Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Masquerade! Hide your face so the world will never find you.

I did not win our costume contest at work today, but it was fine because I lost to a ninja! A wee female ninja, at that! (She's about 5' tall.) Here she poses with my collection of ninjas.
Wee Ninjas

It was great to see my co-workers get into the Halloween spirit. We had a Rainbow Brite, a pink pirate, a Rocky Balboa, a luchador, a bandito, a Waldo (a la Where's Waldo?) and a banana! The banana happens to sit behind me, so I found myself giggling every time I turned around and saw this:
Banana, hard at work

We told him to do the "Peanut Butter Jelly Time" dance, but he was not familiar with it. When we showed him the link, I was able to capture his version of it on film.

I puffy heart my co-workers.

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana." - Groucho Marx

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Boo ya!

We're having a costume contest tomorrow at work, along with some other fun treats. In the ghoulish spirit of the holiday, I made some treats for my co-workers. However, our oven is still broken so I had to veer from my usual cupcakes.

Here's what went through my brain earlier this week.

"I think I'll make caramel apples since my oven is broken but the stove isn't. Amber and Kay both made some fabulous ones recently. Oooh, maybe I'll make the mini ones. I swear I saw those somewhere... Hmm, I'll look on Flickr for inspiration. I'll type in 'mini' 'caramel' 'apples' to see what I get...oh, there are some cute ones! They're from....justJENN! Well, OF COURSE THEY ARE!"

So tonight I whipped some up for the first time. I think I drenched the mini apples in a bit too much caramel, and the sprinkles I used on some of them were too heavy as they pooled at the bottom, but all in all, I think they turned out well.
141_1251

141_1255

I also decided to try my hand at some chocolate-covered strawberries. (Thanks to justJENN again for the inspiration. Her recipe is directly beneath the mini caramel apples on her recipe site. )

I didn't use chocolate chips, as she suggested. Instead I used some chocolate chips in a specially designed microwavable cup, which I found in the baking aisle when I went to get chocolate chips. The strawberries turned out well, too. I drizzled some with white chocolate (after I took this pic).
Chocolate strawberries

Lastly, I finally finished my costume for tomorrow. I write about interactive marketing, including coverage of social networks. So I thought it'd be fun to dress up as a MySpace page.
MyCostume

Man, crafty stuff takes so much time. I don't know how you crafty ladies do it so well!

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Pam: No, I made brownies. (Angela signs disapprovingly.) What?
Angela: I’m just trying to figure out why you’re sabotaging things.
Pam: I made brownies.
Angela: And I made cookies. Same category.
- The Office

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Weekend in review

This was a nice weekend. Not an insanely exciting weekend, but nice nonetheless.

Friday night we had dinner at Fritto Misto, a nearby Italian place that was always crazy busy when we tried to eat there previously. Brent had sweet potato raviolli and I had artichoke shrimp gnocci. We ended with creme brulee (not bad) and a lemon bar (delicious). Our meal wasn't exactly like the amazing food we ate throughout Italy, but it was not a bad alternative.

As we left the crowded restaurant, we ran into the newly engaged Randi and Mike. We gave them our in-person congratulations and "ooooohed" over the beautiful engagement ring. We're especially excited for them as we were there when they met at one of Hil's blogger parties a couple of years ago.

Saturday morning we woke up early, got the oil in Brent's car changed and headed off to my hometown of Visalia to visit my family. After arriving at my mom's, my brother and nephew came to hang out. My nephew is 2-years-old and still such a cutie. I always enjoy my time with him.

Later that night Brent, my mom and I went to see Dan in Real Life, the new Steve Carell movie. I had low expectations because Brent kept saying he had read bad reviews, but I love Steve Carell and Dane Cook. And we all enjoyed it quite a bit. It wasn't a slapstick a la The 40-year-old Virgin, but it was a nice story about family and love. I highly recommend it.

Sunday we headed back to LA. Brent and I use car trips as an opportunity to catch up on episodes of NPR's This American Life. If you're not familiar, these are hourlong episodes that focus on various tales of life. On this trip we listened to stories about relating to kids, some prison inmates doing Hamlet, and a map maker whose collection includes a map of various jack-o-lanterns in his neighborhood. It's a great way to pass the time, on or off the road. You can download them as podcasts on iTunes or from ThisAmericanLife.org.

"Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact." - Robert McKee

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Whoa, whoa...I gotta go, back to school

I'm not quite ready to let go of Italy, so I'm taking a Conversational Italian class. Tonight I sharpened my pencils, packed a notebook and headed to my first of six, three-hour long classes.

I haven't been back in a classroom since graduating college in 2000. The teacher is an older Italian from Naples. He's spunky and animated and reminds me of my Italian grandfather. There are about 15 of us in the class, which is a good size. We took turns learning how to talk about ourselves (our names, our hobbies, our favorite foods). There are some folks who already speak other languages and there are some who sound as white as white can be. And as with every class, there's the "obnoxious" student, the one who thinks they know everything and are better than the rest of the class. Thankfully it's just one, for now.

Italian is such a beautiful language. It's much more pleasing to my ears than Spanish, which I studied off and on through high school and college.

The only problem with learning more about the language is that I'll want to go back even sooner. And Brent and I already made a pact to visit lots of other countries before going back. We'll just have to make our little condo our own Little Italy.

(Anyone recognize the title of my post?)

"It's a strange world of language in which skating on thin ice can get you into hot water." - Franklin P. Jones

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Laugh it up

My allergies are wreaking havoc on my poor eyeballs. I think it's a combination of the smoke in the air, the heat (it was 90+ degrees here yesterday - isn't it almost November?) and the on-again-off-again Santa Ana winds. My eyes are so itchy!

On a happier note, do any of you watch Big Bang Theory on CBS? It's about two very geeky scientists who live across the hall from a hot blonde. One of the scientists has a crush on the neighbor. It's surprisingly funny. Being somewhat of a nerd myself (not nerd in a super smart way, but more of a nerd in a liking-nerdy-things sort of way), I dig the nerd humor on the show. As an added bonus, the show's theme song is by Barenaked Ladies! What's not to love?

I also found myself in hysterical laughter when I saw a skit on SNL a couple of weeks ago, during the show where Jon Bon Jovi hosted and Foo Fighters was the musical guest. (That combo was a dream for me, let me tell ya. I love me some JBJ and the Foo. Someday JBJ, Dave Grohl and I are going out to tea to discuss our fondest childhood memories and our favorite sushi.) Anyhow, you'll either love or hate this skit. I've watched it over and over again. I think it's the music that really gets me.

And yesterday Whitney at Pop Candy posted a link to the upcoming Judd Apatow movie trailer, which you can see here. Hopefully the movie will live up to the hilarity of the trailer.

"You need to access your uncrazy side." - Darryl, The Office

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Heating up

These Southern California fires are crazy-go-nuts! It's impacting so many folks, including peeps I know and others' friends and families.

This morning while getting ready, I could smell the smoke, although the flames aren't threatening our little beach community. It's the smoke from the nearby Malibu fires.

From my fourth floor office, I can see a band of smoke lining the lowest portion of the sky.

My brother called yesterday. He's a fire fighter in Central California and he's hoping to get the call to come down to So. Cal to assist.

And last night I took a co-worker from our Singapore office out to show her some of the Los Angeles sites. We went to my Santa Monica neighborhood, where we visited the beach, boardwalk and nearby shopping area. We watched the sunset, an intense red through the fire's smoke.

Sunset in Santa Monica


It's a shame that such a gorgeous sunset comes at such a high price.

I hope everyone stays safe. My thoughts go out to everyone dealing with this destruction.

"Nature, in her most dazzling aspects or stupendous parts, is but the background and theater of the tragedy of man." - John Morley

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Weekend what what

Where do the weekends go?

Friday night we were exhausted from the work week, so we vegged on the couch, watched Friday Night Lights and went to bed early.

Saturday morning we visited a nearby bakery that we discovered recently. It's a French bakery called Le Pain du Jour that is only open until 12:30 p.m. each day and provides breads for a group of West LA restaurants. (It's so French that the website is only in French.) We bought a loaf of the hazelnut, raisin, walnut bread, which we tried last weekend, and ate that for breakfast/lunch.

