Dinner at Il Treatro del Sale

Il Teatro del Sale is an all you can eat dinner followed by a show, and the kind of dining experience you’ll remember forever. You’d think it would be overflowing with tourists, but when we went we were the only non-Italians in attendance. It’s the kind of place you immediately feel at home in, almost like you’re all having dinner in someone’s (huge) living room. There are private tables and community tables and as everyone gets up to collect the next dish at the same time, it feels like one big group dinner.

It’s run by a husband and wife team, he handles the food, she handles the entertainment. Together, they make quite the pair and have turned the place into a Florentine treasure. There are hundreds of dinner options in Florence, but you can tell this one is in the heart of the city and its history.

It’s a members only club, so to attend you have to become a member. It’s 7 euros to join and around 35 for the meal. Not exactly cheap, and also the (unlimited) wine that is included is quite literally undrinkable–and this is coming from a girl who thinks Franzia and two buck chuck is surprisingly tasty. We kept checking to see if other people were drinking it, wondering if maybe it had oxidized and no one noticed, but no. It was only a small few, but some people went back for seconds. We tried to power through, if only to be polite, but it was honestly like drinking nail varnish. Suffice it to say, we did not finish our (small) glasses, and they only sell wine by the bottle. The cheapest is another 30 euros, not ideal, and not an inexpensive night.

That said, everything else was amazing. The food was delicious. Like, really, really good. And there was tons of it. I eat a lot and even I was super overwhelmed with the amount and variety in front of me. The service was excellent, though we had an amazing language barrier experience.

The way the place runs is there’s always food being served on a table that you can just go grab. While this is happening the chefs are cooking a ton of other things right from the kitchen, and when that is ready the chef yells out, in Italian, what the next course is, and you line up and wait for them to hand you a plate. Easy enough. However, this was described to us as “when the cook screams, you must go running because there is a situation in the kitchen.” After a slightly concerned second wondering exactly what situation occurring in the kitchen would cause the chef to scream, we realized what he meant. It was hilarious and sweet and so nice to not be the one making little sense in a second language for a change!

The show afterwards was my favorite part. It was two older guys, and I’ve never seen anyone love what they do so much. One of them was literally grinning and jumping around the entire time, and if I can be half as happy and content as he is, I will consider myself a success.

They serve brunch as well, and next time I’m in Florence I will definitely be back. I highly recommend this place to anyone wanting an authentic Italian experience!

48 hours in Florence

YOU GUYS. I had the most incredible Semana Santa in the history of the world. Probably. At least top 10.

Just so we have a general timeline to work with here, I left Logroño on Thursday, April 6th, spent the night in Barcelona airport once again (it went better this time). I flew out on the 7th at 6:00 am, and started a whirlwind trip around southern and eastern Europe.

Florence from April 7th to April 9th
Venice from April 9th to April 10th (too short!)
Slovenia from April 10th to April 12th
Zagreb from April 12th to April 16th
Zadar from the 16th – 17th
Split from 17th to 19th
Mostar from the 19th to the 20th
Dubrovnik from the 20th to the 22nd

Whew! It was a LOT of travel and a lot of moving around, but it was the perfect road trip itinerary and a great way to see Croatia. The only things I would change would for it to have been longer, so I could have spent more time in Venice and Mostar. Also so I could have gone to Sarajevo and Montenegro, haha. It’s never enough!

Doing Florence in 48 hours is sad, because you’ll fall in love and have to say goodbye so quickly, but totally doable. The city is very walkable, things tend to be grouped together, and in just over an hour of walking you can see the major sights.

  • I’d recommend starting at the Galleria dell’Accademia and checking out the amazing artwork and saying hello to David.
  • Then I’d head to the Duomo and see the Cathedral, climb to the top if you were smart enough to book tickets, and hang out in the plaza for a bit. Everything is so beautiful.
  • On the way to Ponte Vecchio stop at Palazzo Vecchio before windowing shopping all the gorgeous old jewelry.
  • Take a left and head to San Niccolò, a laid back and artsy neighborhood filled with great places to grab some food and have a few drinks. Even when Florence is packed around Easter holidays, you’ll still feel like you’ve escaped the tourists.
  • Make your way up to the viewpoint Piazzale Michelangelo, where you can soak in everything you’ve just seen and done. If the timing is right, you could enjoy the best sunset in town.
  • Head to Il Teatro del Sale for a unique and authentic dinner. You’ll have done all the touristy bits in the beginning of the day and end it with a view, dinner, and show that you’ll remember forever. Not a bad itinerary!

