Sunday, January 31, 2016

Pubs on Pubs- One of our last weekends in London

Our last few weekends in London are winding down, and we couldn't be more sad that we are leaving this wonderful city. So today's post will be about London.

We had friends in town this weekend, and so we tried to balance a good bit of seeing the big tourist sites, with plenty of local London activities.

We started off the morning with a proper English Breakfast at one of our favorite spots in London, The Roastery - which ironically enough is not British, it is actually owned by Kiwis. The Roastery has less than 10 tables, serves organic sausages from Moen & Sons butchers, and the creamed mushrooms are the best in town. Plus, as the namesake indicates, they house roast their beans.

After breakfast we went to Borough Market, which is a food market near London bridge with endless vendors of fresh vegetables, butchers, cheese mongers and various street food vendors. We picked up a few dry ciders to tour the market with.

After the market we went to Liverpool Station and walked along the Southbank of the river, past the London Eye and across the bridge to House of Parliament, Big Ben and Buckingham Palace.

After a solid 6 miles of walking we decided to take a load off at one of our favorite Irish pubs - Waxy O'Connor's, near Piccadilly Circus. Waxy's serves one of our favorite beers, Caffrey's, which is a red ale that is very hard to find here in England. I always describe this pub as an underground tree house. The pub has three levels, four bars and many small nooks whereby friends can sit and chat with one another for hours on end.

The Lamb & Flag was our next stop along our pub crawl. This pub is a proper English pub that is known to be frequented by Charles Dickens. Although this pub is always very crowded, we were able to find a quaint table in the back to talk with our dear friends.
After being in the city for most of the day, we decided to head back South, to a neighborhood nearby our flat, Brixton. Brixton is a very multicultural area with a variety of restaurants typical of the areas residents such as Pakistani, African and South American. Brixton is also home of the Electric Avenue which is was the first road to have street lights in London, and is also the namesake of the song by Eddie Grant, Electric Avenue.

We made reservations at a Spanish tapas restaurant, housed in the crypts of an old church, Gremio de Brixton. The front of the basement is a really energetic bar with barely any lights, club music, and all the single people in London. The four of us waited in this area until our table was ready. Thankfully we already knew who we were going home with that night, as we had not gone home to clean up from earlier in the day, so we were not dressed to the nines as the other people in the bar.

Once we were seated, we ordered a bottle and perused the menu, which was surprisingly short but comprehensive. We ordered Patas Bravas, Grilled Tiger Prawns, Valencian Meatballs, Suckling Pig and Octopus. The Patas Bravas was fantastically spicy with a nice creme fraiche to offset the spicy brava sauce. We also tried the lentils and chorizo which was fantastic as well.
We very much enjoyed our time at Premio de Brixton, and finished off our night with a mini pub crawl in Old Town, Clapham. We went to a very eclectic pub called the Prince of Wales, and finished the evening at our favorite local - The Rose & Crown.
On Sunday we walked around Shoreditch, explored the Spitafields market, and had lunch of fish and chips at Poppies.
We will miss you so much London, thank you for being such an eye opening experience for Brett and I.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

Lake Como - September 2015

The next stop on our Italian vacation was Lake Como. A massive lake in Italy where many small villages, all with very colorful houses, are built along the waters’ edge. We took the train from Milan and arrived into Varenna, from which we took the ferry over to Bellagio, where we stayed for three nights. The picture below is of Bellagio. 
We took the ferry back over to Varenna for one day, so that we could do a small hike up the side of the mountain. And we stopped at a Hotel du Lac for a beautiful excuse to take a bathroom break and enjoy a bottle of prosecco.
On our way back to Bellagio, the winds made a drastic turn and a rainstorm ensued. Not ideal, but it made for some very pretty pictures. 

The next day we rented a ski boat and putted around the lake taking in the scenery and enjoying a few bottles of prosecco, kind of theme on our Italy holiday, wine wine and more wine. I think Dale was ready for a beer by the time he got back to the States. But of course after two bottles of prosecco, the two girls needed to make a pit stop into nature’s own toilet, and considering we didn't have any bathing suits on, it was quite a remarkable bonding moment for Tina and I, sun dresses and all. 
Lake Como was much cooler temperature-wise than Florence and Tuscany, and it was a great break from the heat. 

Our last stop on our Italian vacation was a day in Venice. As most of you know, Brett and I got engaged in Venice in 2011. Engagement story to follow.

Our Italy holiday was one of our favorites, and we can’t wait to go back!

Montepulciano - September 2015

Date of travel - September 2015

On Sunday we drove out to Montepulciano, a wine village in Tuscany a few hours drive from Florence. There are many wine regions you can visit in Tuscany- Montecino, Pecorino and Cortona to be specific. But we decided to go to Montepulciano which is home to Vino Noble di Montepulciano. It is a Sangiovese based wine, and is actually quite different than the French and California wines that we are most familiar with, where the big reds are mainly Cabernet Sauvignon. 
Also, Montepulciano is where the film New Moon shot that Italian Church scene. 
We arrived in Montepulciano on the last Sunday of August which just so happened to have a festival on the day we arrived. Montepulciano is made up of 8 different contratas, or families. Each Contrata has their own area of the town, including their own church. As is typical of European villages that means that there were 8 churches in a town of less than 50,000. The festival is centered around a wine barrel race, where each contrata has two large men push a wine barrel around the town’s streets, with the finish line being at the center of town, on the top of the hill. 
Naturally, since we had 8 people in our group, we all picked a contrata to support during the race - my team came in last place. And Dale’s team won! 

The next day, we had a full day tour of the local vineyards - we went to two vineyards, Cantina DEI and Salcheto and one vineyard in Montecino, Corte Pavone, which is a village nearby that is home to Brunello wine. 

We stopped at Salcheto to have an amazing lunch, looking up at Montepulciano. 
On the third day in Montepulciano, we spent the day roaming around the town, including spending a long lunch at Cantina Gattavecchi where we sat at their outside terrrace overlooking the valley, and a little old woman sat at the table next to us with her four friends and her tail-less cat. We only realized upon using the toilet and stepping inside and seeing a very large picture of the little old woman, that she was actually the owner. 

We stayed in a beautiful old palace, converted into a five room hotel - Palazzo Carletti. Brett and I moved rooms the second night into the luxury suite which included this remarkable view, overlooking the valley of Tuscany. It was breathtaking. 
And of course, it't not unless you indulge in scoops upon scoops of gelato. 

Florence - September 2015

In September we spent a week in Italy with Brett’s parents plus two other couples that are close family friends. 

We flew into Florence, spent the day eating gelato, drinking a lot of wine and having the biggest meal of our life at Il Latini.
Dinner at Il Latini.
With one day in Florence, we had a light lunch at our favorite sandwich shop - I had the goat cheese and spicy chorizo sandwich and Brett had mortadella with eggplant tapenade.