Loaded with carbs, we spent the morning and much of the afternoon doing laundry, cleaning our condo and organizing two of our closets and one of our media cabinets. It was long overdue and we felt so good when it was all done.

That evening we fought against some crazy wild wind to go have dinner at a place called Noodle Planet in Westwood. Garlic chicken and pad see ew. Mmm... We battled some more wind to grab some ice cream sandwiches from Diddy Riese. We took our stuff, tired selves home and watched Gladiator. Brent had seen it, but I hadn't and we wanted to watch it post-visit to the Colosseum. I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Sunday morning I met up with a bunch o' gals for brunch at Jack N Jills in Beverly Hills, where we spotted Magic Johnson. After brunch we moseyed around the corner over to Crumbs Bakery. I sampled a mini Twinkies flavor, and took home a cookie dough and a key lime.
Cookie dough cupcake Key lime cupcake
All were quite delicious!

More pics of our morning on WeeMo's blog.

After hanging out with the gals, Brent and I picked up stuff for my Halloween costume. We're having a contest at work and I came up with a fun idea. Hopefully I can pull it together as planned.

We spent the rest of the day lazing around. I napped and we watched news coverage of the Malibu fires, which are far enough not to worry us but close enough to see the smoke-filled sky. That, paired with the winds, makes my allergies so very happy. On opposite day.

"Grace, coming out is something you do once in a lifetime, like being born or watching Magic Johnson's talk show." - Will, Will & Grace

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Viva la blog-olution!

As my loyal readers may recall, last year I participated in National Blog Posting Month (aka NaBloPoMo), in which I blogged every single day in November. Well, that time is fast approaching and I'm doing it again!

This time I'm even donating a prize for the drawing at the end of the month, in which all the names of folks who posted every single day successfully are entered. I'm donating a Pro Flickr account (a $25 value), which allows you to post an unlimited amount of photos on Flickr. I puffy heart Flickr. It makes posting photos to my blog so easy.

I encourage all my fellow bloggers to join the fun! (The blogging part, that is. Feel free to contribute to the drawing, too.) Posting 30 days in a row is not necessarily the easiest thing to do, but it definitely makes you more aware of the blog-worthy material (or lack thereof) in your day to day life. You may also find more great bloggers along the way.

You can sign up to participate here, where you'll be required to create an account on Ning.com in order to join the NaBloPoMo group/social network. Do you know about Ning.com? It's a site that allows you to start your own social network. Maybe I should start one for left-handed half-Filipinas married to wonderful men named Brent. Party of one, please.

So who's with me during NaBloPoMo? Who's taking the challenge? If you join, be sure to add me as your friend on Ning.

"If you must play, decide upon three things at the start: the rules of the game, the stakes, and the quitting time." - Chinese proverb

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Vacay, part 6 - Floating through Venice

This blog post makes me sad because I'll officially be done with my Italy recaps. *tear*

Wednesday, Oct. 3
Brent slept the ENTIRE way on the trains from Cinque Terre to Pisa, then Pisa to Venice - a good four hours, at least. I found that quite amusing, especially since I'm the one who falls asleep so easily on car trips.

We arrived at the Venice train station and walked the short walk to our hotel, called Ca Dogaressa. It sits in the Cannaregio area of Venice, also known as The Ghetto. Actually, it's the area where the word "ghetto" originated. I kid you not. But in this case "ghetto" was definitely not an indication of any sort of bad neighborhood. This area wasn't touristy, but it was a nice, quiet place to stay, yet within reasonable walking distance to most places we wanted to go.

At this hotel, Brent booked us a beautiful suite on the third floor. It was Venetian through and through, filled with lots of yellow and gold, and an expansive marble bathroom. (No curtain around the tub, though, for showering, which was kinda strange.)
Gaudy? Yes...

Best of all, it included three large windows that overlooked a canal.
Peek a boo!

After settling in, we grabbed some pizza for lunch and sat near a bridge. I later discovered that picnicking is technically "not allowed" in Venice, for whatever reason. Oops. We topped off our lunch with some gelato (pineapple and berry for me, melon for Brent).

