Posted by: vlibrizzi | January 11, 2011

Boston and Cambridge Restaurant Recommendations

Dear readers,

I had to put together a list of recommended Boston restaurants based on neighborhoods for a conference I’m helping to plan. So, I thought I’d share the list with you in the hopes that you’ll try out some of these (my favorite restaurants in the city), and give me some feedback on what you think of my list. Just note, though, that the list is a bit Cambridge-heavy since I live there and eat out most in it’s neighborhoods.

Boston /Cambridge Restaurant Recommendations


Note: Price Ranges are below. They include the cost for a meal, one drink, and a tip for one person:

$ = under $10

$$ = $11- $20

$$$ = $20- $30

South End (to access all restaurants listed below, take the T= Silver Line Bus and then walk, or take a taxi)

1. Picco (Pizza and Ice Cream company)

Address: 513 Tremont Street

Price: $$

Description: A small neighborhood restaurant serving yummy pizzas and great ice cream varieties.

2. The Beehive

Address: 541 Tremont Street

Price: $$$

Description: A lively restaurant with nightly jazz music and a fun bar atmosphere

3. Toro

Address: 1704 Washington Street

Price: $$$

Description: A fantastic tapas restaurant owned by a famous Boston chef. If you go, be sure to order their famous grilled corn tapas.

4. Aquitaine

Address: 569 Tremont Street

Price: $$$

Description: Wonderful Provencal cuisine. Be sure to order the steak frites and stay for their fantastic profiteroles for dessert.

North End (to access all restaurants listed below take the T = Green Line: Government Center and then walk 10 minutes, or T = Orange Line: Haymarket and then walk 10 minutes)

1. Neptune Oyster

Address: 63 Salem Street

Price: $$$

Description: A very small but wonderful oyster bar. Be sure to order their famous lobster roll for a truly New England experience

2. Mike’s Pastry

Address: 300 Hanover Street

Price: $

Description: A North End institution. Expect long lines around the corner to try their famous cannolis and other sweet treats. Well worth the wait.

3. Pizzaria Regina

Address: 11 Thatcher Street

Price: $$

Description: A Boston institution for fantastic brick oven pizza

4. Marco

Address: 253 Hanover Street

Price: $$$

Description: For a true North End Italian dinner, come here with an empty stomach. The family-style Sunday dinner is not to be missed.

Financial District

1. Sel de la Terre

Address: 255 State Street (T = Green Line: Government Center and

then walk 10 minutes toward the Aquarium, or T = Blue Line: Aquarium)

Price: $$$

Description: Fantastic French cuisine accompanied by an impressive wine list. Also, if you’re not looking for a late night spot to grab a drink and unwind, this restaurant offers a fantastic late night menu at their bar.

2. The Black Rose

Address: 160 State Street (T = Green Line: Government Center and

then walk 5 minutes toward the harbor through Faneuil Hall)

Price: $$

Description: A famous Boston Irish pub, especially on St. Patrick’s Day when patrons start lining up in the early hours of the morning

3. Legal Seafood

Address: 255 State Street (T = Green Line: Government Center and then walk 10 minutes toward the Aquarium, or T = Blue Line: Aquarium)

Price: $$

Description: A famous Boston seafood chain, with hearty New England classic dishes

4. Les Zygomates Wine Bar

Address: 129 South Street(T = Red Line: South Station and then walk 5-10 minutes or T = Orange and Red Line: Downtown Crossing and then walk 5-10 minutes)

Price: $$$

Description: A cozy, French wine bar/bistro. You’ll feel like you’re walking into a brasserie in Paris.

Cambridge

1. Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage

Address: 1246 Massachusetts Avenue in Cambridge(T = Red Line: Harvard)

Price: $$

Description: Famous for their uniquely named hamburgers and frappes

2. East Coast Grill

Address: 1271 Cambridge Street in Cambridge (T = Red Line: Harvard and then taxi to Inman Square)

Price: $$$

Description: A fun, funky seafood and barbeque joint. Be ready to get messy, and if you like your meal, feel free to tip the kitchen staff by buying them a six-pack of beer.

