Celebration Dinner Date

Last night was a date night. And an absoultly outstanding one at that. Matt and I went to La Rustica for our second date a few years back, and have since considered it a special occasion place to go back down memory lane and celebrate special events. That being said, we were worried that our amazing Medeteranin honeymoon meals would spoil out local Italian place. We ate some seriously mindblowingly fabulous meals in all different regions of Italy, and came back pretty spoilt. Would our favorite place in West Seattle live up to the “real thing” in Italy? We made a point to find out. Every spring La Rustica sends out an anniversary coupon that we use to knock $10 off our dinner to celebrate something. Last year we celebrated Leap Day. This year we celebrated my promotion at work.

So how was our date night? Did the food live up to our semtimental attachement AND honeymoon memories?

I am VERY pleased to report that it did. And then some. It was a hard choice of what to order, but both dishes and our appetizer were top notch. We started with Frittelle di Risotto con Mozzarella, (Rice fritters stuffed with mozzarella, anchovies and served with a mild tomato sauce). Great choice. (of course by this time we had already gone through a whole basket of their house made garlic foccocia) We were blown away with the fabulous main dishes we shared, in particular the wild boar cheeks with polenta. It was amazing. We had wild boar in Tuscany and so we naturally had to give it a try in West Seattle too. It was probably one of the top 5 dishes I have ever eaten. Really really good. We also had linguine bolognese with lamb mint meatballs. Can you say stuffed? We were so full by the end of our meal I practically had to roll out the door. Wine by the carafe and a charming, authentic small shared table atmosphere took us right back to our honeymoon. We were in Italian food heaven bliss. At the end of our meal we did decide to order dessert, but in true “us” tradition had it to-go so we could eat it at home. This year we ordered the tiramisu…I would recommend the chocolate ganache cake instead.

Thank you La Rustica. You truly are a gem for the West Seattle culinary experience!

Days 21 & 22: Venice & Home to Seattle

We pulled into Venice during the night, so we awoke to a familiar skyline and the reality that our vacation was almost over (but a beautiful sunrise!).

Saying we were ready through would be an understatement. My insides were still very unhappy, we were both still sick, and honestly just plain exhausted after 3 weeks of traveling in the heat. Disembarkation went smoothly, and luckily we knew exactly how to get to our hotel for the night. This was critical as I was running between bathrooms for the final 30 hours of our time in Italy. Not fun. For this exact reason, we laid low at the hotel for most of the day, and then finally ventured out for a “cruise” on the vaparetto. Matt and I rode the main line end to end on the Grand Canal, taking in the sights and awesome people watching from the back seating deck. It was a great, low key way to spend our final touristy time in Venice.

We went back to our hotel to clean up and relax before dinner. On the way there, we found the nearest Coop (our favorite supermarket chain) and bought our version of souvenirs: tuna, coffee, anchovies, pasta and wine. Unfortunately we had a horrible social faux pas and checked out with our massive load in the line that is for 5 items only. And we spoke so little Italian it was hard to apologize. We packed our bags as fast as possible and left in a hurry. Oh grocery stores are a hard place to navigate!

We wanted to do our final dinner in Venice, and of the trip, to be special. We still had one thing on our “must eat” list that we had not had: tiramisu. I was avoiding meat, and matt wanted gnocchi, so walked along inspecting menus for an acceptable combination of choices. We settled on a cute little place right along the Grand Canal that balanced authentic charm and touristy appeal in just the right way. We decided to go all out and order mozzarella and tomatoes, and fish soup (we did want to try seafood on this coast as well), as well as Bolognese Gnocchi (Matt) and pesto spaghetti (me). The fish soup, amazing…we did not leave a drop! Matt’s gnocchi was fabulous too…homemade with a really fresh sauce. The pesto, eh, I should have known better. This is not the pesto area of Italy, and you could tell. Luckily we had plenty of other things to eat! And for dessert: decadent, homemade, perfect tiramisu. We watched the sun set over the Grand Canal, and then wandered home basking in the romance the last evening of our honeymoon in Venice.

Sounds perfect right? Well, it was, until my insides decided to rebel again. Let’s just say it was a very fast and memorable trip back to the hotel. Good thing I married such a great guy who is willing to laugh with me in awkward situations!

