Christmas in Hoi An


I booked all our internal flights on Vietnam Airlines on their website and had no problems with anything.  We left our hotel in Saigon at 7am for an 8:30am flight. (Read our Saigon/Mekong Delta trip report here.) That early there was no traffic and we were at the airport in about 15-20 minutes.  Easy check-in, though we were not allowed to carry on our rollaboards – we carry on all of our luggage, but we had anticipated that this might happen for our internal flights and were ready to check them if we needed to.  Only disappointment was that I had two pairs of nail polish that I was bringing along to put in Lauren’s Christmas stocking.  They were correctly placed in my liquids bag and had safely made it all the way to Saigon.  However, here they said I could not carry it on because “it might heat up and explode- no nail polish”!!  The really annoying thing was that no one else in the family even took out their liquids bag, but I thought I needed to – I am guessing if I had not taken it out they would not have noticed – oh well, a minor loss. Read More →

Saigon & Mekong Delta

Why are you going to Vietnam for Christmas?  Definitely the most oft asked question we received when we told people we would not be home for Christmas.  Well, the answer was simple – we used to take our big international trips during spring break, but with Lauren now a sophomore in college her spring break and Michael’s no longer coincided, so we had to find another time when both kids had the same two weeks off so Christmas it was!  Then we decided we did not want to go anyplace too cold.  We had already been to Thailand and Cambodia so off to Vietnam!

Good and bad to traveling at Christmas – good is generally less stress over holiday stuff – just did light decorating around the house and limited baking.  We left on Dec. 16 and once we were gone we were really able to just relax and enjoy each other’s company.  Bad – obviously a busy time to be preparing for a big trip, particularly for our daughter who finished her last final Wednesday night flew home Thursday morning, and then we flew out for Vietnam Friday morning.  Also, getting all Christmas gifts before we left (just takes planning) and buying things small enough to pack – some were just pictures of the gifts =). Read More →

Shopping in Milan – 2010

DAY 14

Today we drove back to Milan to spend our last two nights before flying home.  Since we really only had a day and a half we wanted to get an early start to get the most out of our half day in Milan.   Now, when making all my hotel/apartment reservations I had a REALLY hard time finding a place in Milan.  I was trying to keep rooms under a certain amount and it was becoming clear that this was not going to happen in Milan.  I almost gave up about spending the extra nights in Milan and thought we would just spend one night near MXP and fly home the next day – but we had done that on a previous trip and I really wanted to get a chance to see the Duomo, Last Supper and just explore Milan so I persevered.  I finally found the Glamour Apartments website (  It is located on Trip Advisor under “Specialty Lodging” which is why I had not noticed it previously.  I kept thinking this place was going to be “too good to be true” and even warned the family as we entered Milan that this apartment looked fabulous on line – but could be too good to be true.  Boy were we pleasantly surprised – this place WAS fabulous!!

We arrived in Milan about noon.  I had corresponded with Marco from Glamour Apartments via email earlier that morning and told him we would arrive about that time so there would be someone waiting for us.  We actually found the apartment fairly easily (well thanks to TomTom our GPS) but this place is located right across from the Duomo so there did not appear to be any place to park.  Stephen dropped me and Michael off and we walked upstairs to the apartment and were greeted by Marco’s assistant, an extremely nice man (cannot remember his name).  He said if Stephen drove back here he could park on the pedestrian street right in front of the apartment while we unloaded the luggage.  I called Stephen, they had already moved from the area but would make their way back – this turned out to be quite a challenge with the heavy traffic and so many one-way streets.  About 20 minutes later they finally arrived back at the apartment with wild tales of being chased by police as they inadvertently drove on the piazza del duomo and then literally parked on the sidewalk when Stephen decided he just could not wait any longer to use the facilities and could not find parking near a café.

Anyway our apartment was fantastic and we were already disappointed that we were only staying here for two nights.  We stayed in the Open Space Apt. (  It is one VERY large room with large bed, couch, coffee table, dining table and kitchenette along one side of the room.  Plenty of room for the two rollaway beds for the kids.  The bathroom was a beautiful marble bathroom with clawfoot tub, nice size shower and two pedestal sinks – much nicer than our master bath at home!

A large, big screen TV which would have been nice to have when we were watching all the World Cup games, and it had THE most incredible view – literally you are right in front of the Duomo with absolutely no view obstruction – you look right down on the Piazza del Duomo and the Duomo itself, and just to the left is the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuele.  Yes, all these pictures were taken from our window!

This was an ideal location, especially for such a short visit.  Also, right near the Duomo metro stop.