 

3. Emma’s Pizza

Address: 40 Hampshire Street in Cambridge(T = Red Line: Kendall/ MIT)

Price: $$

Description: Famous with the locals and serves very thin crust pizza

 

4. Upstairs on the Square

Address: 91 Winthrop Street in Cambrige (T = Red Line: Harvard)

Price: $$$

Description: Unique pink décor and upscale American cuisine on a quaint square in Harvard square

5. Charley’s Restaurant and Beer Garden

Address: 10 Eliot Street in Cambridge(T = Red Line: Harvard)

Price: $

Description: Lively outside beer garden serving classic pub food

6. Cuchi Cuchi

Address: (T = Red Line: Kendall/MIT)

Price: $$$

Description: A romantic and whimsical tapas/small plates restaurant

7. Ten Tables

Address: 5 Craigie Circle (T = Red Line: Harvard)

Price: $$$

Description: A very cozy and quaint restaurant with only a few tables, but serving fantastic farm-to-fork cuisine

8. Craigie on Main

Address: 853 Main Street (T = Red Line: Central)

Price: $$$$ (but bar menu is $$-$$$)

Description: My favorite restaurant with fantastic and inventive farm to fork cuisine. For a less expensive (non price fixe menu, choose to sit at the bar)

9. Hungry Mother

Address: 233 Cardinal Medeiros Avenue in Cambridge (T = Red Line = Kendall/MIT)

Price: $$$

Description: A cozy restaurant serving southern food. Be sure to try the edamame-like steamed peanuts at the bar while you wait for your table.

 

10. Kebab Factory

Address: 414 Washington Street (T = Red Line: Harvard and then walk 20 minutes)

Price: $$

Description: Don’t let the name of this restaurant fool you. This is, hands down, the best Indian food I’ve had in the city, and their weekend brunch is to die for.

Back Bay

1. Parish Cafe

Address: 361 Boylston Street (T = Green Line: Arlington)

Price: $$

Description: Inventive sandwiches conocted by multiple Boston chefs

2. Douzo

Address: 131 Dartmouth Street(T = Orange Line: Back Bay or T = Green Line: Copley

Price: $$$

Description: Popular Back Bay/South End sushi restaurant

 

3. Stephanie’s on Newbury

Address: 190 Newbury Street(T = Green Line: Copley)

Price: $$$

Description: Famous for their lovely lunch or brunch on their patio on Boston’s famous shopping street

 

Beacon Hill

1. BIn 26 Enoteca

Address: 26 Charles Street(T = Green Line: Park Street or T = Red Line: Charles/MGH)

Price: $$$

Description: A popular wine bar and Italian restaurant

2. 75 Chestnut

Address: 75 Chestnut Street (T = Green Line: Park Street or T = Red Line: Charles/MGH)

Price: $$$

Description: A classic New England brownstone restaurant in the heart of Boston’s famous Beacon Hill neighborhood

 

3. Scampo, Clink, or Alibi bar at the Liberty Hotel

Address: 215 Charles Street (T = Red Line: Charles/MGH)

Price: $$-$$$

Description: A swanky Boston hotel that was once the site of the Charles Street jail with two fantastic restaurants (Scampo for creative Italian food, Clink for inventive American cuisine) and a very trendy bar

 

Kenmore/Fenway (to access all restaurants listed below, take the T = Green Line: Kenmore)

1. Island Creek Oyster Bar

Address: 500 Commonwealth Avenue

Price: $$$

Description: A new, popular restaurant serving fantastic raw bar and fish entrees. Be sure to try their famous oysters from New England

2. Boston Beer Works

Address: 61 Brookline Avenue

Price: $$

Description: Unique beers and pub food right across the street from Fenway Park. Be sure to try their Blueberry beer with real blueberries floating inside.

3. Eastern Standard

Address: 528 Commonwealth Avenue

Price: $$-$$$

Description: A very lively and crowded bar scene with highly skilled bartenders serving up impressive drinks. Go here if you’re looking for a place to unwind with a fantastic libation and yummy French cuisine

4. La Verdad Taqueria

Address: 1 Landsdowne Street

Price: $-$$

Description: A no-frills taco restaurant/bar owned by a famous Boston chef. On a nice day, the patio seating is unbeatable.