The next morning we ate breakfast, checked out, and took a bus to the airport. From there it was pretty uneventful. Busses were smooth, and we checked in with both bags (after a slight reshuffling) just at the weight limit (wine and pasta and tuna weight a lot!). When we arrived in NY, the customs line was out the door, but we were able to bypass it since we had a short connection. Our final flight we had a seat between us, which really helps on an 8 hour flight.

We were exhausted when we got to Seattle. And honestly somewhat disappointed that it was not rainy! After all that heat we were ready for some cooler weather! Matt’s parent’s picked us up and took us home. Boy oh boy, were the kitties happy to have their people home! We shared some quick stories, but were ready to crash. And after being gone for 3 weeks, nothing can compare to being home, snuggled up in your own bed.

Our souvenirs from the trip! mostly canned Italian tuna, wine and honey!

Honeymoon Day 10: Second Day in Venice, Italy

Waking up from our first night sleep on the Nieuw Amsterdam was so nice…all we had to do was pack what we needed for the day! The rest of our stuff could stay here! Woohoo!

We had a quick breakfast on the Lido deck and then walked across Venice for one last tourist stop before sailing away at 1. The previous day we had explored all over San Marco, but skipped the tower. Today was tower day. We stood in line for about 15 minutes before being squeezed into a jam packed elevator to climb 50 meters to the observation room in the belfy of the tower. Boy is it a great view! 360° of nothing but stunning Venice views. We took tons of photos, then rode the elevator back down. We knew we would be back in Venice again at the end of the trip, so we took our time just wandering back through the open air market to the ship, grabbed some pizza for lunch, and then hit the pool deck in our swimsuits for the sail-away from Venice.

 

Leaving Venice was spectacular. It was hot and sunny and we could watch the city go by while we lounged by the pool. The ship sailed through the main Venice harbor, right alongside piazza San Marco and all the other key sites. A really cool view of the city! We picked out all the leaning towers of Venice, and watched taxis, gondolas and vaparettos angle for the narrow canals leading into the city.
 

We requested a switch to assigned late seating, so this second dinner onboard was in the main dining room with our table for two laid out in the center part of the dining room. Our dining steward, Simon, was very nice and learned early on that we like milk and Matt loves his desserts.

Honeymoon Day 9: Venice, Italy

Written September 5th, 2012 – in-flight Venice to NYC
We made it across Italy! After arriving so late at night it was nice to see Venice in the sunlight. Such a beautiful, unique city. We have both been to Venice before, so we were not in a huge rush to see things, but decided to focus on getting to San Marco and see the basilica. We wandered the streets, taking a route that took us over the Rialto Bridge, over more canals, through two Coop grocery stores, and finally into Piazza San Marco. We wandered around looking at buildings and sights, taking pictures. Then got in line for the basilica. This was something I missed on my last trip here, so I was excited to see it. Inside was stunningly beautiful. Totally worth the line!

After the basilica we decided it was time to collect our bags and make our way to phase 2: our Mediterranean cruise! We walked/climbed our bags to Piazza Roma (if you have never been to Venice, be warned there are tons of bridges, absolutely none with ramps…they are all stairs which make rolling bags hard to use effectively) and caught the People Mover to the cruise terminal. It was a very tiring, hot, sweaty process!

We boarded the Nieuw Amsterdam in record time (literally zero waiting in line to get onboard!), getting to our veranda stateroom with plenty of time to unpack and relax. We decided to stay onboard for the evening, and ate at opening dining with a few other traveling groups that led to some interesting and fun conversation.

It felt so good to unpack. As much fun as it was to be traveling on our own, and it is certainly our preference, by day 9 it was nice to unpack and know that we would not need to touch our luggage again for 12 days. We were done checking in and out of hotels, and we could have our laundry done! We decided to go for the unlimited laundry package and we made it worth our while after day two…sending three bags to be washed and all our formal clothes to be pressed. Totally worth it!

Since we were not going back to town that night, we took the time to make a plan for the next day. And drink wine on the balcony of our stateroom. We were to pull out of Venice at 1, so we did not have a ton of time. Just enough to go back to San Marco and go to the top of the bell tower. Excellent plan for our last few hours in Venice. Salute!