The gentleman who led us into the apartment said he would drive with us to the rental car return since it was not far away, but hard to get to.   This was extremely helpful, as it was hard to find and even harder to park there – so we really appreciated it!!  By this time we were pretty hungry so we headed to Peck (Via Spadari, 9) located just about 2 blocks from the apartment.

This place is incredible.  It has amazing gourmet foods (think Harrod’s food court) with an incredible selection.  Many people have complained about the service there being rude, but by the time we got there it was about 2:30 so the place was fairly empty.  We found the men behind the counter to be very helpful, although the system is a bit confusing.  You order what you want at the various counters and they give you a ticket.  You then bring all your tickets to the cashier and pay for them – next bring your paid receipts back to the counters to pick up your food.  I could imagine this would be even more confusing and difficult if you were there when the place was really busy.  The selection of foods just goes on and on.  We ordered several different things and brought them back to the apartment to enjoy while looking at our fabulous view.

After lunch kids and I were ready to hit the shopping streets of Milan – Stephen stayed back to rest.  Many people sort of “poo-poo” Milan as being too industrial, etc.  However, as long as you stay in the centro storico we found Milan a wonderful city and really glad we had decided to spend the two nights there and explore.

For dinner we chose Papa Francesco (Via Marino, 7) because it got excellent reviews on Trip Advisor and it was very close to our aptartment.  We thought the food was good – but not fabulous and while the service was very good, friendly and attentive I thought the son of the owner seemed a bit too concerned about me writing a good review on Trip Advisor as he wants to be #1 in Milan – personally do not think the food is good enough for that.

DAY 15

Today was mostly spent walking around shopping/window shopping and seeing the Last Supper and Duomo.  We started by walking through the Galleria Vittorio Emmanuelle.

The shopping in Milan is incredible – every major designer has an incredible store.  This city, more than any other I have been to, had the most selection of men’s shops.  Of course we did a lot of just window shopping but also good “middle of the road” shopping with Zara, Sisley, Mango, Stefanel, etc.

For lunch we ate at Obika located on the top floor of the La Rinascente Department store – it was really too hot for us to sit outside, but if you do, you are literally right next to the top of the Duomo.  We fell in love with the original Obika on previous trips to Rome and were delighted to be able to eat there in Milan.  It is a “mozzarella bar” with an array of choices of mozzarella to try as well as prosciutto.

We had reserved tickets to the Last Supper – I was unable to reserve online so had called the phone number the day the tickets went on sale for our dates.   I must say seeing the Last Supper was an incredible experience – very moving, and I thought in fairly good shape despite many of the comments I had read.  They only allow 15 people go in at a time (thus your timed entrance) and you are only allowed to be in there for 15 minutes – but you must stay the entire 15 minutes – the sealed doors do not open up again until the full 15 minutes are up.

After this we went to the Duomo to go inside – all I can say is, the beauty of the Duomo is all about the exterior!

For dinner tonight we tried to go to Da Maruzella which is rated #1 on Trip Advisor and supposed to have fabulous pizza.  Unfortunately, when we got there, it was closed that night.  We quickly went to plan B and decided on Piccolo Cucina (Viale Piave, 17) which was recommended by a fodorite and on my list – plus it was not too far from where we were.  We arrived at Da Maruzella early because there is often a line, when we arrived here the restaurant was not opening for another hour.  However, the proprietor was extremely nice, made a reservation for us 15 minutes before they usually opened.  We walked down to the corner bar and rested before our dinner.

Here, we had one of our favorite dinners of the trip.  This is a tiny little restaurant, I think a total of eight to ten tables.  We were a bit unsure of what to order as everything had a lot of details, so we went with the chef’s recommendations and everything was fabulous.  I wish I could remember what we had, but unfortunately I did not write anything down.  I just remember that the food was particularly inventive, unique and delicious.

Headed back to our hotel, and packed for our journey home the next day, which was uneventful!!

Hiking the Dolomites – 2010


Today we left Bellagio (trip report here) and drove to Castelrotto.  It is about a four hour and 20 minute drive.  We had decided that morning we would stop in Verona for lunch.  We did our restaurant research in the car on the iPad and chose Osteria Bertoldo.  It is located just about five minutes away from the main piazza in a very quiet part of town.  We walked into the restaurant and it did not appear as though anyone was there.  Soon an older gentleman came out, who turned out to be the chef/owner.  He and his wife had lived in Southern Italy for many years, he worked in the hotel business and she in management, but they had recently retired and moved here to be closer to their kids and open a restaurant because cooking was his passion!  I am not sure why nobody else was in this fantastic restaurant but it allowed us to have their undivided attention and we enjoyed visiting and talking with them.  We had an incredible meal – one of our favorites!!