Theater District

1. PF Chang’s

Address: 8 Park Plaza(T = Green Line: Boylston)

Price: $$

Description: An Asian-fusion restaurant chain

2. Finale

Address: 1 Columbus Avenue(T = Green Line: Arlington or T = Green Line: Arlington)

Price: $$

Description: A popular dessert restaurant serving inventive and yummy desserts and wines

3. Via Matta

Address: 79 Park Plaza(T = Green Line: Arlington)

Price: $$$

Description: Fantastic upscale Italian cuisine
Fort Point/Waterfront/South Boston (to access all of the following restuarants, it’s best to take a taxi)

1. Drink

Address: 348 Congress Street

Price: $$-$$$

Description: A popular bar with skilled bartenders serving up unique drinks for every customer

2. Menton

Address: 354 Congress Street

Price: $$$$

Description: Fantastic price fixe French menu. This is the definitely place to go in Boston if you’re celebrating a special occasion.

3. Sportello

Address: 348 Congress Street

Price: $$$

Description: Italian restaurant where patrons sit at big communal tables or at the long bar. Be sure to order the fantastic spicy tomato soup as well as one of their yummy homemade pastas.

Posted by: vlibrizzi | January 3, 2011

Key West Babymoon

Well, it’s official … Polly’s pregnant!

So, to celebrate, and to take our last vacation before the little one arrives, C. and I headed down to Key West after Christmas for a few days relaxing in the sun.

We stayed at the lovely (but not conveniently located) Marriott Beachside Resort. Note: there is technically a beach at this hotel and it is technically in Key West…BUT the beach is VERY small and the downtown of Key West is only accessible from the hotel via a 15 minute hotel shuttle ride. Other than those two minor setbacks, the place is really nice.

On our first night in Key West we took the hotel shuttle into town and after walking on Duval Street for awhile (what a tourist trap!), we detoured to a side street and had dinner at Blue Heaven. Although the wait for a table was really long, we had heard such great things about the restaurant, that we were determined to stick it out. And, it was well worth it. We had amazing fish dinners (shrimp for me! yum!) and ended our meal with the best slice of key lime pie I’ve ever had. Even C. who usually veers away from meringue, almost licked the plate clean.


The next morning, the sun was shining (although it was a bit chilly outside for the Florida keys) so we headed back into town to do some exploring. Our first stop was B & O’s Fish Wagon for some conch fritters, fried fish sandwiches, and lots of limeade…yum-o!
Conch fritters at B & O…yum! They were so good that we had lunch at B&Os two days in a row. Probably not good for our cholesterol…but oh well…we were on vacation.

That afternoon, we joined the other tourists and visited Hemingway’s house. As an English teacher who often teaches Hemingway’s texts, I felt obligated to check out his digs. And, like the fish wagon’s conch fritters, Ernie’s house didn’t disappoint.

We got to see Hemingway’s bed…with one of his many six-toed kitties sitting on a pillow.

And, best of all, we got to see Hemingway’s writing studio. Heck, if I had a studio like this…in Key West, no less…I could write for a living, too. Could I churn out heroes a la Ernie? Probably not. But I could definitely write.

We continued our tour of the side streets of Key West, but at this time, during the day, and stumbled upon this adorable house with some amazing winter foliage. I loved the lush greenery and flowers especially since it is December, and knowing full well that we had just suffered through a blizzard in NJ two days before.

The next day, we took a detour from the downtown and decided to take a walk along the beach. Here’s a photo of us on the pier at Higgs beach.

We also loved watching the dive-bombing pelicans.

Instead of renting any old car, C. wanted to make our babymoon extra special so he rented a convertible (see above). It was so much fun to ride through the Keys with the top down. We felt like we were in a movie.

 

Later on in our second day we went back to our hotel to do some reading by the pool. Then, in the late afternoon, we headed back downtown to do some exploring. We came upon the newly opened Key West Pretzel Company and had to buy one. So we headed to a dock, let our feet dangle off of the side, and ate our pretzel with really funky dipping sauces (pesto or curry mustard, anyone?)

As the sun went down, we did our last tourist-y thing and took a photo of us in front of the last Route 1 mile marker. Route 1, an interstate highway which runs through our hometown in NJ, ends in Key West.

The next day, after lounging around our hotel for awhile, we stopped for our last Key West meal at the highly recommended Louie’s Backyard. The lunch was excellent. I had a light salad and C. had the fish tacos, which we munched on while sitting on the deck overlooking the ocean. The weather was perfect; we didn’t want to leave.