Honeymoon Day 8: Santa Margharita Ligure to Venice, via Camogli

Our train for Venice did not leave until after 3 PM, so we decided to find a random adventure rather than wander shops or lay on the beach for the first part of the day. At breakfast, our sweet but eccentric hotel owner recommended visiting the town of Camogli, located two train stops north of Santa Margharita. He said it was beautiful, the train ran frequently, and we could leave our luggage there so we went for it. The 15 minute train ride dropped us in the cutest seaside town we had been to yet. We were first greeted with the open air market…which only happens on the 3rd Thursday of the month. We felt very lucky to have come to town on the right day! The market was full of fresh fruit and vegetables, clothes, household goods…everyone in town seemed to be there getting basic supplies. Matt was on the lookout for some melon colored pants, and we found a pair, but they were way too big. Struck out. We did have luck finding a wine shop to fill our empty water bottle with tap wine though!

A winding street led us down to the harbor lined with brightly colored buildings, and we walked along the boardwalk behind the beach. This beach was wonderful. Long and wide, with large sections devoted to rentable umbrellas and locals alike. The swimming area was a boat free zone and the water was crystal clear azure. It was stunning. The whole town oozed charm, but not in a touristy or busy way. It felt relaxed and local. Nobody was speaking anything but Italian.

We got some wonderful focaccia and a spinach pastry for lunch, followed by gelato. Which was immediately followed by Italian ice. This slushy fruity frozen drink was far more popular in this town than gelato, so we had to try it. It was practically 100 degrees anyway so anything cold was instantly worth it!

We got back on the train (which was 15 minutes late) rushed to the hotel to collect bags (ie: more drenched with sweat), rushed back to the train for our train to Milan-Venice. We were looking forward to sitting in the nice air conditioned cabin and cooling down, but unfortunately the air conditioning in the train was barely working for our two hour trip.

As we approached Milan we were watching the clock tick away the minutes of our connection. We were running behind. Not good when you have a train to catch. When the doors opened we grabbed our bags and ran to the readerboard to find our platform. And station in Milan is big. Your platforms could be road most 5 minutes apart. Luckily we were pretty close and climbed aboard with about 1 minute to spare. And joy of joys…this car was air conditioned! And we had a row of 3 seats to ourselves! Wonderful!

We made a quick nighttime connection from Mestre to Santa Lucia station and easily made our way to our hotel, Ca San Rocco. We were both so crusted in dried sweat and train ickiness that showers were the first order of business. Then dinner. We were starving, but not willing to wander too far for food. We settled on a nice little cafe restaurant and got a nice porcini pasta and a veal cutlet. Very good. Then we crashed. Exhausted. And happy to have made all our connections to Venice. Luggage and all.

Honeymoon Day 7: Portofino, Italy

Written September 5th, 2012 – in-flight Venice to NYC
There are three main ways to get from Santa Margharita to Portofino (assuming you don’t have a private yacht which is how the rich and famous make their entrance): bus, moped or on the water taxi. Us: we hiked. We had read that the scenic two-ish hour hike is a relaxing and unique way to link these two towns, so we went for it.

Our way out of Santa Margarita was uphill, on stairs, through houses and gardens scattered all along the hillside. We stopped climbing when we reached a hilltop church, and started making our way between lookouts over the sparking Mediterranean. You probably already guessed it: it was hot. We were both soaked practically while we were still in town! The hike was totally worth it though. We enjoyed seeing the towns from above, and watching the yachts get bigger and bigger the nearer to Portofino we got.

We stopped briefly at Paraggi Beach, but decided that the 6 foot wide strip of public beach was not what we were looking for. 100 euros for a spot on the beach? I don’t think so.

The town of Portofino was absolutely stunning. I know I took far too many pictures, but every angle was perfectly lit and everything so colorful and postcard worthy. Thank goodness for patient husbands and large memory cards!

Speaking of memory cards, this whole trip Matt and I have each been armed with our recording device of choice: me with the camera and him with our new camcorder. Between the two we have been armed with two 16G cards, two 8Gs, one 4G and three 2G cards. I am sure Portofino too up almost 2G alone. Good thing we had the iPad as our on-the-go hard drive!