First off, the bread was the best we have had in Italy.  The chef said he gets it delivered daily from Campagna because he can not find any good bread in the north.  He served us a complimentary amuse bouche which was a crostini with anchovies and an incredible sauce on it along with a small shot glass size prosecco.  For appetizers we shared a plate of wonderful cheeses, an absolutely spectacular octopus salad (simply made with just olive oil, salt and pepper), and delicious melanzane (best of the trip!)

For our main course I had linguine with clams and pomo fresca, Stephen fettuccine with mussels, Lauren pasta with special dried anchovies and Michael pork chops with applesauce.  Dessert was wonderful cannelloni and a special kind of cake with dried fruit (not pannettone) all made by his wife.  We all agreed it was a great meal and a great stop on our way.

We had never been to Verona so walked to the main piazza and to Juliet’s house.  Since we had just seen “Letters from Juliet” it was even more fun to see the notes on the wall and Juliet’s balcony.  Verona was a very beautiful city and we wished we had more time to explore.  Definitely a place worth spending a night in.

We arrived in Castelrotto about 6pm and checked into our hotel, Hotel Wolf .

Now before I describe the hotel,  I just want to mention that I debated between staying in Castelrotto or Ortesei.  I had read that Ortesei was a bit bigger, so that was actually my first choice, but it appeared that comparable hotels were significantly cheaper in Castelrotto so we chose to stay there, and it was a good decision.  Castelrotto is smaller, but has everything you would need, restaurants, cafes, bakeries, pizzeria and a VERY nice grocery store.  We went to Ortesei one night for dinner – an easy 10-15 min. drive and parking there is very easy as there is a nice public garage maybe 300 meters. from the town center.  Ortesei was bigger, but frankly just more of the same that was in Castelrotto.  More dining options would have been nice, but again the easy drive made everything very accessible.  Plus, and I do not want to get barraged here, but I found Ortesei a bit Disneyesque – now, I absolutely hate when others say that, particularly about Venice – I mean those buildings really are that old and are crumbling, it was not just made to look like that – but in Ortesei many of the buildings were newer.  It was extremely quaint, but I guess I just did not love it.


Now keep in mind much of this area is a very German/Austrian  part of the country– the people speak German, restaurants serve German food, and the homes and hotels/inns all look very German – heck the whole countryside looks German.  So… this is a very German looking hotel.  The hotel is located right in the center of town and includes on site parking for free (onsite garage parking I believe is just five euros/night).  We had one of the family rooms with a balcony, which is basically two rooms, one with a double bed sofa, coffee table, tv and the other with two beds.  It was a fairly good size room with a lot of closet space and a good size bathroom, plus the balcony was big enough for us all to sit out on.  It had a nice view, though there was some construction going on so there was a big construction crane – actually there was construction and cranes all over this region – I am sure they have a small window for construction season, but still they must not be feeling the effects of a recession too much.

There is a nice breakfast buffet in the morning, with typical soft-boiled eggs, meats, cheeses, breads and cereals in a good sized breakfast room.  The couple who ran the hotel were extremely nice and very helpful with all kinds of information.  There is also a washing machine downstairs which was very convenient.  The only downside was that you had to pay for wifi (which was fine), but then you could only use it downstairs in the lobby and only on one device.  If you pay, I would prefer that you could use it in your room.  Other than that it was a great stay.  Oh, I should mention there was no air conditioning.  We did not think this would be a problem because we did not think it would be that hot.  Well, it was hot about 95-98 degrees everyday, but it was a dry heat, not like the heat in Bellagio or Bologna and it definitely cooled down at night, so not having air conditioning was not that big of a problem.

Our first night, the owner suggested we walk up a small hill to Restaurant Liftstuberl.  It was nice to be able to order proscuitto de melone, caprese AND schnitzel and soup with dumplings.  We sat outside on picnic tables and enjoyed the amazing view.

 DAY 10

Now a bit about hiking.  We are fairly active people, kids play sports and work out, and Stephen and I work out and walk but none of us is a “hiker”.  However, when we had read about hiking up in the Dolomites with the gondolas and refugios/huttes we thought, this sounds like our kind of hiking!!  There are all different levels of trails, the ones we took gave gorgeous, breathtaking views and were not difficult.  I do recommend at least dayhiking shoes and Stephen brought poles, which he found very helpful – particularly when walking uphill.