We rested a bit and after the sun set, we walked through the city to the Rialto Bridge, a popular bridge lined with shops.

We chose a restaurant (can't remember the name) near the bridge, with an outdoor table to enjoy the view. We started with mixed raw fish, which was delicious.
Mixed fish

My main dish was yummy cheese ravioli while Brent had a tasty dish of mushrooms and pasta.
Cheese raviolli Mushshrooms and pasta

We strolled back through the city toward our hotel and we stopped for more gelato - twice in one day - boo ya!

Thursday, Oct. 4
We had breakfast at our hotel, which was especially enjoyable because we ate at tables put out by our hotel near the canal.

To get a good sense and big picture of the city, we did the vaporetto (water bus) tour in Rick Steves' book. We started on the vaporetto near the train station and at each stop we looked to the book to find out more about the sites that we could see from the water bus.
Canal

The vaporetto tour ended at St. Mark's Square. Ah, St. Mark's. Where, oh where, do I start? Do you know about famous St. Mark's Square? No? Lemme show ya.
Uh-uh

Yeah, talk about a nightmare. Birds! Ok, to be clear, we're not scared of birds; we just think they're really gross. Rats of the sky, I say! RATS OF THE SKY! And tourists at St. Mark's actually pay to get bird seed (infused with birth control by the City of Venice to control the "poopulation") to get these winged rats to come to them and incidentally peck all over them. Hell to the no!
Yeah, you THOUGHT that would end well?

We watched for as long as we could bear...
IMG_3810 Noooooo

...then went into St. Mark's church. We didn't get past the lobby, though, because the actual church portion didn't open for another hour. (Thankfully we skipped the line via a tip we read in Rick Steves' tour book. Score!) So instead we toured the nearby Doge's Palace, a sparse but lavish former palace and political offices that also included a prison.

After the tour we walked back to our hotel, which was on the other side of the island, mind you. We got a little lost, but weren't too worried - we were on an island after all. We were tired, though.

Ok, and one of us might have gotten a little cranky.
We're LOST?!?!??!

But one of us also felt much better as soon as figured out where we were.
we're not lost anymore!

We rested a bit then went for the mandatory gondola ride. You can't go to Venice and not do a gondola ride, no matter how tourist-trap-y and expensive they may seem. We took one to the Rialto Bridge and through the back canals of Venice.
in our gondola

It was an amazing ride, so peaceful and calming. I can't imagine a more beautiful and romantic way to experience Venice at night. It truly is a magical place, especially after the sun has set.
Bridge at night

We had reservations for dinner after the gondola ride. Before leaving our hotel we asked the owner the best way to find the restaurant. Turns out that he was friends with the restaurant owner, so he was very familiar with the location. His directions were very much like The Count from Sesame Street, "Go one bridge, two bridge, three bridge, yes! Four bridge? NO!" We laughed as we went over each bridge, finding our restaurant easily thanks to his directions.

The restaurant, Vini da Giggio, is the highest-rated restaurant in Venice, according to the European Zagat. We were very excited for our meal, which did not disappoint.

I started with fried cheese and polenta (good, but maybe just a little too much cheese for me) while Brent had mixed fish, which was delectable.
Fried cheese & polenta Mixed fish

My main dish was taglioni pasta with truffles. It was unbelievable! Brent had lamb, which was also quite tasty.
Taglioni with truffles Lamb

Although we were stuffed, we were intrigued by the potential of the restaurant's desserts. Dinner, after all, was beyond amazing. We ordered the "three creamy desserts" platter and an almond nougat semifreddo. They were as delicious as they look.
Three creamy desserts Semifreddo with almond nougat

As we left, Brent decided to tell the owners about their #1 Zagat rating. They were familiar with Zagat but had no idea that they were rated so highly. Brent totally made their night (or maybe even their week). He left them with the pages that rated their restaurant.

Friday, Oct. 5
Our last day in Italy started with breakfast at our hotel. Then we made a quick trip to the nearby shops and vendors, where I bought myself some mini-pashmina scarves (white and pink) and we picked up some treats for our office.