This is as far as either of us got into the water. Unfortunately, it wasn’t so warm for our first two days in Key West so we spent most of the time exploring the town or reading by the pool. C. snapped this photo while we were on our drive back to Miami.

Here’s a photo C. took from the walkway next to the 7-mile bridge in the Keys. We stopped to take a walk on the bridge to break up our looong drive back from Key West to Miami.

We also just had to stop at this place right off the road in Key Largo for some authentic NJ pizza. The owners are all from NJ, and were so nice. They even had a photo of the Belmar boardwalk inside the restaurant.

And our final pit-stop before meeting up with friends in Miami to celebrate New Year’s eve, was at a fantastic side-of-the-road shack called Alabama Jack’s. We ordered the requisite conch fritters…which definitely did not disappoint. If you’re ever  driving from Miami to the Keys, you must take a detour on Card Sound Road and stop at this place.

While we waited for our conch fritters and key lime pie to arrive, C. took this photo of a boat heading out for a sunset fishing trip. The photo encapsulates our whole babymoon…peaceful and relaxing—which is exactly what we wanted it to be.

Posted by: vlibrizzi | January 2, 2011

Autumn weekend in Chicago

Hello readers,

I’m sorry I’ve strayed from posting for so long. Suffice it to say, the end of 2010 was a blur—but in a good way! Check out my next post to see why…. :)

One of my new year’s resolutions, though, is to get back into blogging, so I thought I’d start with a our mini-vacation in October to Chicago.

I had never been to Chicago before, and have always had it at the top of my U.S. cities to visit list. So, over a long weekend in October, C. and I boarded a plane to explore the “windy city” (which isn’t nearly as windy as Boston, by the way).

On the first day we arrived, we sampled the deep dish pizza at the famous Giordano’s restaurant.

I have to admit, though, that we weren’t the biggest fans of this type of pizza. It tasted more like a cheesy pie than pizza, but maybe that’s our NJ upbringing swaying us toward thin crust pizzas. I’m glad we tried it, though.

We made funny faces in the famous bean-like Cloud Gate sculpture in Millennium Park.

We spent time walking around the city and getting guided tours from friends who now call Chicago home.

We went on the Chicago Architectural Foundation’s boat tour (which was WONDERFUL!) and admired the amazing architecture of the city while sitting in the warm sun on the top of the boat.

We gawked at the tallest building in the U.S., the Willis Tower, and like true tourists, took some photos of it.

We admired all of the fantastic and famous paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago.

And in addition to walking (a ton!) around the city, we found time to try out some of Chicago’s yummy, trendy restaurants.

Although we weren’t able to eat at any of the Rick Bayless places (but will make reservations well in advance to go to one of them on our next Chicago trip), we really enjoyed having dinner while overlooking the peaceful pond at North Pond restaurant, feasting on the wonderful, but terribly gluttonous white chocolate pretzel pancakes at the Bongo Room,  and munching on yummy tapas at Mercat a la Planxa.

All in all, it was a fantastic long-weekend getaway, and we have plans to get back to Chicago soon to check out all of the things we missed, so if you have any recommendations, please let me know.

Posted by: vlibrizzi | September 13, 2010

A French Wedding

This past weekend C. and I went to our first French wedding in the charming town of Craon.

The wedding started with a traditional Catholic mass at 3:30 pm. The mass was all in French, so it wasn’t so easy for C. and me to follow, but the music (a full orchestra and choir!!!) were absolutely beautiful.

C. and I had to keep pinching ourselves to make sure that we weren’t dreaming!!!

Then, at the end of the wedding, the bride and groom greeted their guests on the steps of the church.

In addition to many bridesmaids and groomsmen (who each have to get up in church to sign the marriage contract along with the bride and groom), our friends had six young children in adorable matching outfits, as part of their attendants.

The one faux pas that I committed at the wedding was not wearing a hat!

Almost every woman in the church was wearing some kind of hat….and each one was more unique than the last.  At times I felt like I was at the Paris fashion week!

I had C. covertly snap a photo of two of my favorite hats above.

After the ceremony, we all walked over to the Chateau de Craon (check out this link….it’s an amazing place!) and met up with some of our old INSEAD friends (photo above).

I stole the bride away for a minute to take a photo with her and another INSEAD friend. Don’t you love her gown!?!?