When we arrived in Portofino we looked like drowned rats…quite literally. All our clothes were soaked straight through. Sweaty and disgusting did not really seem to fit in with the posh nd expensive clientele at the waterfront places (nor did we expect our budget to go with their menus) so we selected a more relaxed looking place off the main drag. We were swayed by a tasty looking pizza place…that also had…wait for it…AIR CONDITIONING! And a table right smack dab in front of it. Perfect! It was a great choice too…pizza with an arugala/shrimp/bean salad, accompanied by some ice cold sparkling wine. Perfect for two hot, tired hikers. When we told our waiter that we hiked to Portofino from Santa Margharita he was astounded…apparently people don’t hike it in the summer (which may explain why we saw no one else one the whole trail…) We felt pretty acomplished 🙂 To us, it made our time in Portofino that much more memorable.

After lunch we climbed up to the castle on the far side 0f town, and got more stunning views of Portofino. We took more pictures (big surprise), but then eventually made our way down to the waterfront again to check out ferry times. What we stumbled upon was the boat ramp…or what we called it (and realized most locals did to) the cement beach. There were locals swimming and sunning themselves so we joined in. It was glorious swimming in the crystal clear water (way cleaner than the water in Santa Margharita!) and lounging in the sun after a long day of walking and hiking. We stayed till 5 and hopped on the ferry back to Santa Margharita.

The boat ride back to Santa Margarita was very relaxing (much faster and cooler than walking too!) and beautiful. We passed by the bazillion dollar yachts (one with its own three deck waterside and fleet of 6 jet skis) and back into the cozy port where we were staying.

Our two “must haves” in Liguria were pesto and clams. Since the previous night our pesto was excellent, the latter was my mission for the night. After being turned away from an apparently “reserved” table at one place, then getting up from the empty ABBA blasting second choice we found a promising looking outdoor restaurant near the waterfront with both clams and pesto on the menu: da Emilio. This place was packed and the service was quick. The food: excellent. I ordered the spaghetti with clams and Matt had gnocchi with pesto. Both were excellent, fresh and exactly what we wanted. I would eat there again in a heartbeat!

After sweating all day and being in the sun, we figured we deserved gelato and ate our cones under the stars on the boardwalk. Perfect end to the day.

Honeymoon Day 6: Santa Margharita Ligure, Italy

Written September 5th, 2012 – in-flight Venice to NYC
We caught the 9 am bus from Volterra to Cecina (there were no tickets to be found so the driver let us ride for free), and then took the train up the Western Italian coast to Santa Margharita Ligure. This is a beautiful seaside resort town north of the famous Cinque Terre (Matt and I had already been or we would probably have stopped there too! It’s just lovely!) and we picked it as a good coastal place to stay and still give us access to Portofino.

When the train doors opened we were greeted by a humid, hot wave of Italian heat. It literally felt like a wall. This beach had better be close! We trekked our luggage (all of it now) down the road to find our hotel, Nuova Riviera Hotel.

Our room was on the third floor, and by the time we got there, confirmed that there was no air conditioner, and were soaked through with sweat, we decided we had better hit the beach.

It was a good choice. This town was built around the beach, so we made our way easily through town to the waterfront. It was much cooler by the water, so we took some time to snap photos and admire the painted buildings. That was probably one of the most beautiful parts of the city: every building was embellished with detailed paintings of painted on facades, windows, statues and other architectural features. It was so colorful!

The beach itself was rocky, as most in this area are, but we found a patch of rock and laid out on it all afternoon. We were by far some of the whitest people on the beach. Man those Italians can sure get tan. Matt’s speedo fit right in.

After soaking in some vitamin D we walked back to the hotel and got cleaned up for dinner. We were relieved to find that our room was finally cooling down, and that cold showers really helped. Now one thing about this hotel that we were not such a fan of were all the rules. My confirmation email had a list of rules, the bathroom had its own list, as did the back of the door. It was pretty excessive and made it sound like the guests would not know how to act in a hotel. I should have taken a picture of the signs.

Anyway, we got cleaned up and went for dinner in town. We found a little cafeteria style place that had wonderful food. We shared a very simple meal in the room behind to storefront, selecting delectable items off their daily fresh menu. Cold pressed veal loaf, eggplant parmigiana, spaghetti with fresh pesto, and red wine. So good. None of the food was complicated, it was just good fresh simple cuisine.