We also bought some sandwiches for the plane. We enjoyed them somewhere over the Atlantic, with Italy fresh in our minds and prosciutto and salami fresh on our tongues.
Us and the Bridge of Sighs

More pics and other tales can be found here.

"Signora, between Austria and Italy, there is a section of the Alps called the Semmering. It is an impossibly steep, very high part of the mountains. They built a train track over these Alps to connect Vienna and Venice. They built these tracks even before there was a train in existence that could make the trip. They built it because they knew some day, the train would come." - Martini, Under the Tuscan Sun

Monday, October 15, 2007

Vacay, part 5 - Cinque Terre-ific!

Monday, Oct. 1
We took the trains from Florence to Cinque Terre, a collection of five towns nestled in the hills of the Italian coast. We arrived in the afternoon and rolled through the tiny town of Monterosso, from the new part of town to the old part where our hotel was. We checked in at Hotel Margherita, a bed and breakfast with friendly staff and modern decor. Our room was small, but we didn't need a lot of space. And the shower rivaled the water pressure of our shower at home, which was amazingly nice.

We checked in then stopped for a quick bite to eat a little nearby place. I had a focacia sandwich and Brent had bruschetta with sardines, which we both enjoyed.
Foccacia sandwich Sardine bruschetta

We strolled through the small town. The weather was absolutely gorgeous! Perfectly sunny, not too hot, not too cold. The beaches were beautiful and a bit rocky. Brent went on and on about how clear the water was.
Monterosso beach Crystal clear water

We stopped for some gelato (lemon for me), explored the town some more then rested up. We had reservations that night for a popular restaurant called Miky. We met an older couple from Seattle who were quite pleasant. Their food looked amazing, so we were excited for ours.

I started with a shrimp mousse crepe while Brent had a squid salad.
Shrimp mousse crepe Squid salad

My main dish was spaghetti with various seafood. Brent had a mixed fish platter.
Spaghetti with various seafood Mixed fish

We ended our meal with some lemon sauce puff pastries and a fig hazelnut torte.
Lemon sauce puff pastries Fig, hazelnut torte

Everything was perfectly delicious!

Tuesday, Oct. 2
After breakfast at our hotel, we bought hop-on/hop-off tickets for the trains that run between the five cities. You can do a hike between the five cities, which takes five hours, but we opted not to do that as we only really had a day and a half to really explore.

We started in Riomaggiore, the town furthest to the south. We did the walking tour through the town recommended by Rick Steves, which took us to the highest point of the town for a beautiful view.

We stopped for lunch at a pizzeria, where we had a delightful and quick meal. I had a spinach and egg torte (recommended by the staff) and Brent had a frenata with pesto.
Spinach torte with egg Frenata with pesto

This region is the birthplace of pesto, so we couldn't visit without having some.

After exploring the town some more, we hopped on the train to Mannarola, where we did another walking tour through the town. This included a short hike along the town's hillside vineyards and a spectacular view of the coastline. Stunning, isn't it?
Manarola

We then moved on to Corneglia, which we knew was the least exciting of the five towns. However, you can't really go to a region known as "5 towns" and not see all five towns. So we took a quick shuttle to the top of the town, checked out the view and headed right back down to the train station.

Our fourth and last town before heading back to Monterosso was Vernazza. We didn't explore this town too much. By then we were pooped, so we grabbed some gelato and sat near the town's harbor to people-watch and rest our tired selves. Brent also picked up some fresh focaccia, another regional speciality.

After we caught our last train to Monterrosso, we ran back to our hotel, changed clothes and ran back down to the beach so Brent could swim in the Mediterranean. I vegged on the rocky sand, accidentally saw a topless German woman (hey, it wasn't a nude beach - she just decided to dust herself off), while Brent lounged in the water for a bit. After the sun disappeared behind the cliffs, we headed back and got ready for dinner.
Sunset in Monterosso

We had reservations at a restaurant near our hotel called Ciak. I made the reservations in my maiden name, which is straight up Italian, and I think the waitress assumed I was native Italian and therefore didn't speak any English to us. As a result I accidentally ordered a $45 bottle of wine instead of the cheap stuff. Oops! But it was yummy and worth it. It was a locally made wine, too.

