Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Looks like blogger is cutting off FTP service

Looks like Blogger will be cutting off publish by FTP and insisting that bloggers publish their blogs on their servers. Will see if I can migrate to another tool.
Stay tuned

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Italy Pictures Finally All Processed

Finally sorted through and processed all of our pictures. Click here for the highlights from all three cities we visited.

Link to the first batch which has panoramics of some of the sites as well -- Click here

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

More Italy Travel Tips


All the cities in Italy that we visited were very walkable. Even in Rome, most sites are reachable via the metro and you can transfer to bus. Tickets must be stamped before boarding and are usually good for a certain time frame after being stamped. If you get caught without a stamp, conductors will fine you on the spot. Graffiti seems to be common on some Rome trains, so don't let that scare you from riding. Between cities, the Italian train system is probably more efficient than flying, as stations usually are in the middle of the city. No need to figure out how to go from the airport to your hotel. If you are pressed for time, spend a little more to ride the Eurostar/Alta Velocita high speed trains.

Markets and Shopping

Some of the coolest and best shopping comes from local street markets. In Venice, head toward the Rialto area near the bridge. The open air market is great for souvenir shopping, picking up leather goods, and some fine Italian fabrics. In Florence, there are vendors lining the streets leading up to the local produce and meat market near the train station

We missed the fish market in Venice, as it is only a Wednesday to Saturday affair, but we got to see the open air produce market. All sorts of fresh fruits and veggies. Florence's produce and meat market is actually located in an enclosed building which houses all sorts of meat, cheese, wine, and dried goods vendors. We saw cars streaming into the underground parking garage, meaning even the locals shopped there.

Click here for a gallery of pictures from the various shops and markets we encountered.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Food and Dining in Italy

Restaurants in Italy - The Differences from US

We had both read a bit about dining out in Italy and were going to try and avoid the touristy traps, and for the most part we succeeded. Some things we learned during our first meal out, which was lunch near the Spanish Steps. The waiter brought out a basket of bread before bringing out our meal. Nice touch, huh? Turns out restaurants charge you for the bread regardless of if you want it or not, and they charge per person (just like Chinese restaurants here in the Bay Area charge for rice, on a per person basis). We did not know this was standard practice until we got the bill. Most charge between 1.50 to 3.00 Euro per person. The second thing US travelers must get use to is restaurants do not just bring you ice water. Despite Rome and Venice having some of the best and tastiest tap water around, restaurants will only sell you bottled water with your meal. Sometimes it was cheaper to get wine! We usually got "acqua gassata" or sparkling water. The other thing about Italians, is that they eat on the later side, around 2030 or 2100 at night. Most restaurants do not open until 1800, but stay open later. If you get to a restaurant around 1900 expect it to be pretty empty, unless it is a tourist trap.


Ahh the most important meal of the day. Most hotels in Italy, from bed and breakfasts all the way to 5 star ones, will include breakfast along with your room. The hotels we stayed at happened to all have "American style" breakfast buffets. Each had an assortment of breads, cereal, and varying degrees of fresh fruit, milk, juices, and cold cuts and cheeses. Ordering coffee is a must, as Italian coffee is one of the best in the world. Starbucks would not survive here. We took the opportunity to fill up so we could eat a lighter lunch while out seeing the sights.


Some people take wine tours, but when in Italy, we did a gelato tour. So many flavors and so many gelletarias. We personally tried banana, walnut, hazelnut, licorice, lemon, melon, chocolate orange, papaya passion fruit, biscotto (biscotti), Bailey's Irish Cream, peach, zaglione, pistachio, watermelon, chocolate chip, vanilla bourbon, caramel, and a few flavors I can not remember. Gelato San Crispino in Rome and Boutique del Gelato in Venice were the favorites. We tried a couple others in Rome and Florence, but they did not measure up to those two. Most places will give you a little cone on top of your gelato when you get it in a cup, so no need to get a cone and have your gelato drip all over you on a hot summer night.