Then, after an hour of all you can eat oysters, passed hors d’oeuvres, and all the champagne you could drink, we all walked to the Chateau’s carriage house for the reception.

The bride and groom entered to their favorite song as all of the guests waved their napkins in anticipation for the party to begin.

Then, after some toasts, we all sat down to our wonderful meal. Gosh, how I love French food! Chicken stuffed with foie gras, buttery mashed potatoes, chocolate domes, fresh fruit, and strong red wine….yum!

…..

After eating, we thought the dancing would begin, but we found out that French do not do weddings like us Americans.

By about midnight, after gorging ourselves on amazing food and listening to about twenty heartwarming and funny speeches from friends and relatives of the bride and groom, we were then invited to go outside for coffee and…more desserts!!!!

Only at about 12:30 did the music and dancing begin.

And it didn’t begin with the top 40 hits as in the US either. Non.

The first songs the DJ played were old Rock and Roll hits. C. and I watched as all of the french guests did the jitterbug, swing dances, and grooved to Elvis!

Then, after about an hour or so of the old Rock and Roll, the Euro music we have grown to love by living in France began.

C. and I danced with our friends, and then took a break to have some crepes (yum-o!) and champagne!

The party didn’t end until around 6 am (as is common for most French weddings) and the wedding didn’t end until Sunday afternoon when the bride and groom invited all the guests back to the chateau for a brunch.

In all, it was probably the nicest wedding we’ve ever been to…and was definitely worth the trip all the way to France. We’d do it again any day.

Felicitations V et N! Nous vous souhaitons un heureux mariage!

Posted by: vlibrizzi | September 13, 2010

Two days in Brittany: Saint Malo and Cancale

Last Wednesday night, C. and I flew to Paris for an all too quick four-day trip: two days to explore Brittany, and two days at a wedding.

So with only two days to explore a whole region, we weren’t sure where to begin. Talk about last minute planning…by last Monday we hadn’t even reserved hotel rooms yet!

But then I took a look at the weather forecast last Tuesday night and it was obvious where we should go…to the coast!

So, once we arrived in Paris, we rented a car and drove the four hour drive out to Saint Malo on Brittany’s north coast, with a late lunch pit stop for some crumbles and tarte tatins at Dame Cakes in Rouen.

We arrived late at night (oh how we missed the French emobouteillage!) to hundreds of people standing around outside our hotel.

We hopped out of the car to take a a look for ourselves and noticed that the water from the English channel was rising up above the sea walls! (Apparently this happens all the time at the changing of the tides.)

So we cautiously walked into town (narrowly avoiding being hit by massive waves), and had a quaint but yummy French dinner at

The next morning we woke up to survey the damage around town and, to our surprise, it seemed as if nothing had been affected. We sat at in the breakfast room of our hotel on the water (Hotel Beaufort) and nibbled on croissants as we watched people like the couple in the photo above walk by on their morning stroll.

We joined them all after breakfast and walked into the downtown to see the huge castle (photo above) and walk along the ramparts which overlooked the coast (photo below).

The coastline was absolutely beautiful!

And the downtown area was typical of small French towns….utterly charming!

Later that afternoon we took a drive along the Emerald Coast of Brittany and watched the tide quickly changing.

As you can see in the photo below, at sometimes during the day, this island is not accessible by land, and at other times, the water recedes and the residents can access their home. Pretty amazing, huh?

After some driving, we needed to take a lunch break, so we drove to the tiny port town of Cancale, which is famous for it’s oysters, and ordered up about two dozen of them to feast on in a small restaurant that overlooked the ocean. We were in heaven!

Then we continued our drive along the coast, stopping every so often to take walks on the sand or snap photos of the craggy cliffs.

Posted by: vlibrizzi | August 16, 2010

Weekend in Beirut

This past weekend, C. and I flew to Lebanon to explore the city of Beirut.

Here’s a view of the bustling”Paris of the  Middle East”: Beirut, from the rooftop of our hotel.

We stayed at a fantastic boutique hotel called The Albergo in one of the oldest neighborhoods in the Christian part of Beirut.

Each room in the hotel was uniquely furnished. Here’s a photo of our room. It was so adorable; I didn’t want to leave.But the best part of the hotel was its fantastic garden roof deck. We spent many hours sitting up here, relaxing, and taking in the views of the city.