We split a giant order of shrimp raviolli then another giant order of fritto misto (mixed fried fish). We knew this place was known for its giant portions, so our splitting strategy was a good idea.
Shrimp raviolli Fritto misto

Here is where we met a couple our age from Minnesota. I asked if they were on their honeymoon or just a fun trip. The wife explained that this was there 10-year wedding anniversary! She noted that they got married young - at age 19 - and they left their three kids at home so this was indeed a big trip for them. We also met a couple of Australian girls who were famished, having completed that five-hour hike through the five cities. One girl said it was sooo easy, while the other complained that she thought she was going to DIE. (I would have probably been in the later camp myself.) Exploring the cities via the trains was tiring enough, but so absolutely worth it.

If you go to Italy and you can swing a visit to this region, I highly recommend it. It's a glimpse into an even slower-paced Italian life, filled with tantalizing food and friendly people.

There's so much more I could tell you about our visit here and so many gorgeous pics you should see, so check out my Flickr set for more jaw-dropping views and fun Cinque Terre tales.

Us in Manarola

Next up: Venezia!

"Certainly, travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living."
- Miriam Beard

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Weekend in review

The next Italy recap is on its way! I'm cross-eyed from editing, naming and uploading all the photos. In the meantime, here's what we did this weekend.

Friday
I was in the mood for fish and chips, so we grabbed some at Santa Monica's English pub, Ye Old King's Head. If you like fish and chips, this place is hard to beat. The fish batter is light yet tasty. And the chips are fabulous. We topped it off with some cider, then some sticky toffee pudding for dessert. Oh so delic!

Saturday
We hit the gym in the morning, then swung by the 1-year-old birthday party of our buddy, Brendan, the son of our friends Josh and Jami. As with all of their parties, we had fun with their friends and families. The food was tasty, although I'm sad we had to leave before the traditional 1-year-old cake smashing.

We left the party early to make it to a comedy show that I was surprising Brent with. The comedians, Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black, are two actors/comedians who Brent has been a fan of for quite a while. They put on a great show at the New Ivar Theater in Hollywood.

The show ended around 9, so I convince Brent to swing by the new Beverly Hills bakery called Crumbs. We ordered a cherry Italian soda and picked up one pumpkin and one lemon cream cheese cupcake to go.

Here's the pumpkin:

Pumpkin cupcake from Crumbs Bakery

And here's the lemon cream cheese:

Lemon cream cheese cupcake from Crumbs Bakery

I thought they were good, although the frosting might have been a little too sweet. I'd choose them over Sprinkles because they don't have an insane line and I'm not a huge Sprinkles fan. Also, they're open late (til 10, I think), which is unlike any other LA bakery. It's also right next to a gelato place, which we may have to hit up next time we're in the area. I'm going to need my gelato fix soon.

Sunday
We spent the morning walking to the Farmer's Market, a little over two miles roundtrip. I miss all the walking we did in Italy, and this was a nice way to get some exercise in while running an errand.

At the market we picked up some fruits, veggies and baked goods. When we approached the dates table, the seller asked me if I was looking for a particular date. I giggled, grabbed Brent's arm and said, "I already have a hot date!" ::taping mic:: Is this thing on?

Oh, and we also saw Helen Hunt. I'm so oblivious, but Brent has good eyes and can always pick celebs out of a crowd. She's quite pretty in person, by the way.

The rest of the afternoon was lazy. I spent so many hours going through the beautiful pictures Brent took of Cinque Terre. And Brent continued his hunt for the perfectly priced Xbox 360. I think he's close to making a decision and actually getting one. (It's in his blood. His father is the same way and must research something for months and months before actually purchasing it.)

We ended our weekend by getting more groceries for our barren fridge, and Brent whipped up a delicious dinner of steak and panzanella.

"My favorite animal is steak." - Fran Lebowitz

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Vacay, part 4 - More Florence

Saturday, Sept. 29
During breakfast at our hotel, an older American woman from New Jersey struck up a conversation with us. She told us that it was so great we were taking the trip now instead of waiting 50 years, like they did. We appreciated her comment and kept that little tidbit in the back of our mind throughout the rest of our trip.

