nice relaxing welcome-home weekend. The orderliness of American drivers and hearing American English everywhere just felt comfortable and familiar. (I don’t miss the sprawling parking lots and general inefficiencies of suburban strip malls though.) Yesterday we attended a cooking knife skills class to learn the basic skills of how to julienne, chop an onion, bell pepper, crack a coconut, cut citrus, and even how to hold a knife, hone it with a honing steel, along with what knives most cooks need and the varieties out there. It was a lot of information but very helpful as a basic class. At the beginning of class people went around to introduce themselves saying what they wanted out of the class. Several of them had fancy knives like Shun’s and Wusthof’s and didn’t know what to do with them. But they all knew never to put them in the dishwasher! Now I know. 🙂 Since I have a Walmart knife, it goes in the dishwasher. And now that I know fancy knives can’t go in dishwashers I’m staying loyal to $15 knives. After the class we went grocery shopping and then Korean for dinner then more grocery shopping. Restocking the larder. We’ve missed some Asian cuisines like Japanese, Korean, and Indian not because they weren’t available during our trip, in fact they were everywhere, but we just haven’t had them in a while.

Tips if you plan to go to Paris, Rome, or Venice

  • Go in early Spring or late Fall. Rome is HOT! You will be outdoors for many of the attractions and at the very least walking around a good deal. In fact we probably should have done our trip in reverse: Rome, Venice, Paris.

  • Pre-print maps and know how you’re going to get from the airport to your hotel. In Paris, you can take the train but figure out which train station to get off from and how to walk from the station to the hotel. Same thing for Venice and Rome.

  • Bring a backpack to conveniently carry a jacket/long-sleeved shirt, bottle of water, tissues, Benadryl (for any emergency allergic reactions), and an umbrella.

  • In Paris, just by the day pass for all the trains and all the days you plan on being there, right off the bat at the airport. In Rome, you may just want to pay per trip because you will mostly walk everywhere (4 Euros for the daily pass, 1 Euro per trip. We rode about 2 trips a day if that.). Their train system isn’t as comprehensive but things are close enough to walk.

  • Also in Paris, take the RER as much as possible over the Metro from either airport or anytime carrying a lot of luggage.

  • Watch out for mosquitos in Venice but particularly in Rome. Bring Zyrtec to preemptively fight those itchy mosquito bites. I got attacked every night in our hotel room and even woke up in the middle of the night in fits of scratching. It was pretty torturous.

  • In any city you go, no matter how touristy it is, find a local grocery store to buy your waters. Don’t pay 3 Euros at a tourist stand. They’re really no more than 0.50 Euro a liter.

  • In Paris, water in restaurants can be tap (free) or bottled. We observed about 50/50 tap vs. bottled among the patrons in restaurants. In Italy don’t ask for tap or they’ll think you’re ridiculously cheap. (We learned this from our local Italian friend.) Or just get a bottle of house wine.

  • Get the house wine. It’s inexpensive and good.

  • Go a little off the beaten path to discover restaurants that the locals frequent. In Paris, try to go to at least one restaurant that does not translate the menu into English. Remember, carpaccio = raw, usually raw beef sliced paper thin. In Rome, we found a local restaurant by our hotel where they barely spoke English. We would speak English and the guy would reply in Italian. And yet we understood each other. We loved it so much we went back. In fact if they hadn’t been closed on Sunday we were planning dinner there a third time. Some places will offer you a limoncello gratis if you are a foreigner. I think they just like to see you pucker your face when you down it. We didn’t bring home a bottle of that stuff, if that tells you anything.

  • In predominately Catholic countries, eat dinner early on Sundays or you will be wandering a good deal looking for an open restaurant. In Paris we wound up eating at a Kosher restaurant on Sunday night and in Rome, we ate at an Italian place but the manager that night was Indian and the chef in the kitchen was another Asian.

  • IMPORTANT TIP!! For some tourist attractions, you can buy one ticket to see multiple places. Go to the least popular site of the package deal to buy the ticket because there will be little to no line. Then when you get to the popular attraction, you can bypass the chaos of the long lines. In Venice, the Correr Museum and the Doge’s Palace are one ticket. We went to the Correr first and got our ticket which was good for the day and also covered the Doge’s Palace which had long lines that morning. In Rome, we waited an hour at the Colosseum for a ticket which was in package with the Roman Forum and Palatino. Had we been savvier, we would’ve gone to the Palatino/Forum for our ticket and then headed to the Colosseum. Live and learn.