Favorite Restaurant - Pierluigi

Rome has some incredible restaurants, but the best one we dined at was a suggestion by one of Theresa's co-workers, Pierluigi, which is located on the Piazza di Ricci. We decided to walk there, but even with the aid of a map, could not easily find the restaurant. We had to rely on a nearby shopkeeper where we practiced the universal language of gesturing and counting the number of times he pointed left or right.

Pierluigi is known for its seafood dishes, so we started out with a tuna carpaccio antipasti, which was lightly drizzled with olive oil, course salt, and garnished with lemon

For our main meal we ordered the pasta frutti di mare and the veal with pink peppercorns. Pasta was perfectly cooked with a rich seafood broth and tomatoes. The veal was smothered in a rich cream sauce... yum.

Stumbled Upon Restaurant - Mio Gioia

Our first dinner in Rome, we decided to wander the streets near our hotel, which was located in Piazza Barberini. The hotel concierge advised us against the restaurants in the immediate vicinity, but advised us to just pick one around the Trevi Fountain. We walked past a couple places which were pretty dead, and then walked past Mio Gioia, which was about half full and had a few locals eating there as well (always a good sign). It looked promising, so we went in.

We ordered the pasta carbonara and the pizza giapponese (japanese) whose toppings escape me now, but it did have capers on it with some sort of meat as well. One of the waiters then asked if we were Japanese as well. When we told him we were Chinese, he then decided to tell us about his favorite Italian football (soccer to us Americans) team and its star player, who was from China (or at least that is what I thought he said).

Sweet ending..... Tiramisu......

During dinner we started talking with the couple at the next table. Bill and Jane are from New Jersey and came to the restaurant on the recommendation of their friend who used to study in Rome. We ended up talking with Bill and Jane for a good portion of dinner and a bit afterward before heading back to the hotel.

Sacro e Profano

We had borrowed a Rick Steve guide book from my friend Lian, and one of the places that he recommended was Sacro e Profano, mainly because of the reasonable prices and for their twist on traditional Italian cooking

We decided to get the antipasti starter, not realizing that it required a cart be brought out table side to accommodate the 8 dishes that held all the food. Starters included sausage filled crepes, potatoes with peppers, toasted flat bread, baked sea bass bites, and a salty sardine fish paste. By the time we finished, we were almost full.

Our main course was swordfish ravioli and pizza with mushrooms and anchovy. We hit Gelato San Crispino around the corner afterward to satisfy our sweet tooth.

Agli Artisti, Venezia

Onward to Venice, where we heeded Rick Steve's advice and went to Agli Artisti, a little quaint restaurant off the the Campo Santa Maria Formosa. Reasonable priced with friendly service, we were extra hungry that night, and decided to order 2 pastas and share a meat course.

Artisti's version of frutti di mare, spinach ravioli with pancetta cream sauce, and sirloin steak with grilled veggies

Giglio Rosso Ristorante - Florence

Our last meal in Florence, we went to Giglio Rosso, another Rick Steve suggestion. Like most of our trip, we got there a little before 8pm, and by the time we had ordered, the place was full. A cool architectural feature of the restaurant was a wall covered with cabinet fronts (picture above on the left). Not only decorative, we saw staff open the doors to retrieve various things during the course of the night

We ordered a side of porcini mushrooms, the veal shank Ossobuco and "seafood stew" which turned out to be large bowl of mussels and clams steamed in a butter, wine broth (almost like a clam New England clam bake)

Picnic Food

Sometimes you get tired of eating out, so in our time in Florence, we found a little market and bought bread and lunch meat to have for dinner one night and we packed a lunch for the next day when we hit the streets for museums and window shopping. We even got a can of Pringles Rice Infusions which was labeled "Great Taste, Less Naughty"... Hmm.. must have lost something in the translation.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Italy 2009 - Overview and Initial Pictures

Theresa and I just got back from a whirlwind tour of Italy for 10 days. Did a lot of walking and hiking around. Great sites, friendly folks, and great food (we'll be posting a separate blog entry about our dining experiences).