We set out early because we knew it was going to get hot, and caught the first shuttle to Alpe de Suisi (first shuttle is at 8am, so not an ugly early start).  The buses stop right behind Hotel Wolf.  We took the cable car up and then the Puflatch chair lift.  Next we did the hike that takes you along the edges of the rim.  Incredible views, every so often there were benches where you could sit, rest, and take pictures.

Also, you are right along the edge of the cliff with sometimes just an old wooden fence between you and falling – just cautionary for those who might be with smaller children.

We stopped at the Annika Hutte where we had polenta, mixed meats, yogurt with berries and apple streudel.  Boy, I wish they had places like that when hiking in America!!

We took the Compatsch Lift down and caught the shuttle back to the hotel and crashed!!

For dinner we decided to go to Ortesei.  We got there early and got a chance to walk around and explore.  We ate dinner at Osteria Antiche Traube.

It is expensive, but so worth the splurge!!  In addition to an a la carte menu they also have several different degustazione menus – one with three course and one with four (not including dessert) and then they have two surprise menus one with four courses and one with five.  Stephen and I ordered the three course menu and the kids each ordered the four course surprise menu.

Everything was excellent.  We all started out with an Amuse Bouche of goat cheese on crostini with balsamico.  Our appetizer was a salmon tartare dish, kids had salmon prepared a different way.  Primi course Stephen and I had the most delicious gnocchi, actually made with tomatoes so they were a little red.  Kids had saffron risotto dish.  For Secondi Stephen and I had venison with speck and mushrooms and the kids had a lamb dish.  Kids dessert was nocciola ice cream and crème brulee.  Even though our menu did not come with a dessert we were served small glasses of a very light mocha mousse – the odd thing was the mousse was pink so you were expecting a berry flavor but they were mocha.

DAY 11

We had four full days in the region and the plan was to hike two days and explore other things the other two days.  We had discovered that Innsbruck was only about a 1.5 hr drive from Castelrotto so decided to head over there.  I dutifully went on Fodors to see what others said we should do there, and was hit by everyone saying not to go there, as not a lot to do or see.  I was a bit surprised, so went down to talk to the lady at the front desk about what we should do.  She said Innsbruck is a lovely city nestled beneath the mountains and a great daytrip from the area, so we said, “what the heck” and drove there.

The city center is not that large, so easy to get around in a daytrip. It is in a beautiful setting as she said, nestled just at the base of the mountains and we found it to be a very charming city.  We enjoyed walking and shopping – there was a nice mall located just in the city center, that was great mostly because it was air conditioned, and it was HOT outside.

We had an excellent lunch at Lichtblick located on the 7th floor of the Rathaus Galleria.  Even though the lunch menu was very limited since it was Saturday, everything we had was fabulous.  Three of us had a great fillet with risotto and mushrooms and Lauren had a delicious salad with avocado, shrimp and crab.  Also, the bread was really good there.

We also stopped at Amarino for gelato – the same one that is in Paris.

Just a note, when driving from the south as we did, as you enter the city you notice what looks like a very large glass look-out tower – we wondered what it was.  As we left the city we were able to see that it is the Olympic ski jump with the observation area.  Very cool, especially since it is located so close to the city center.

We did not get back until almost 6pm and were tired from our day and the heat.  Unsure of where to eat dinner we just walked around until we decided on Saalstuben where we had an OK dinner.

 DAY 12

Today was our second hiking day.  I had printed out excerpts from this blog; OneLittleWorld before we left.   I gave it to Stephen the night before and said – “pick one of these hikes”.   So, the next morning we drove to Ortesei, parked our car in the convenient parking garage and walked to the Seceda lift – which is actually two different gondolas, so make sure you pay to get to the very top.  After we got off the lift we walked to the top of Seceda where the cross is.

This was the most uphill of this hike, as most of it is downhill – though do not let that fool you – down hill can be tough!!  Then we walked down the backside where it met the main trail.  The trail continued as you could get up close and personal with the Odles – spectacular!!

Michael enjoyed climbing up the craggy rock tips and standing on the edge – sometimes he scared me so much I could not look.


This is really incredible scenery and we just enjoyed hiking and taking it all in.

We walked down to the Trior Hutte and had a great lunch of schnitzel, bratwurst and knoodle soups.  Stephen and I shared a kaisermarren for dessert (though they had it on the regular menu) – but it is a delicious cut up pancake with yummy jam.

We took a break here and did like everyone else and caught some rest on the chairs or on the ground.

Continued the hike down to the Col Raiser lift and took the lift down to St. Christina.

