Sunday, November 19, 2017

Venetian Holiday

Riding in the gondola (recommend donning attire to match your driver)

Venice is filled with canals, gondolas and  gift shops filled with Murano glass. It's also home to St. Mark's Square whose perimeter is lined with a palace, a church, numerous cafes and the Adriatic Sea.  Throw in a palace-like hotel and exquisite tea room and, yes, this was just about the most enchanting city we've ever visited.

Gondolier on the Grand Canal (his shirt looks familiar)

In September, we traveled to Italy and visited Rome, Florence and Venice. On the high-speed train, Venice is a short three-hour trip from Rome, and once off-board the rails. the flurry of activity on the Grand Canal is there to greet travelers. Water taxis, gondolas and shuttle "buses" speed along the wide span of  liquid road to navigate the labyrinth of canals throughout the city.

Chris and Rachel at Hotel Becher

It gave us a great first impression only to be exceeded by the next stop to our beautiful hotel. Our room at Hotel Becher  included a balcony overlooking the water, a crystal chandelier, comfy slippers and -  the ultimate - a buffet set up with a silver urn, china cups and tea! 

After a quick unpack and a relaxing cup of tea on the balcony, we took in the quintessential Venetian activity, a gondola ride.  It was a half hour of fun  taking in all the scenery while witnessing our gondolier move our floating vessel through the canals in "rush hour" traffic with ease.

After checking that box, we toured the city and stocked up on a bounty of beautiful Murano glass items. Rachel and I bought some necklaces and upscale bric-a-brace  while my husband Chris, enjoyed a little red wine in the Square.

Rachel inside one of the Murano glass  gift stores in St. Mark's Square

In the evening, our concierge recommended the restaurant, Vini da Pinto for dinner. It was here we had the "house specialty" of white fish baked in salt. It is presented in two stages:  first the fresh fish is brought to the table, then once fully covered and baked in its salty blanket, the waiter is back again with a mallet to crack it open for all to see.  Amazingly delicious and, surprisingly not salty, we gave it due pollici su!

Vini da Pinto is where we also collided with celebrity. Nick Reynolds of Alabama 3 was there visiting with his entourage and he graciously took photos with our ensemble.

Dining at Vini da Pinto

Our last day in Venice was spent having afternoon tea on the Square (a future blog story!), touring the Basilica of St. Mark, (where we visited a special room that contained fascinating and eerie relics of saints) and sampling every Venetian delicacy we could, including chocolate filled crepes at Gelato Di Natura.

Basilica of St. Marks

Venice is also home to the Masked Ball, a centuries-old grand affair where paupers and aristocrats celebrated together in anonymity. It fell out of favor at the turn of the last century, only to be revived in the late 1970's. Still going strong today, there are several merchants in Venice that specialize in wigs, masks and fancy attire for those who wish to attend the elaborate event in style.

I believe I've found my dress for the ball.

Venice  is a tribute to a city's strong will and resilience that, although experiencing a wild history of conflict and power struggles,  maintains beauty and charm that has attracted artists for centuries, including Mozart, Byron and Hemingway.

Oh solo mio. Oh, so Italian!

Venice has it all:  canals, gondolas, fancy gift shops, gourmet food and, yes, even tea! It truly is a magical city and we plan to be back. Adoriamo Venezia!

Balcony at our room at Hotel Becher

View from our hotel balcony pre rush hou


Taking a break at one of the many cafes in St. Mark's Square

Adoriamo Venezia! We will be back.

Sunday, November 5, 2017

Westbury Hotel: Looking back at a most charming afternoon tea in Dublin

Afternoon tea at Dublin's Wesbury Hotel back in 2012.

In the "Entertainment and Travel" section of today's Detroit Free Press, "Dublin: Classic Cool" features our favorite tea room, The Westbury Hotel,  in our favorite city in Ireland.

The Wesbury Hotel, busting crowds outside but elegant and relaxing inside 

Reading about the unique artist markets, upscale stores and gourmet shops of Dublin today, it brought me back to our trek down Grafton street in 2012, when we made our way through the bustling crowds of the busy city to The Westbury Hotel for afternoon tea.

Chris and I enjoying the ambiance and comfy accommodations

Our trip to Ireland was memorable for so many reasons: visits to wonderful sites and the amazing personal connections, some of which I wrote about in our blog back in October of 2012 ("Travels in Ireland: tea, gold, and, yes, a bit of blarney").  It was a delightful family vacation with my husband, Chris, second eldest son, Matt, and daughter, Rachel.

Rachel and Matt relaxing in the luxurious environs

Although we visited Cork, Monaghan, Waterford, and Cobv, our "home" was Dublin and we walked from our hotel, just off O'Connell street, to many places in the city including Temple Bar, Kilmainham Gaol and Trinity College.

Excellent service at The Westbury Hotel

But, amid trains, planes and automobiles, we treated ourselves to an elegant and relaxing respite from the crowds in the form of  afternoon tea at The Westbury, a five star hotel in the heart of Dublin.

Enjoying a royal tea (adding champagne) by the marble fireplace

It's luxurious, but comfortable. The dining room is beautiful, with sumptuous couches, marble fireplaces and crystal chandeliers. The quiet and reserved environs are a startling contrast from the street scenes below, which can be viewed from the large windows that line one wall of the dining room.

Westbury's dining room, beautiful ambience

The service was excellent and our waiter served us champagne along with an artistic presentation of afternoon tea fare, including scones, sandwiches and scrumptious pastries.

Of course, we had tea as well - and it was absolutely delicious.

The Westbury provided us with a much needed break of quiet refinement. As noted in today's Free Press article, ". . . if you are looking for a good hotel base for some creative retail therapy and dining, you can do no better that the Westbury".

We wholeheartedly agree - and that's no blarney!

Matt and Rachel back at it on Grafton Street after tea
Repping the"D" at Westbury