We hit Rome first, seeing the Vatican, Coliseum, Roman Forum, Pantheon, countless piazzas and art displays while trouncing around in hot and humid weather. Fortunately, Rome has water fountains everywhere and of course, numerous gelato vendors. Gelato in the states will never taste as good. Four days were not enough.


The weather cooled down significantly when we reached Venice, with cool breezes and bright sunshine, a refreshing change from hot and humid Rome. We took in the Venetian charm while getting lost in the winding maze of narrow streets. All sorts of shops, hotels, and restaurants were hidden around corners and down little alleys.


After another train ride, we arrived in Florence, the birthplace of the Renaissance. The hotel I reserved was overbooked for the 2 days we were there, so they sent us to a sister hotel that was closer to the sites and we got upgraded to a larger room. The picture above is the view from our room!

Between Theresa and I, we took almost 1600 pictures and are still working through them. For now, click here to view some initial pics. More posts are coming


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Boston Day 3 - Walking the Freedom Trail

Boston is known for its ties with the American Revolution and birth of the nation now known as the United States. The Freedom Trail winds by some of Boston's historical landmarks and famous places. We started at Boston Commons and the Public Gardens, where the statue of Washington looms high. Adjacent to Boston Commons is the State House, whose dome is covered in real gold.

Winding our way around the streets of Boston, we walked past many of the same sights that we saw on the Duck Tour yesterday. As we quickened our pace, we can upon Faneuil Hall and Quincy Marketplace. In the center of Quincy Marketplace is an entire building filled with varoius food merchants, mostly local, like the Walrus and the Carpenter Oyster Bar.

Not feeling like a heavy meal, we decided to get some soup in a bread bowl from Boston Chowda (yes that is how they spelled it). I had my doubts about Theresa's order of the crab butternut squash bisque, so I went with the safer choice of the lobster bisque. Turns out hers was very tasty. I would never had imagined to put the butternut squash and crab together. Maybe it's hometown pride, but I found the bread bowls blah compared to the sourdough ones we have in the Bay Area. But, both soups were good, thick, and chunky.

Crab butternut bisque

We wondered around Quincy Market after lunch, and walked into a store called Best of Boston. Theresa immediately gravitated toward their collection of stuffed lobsters.

A pretty neat local store is Newberry Comics. They have a huge collection of used music, videos, and lots of quirky gifts. Our next stop was Boston's North End and the Old North Church

The North End is where many Italians settled and is similar to the North Beach area of San Francisco. Cobblestone streets were lined with what seemed like endless numbers of Italian restaurants. The Old North Church, where Paul Revere ended his ride and hung lanterns in the steeple to warn of the impending British invasion of Boston, stands at the top of a hill. The courtyard has a statue of Mr Revere, and an interesting memorial to the service personnel killed since we invaded Iraq. Each dog tag represents a soldier fallen. Very neat memorial.

Our next stop was Charlestown, via the Charlestown Bridge. After walking about 15 minutes at a brisk pace, we came upon the majestic USS Constitution, aka Old Ironsides. After waiting more than an hour in line, we hopped aboard.

The Constitution is still a commissioned ship, which means it remains in active duty in the US Navy. In fact, all the tour guides were active enlisted Navy personnel. The ship is in the middle of a major restoration, so it did not have its full masts installed, and they were doing construction on her main deck. Life aboard was not pleasant, as you shared sleeping quarters with almost 400 people, and the ceiling was a mere 5 foot 6 inches tall. Imagine being tall and stumbling around in the dark when the captain called all hands on deck. I had to crouch and almost hit my head a few times

With the sun getting low in the sky, we decided to head back to the North End for dinner at Antico Forno, which was recommended to us by Keith the concierge at the Hotel Marlowe. Theresa ordered the pizza with sausage and artichoke while I opted for the chicken saltinbucca.

We ended the meal with the quintessential Italian dessert, house-made Tiramisu.

With our appetites satiated, we hopped the T back to the hotel to rest and pack for our flight to San Francisco the next day.