  • In Paris you might be able to purchase from your hotel, museum ticket package deals where one ticket will get you into Musee Louvre and d’Orsay and such. If you’re planning to go to them anyway, it’s worth it. In Rome, if you want to go into St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City, you might consider joining a tour group when you book your trip or ask your hotel to arrange a tour group. Otherwise, you’re in for a long wait with a line that seems to wrap around the whole square. We wound up taking photos of the outside and being satisfied with that. Rome has so many beautiful sites to see, missing out on the Sistine Chapel was to us, not a big deal. Plus, given that we had only 4 days, we knew we wouldn’t get to everything anyway.

  • Be wary of all the knockoff/junk sellers. Things in Europe are generally pricey so if it’s cheap, it’s probably made in China. If you’re going to shop, splurge on something of quality that’s made there. Venice is known for Murano glass and it’s pretty, and not that expensive. I got a good amount of Murano items. In Rome, I bargained with a vendor for a wallet. He went from 15 to 10 to 8 to 5 Euros. I took a closer look at it and said no thanks. Later, we saw other vendors hawking similar wallets for 3 Euro. They were all probably cobbled together by some poor Chinese kids. So when you shop, just be careful. Even paintings, unless the artist himself is painting and selling his works, it’s probably painted by that same poor Chinese kid after he was through cobbling together the janky wallets. We wound up only buying art from one painter in Paris. He had his watercolor paints out, a little bio of himself printed from some website and all his works were unique and he could tell you which vantage point he painted from.

  • Italians don’t dip their bread in olive oil. However you can sop up the sauce from your dish with the bread. Some places will put a bread basket on your table some won’t unless you ask for it. Unlike in Paris though, bread baskets in Rome are not gratis.

  • Watch out for the subway beggars in Rome. They stand by some ticket kiosks with a cup and “help” as you buy your ticket. These machines all have language options for Italian, French, German, and English so you don’t need help. However after you get your ticket they will ask for a donation. You can bypass those kiosks and go to others or you can just ignore them. I don’t like to encourage such behavior because it just encourages them to keep doing that to other tourists.

  • Don’t be shy about asking for directions. They’re a friendly bunch in each of the three cities. I wonder what tourists think of us when they come visit?

  • Ciao Bella!

    This was my first time stepping foot on the European continent. We entered by way of Madrid and when we got off the airport in Spain, I was like, “I can’t believe I’m in EUROPE!!” It was a little surreal. Very tasty. Romantic. Exciting. Tiring. Unforgettable.

    First stop, four days in Paris.

    Metropolitain
    The public transportation system in Paris is easy-to-navigate, convenient and comprehensive. It took us everywhere we needed to go from the Orly Airport to our hotel to the Chateau at Versailles to Charles DeGaulle Airport and all the major tourist attractions.

    Eiffel Tower at night
    It ran late enough that we could ride out to see the Eiffel Tower lit up at night (12PM/1AM?). They have an RER train (double decker) and a smaller local metro (Metropolitain). They run on intercrossing stations so some places you have to transfer or take a specific train. However, you can use the same ticket to take you anywhere you need to go during your stay. We got a 5-day pass (they don’t have 4-day). Also they hand out maps to the city at all the stations. It’s very tourist friendly.

    Cafe Renard
    Dining in France is slow and relaxed. You can’t rush even if you wanted and I think that’s a great thing. In DC waitstaff will tell you to dine quickly if you show up late at night or late for your reservation because they want to flip tables a few times a night. Here, if you arrive on time, they’ll seat you and you’ll be among many other diners still resting with a cafe or degestif. I think they only have one round of tables each evening. Maybe two? I noticed even when we tried to slow down to enjoy our meal we’d inevitably finish before others who had been there before us. Even our “quick lunch” turned into a one hour experience. They don’t even like to give you your check too soon, we’d always have to ask for it. I guess they didn’t want to rush you?

