We were in our hotel lobby at 5 AM, ready for our cab to the airport. We were fortunate; a large group had to leave at 3 AM! We had an easy flight from Porto to Madrid, and the passport control line was short. From Madrid, we had a direct flight to JFK. Although the line there was long, the reentry process was problem free. Continue reading Portugal, Day 17 – October 6, 2017
This was our final breakfast of the tour. I made a sandwich of ham in a croissant for myself. For dessert, I chose something we had not seen since we left Lisbon, a pastel da nata. This one was just as good as I remembered, with a flaky crust and a creamy custard filling. Continue reading Portugal, Day 16 – October 5, 2017
At the breakfast buffet, there were two offerings that we had never seen before: poached eggs and watermelon juice. Everyone wished that we could stay at this hotel longer and enjoy more of its amenities, but after packing, we were back on the bus. Continue reading Portugal, Day 15 – October 4, 2017
We packed and boarded the bus for a family owned farm in the Douro Valley called Santa Eufêmia, where, in addition to growing grapes for port wine, they also grow almonds, olives, and figs. We marveled at the beauty of the farmland. We were near the city of Porto, which is famous for port wine. Wine was featured in every course at lunch! Continue reading Portugal, Day 14 – October 3, 2017
Nick was disappointed with the breakfast choices because there were no cakes, pies, or other desserts. He satisfied himself with scrambled eggs with bacon and a croissant. My breakfast was scrambled eggs, banana yogurt, and a Portuguese roll.
Mutiny was beginning in the ranks. Some of our companions were saying that they were getting tired of cathedrals. Surprise! There were to be no cathedrals today! Instead we went to a ceramics studio, where we observed all stages of the making of ceramic tiles. Continue reading Portugal, Day 13 – October 2, 2017
Our first stop today was Batalha, famous for its Monastery of Santa Maria, considered Portugal’s finest architectural achievement. King João the First had the monastery built to give thanks after his small Portuguese army defeated the large Spanish army, maintaining Portuguese independence. Continue reading Portugal, Day 12 – October 1, 2017
The breakfast choices at our hotel were too numerous to imagine. As for me, I chose yogurt and cold cereal. After breakfast, our bus took us to Alcobaça to to see the Monastery of Santa Maria, described as being “Cistercian Baroque-Gothic.” The Cistercians were monks who arrived in 1228 with the plan to create an abbey designed for hard work, prayer, and total silence. Inside are the tombs of Portugal’s most tragic romantic couple, Dom Pedro and Dona Inês, who met and experienced love at first sight at Dom Pedro’s wedding, which had been arranged by his father. After his wife died, Dom Pedro’s father refused to let his son marry Inês. Note that they already had four children by then. Continue reading Portugal, Day 11 – September 30, 2017
After breakfast at the hotel buffet, we were off to a family owned farm, called Rovisco Garcia. We rode through the farm’s various terrains in a specially constructed jeep, seeing the trees that produce cork, and learning how the cork is extracted. They also grow umbrella pines that produce pignoli nuts, grapes for wine and olives for olive oil on their property. Continue reading Portugal, Day 10 – September 29, 2017
We were leaving Lisbon right after breakfast. From the buffet, I chose yogurt, granola, and tea. Nick, well into vacation mode, selected chocolate cake with chocolate sauce from the fountain, and a chocolate filled croissant.
We boarded the bus for the city of Évora. Being a walled city, it has a unique charm. We met our local guide, who led us on a walking tour of the city. Continue reading Portugal, Day 9 – September 28, 2017
We started our day at the part of the city called Belém, which is at the waterfront. There in the early 1500s, King Manuel, who married a daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, constructed the Monastery of Saint Jerónimos. We had a tour guide who specialized in this structure, and she pointed out many sea motifs that we might have overlooked. Vasco da Gama, the first to sail around Africa and return to Portugal with a cargo of spices, is entombed here. Continue reading Portugal, Day 8 – September 27, 2017
Our group met with our tour guide after breakfast to start the day with a walk through the Alfama neighborhood, which dates back to the Visigoths from the sixth to the 8th centuries AD. Near the sea, it became the home of Lisbon’s fishermen and mariners. We walked up to São Jorge Castle, the highest point in town. We were looking forward to going to the castle because our son had told us that he enjoyed doing just that. We were not disappointed. Typically, castles are fortifications while palaces are royal residences, but the Portuguese royal family lived there for several centuries. After the royal family relocated, the castle became a military garrison. It was declared a national monument in the 20th century. Continue reading Portugal, Day 7 – September 26, 2017
At breakfast, I noticed a Portugal guide book on one of the tables, and I thought perhaps Nick had put ours there. He hadn’t. It belonged to Joan, a woman who, we learned, was one of our fellow Rick Steves tourists. She was going to spend the day in Sintra, a town fifteen miles from Lisbon, as were we, so we decided to go together. Continue reading Portugal, Day 6 -September 25, 2017
We prefer arriving early in the city in which our tour will begin just in case there might be a problem with the flight. Our tour would start the following day, so today was our day to explore Lisbon on our own. We began with the breakfast buffet. Continue reading Portugal, Day 5 – September 24, 2017
On Saturday morning, we lingered over our croissants in the apartment while we chatted with the next guest, Charlotte. We learned that she had lived in Washington D. C, but had taken a job in Paris and was having difficulty finding a “flat.” We wished her good luck and were on our way to the airport, not Charles de Gaulle, but Orly, which is much smaller and easier to navigate. Continue reading Portugal and Paris, Day 4 – September 23, 2017
Since there were so many patisseries in the neighborhood, we decided to try a different one for the morning’s croissants. Nick’s choice was chocolate, while I chose almond filled.
