Sunday, December 10, 2017

Photo Journal - London

Ah beautiful, gorgeous, expensive London… I've missed you!! Last time there, 2009… It's been too long

Since this was not our first rodeo, we didn’t feel the need to cram a bunch of stuff to do while in London. I did however, want to enjoy our time there with meaningful activities that did not cost a lot of money (because, as I said before, its expensive-even with the favorable exchange rate!).

In the past, when we've been to London, we visited the Tower of London, rode the London Eye, saw the change of the guard, perused the markets (Portobello and Camden), ate our share of pub and Indian food, so this time was more leisurely.

Here is a fun list of things we got to do while in London:

Since we were staying in the Shoreditch district (East London), we started our walk at Brick Lane. This little street is so cool, very diversely ethnic, with markets for foods and unique British knick-knacks (even the husband found himself a bargain)
This street is famous for the gorgeous murals everywhere (I have a thing for murals), so we took them all in. See lots more on instagram

Side note: The whole time I was on this street, all I could think about was the song from The Killers - "All the things that I've done" filmed right on Brick Lane


Brandon Flowers wanna be

We walked by the Tower of London
Cross over the Tower Bridge
Jubilee Walkway


Stopped on Borough Market for some mulled wine for us and hot chocolate for the kids

Gorgeous Millennium Bridge (my favorite bridge… Totally pedestrian)



Saint Paul Cathedral
Busy Fleet Street




And mind the gap...

Covent Garden, Seven Hills, Neal's Yard - We had lunch here and did a little bit of shopping too… I think the Christmas cheer everywhere did it for me


Not sure what was happening here

Victoria Embankment






Something I did not want to compromise on was the museums. We did not get to visit them the last time here… The kids were too small, and the weather was so nice… We wanted to spend it all in the outdoors. But since this time we were in London in the Fall, we thought, this is the time to enjoy the world class (and I really mean, world class) museums that London has to offer. And did I mention that they are free, yes! Free… what a noble concept, top notch art to be enjoyed by all…

The British Library - We did a quick stop here (that's all you need). Friends, don't miss this if you are in London. Think Magna Carta, the Gutenberg's bible, King James Bible, lyrics from the Beatles… And all free! (oh wait, I already said that)



The British Museum and the incredibly impressive collection of ancient Egyptian, Greek and Assyrian art

Do you want to have the place all to yourself? Get there as soon as it opens… You can take pictures to your heart's desire





The National Gallery - By the time we got here, the kids were begging us to stop…. Here is proof
Nevertheless, we persisted...
Mischievous little boy...

Photographing the Dutch Masters - The Impressionist Hall was our favorite by far


We keep them going with promises of a proper High Tea, ah who am I kidding… I wanted to do it more than them… Yummy treats and cakes and sandwiches and scones and clotted cream… Yes to all! We had ours at the National Cafe. It was lovely. Reservations are recommended, though. We made ours as soon as we arrived at the National Gallery. Took our time at the different halls and then made our way to the cafe... No waiting, easy peasy.

More walking around, at Trafalgar square. Fascinating to see all the action going on… London is great for people watching…
That concludes the great escape of Thanksgiving 2017. We did not miss eating turkey at all… But something I was shocked by, was all the talk of Black Friday sales… Seriously? Europe too? But for all the complaining I did, I took advantage of it… Like I was going to leave Italy without any Italian goods at a bargain price... Yeah right.

Here is a list of our previous trips on Thanksgiving break

2016 Patagonia and Buenos Aires (this time last year we were driving around Palermo in Buenos Aires, this time, we were in Palermo Italy)
2015 Bermuda
2014 Southwest Texas
2013 Mexico City
2012 Arizona

So did the stars align to allow us to get such cheap tickets to London? Or was it all Brexit's doing? I do not know. Who am I to question the travel gods? All I know is that I got a deal that I could not pass up. I am currently on the hunt for more deals. Stay tuned for more travel adventures.

See first leg of the trip here
More pictures from the UK, here
More pictures of our family travels here
And even more pictures on instagram at planandplay
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Monday, December 4, 2017

Photo Journal - Sicily

Italy, what a great place to visit, right? Ever since our last trip there (see those pictures here) we couldn't wait to go back. You see, our wonderful Airbnb hosts, on our last trip to Milan, planted the seed of Sicily on our minds. When we stayed at their apartment, they prepared a wonderful Milanese meal for us and while dining and wining, they talked to us about Sicily. "So much to see and do", they said. "Not as crowded" "the food is amazing". We thought, that's our kind of place. We couldn't wait to go there. Enter an airline with some serious PR problems, offering bargain tickets to London...

Now, London in and of itself, is always a great destination. However, since that bug for Sicily was on our mind, we decided to take another flight (with another bargain airline company from Europe) and fly to Sicily. Ah Italy, you never disappoint, but to say that we loved Sicily, it is an understatement. Romans, Greeks, Arabs, Norman… All these civilizations coming together in this chaotic, rustic, beautiful, incredibly friendly place.

I now leave you with my photo journal from our time in Sicily. I hope you like the pictures. But first, I need to start with this thought from Goethe:

“To have seen Italy without having seen Sicily is not to have seen Italy at all, for Sicily is the clue to everything.”