After breakfast, we left for our reservations at the Uffizi Gallery, a museum filled with various sculptures and paintings, including Michelangelo's Venus in a half shell Botticelli's "The Birth of Venus." (My hubby corrected me this morning. My bad...)

Then we headed over to Florence's leather district, stopping for lunch at a lovely little outdoor restaurant called Baldovino.

We started with bruschetta then split the most delicious pizza topped with the most decadent mozzarella cheese and cherry tomatoes. It really was our best pizza of the entire trip.

best pizza ever

Also, with every meal, we were offered water "with or without gas," as in sparkling or not. More often than not, we ordered "frizzante" (with gas). At this particular restaurant, they served it in this really cool bottle.

frizzante

After lunch, we strolled the leather district a bit more then stopped for gelato at the world-famous Vivoli. I had orange and cream, strawberry and mixed berry. Brent had hazelnut, cream and chocolate.

two gelatos

Stuffed with our Italian ice cream goodness, we visited the Duomo's leather school where stuff was outrageously expensive. Beautifully crafted, but pricey.

Later that night we went to dinner at La Giostra, one of the top-rated restaurants in the city. It started off rocky. They sat us at a table right next to the kitchen door. And the table was wobbly. All of that, paired with the intense flashing twinkle lights and crazy American 80s/90s music, made us a little crazy. But we got them to move us to a different table and things started to look up, even though my cold medicine was starting to wear off.

I started with burrata cheese served with pink grapefruit, honey and oranges. It was scrumdiddlyumptious. Brent started with fish carpaccio, which was also tasty.

burrata with grapefruit fish carpaccio

My main dish was spinach gnocchi, a yummy dish that looked like green beans. Brent had pear tortellini, which sounds like an unlikely combo but it was delicious. We also split a beef dish that was good (no pic).

spinach gnochi pear tortillini

The food was great, but my body was achy from my cold and I just wanted to lay down. We asked for the check when the last course arrived. Another waiter saw it and we said, "Oh, that's our check" as we moved it out of his way. He asked us, disgustingly, "Why?" I explained that I wasn't feeling well and wanted to leave. He seemed half concerned.

So, in a nutshell, I'd recommend that restaurant for its tasty dishes but keep your non-food expectations loooow.

Sunday, Sept. 30
Our hotel, which we absolutely adored and would highly recommend, was next to the Arno River. And the river had given birth to a billion bloodsuckers. I woke up Sunday morning with a bunch of mosquito bites, as did Brent. And he killed a mosquito that morning in our bathroom that resulted in a dime-size amount of red blood on the wall -- as in OUR BLOOD. Bastards!

After breakfast, we walked to a NY Times-recommended bakery called Dolci & Dolcezzie. We got four tortes - lemon, strawberry, chocolate creme and chocolate. Yummy!
goodies

We went back to the Ponte Vecchio area and looked for an olive oil place for Brent. Sadly, it was closed. Boo...

We went back to the leather district, where we bought a purse for me, a purse for my mom and a belt for Brent. We had some pizza for lunch, then more gelato from Vivoli. I had vanilla, tiramisu and rice. Yes, rice. It was delicious. Brent had hazelnut, an unknown Italian flavor and vanilla.

Then it was back to the hotel. I stayed at the hotel to rest and get over my cold while Brent hiked up to the Piazzale Michelangelo for a stunning view of the city.

IMG_3124

That night we had dinner at Filipepe, a dimly lit (hence the dark photos below) and modern Mediterranean restaurant with friendly staff.

I started with swordfish carpaccio with peach granita. Brent had the panzanella, which he was very excited about.
fish carpaccio with peach granita panzanella

My main dish was the "evolution of swordfish," with three different preparations. Brent had spaghetti with clams.

evolution of swordfish spaghetti with clams

My dessert was a hot flan cake. Brent had a bittersweet chocolate with strawberry mousse. All absolutely fabulous and the perfect way to end our time in Florence!

hot flan cake bittersweet chocolate with strawberry mousse

Florence was amazing and we have plenty more pics to prove it.
I love his nuzzle

"Ah. That is the Duomo seen from the Belvedere. Do you know Florence?" - Hannibal Lecter, Silence of the Lambs