Florence was the perfect introduction to Italy, and it was the perfect time to go to Italy, considering my recent Italian news! I arrived at 8 am on no sleep, but as our (amazing, beautiful) flat wouldn’t be ready for hours, I decided to explore the city. I wandered around Ponte Vecchio (in my exhaustion it took me far too long to realize that’s where I was/it was even a bridge, haha), and looked at all the jewelry I’ll never be able to afford. I ended up at Piazza Pitti, where people were sunbathing and locals were selling artwork and crafts.

I found the perfect place to lay down and wait for Rach to arrive, and my favorite part of Florence, just by heading to the greenest bit on the map. I walked quite a ways until I got to Piazzale Michelangelo, where I was rewarded with the absolute best view of Florence. I headed down to the gorgeous Rose Garden and read my book, basking in happiness and feeling pretty astonished that I could finally call this country a little bit mine.

Rachel arrived and we settled into our flat. YOU GUYS. This flat… there are not words or pictures that do it justice. It was HUGE. And GRAND. Its front door was the biggest door I’ve ever actively used. It had a little old lift that we got slightly stuck in. The windows and shutters were dreamlike. Oh and also it had a mural painted on the ceiling, because why not. The bed was far too enticing, but seeing Rachel was just the boost of energy I needed, and we headed back across the Arno to go to Culinaria De Gustibus Bistrot. And thank god we did. Our food was amazing. We had so much of it, and they kept bringing us free extras. I cannot recommend this place enough. It was cozy, had a great ambiance, and a great place to catch up over a bottle of wine.

After an early night we decided the next day would be our tourist day. We’d hit all the major sights. Advice: book everything in advance. We didn’t and definitely should have. First we went to the Galleria dell’Accademia to see David. The line was long but there were people selling tickets to skip the line for only about 10 euros more, which seems like a scam, but is not. We decided it was worth it, especially as we had discovered we couldn’t go to the top of the Duomo at the Cathedral of Florence because they were booked for days.

I’m not going to lie, we were slightly uncultured and honestly debated if seeing David was worth it. In case you need any convincing, I am here to tell you that it is one million percent worth it. He is stunning. When I was in Amsterdam I was happy I went to the Van Gogh Museum, but none of the paintings really surprised me. I’d seen prints, they were cool to see in person but that was kind of it. David was nothing like that. He was huge. He was a masterpiece that caused awed silence and extended observation. The whole museum was worth it on its own but you guys. Don’t miss David.

From there we headed to the Cathedral and Palazzo Vecchio, which are pretty close to each other. After that it was a direct shot across the river and back to my favorite place, the neighborhood leading to Piazzale Michelangelo, San Niccolò. We grabbed a menu of the day lunch at Trattoria Cent’ori (good not great), before heading up to check out the views. We wine hopped our way back to our flat to get ready for the ultimate dining experience: Il Teatro del Sale.

We spent the next day wandering around eating, taste testing all the gelato, and checking out Palazzo Vecchio. Even though we only had a weekend there, I feel like we saw the main things, and even got out of the tourist heavy areas for more authentic experiences.

Two Days in Berlin at Christmastime

This December I was lucky enough to jump around to a few different Christmas markets, and I had the best time doing so. I don’t know if I’ve shared this yet, but I am basically obsessed with the holiday season. Thanksgiving and Christmas are basically my happiest times in life, and getting to spend December in various European markets was a dream come true. I had a really hard time deciding which cities to go to, because basically every European city becomes winter wonderland during December (except for Amsterdam, strangely enough). It was a whirlwind trip, spending two to three days each in Berlin, Amsterdam, Prague, and Wroclaw.

Also, as great as it was, it started with the journey from hell. I live in Logroño, which has a lot of positives, but a huge negative is there isn’t an airport nearby. My roommate and I, who was also flying to Germany, though to a different city, had to catch an early bus to Barcelona, and after six hours we arrive in Barca just in time to catch the last train to the airport.

After finding the airport, we thought the hard part was over (though sleeping there would be an entirely different kind of difficult). However, as soon as we walked into the terminal, it was obvious something was wrong. It looked like we were walking into the aftermath of a rave. There was trash everywhere. Multicolored fragments of paper all over the ground. I honestly wondered if something really terrible had just happened there. Apparently the cleaning crew had gone on strike four days ago, and not only had no one cleaned or removed any trash since then, but the striking workers had a protest where they basically trashed the airport. Hence all the paper and stickers and graffiti. It honestly looked (and felt) post apocalyptic.

We found the only clean spot in the entire airport by squeezing between one of those mechanical walkways and the wall. A word of warning for anyone else attempting the same thing–they turn the heat either completely off or WAY down at night, and lying on the floor made sleep virtually impossible because of the extreme cold that was coming from the tiled floor.