On our first day in Beirut, we met up with some Lebanese friends from our INSEAD days who drove us out of the city to visit the Grotte Jeita (the Jeita cave, in English).

The caves were massive! First, we took a funicular up to the top of a hill and walked down into one of the large caves to see the stalagmites.

While we were in the cave, though, Beirut had one of its twice daily brown outs (the power there goes out at roughly noon and at 6 pm every day). We had no idea that the brown out was going to occur, and all of a sudden, it was pitch black in the cave!!!!

Luckily, some back up generators came on a few minutes later which allowed us to (barely!) see the ground, and climb our way out. Yikes!

Then, we walked down a hill and entered the lower cave to take a boat ride through the cave, which was such a cool experience.

(Note: Unfortunately, you cannot take any photos in the caves, so the photos above are from a quick google search of the Grotte Jeida. )

Later that day, we walked through Beirut, and loved seeing the contrast in the city. For example, as you can see in the photo above, there is a brand new house (that looks fairly French) in the background, next to an older house in the foreground. There were scenes like this throughout the city, which showed us that the Lebanese are putting a lot of time, effort, and money into rebuilding their city after the awful civil war that took place in the country not too long ago.

We had dinner that night on the bustling Rue Gourard, with adorable cafes and bars lining the street. We stopped in at a French cafe to have a quick bite to eat, and felt like we were in Paris again (everyone was speaking French, the food was typical French cafe food…it was great!). Then we popped into a bar along that same street for a late night drink.

The next morning, after a fantastic Lebanese breakfast on the hotel’s rooftop garden, we headed out to explore the city some more.

First, we visited Beirut’s farmer’s market called Souk el Tayeb. There weren’t many vendors at the market, but those vendors that were there were selling some great looking produce, and some fun, ethnic foods. Of course, we sampled some dumplings (which looked to us like grandma’s pirogues) that were really yummy.

We saw some chili peppers hanging out to dry,……some adorable, little eggplants,

…and even some bees making honey! You could even buy the fresh honeycombs!

We then visited the City Center, a part of town with lots of upscale shops and restaurants. Then, on our way back from new, pedestrian only city center, we came across this crumbling building with visible bullet holes probably from the Civil War.

Again, you can easily see the contrast in this city, from old to new.

We also walked along the Corniche, to take in the views of the beautiful Mediterranean sea.

And we snapped some photos of Beirut’s famous roches in the Mediterranean.

And, on our way back to the hotel to get a taxi to take us to the airport, we walked right past a Christian wedding.

It just goes to show how many contrasts there are in one small city. From bombed-out buildings to new, high-class shopping centers. From Christian brides in their white gowns to Muslim women in their black sheilas….Beirut is a wonderful example of how a city can be so adaptable to change and acceptance.

Posted by: vlibrizzi | August 10, 2010

Exploring Petra

We spent our third day in Jordan visiting the ancient ruins of Petra!
We arrived in Petra on our second night, and checked into our fabulous hotel (the Movenpick Petra) which is right across the street from the Petra Visitor’s Center and main entrance.

We had a barbeque dinner on the roofdeck under the stars, and could have stayed out there all night. It was the perfect temperature in the mountains…only about 75 degrees and minimal humidity. What a welcome change from the oppressive Abu Dhabi heat!

We woke up very early the next morning to be some of the first people to visit Petra…and to avoid the hoards of tour groups who descend on the ruins at around 8 a.m.

To access the ancient ruins and tombs of Petra, the lost city of the Nabataeans, visitors have to walk about 20 minutes downhill through the Siq, or passageway through the enormous rocks.

The passageway is not manmade; instead it was naturally formed when two tectonic plates separated thousands and thousands of years ago.

The Nabataeans sure knew how to create a dramatic entrance to their burial grounds…even in the 6th century BC, when they carved the tombs out of the rocks!

After walking through the Siq’s maze for 20 minutes, the rocks separate, and you are standing right in front of a massive, carved structure: the Treasury building.

Treasury, here, is a misnomer, because, in fact, it was not  a treasury at all, but a tomb created probably for a Nabataean king.

No matter what the building was carved for, it surely is an impressive way to enter the ruins!

Then, once we get over the grandeur of the Treasury, we walked downhill to the explore the other tombs carved in the rocks thousands of years ago.