Our destination for the day was the Cluny Museum, also called the National Museum of the Middle Ages. Nick was pleased that unlike the Marmottan Museum, the Cluny allows photos to be taken. As for me, I was immediately taken by the progression from the Dark Ages to the Renaissance through art, including stained glass and wood sculptures. Continue reading Portugal and Paris, Day 3 – September 21, 2017
We awoke at 9 AM and decided that we would do as the French do for breakfast by eating croissants. Before he left, J-M had suggested his favorite nearby bakery. Nick chose a chocolate croissant, while the one I selected had apple filling. While enjoying these treats back at the apartment, we planned our day’s adventure. We decided to go to the Marmottan Museum, which features the works of Claude Monet displayed inside a Parisian mansion. Continue reading Portugal and Paris, Day 2 – September 20, 2017
Flights to Paris typically leave New York at night. That way, after a “restful night’s sleep” in your seat in the plane, you can begin your vacation as soon as you arrive in the morning. Actually, tourists are so excited to be there that staying awake is not a problem. Continue reading Portugal and Paris, Day 1 – September 19, 2017
After our fantastic 2015 Rick Steves trip to France and our memorable 2016 trip to Sicily, we knew that we wanted to continue to travel according to the “Rick Steves Method.” First and foremost, he says that grumpy people need not apply! There are no porters on his trips, so everyone carries his or her own luggage. We had already purchased clothing that could be washed in our hotel room sink at night and that would be dry in the morning. We used to bring lots of “just in case” items on trips, but no more. This wouldn’t work for everyone, but it works for us. Continue reading Portugal and Paris, Introduction
We arranged for a van to take us to the airport with five of our co-travelers after breakfast. Ah, yes, the final breakfast had every food imaginable, including gluten free options! We had absolutely no problems with our flight from Catania to Rome or our flight from Rome to JFK. There were short lines at Customs, and our luggage arrived quickly. Our driver was ready for us. Home, Sweet Home!
Nick and I awoke at 5 AM and decided to eat the second half of yesterday’s lunch sandwich. We weren’t surprised that we weren’t hungry at breakfast time. We packed and began our journey to Catania, the last city of our tour.
Our first stop on the way was a visit to the Museo Storica della Sbarco in Sicilia 1943, a World War II museum that has an extensive collection of actual memorabilia, photos, and newsreel footage of the events of Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily from Africa by Allied forces. Continue reading Sicily, Day 15 – December 1, 2016
For the first time in the entire trip, I didn’t sleep well. I heard a constant sound through the night that reminded me of an old percolating coffee pot. In the morning, we saw that below our window was a courtyard with a water fountain that was responsible for the strange sound.
Because we had changed hotels, we were faced with new breakfast selections. The breakfast included sweet choices such as granola and six other cereal selections, fresh fruit including apples and pears, chocolate pudding, and cakes. Continue reading Sicily, Day 14 – November 30, 2016
We tried the frittata for breakfast. I again loved the homemade bread with butter, while Nick preferred the pastries.
Today’s first stop in Modica was at Sicily’s oldest chocolate factory, Antica Dolceria Bonajuto. Continue reading Sicily, Day 13 – November 29, 2016
The breakfast offerings varied as we changed towns and hotels. Today, along with many other choices, frittatas or individual orders of eggs were prepared on site. My favorite items at the buffet were the delicious bread and butter!