    "No photos!"
    Also, I loved watching in the evening, from around 5pm to 7 or 8pm people walking around the city carrying one or two sticks of baguettes, mostly unwrapped. Some would be eating them, but I think they’re taking them home to enjoy with dinner. It’s like rice for an Asian person. A staple. One night while dining next to a boulangerie I counted 50+ baguettes carried by passersby. I think we had it at every meal because that’s the first thing restaurants would set down before us whether for lunch or dinner. Glass of water, crust of bread. No butter or oils to put on the bread though in France or Italy. It must be an American thing. Our hotel breakfast had croissants, baguettes, boiled eggs, meats, cheeses, yogurt, fruit, juices, and coffee, hot chocolate, or tea. We also tried local bakeries’ croissants. I think the ones here in the US are equally good though.

    Second stop, three days in Venice. We took a flight from DeGaulle to Venice.

    Venetian Pink
    From the airport, they have waterbusses (Vaporetto) which dropped us off near our hotel. Later we also took the Vaporetto to the train station when we headed to Rome. In Venice, they don’t pass out maps readily. It is the true Euro Disney and they milk the tourists for what they can. For example you have to buy the maps in Venice. Or get one from your hotel. They aren’t as readily available everywhere. And even with the map, you will get lost. The walkways and bridges with the buildings right up against them make it a veritable rat maze. You can’t see over any horizon to any landmark. It’s just walls and more walls with similar looking vendors and palazzos (squares). That’s also the fun of being in Venice, getting lost and finding your way back.

    IMG_2636
    Or walking aimlessly in search of a place to eat and along the way, poking your head in random wine shops to buy wine filled in an empty reused water bottles of unknown origin. Best wine we had in Europe though, Refosco.

    After dinner, you have to find you way back and if you can back track all those twists and turns I’d be surprised. We always wound up taking a different path back to the hotel.
    IMG_1852
    The main tourist attractions are probabily St. Mark’s Square with the Doge’s Palace and the adjacent basilica connected to it.

    Making a Murano piece
    We also went to the island of Murano where they make the famous glass jewelry. Various artisan shops will do demos, then take you through their showrooms selling items that are hugely expensive and then the gewgaw jewelry pieces. I was trapped there for hours just looking at earrings, necklasses, and bracelets.

    Scala Contarini del Bovolo
    One hidden gem we went to see was the Contarini del Bovolo. Going by my GoogleMap, I had the wrong location to begin with. We wandered for a while and finally a Polizia told us the way. It’s very hidden. It was also closed for renovations. Still very beautiful to see from the outside.

    IMG_2388
    Venice is very international because of all the tourists. I felt safe there walking around late at night, even getting lost. People about are either tourists or the staff. And the staff all speak fluent English as well as French, Spanish, German. Posted menus were in all of those languages and even Chinese and Russian. So it sounds like Venice is a tourist trap. Well sorta. But it’s such a unique city on water that it’s worth visiting. Just being there is a wonderful experience. Just don’t go there during the hot months because even though it didn’t smell too bad when we were there, I can imagine during the warm months, the canals might not smell too good.

    And finally, Rome. All three places are rich with history and culture but Rome is like present day history. We’d be walking down the street, cars honking, gelato stores everywhere and boom, right there, yellow tape or a chain fence around an archaeological dig of buildings that were probably thousands of years old.

    IMG_3178
    Walking in the Colosseum and along the stone paths of the Roman Forum was surreal. You’re walking on ancient cobblestone roads, and oh by the way, that’s Julius Caeser’s tomb. And this castle here is where Hadrian was buried. We’d go back to our hotel in the evening and Wikipedia Hadrian or the Vestal Virgins or whathaveyou.

    IMG_1913
    My favorite food was pizza before going to Europe. After this trip, my favorite food might be spaghetti. And they use Barilla. It’s no different than the kind you can get in our local grocery stores. I just now realized I’ve been overcooking it the whole time. Al dente is just barely cooked all the way through. I ate pasta everyday and I’m still not sick of it.

    Mamma Mia!

    And we’re back!  Back and vacuumed the destruction that Marco and Gina made.  Boy I sure missed my wascally chinchillas.  We’ve started two loads of laundry with probably 5 more to go.  Just brought home some groceries for this week a few hours ago and now I’m transferring the 2000+ photos we took.  I’m dreading going to work tomorrow.  Very tempted to just take the rest of the week off to recuperate from the vacation.

    Here’s a brief synopsis of what we did:

    We ate.
    IMG_2351
    And we ate.
    IMG_2188
    And we ate.
    IMG_3379-1
    There was a few other things along the way too I suppose.  That’ll take more time to tell though.