The best part about getting to Petra so early was that we had a pretty much unobstructed view of all of the ruins. It felt a bit eerie walking past the tombs with few other people in sight, but at the same time, it was pretty cool to have the place almost all to ourselves.

Here are some more tombs we saw that did not withstand the weather as well as the others, and are now vanishing back into the rocks.

One can only imagine what this place must have looked like thousands of years ago. Pretty impressive!

After seeing most of the tombs along the road, we became adventurous and decided to climb the more than 800 steps and long trails (yikes!) to the second most impressive tomb (next to the Treasury): the Monastery.

The Monastary was carved on the top of a hill, and was probably used as a pilgrimage site.

So we went on a bit of a pilgrimage ourselves, uphill, in the heat. 

We weren’t alone on our journey, though. By that time, there were many other tourists climbing the steps with us, and there were also lots of locals who set up stands along the way (like the one in the photo above) to sell drinks and snacks to weary hikers.

The hike was totally worth it once we got to the top and (boom!) there was the Monastery right in front of us!

Here’s a closer view of the intricate carvings on the exterior of the Monastery.

On our way back down the mountain, we stopped to take some photos of the valley below.

Then, once we reached the bottom,  we re-charged by having lunch at a great restaurant at the base of the mountain, and were off to explore some more.

The photo above is of us standing in front of the Royal Tombs.

Then, Chris (who never gets tired, and loves exploring) climbed to the top of another hill to walk through the Royal Tombs. I was exhausted by then, and very hot, so I rested in the shade while he explored and took photos of the Royal Tombs close up, like the one above.

Then, as we exited Petra through the Siq, we took one last look at the Treasury before heading back to Amman for our flight to Abu Dhabi.

What a great weekend! I wish we had more time in Jordan!

Posted by: vlibrizzi | August 9, 2010

Wading in the Jordan River to bobbing in the Dead Sea

We just got back from a fantastic three-day trip to Jordan.

We arrived in Amman, the capital city, on Friday morning, rented a not-so-reliable (and minimally air-conditioned) car from Hertz, and were off to explore the country.

Our first stop: Mount Nebo.

We were fascinated by how many Biblical sites are in Jordan. You can see me standing at the top of Mount Nebo above, where the Bible says that Moses died after climbing to the top to be shown the Promised Land.  Pretty incredible place to visit!

At first, as we looked out over the mountain, I have to admit, we didn’t think much of the Promised Land. It seemed like a sandy desert to us.

But then we noticed the map in the photo above which pointed to all of the famous Biblical cities that sprung up on this land: Jericho, Hebron, Bethlehem, to name a few.

It was then that I realized, that, wow, this place is pretty special!

Continuing on our Biblical journey, we then drove to Bethany-beyond-the-Jordan, the place where Jesus was baptized.

On our drive, we were momentarily halted by a passing shepherd and his goats….

…and by this sign, which you would only ever see in Jordan!


We arrived at the visitor’s center and joined a group walking tour to the site of Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. We were at the lowest point on earth (near the Dead Sea), in the middle of the desert…in August!

So, it was approximately 120 degrees outside.

Suffice it to say, our 45 minute tour turned into a quick 30 minute overview.  The guide was struggling!

Although I too was definitely suffering from the heat, I was disappointed that we didn’t get to spend more time at Jesus’ Baptism site.

As you can see in the photo of the site above, there isn’t much to see, and the Jordan river does not run there anymore, as it had 2,000 years ago, but it was still a very spiritual place to be. No matter one’s religious persuasions, one could quickly forget about the heat and just stand in awe of what happened at this place.


Next, our tour guide took us to see the Jordan river. You can see C. and me standing next to it in the photo above.

And right on the other side of the river is….Israel!

Jordan and Israel are only about 10 feet apart at this point. So, of course, there were military guards with big rifles guarding the river.

For those of you looking to get baptized, or re-baptized, you can do so on the Israeli side of the Jordan River at this point.

Since we were on the Jordan side of the river, C. didn’t get baptized in the water again, but he did step in for a quick break from the heat.

I stayed on the shores. The water looked a bit too murky for my tastes.