Palermo - The capital city, it has been described by some as a rough, uncut jewel. We decided to do a street food tour, because we love street food and because it sounded amazing. Needless to say, we loved it. Our super awesome tour guide took us through the chaotic labyrinth of streets and taught us about the Sicilian way to bargain shop, what to buy (what's in season) and what to eat. We visited Il Capo and the Vucciria markets. Both have their origins during the Arabic domination...
Entering the markets through the old city walls

Our tour guide made it interactive for all of us. He took us behind the scenes where the Sicilian Mamas are working their magic. The food was fantastic, we tried it all
Arancini... I love this stuff






Marco was such an awesome tour guide. This tour is geared for all ages and fitness levels. If you like eating yummy food... This tour is for you. We had a great time chatting with our group (from all over the place: Australia, Slovakia, Hungary)

Quattro Canti - Marco doing his thing





After we ate and walked and talked and ate some more, we said goodbye to our new friends and decided to visit the Cathedral of Monreale. The plan was to take the bus to the hill town where the cathedral is located but, in true Sicilian fashion, a guy approached us and offered his driving services. Now, you may think, that is totally crazy - getting in a car with a total stranger, paying him in advance. We thought that too... But, what is life when traveling if it is not about taking chances on others? He took us to the cathedral, gave us some time to explore and brought us back to town without any problems. Side note, Sicilians drive like maniacs... We had a good laugh afterward but holy cow, it was intense.














We explored the church and the impressive Byzantine mosaics (Monreale Cathedral reminded me of the Byzantine mosaics of Chora in Turkey. See pictures from our trip to turkey here). Norman-Arab style with Byzantine artistic elements... The combination sounds crazy but it totally works

We made it to the top of the cathedral just when the sun started to set


We left busy Palermo and got on the road on our way to Agrigento to visit the Valley of the Temples


Imagine a complex of Greek ruins (without the crowds usually associated with Greece) among the almonds and olive groves. We had the park was all to ourselves… It was beautiful

Icarus. What a stunning sight


Work it kitty...

Continuing on... We drove to Catania (our home base for the next few days), more specifically the little commune of Trecastagni (on the foot of Mount Etna). Our Airbnb host was so awesome. She had a fabulous meal prepared for us when we arrived plus a bunch of treats to enjoy. She was a great source of information like restaurants and foods to try… She was spot on too... We tried it all and loved it.

The view from our apartment at sunrise

In the mornings... On our way home from picking groceries and having a cup of coffee (sans kids... They are old enough to stay in bed while we do some exploring of our own)
Taormina: This little town was a favorite. It is set right on a hill with the most beautiful view of Mount Etna. We visited the Greek Theater and just simply leisure walked the traffic free little streets, medieval walls enclose the old town's stone streets.
The Greek amphitheater, with its famous panoramic view of Mount Etna









Catania - Congested crazy Catania. We walked around the historic part of the town, taking in the beauty of the architecture (built from the volcanic rock, again from Mount Etna).




We visited another Greek theater (which was hidden behind an old building -Seriously, we could have walked by it and not know that the amphitheater was hidden behind some undescriptive buildings)

I wished we would have spent more time on this town and do another food tour here (yes, the food is completely different than Palermo) This town is majestic and gritty all at the same time… The architecture was just incredible. A lot of it we saw from the car, trying to get out of town in rush hour traffic... Driving in Sicily friends, is not for the faint of heart.

Noto - Beautiful and underestimated Noto. What a gorgeous Baroque town this was, completely rebuilt after an earthquake. The main promenade is completely pedestrian. We had lunch there and before leaving we had some delicious treats (gelato, cannoli, gelato in brioche)… We rolled our way back to the car, it was so fricking good






Ortygia and Syracuse - Syracuse also offered roman ruins and a few other things to do but we wanted to spend the afternoon leisure walking (we were, after all, in Italy) so we went straight to the island of Ortygia. We got lost on the charming little streets, wandered through the Jewish quarter, visited the magnificent church of Santa Lucia, had fun at the fountain of Arethusa, walked some more and stopped for drinks and before dinner snacks and viewed the sunset... Fascinating treasures at every turn. On our way back, V and I stumbled into an old chapel having a consignment sale. V is now the proud owner of a vintage Italian coat... it only set us back 5 Euros...
Walking by the Temple of Apollo






To close up our adventures in Sicily, we spent the day in the town of Cefalu. This little town looked like a post card. We had lunch overlooking the beach and walked around until we reached a little secluded beach right at sunset. The word magical comes to mind









This concluded our time in gorgeous Sicily. This is a destination in Italy I totally recommend. All that beauty comes without the crowds Italy is famous for. It also helped that we were there in the low season. Low season travel in the best (I'm always raving about it - I talked about it here). Prices were beyond reasonable and the weather - in this part of Europe - Is fantastic.

Are you wondering where we want to go next in Italy? Well, wherever I find a deal but I am in the look out for Sardinia!!! Yep, it sounds amazing... A traveler never stops looking for a bargain, right? Oh heck, I know...  It's a disease friends.

But don’t think we missed out on London, au contraire, we took advantage of our little time there to the max. I'll have another post with some pictures from our time in London Town… Don’t miss it

One last thought from Goethe (insightful guy, he was)

"The voyage through Sicily is now happily completed and will for me be an indestructible treasure for my whole life."

I couldn't agree more

Check out our get aways for Thanksgiving from previous years:

2016 - Patagonia and Buenos Aires
2015 - Bermuda
2014 - Southwest Texas
2013 - Mexico City
2012 - Arizona

Resources:

Food tour in Palermo: Streaty.com
Lodging in Catania: Airbnb
Lodging in Milan: Airbnb from 2014

And for more, much more:

Pictures from our last trip to Italy, check out my posts about Cinque Terre and Lombardy Region
Pictures of our family travels go here
And to follow our adventures check out my instagram at planandplay. I post lots of pictures there if you want to take a peak into our day-to-day life.
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