After breakfast, we boarded the bus for a visit to a small family run olive oil producer called Gulino. Continue reading Sicily, Day 12 – November 28, 2016
There were more rich choices for breakfast! Croissants, either plain or with almond or pistachio filling, lemon and chocolate pound cake, the choices went on and on. Trying to show some restraint, I chose granola with yogurt again. Then I spied pizza rustica, something I used to make with my mother for Easter. Continue reading Sicily, Day 11 – November 27, 2016
We had an early departure because we had a long drive ahead of us. Our bus was parked five blocks away, so we were again grateful that the Rick Steves Company insists that its tour participants take only as much luggage as they can handle themselves. Once on the bus, Susanna received a phone call from the hotel saying that one of the room keys had not been returned. Nick checked his pockets. Uh oh! He made a mad dash back to the hotel and then ran the whole way back to the bus. Off we went southeast to Agrigento.
Our first stop in Agrigento was its Museo Archeologico. Continue reading Sicily, Day 10 – November 26, 2016
Our breakfast buffet in Trapani offered bacon and eggs, a variety of breads and cakes, jams, whole fruit, fruit salad, cold cereal with yogurt, and a variety of teas. I chose the cold cereal with yogurt and orange cinnamon tea.
After breakfast, our bus took us to the salt flats of Trapani, where salt has been harvested since the 12th century. Continue reading Sicily, Day 9 – November 25, 2016
Today was Thanksgiving Day back home. After our breakfast buffet, our bus took us to to Sicily’s west coast, where we stopped to explore the ancient Greek site of Segesta, the location of a magnificent Doric temple and a hilltop theater. We enjoyed a light breeze as we hiked. Continue reading Sicily, Day 8 – November 24, 2016
We learned that in addition to our tour director, Susanna, we would have a local guide in many of the towns we were to visit. Today’s guide was Jackie Alio, a Sicilian who lived in California for years and writes books about Sicily. With Jackie, we walked through the old Jewish neighborhood of the city. There the street signs are in Italian, Hebrew and Arabic. Continue reading Sicily, Day 7 – November 23, 2016
Our tour was to start at 3 PM that afternoon. At breakfast we met another couple who had arrived early, Barbara and Bob from California. We discovered that Bob is of Arberesh ancestry, as is Nick. Although NIck’s father was from Calabria, there is a large Arberesh community in Sicily, where Bob’s ancestors originated. We have never met another Arberesh in our travels before.
Nick and I decided to try to walk to the Archives to try to find someone who could help me with research. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find the address we had. Instead, we decided to see one of the highlighted sites of Palermo, the Cathedral, which was about half a mile away. Continue reading Sicily, Day 6- November 22, 2016
When I awoke, I was amazed and thrilled to find that I could walk! Typically it takes days before I reach that point after a back muscle flare-up. I was able to walk to breakfast, slowly and carefully, where I ate sensibly (granola and yogurt) and passed up the cannoli.
After breakfast, I wanted to walk to an nearby neighborhood called Vucchiria. Continue reading Sicily, Day 5 – November 21, 2016
November 20, 2016: our fortieth anniversary. Unfortunately, because of my back pain, I was unable to do any celebrating. One of Nick’s hobbies is gardening, so I suggested that he go to the Botanical Garden, Orto botanico. Continue reading Sicily, Day 4 – November 20, 2016
Several years ago at nursery school, I lifted a child who was attempting to escape, and pop! went a muscle in my lower back. The same muscle has acted up many tines through the years since then. The problem is, I never know when it’s going to act up. While I was in the shower on Day 3, I reached down to get the shampoo, when I felt that familiar pop! Continue reading Sicily, Day 3 – November 19, 2016
We awoke at 9 AM! We were amazed by that until we realized that our bodies were on Connecticut time where it was 3 AM. Last night, my cousin Giuseppe told us not to miss the view from the rooftop breakfast room of our hotel. Giuseppe is a health inspector, so he is familiar with every food-serving institution in Palermo. He was so right! The view was fantastic! We could see the entire panorama of Palermo, including the sea, the mountains, many ancient cathedrals, and several apartment buildings whose dwellers were hanging their laundry out to dry. Continue reading Sicily, Day 2 November 18, 2016
Our plane landed in Rome, and we made our way to the gate for our flight to Palermo. I realized that November 17 was the 109th anniversary of the birth of my uncle, John Nucatola. A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, Uncle John traveled around the world to promote basketball. In addition, his wife introduced Nick to me, so I have very fond memories of them both! I wondered if Uncle John had ever been to Palermo. We so enjoyed our 2005 trip there, and I looked forward to seeing my Palermitan relatives again. We would be having dinner with two of them that evening. Continue reading Sicily Day 1- November 17, 2016