Later that evening, we arrived at our hotel on the Dead Sea. We stayed at the Marriott Dead Sea and, after getting stopped by guards at multiple checkpoints along the way and then again at our hotel, and then getting our car, suitcases, and selves checked, we arrived at the very safe hotel…and had a perfectly relaxing experience.

While I was getting a Dead Sea mud facial (which left my skin feeling softer than it had ever been), C. stopped by the infinity pool to take photos and enjoy the sunset over the Dead Sea.

The next morning, we woke up early to swim (or bob!) in the Dead Sea. It was an unreal experience. Our bodies wanted to stand in the water, but every time we put our feet down, they would almost instantly bob back up!

The Dead Sea is 31% salt  (so we had to make sure not to shave for a couple of days or get any water in our eyes…ouch! Now we know where the phrase, “pouring salt into a wound” comes from!), but that creates a unique buoyant effect so that we could float almost completely out of the water (as you can see us doing above) with zero effort.

After our swim in the Dead Sea, we joined the other hotel guests, photo of them below, and covered ourselves with the Dead Sea mud. The mud smelled terrible, and is very thick, but after letting it dry and then washing it off in a shower, you can see that it really does work. Our skin was so soft!

Next, we were off to Petra. More on that tomorrow…


Posted by: vlibrizzi | August 5, 2010

Back in Abu Dhabi

Dear readers,

After almost a full-day of jet-lagged sleep, I’ve finally turned on my computer to post and let you know that I’m back in Abu Dhabi.

C. and I will be here, in the Middle East, for the next 2 weeks, and plan to do some more exploring and traveling.

This weekend we’re off to Jordan for a three-day vacation to the Dead Sea and Petra; and next weekend, we’re flying to Beirut to visit with friends and to get to know the “Paris of the Middle East,” as the city is often called.

In between, I’ll be exploring Abu Dhabi and trying to provide more travel tips for you.

Stay tuned! :)

Posted by: vlibrizzi | July 25, 2010

A Saturday in The Berkshires

For our wedding anniversary weekend, we wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle of the city and spend some time in the mountains (to try to get a break from this oppressive heat we’ve been having in New England this summer). So we packed up our car and drove 2.5 hours out to the Berkshires in Western Massachusetts.

As soon as we arrived, we drove to the Norman Rockwell museum in Stockbridge (photo above).

The museum displays hundreds of Rockwell’s paintings and magazine covers. We snuck in on a guided tour given by a docent, and learned all about Rockwell’s life and his love of the small, idyllic town of Stockbridge, MA.

As we were leaving the museum, we both agreed that we felt warm and cozy inside. Seeing the idyllic America displayed in Rockwell’s paintings, made us want to paint a picket fence while bobbing for apples (probably, impossible, I realize,..but we were feeling pretty patriotic!)

After an ok lunch of salmon and veggie burgers (which our waiter told me were the frozen Morning Star variety) at Once Upon A Table in Stockbridge, we drove out to Lenox, MA to visit Edith Wharton’s home: The Mount. And from a quick look at the photo above, you can see how the house got its name!

We toured the rooms of the mansion, had our questions answered by friendly docents stationed throughout the house, and listened in on some poetry readings that were taking place there yesterday as part of the Berkshire WordFest literary festival that was taking place at the Mount yesterday.

My favorite room to visit was Wharton’s library.

When I was in high school, my 11th grade English teacher assigned each of her students an American author to research, and whose works to read, throughout the year. I chose Edith Wharton!

So visiting her library, after writing my first ever literary research paper on her works, was really special for me.

We took a quick break on Wharton’s terrace to sip on a root beer while admiring the views.

Then we braved the heat and walked through the Mount’s lovely gardens, from which, we were able to see some great views (like the one above) of the Mount. What a beautiful place!

Later that day, after relaxing on the front porch of the historic Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge, we visited Nejaime’s Wine Cellar to pick up some picnic food to bring with us to Tanglewood (the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s summer residence) that evening. The store was stocked with picnic sundries (they must clearly know their clientele!); we bought some yummy olives, a sharp cheese from Italy, some bread, fruit, and a nice apricot tart for dessert. The wine, we brought from home…well, really from our trip to Eyrie vineyards in Oregon this past April :)

We spent the rest of the evening sitting outside with hundreds of other classical music fans, picnicking under the stars while listening to a Brahms concert given by the BSO. It was such a romantic way to spend our four year anniversary!

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