Since it was Sunday the shuttle bus to the center of town was not running past mid-morning so we walked the 1 km – still downhill.  We arrived at the bus station just as the Ortesei bus was pulling in – perfect timing!  Took the bus back to Orteisei and then drove back to Castelrotto.

For dinner we went to the pizzeria just around the corner from our hotel, Zur Alten Schmiede (Paniderstrasse 7) and had absolutely excellent pizza – wonderful thin crust. We ordered two, a proscuitto one and one with chantrelles.  Michael liked it so much he ordered a second proscuitto pizza and ate most of it himself!  We watched the first half of the World Cup finals there, but then went back to the hotel for the second half.  Four years ago we were in Italy during the quarter finals when the Italians won the World Cup – so fun to be in a country that was winning!!  They were crazy – everything stopped during the games and then people went wild in the streets with their scooters and flags.  We were so disappointed when Italy did not make it to the second round just a few days before we were leaving for this trip.  So, anyway, that night people were watching the game, but not too much excitement – plus let’s face it that was kind of a boring game until the very end when someone finally scored.

DAY 13

We debated on whether to do another day of hiking or go to Bolzano to see Otzi, the Iceman.  I wish we could have found a way to do both – but we wanted to get an early start the next morning to Milan so decided to just do Bolzano.

We actually enjoyed Bolzano more than I was expecting.  Where much of this region is mostly German/Austrian architecture Bolzano is very Italian.  It has a nice porticoed street  with good shopping .

There was a nice open air food market going on down one of the streets that day as well.  We enjoyed wandering the streets but it was quite hot.

Stopped at a nice restaurant located in one of the piazzas for lunch.  After lunch we went to the Museum to see the iceman, Otzi – nicely air conditioned!!  The exhibit was very well done and very interesting – most things also written in English.  I was glad we had decided to go to Bolzano and not miss this.

For dinner we had all agreed we wanted to go back to the pizza place we had been to the night before – unfortunately it was closed tonight.  We just randomly chose to go to a restaurant located across the main street from the large grocery store (sorry can not remember the name) and proceeded to have the worst meal of the trip.  Even the caprese salad was bad – awful mozzerella – how can you do that in Italy???

Next up, our last two nights in Milan.

Ferrying around Bellagio – 2010


Today we left Bologna (Bologna trip report here) and drove to Bellagio – about 3.5 hours.  So many people said not to drive to Bellagio, but it really was not that difficult.  There was one point where we were driving and suddenly without warning we hit the end of the road and there was Lake Como – stunning!  We turned left and then drove on a very narrow windy road that everyone had warned us about but you are only on it for about 30 minutes – and when it was over Stephen said he thought it was fun!  The only negative was that Italian drivers really do not slow down, even when they are in a truck coming in the other direction on a narrow, windy road – yikes!  Well, we survived and arrived in Bellagio about 1:30pm.

We rented an apt. through Residence Il Borgo.  Flavio was great to work with, always responded quickly to my emails and he did not require any kind of deposit. We just paid the full amount the day before we left Bellagio; and he did give a discount to pay in cash.  Many people had raved about meeting Flavio and what a great personality he was and how helpful he has.  Unfortunately, the three days we were there he was out of town.  His wife Laura was there to meet us and help us.  She was very nice, but I suspect not the big personality that Flavio is, so I was disappointed we did not get to meet him. Read More →

Eating Our Way Through Bologna – 2010

We took our third trip to Italy in June 2010.   Lauren had just graduated high school, so this  was our “last” family trip before she went off to college.  Our basic itinerary was five nights Bologna, three nights Bellagio, five nights in the Dolomites (Castelrotto) and two nights in Milan.

We rented a car for the entire trip, even drove it into Milan to return at the city center – a bit crazy!  It worked out great aside from the apparent freeway accident and backup when we were first leaving the Milan airport – more on that later.  Stephen really likes us to be on our own schedule and it worked out great for some last minute daytrips to Switzerland and Austria.  Even though sometimes he gets a little stressed – like trying to find our apartment in Milan, he loves the challenge of driving in Europe – even in the big cities (including Prague, Munich and returning a rental car once to the city center of Rome).  We did have TomTom (GPS) which I think is an absolute must have, particularly when driving in the cities. Read More →

Harlem Heritage Tour – Review

Looking for something different to do on your next trip to New York City?  Are you a local who wants to learn a bit more about your city?  Consider taking a tour with Harlem Heritage Tours.  We did the two hour General Harlem History Walking Tour.  Though it actually lasted two and a half hours.  My daughter and I went on the tour and there was just one other couple on the tour with us.  We had the delightful 84 years young Andi Owen as our guide.

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