After a night of absolutely zero sleep, I finally boarded my plane at 6:25 and slept for about an hour and a half before landing in Berlin. G and I timed it nearly perfectly, and he landed about 20 minutes after me, just long enough for me to find his gate. The journey from Berlin Schönefeld Airport into central Berlin wasn’t ideal, as the train only comes twice an hour, once around the :15 mark, and again around the :45 mark. We had just missed the 10:15, and had to wait for the 10:45, which I will not lie, in my tired and messy state I was not super pleased with.

I’ll take a second to admit I was not in a great mood. I was exhausted. I felt so dirty from the airport. I was and had been freezing for nearly nearly 10 hours. I’m not sure either of us was expecting a great day during that 30 minute wait for the train. That said, we went into Alexanderplatz and found a Christmas Market right next to the station. We had some delicious sausage and a glass of warm Glühwein, and I was suddenly feeling much better. We hung around the market for a few hours, eating, drinking, and watching my mood rapidly improve. Guys, Berlin during Christmastime is a dream. It was like being on a Hallmark Christmas movie set. EVERYTHING was decorated. Everything was themed for Christmas. We even found a beer hall that was adorable. It was all wood and rustic, it had a huge tree, Christmas music, and the servers were all dressed in Christmas outfits. And it had a really warm fire that we sat next to. It was the perfect place to wait for our room to be ready.

Eventually, though, it was ready and we headed to our hotel. It was incredible–for Berlin and Amsterdam we used lastminute and managed to book really nice hotels for the same price (or less) than an airbnb.

We left for DasMeisterstück, which is a craft beer and sausage place that has excellent and well deserved reviews. The day before was Gareth’s 27th birthday, and it was a nice, low key way to celebrate. The food was delicious, I tried sour German beer (it was good), and all the beers G tried were excellent (and this from someone who prefers literally any other drink to beer).

After dinner we headed to WeihnachtsZauber at the Gendarmenmarkt, one of the main Christmas markets in Berlin. It was minutes from DasMeisterstück, and I’d recommend combining it with dinner there if you go. That said, I would skip this if I was doing it again. You had to pay to get in, and because it is so well known, it was beyond crowded. I’m not sure if it’s because it was so late, but it was 10 times as crowded as any of the other markets we went to. It was impossible to actually see any of the stalls, and just walking down an aisle took about ten minutes. Other than the amount of people though, the market was beautiful, and I would recommend trying to go in the middle of the day when it might be less packed. (Also I think there is live music/performances in the day time!)

literally filled to the brim with people

The next day I insisted we find breakfast that included eggs, because such a thing doesn’t exist in Spain and it’s basically the first thing I look for when traveling outside the country. We found Wintergarten which was incredible and highly recommended. It was in an old Literaturhaus, and the vibe was great. I’m going to be honest, I got two full meals–eggs and pancakes. I know that’s pretty excessive but the food was amazing and Spain has me feeling constantly breakfast-deprived. Both were delicious.

After that it was Berlin tourism time, and we hit most of the major sights. The Reichstag Building, the Berlin Wall, Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust museum and installation, which was incredible but be ready to cry and feel quite low for a while after. They are all within walking distance of each other, though note that if you want to go to the top of the Reichstag Building you should book in advance. From there made our way to the last Christmas market, Berliner Weihnachtszeit, which was the best one. There were little fires to sit by, ice skating, a ferris wheel, and so much mulled wine. It was incredible.

 

Berlin could not have been more perfect and I strongly recommend it for anyone looking for some of the best Christmas markets in the world. Our journey continued from Berlin and we took an overnight bus to Amsterdam (though nearly didn’t make it–note that the main bus and train station are not the same, and we were left literally sprinting to the bus!).

Logroño Bike Ride

There’s a tourist office in Logroño right down the street from my apartment. It’s pretty excellent, mostly because they let you rent a bike for free as long as it’s returned by 6:00 pm. What service!

(You also have to be willing to ignore that the bikes are huge, heavy, and sans kickstands, but you get what you pay for, right?)

The tourist office also publishes a handy little book of the best hikes and bike rides throughout La Rioja, and while I have done some pretty epic hikes in Spain so far, I’d been wanting to do the one bike ride that goes through Logroño for months. The weather changed a few weeks ago, and when my friend visited from LA we decided to give it a try!

We didn’t get far. At all. But it was still gorgeous and we had a picnic by the lake, so really, we won.

I tried again the next weekend with my roommate. The issues with this route were the following:

  1. The information packet didn’t provide a more detailed map than the below. The first part was fine as it was on the well marked Camino, and the last leg was on the GR 99, but we were totally on our own from Navarette to Fuenmayor. We ended up lost and on the side of a highway for a while. Not ideal.
  2. The bike ride was labeled “bajo” and estimated it would take 2.5 hours to finish. WHAT! Whoever wrote such lies has CERTAINLY not done this bike ride! It took us a full six hours. SIX HOURS. We got back at 5:51, just barely returning the bikes in time. And easy? The entire ride was uphill, until one very steep hill at the VERY end of the journey. And we live in a mountainous region, so when I say uphill I mean huge inclines.

