As we made our way through Europe last Fall, we spent a good amount of time in Google, too…where to stay, where to eat, what to see. So for those of you who may be curious or may be finding yourselves planning a Europe trip (yay!), here is a little something I hope you find helpful…I’ll try my best not to sound like a tour guide…
Where we stayed: Hotel Central Park this was the tiniest hotel room! location was okay, though cool because it was in a residential area…between getting the okay for our standby flight from Vancouver to actually boarding, we had only minutes to book a hotel!
What we ate: My friend Lesley recommended Cafe Papeneiland and I will pass this gem on to you! It’s a great little bar that dates back to the 1600′s, the kind the locals hang out in, and one that serves amazing apple pie. Have a slice with an Amstel beer. Make sure you also visit the Starbucks concept store, it is unlike any Starbucks you have seen before!
Highlights: Our time here was brief and we chose not to visit the many museums Amsterdam boasts (next time, I think I’d change that) but we very much enjoyed walking up and down the canals and taking in the scenery.
Where we stayed: Hotel Colosseum great location as it was easy walking distance to the Colosseum (surprise), the building was neat and full of character inside, good size room and breakfast was included.
What we ate: Beware of the cafes and restaurants near any tourist attractions, they will surely overcharge you. Many places will add a cover charge and then, because you’re Canadian or American, will ask for a tip as well. Locals don’t tip though – it’s not an expected custom as it is here – other than perhaps rounding up and leaving a few coins (this is true throughout most of Europe…I believe). Another money saving tip: drink your espresso at the bar like the locals. Italian cafes sometimes have a “banco” price (stand and eat your panini or drink your coffee at the bar) and a “tavolo” price (sit down at a table and eat). With all of that said, we discovered the best little restaurant while walking around in Trastevere, which I mentioned in this blog post. The owner himself greeted us, a lovely old Italian man, and we were treated to some amazing pasta (the kind worth traveling for). Shane had his beloved gnocchi, and I a bowl of carbonara accompanied by some good, cheap red wine. Definitely pay a visit here, Restaurant Alle fratte di Trastevere.
Highlights: Trastevere was a favourite neighbourhood to wander through…it was quiet and beautiful and I wish we had arrived there earlier in the day. We visited the Capitoline Museums (buy a Roma pass!) which were fun to walk through, but the highlight for me was the rooftop patio out just beyond the cafe, and the view it boasted. That, and their freshly squeezed orange juice! All around, I thoroughly enjoyed the feel of the city and its ancient and sometimes colourful architecture.
Where we stayed: Hotel Athena it was within the city walls so location was amazing, stunning view of Tuscany, large room but tiny shower, and we enjoyed the best included breakfast.
What we ate: Gelato! And Grom offered the best. Rich tasting, using only fresh, in-season fruit and no artificial additives, this stuff is to die for. Two visits a day was a must. Try the Caffe Espresso with the Tiramisu. I was also excited to discover my favourite drink from a previous Italy trip, Bellini (the original!).
Highlights: We enjoyed the slower pace and spent our time simply walking Siena’s charming streets, and admiring the views of Tuscany and all of its medieval enchantment.
Where we stayed: Benivieni Hotel great location as it was only two small streets over from the Duomo, spacious room, delicious breakfast included – mini paninis, melt-in-your-mouth croissants -, friendly staff. Only downside was was some street noise at night.
What we ate: We were ecstatic – yes, ecstatic – to find another Grom, and on the same street as our hotel. By this point in our trip, we visited fewer restaurants and picked up paninis – affordable and delicious.
Highlights: So many…climbing the Duomo was surely up there but be forewarned, the heights may make you squeamish (as they did for me!), and it is quite the hike. Oh, but it’s worth it. One of my favourite points in our entire trip was sitting on the steps at Piazzale Michelangelo as the afternoon sun sank low in the sky, with the city of Florence spread out before us. Grab a drink and enjoy. One more: a quick day trip to Fiesole, a pretty, neighbouring hillside town. Make the walk up to Convento di San Francesco…it’s beautiful. And you might even see Florence in the distance.
Where we stayed: Lenox Montparnasse Hotel good location as there are several metro stops nearby, lots of food options nearby including a street lined with crepe cafes(!), tiny but charming room, no breakfast included.
What we ate: Josselin’s Crepe…there are crepes, and then there are crepes…here you’ll get the latter and then some. So good!
Highlights: A trip to the top of the Eiffel Tower at night, and then watching it glitter in the distance as we made our way back to the hotel. The following day, Sunday, we visited Notre Dame and mass was just ending. The building itself is breathtaking but our visit was made all the better by observing the tail end of the service. One final highlight…flying home on Air France and scoring business class upgrades. A fun, classy end to a wonderful trip.