That aside, it was a gorgeous ride. It was obviously great exercise, and if I were to do it again, I think I’d enjoy it more because I’d be better prepared (i.e. bring more than one bottle of water and ANY food/sunscreen). Also I would definitely ride in the opposite of the suggested direction. It would be one huge hill to start and then mostly downhill the rest of the way. Also when we arrived in Fuenmayor we found a dirt road with a sign saying it would go to Navarrete, and whatever road that was meant to be was not nearly so well labeled coming from the other direction.

I’d recommend this ride, but only going from the other direction, and only if you’re prepared to make a full day of it. If you are, it’ll be gorgeous!

A Thanksgiving in London

As I already posted about, I spent this Thanksgiving in London. I hadn’t been to London in quite a while, and was so excited to go back. I was a little nervous, because traditionally I spend Thanksgiving in America with Katie’s family, and I was worried I’d be homesick and surrounded by Brits on one of my very favorite holidays. That said, it was amazing!

The perfectness started after Gareth felt last minute guilt and agreed to pick me up from the airport. It’s so nice when someone is waiting for you at the gate, and even nicer when that isn’t followed by an hour long night bus (hint, hint x forever). I got in late the first night so we pretty much grabbed some food and went right to bed. Can I say again HOW MUCH I love to, on occasion, eat non-Spanish food? It’s pretty great.

On Friday we had breakfast at one of the best coffee shops in Peckham, and then headed into Greenwich. I used to spend a lot of time there when we were all still in college, but I can’t remember having gone anytime recently at all. It was almost the same as I remembered, except the got rid of the Tex Mex place which breaks my nostalgic Mexican-loving heart.

We wandered around the park, which was gorgeous. I caught a few pokemon, because I’m cool. Then it got too cold and we headed to a pub nearby for beer and mulled wine (guess who ordered what). After that we went to the market where I got a really old map of Massachusetts, and for quite the deal because apparently Gareth is an expert negotiator. We got lunch and an 8 pound bottle of Rioja wine (on sale from 16 and still about quadruple what you’d pay in actual La Rioja), and then went back and tried to sneak in a nap before meeting up with all our friends.

It was a chill night, we had a few rounds, played some pool, and caught up about everything I’d missed in my nearly 10 month absence! Just to put this out there, I have the best friends.

Saturday was our stand-in Thanksgiving day, and what better way to start stretching your stomach than with a classic fry up! After joyfully eating something other than a pastry for breakfast, we headed to the big Sainsbury’s in the hopes they would have all the American stuff I needed for my recipes. Which they did, apart from corn syrup (which I need a disgusting amount of for my chocolate bourbon pecan pie). I substituted golden syrup which was actually a pretty big step down but it worked in a pinch.

I spent the morning cooking the pie and helping (aka watching and criticizing) Gareth prepare the turkey. I met up with some friends at the pub to watch England defeat Argentina, and by the time we got back the kitchen was set up and food was nearly ready. (Thanks, G!)

I’ve never properly hosted a Thanksgiving before. I’ve had one at my place, but never was in charge of making sure everyone had assigned foods and knew what they were making. That said, because my friends put so much effort in, it was all perfect. We had enough for everyone to have seconds, the food was delicious, and I even got like two British people to say what they’re thankful for, which was the biggest surprise of all.

After eating we went to the park and spent about an hour playing 6 on 6 football. It was excellent (and not only because my team won by a lot). Eventually we wandered home and attempted to drink even half the wine that was brought. We played cards and talked about all the new engagements and had a perfect end to the night.

The next morning we watched Gilmore Girls (I want another season!), went to another great coffee place for breakfast, and then I had to leave for the airport. The trip went so fast. It mostly just reminded me how much I love London, and my friends there, and how much I miss it. It’s so nice seeing Gareth all the time, and exploring so many new places, but it was a reminder about how much I love the old ones too. Right now I’m deciding what to do after New Years, because in Spain we have the week after off too. I found cheap flights to Budapest and back to Spain from Vienna. Really cheap. But I could also spend like 5 more days in London, which I know I would love too. It´s hard to make decisions!

I’m writing this on my break before my lass class, and then I rush home, pack, and head to Barcelona. I fly out at 6:00am tomorrow morning for Berlin, and from there will visit Amsterdam, Prague, and Wroclaw. I get back Sunday morning, 10 days from now, and my mom arrives for the holidays on that Wednesday. I am so excited for all that’s coming up. Just once more, in case I’ve not made it sufficiently clear… I love the holidays!