Eating Our Way Through Evanston

What happens when you go home after a year of COVID in a new state whose cuisine doesn’t exactly excite (if you could go get it anyway?) Foodganza!

Map of Evanston, IL

Here’s a rundown of the restaurants we hit. Not all in Evanston, but pretty close. It’s been a whirlwind, so I may have them out of order, but you’ll never know 🙂

Libanais: Lebanese (well, duh!). Delicious and sorely lacking in Edgewater, MD. You really can’t go wrong here and the pastries are YUM (hence the 4 extra pounds on my belly).

Ovo Frito: I love breakfast out. Steven does not (just not my thing). This place is great because they have a wide range of veggie breakfasts with a Mexican slant and lunch, too.

Union Pizza: Good cocktails, food that’s not all pizza and a great place for friends to meet and catch up. Also, fronts Space, a music venue that is scheduling shows again!

Dave’s New Kitchen: We call this place Little Dave’s because he used to have a bigger space. Red-checked tablecloth Italian. If you look at the website, you will see that they are closed for Passover and Easter weekend. Hmmm.

Grilling at my brother’s: No website here, just relaxing with family.

Taco Diablo: The first time I went here, I was on the Blue Horse Tavern side of the adjoining space BUT the Blue Horse Tavern menu wasn’t available. The kitchen cooks Taco Diablo and Lulu‘s (which is the space where the tavern is now) menu, so I had tacos. Then, I was there again with my brother and his family. Can’t go wrong with tacos and margaritas, but I would have ordered Lulu’s if I had known I’d be back at Taco Diablo a few days later.

NaKorn: High-end Thai. So, yes, they have pad Thai, but expect a somewhat more gourmet version in a fancier setting. Also, pretty, flowered drinks (with or without alcohol).

Kanela Breakfast Club: This is a small Chicago chain of deliciously sweet and savory breakfasts. We walked from Evanston to the Andersonville site (6 miles! and still we did not walk enough to offset the high sugar and carb-loaded food that we ordered – it was fabulous!), so give us props for at least trying to balance the eating with some exercise.

Bar Roma: We got our hair cut and then went to dinner with our hairdresser, Charlotte. Fancy Italian. Yum.

El Carrito: Bills itself as Mexican street food. I’d call it a taqueria. Either way, good, fresh tacos and burritos and a pretty wide variety of meats and veggies to go in them. I do appreciate a veggie burrito that is not just rice and beans, but includes fresh veggies! (The mole fries seemed like a good choice at the time.)

Ravinia Brewing Company: Yes, more tacos. It just worked out that way, but the food is secondary to the people in all of these instances, so it’s fine with me.

Cara Mio: This is our last night’s dinner. Italian again! Steven is looking forward to the baked ziti with chicken parm on top if it. No wonder we’re gaining weight!

We complete promise to eat only salad for the entire month of July. And to run and do yoga. Right, Steven? (umm…sure??)

Here are few observations:

  • Service is still wacky as restaurants try to staff up and figure out how many diners to expect.
  • Mask-wearing has mostly fallen by the wayside fo (r diners, but not for staff.
  • QR code menus are probably here to stay. That’s fine with me. Easier to change, nobody spills on them and no awkward handing back and forth of giant books or laminated pages.
  • I missed eating out, but I will be happy to eat my own cooking when we get back to Maryland. (Me too. I like a good dinner out, but after 10 days of only eating out, and especially eating only at places that we really like, it will be good to have a few lighter home cooked meals.)
  • I now remember why I don’t want to live here: I shouldn’t have to wear pants on the first day of summer! (It was so cold that I needed a jacket last night; wish I had brought one.)

From here, we fly to Houston to see my middle brother and his family. I bet it will be a little warmer there.

Kickoff to Travel Season

We mentioned that we were going to New York for Steven’s 40th (plus 20) birthday. Well, things didn’t turn out exactly the way we planned, but do they ever?

We took the long way to New York, via Mechanicsburg, PA, because my amazing, wonderful mother-in-law (OMG! She is such a suck up!) was in Maryland for Steven’s family birthday dinner. We were excited she was able to make it and didn’t mind the extra leg at all.

Now, let’s get to the weather. Memorial Day weekend? It was more like Thanksgiving weekend. Rain, drizzle, damp, cold and guess who forgot her raincoat. Sigh. When we are in NY, we tend to wander. Overprepared Steven had two warm jackets (and a raincoat that he gallantly gave to his wife), so I borrowed one and we braved the weather.

We stayed in Chinatown at Hotel 50 Bowery (I will leave the hotel review for another day) at the base of the Manhattan Bridge, so Friday night we ate at Shanghai Asian Cuisine. You have to have soup dumplings at least once or Steven does since they are meat-filled. Like most restaurants in Chinatown, don’t expect fancy, but do expect delicious, plentiful food. We were not disappointed. Everyone in Chinatown is still wearing masks. Restaurants have set up outdoor booths in the street (yes in the street, which if you know anything about Chinatown, you know are barely wide enough for cars as it is), some conveniently covered, and they take your temperature before you sit. There is plexiglass, plastic or a shower curtain between every table.

After dinner, we went to the Basement, which bills itself as a carnival-themed speakeasy, but was really just a bar with a nice atmosphere and delicious cocktails. We definitely skewed the age curve (most people were younger than my clothes). No temperature-taking, no separations between tables, just masks while walking around.

Saturday we wandered to REI to rectify my lack of rainwear. As luck would have it, they were having their annual sale. Rain jacket 30% off. Perfect. Steven got a couple of shirts and we may have purchased a stuffed bear for a certain small someone. Next, pizza for lunch, of course, followed by more wandering. That night, we had a wonderful Italian dinner with Uncle David and Aunt Marcella, who are always gracious when we are in town. We always enjoy the evening with them.

Citi Field. We will get there some day

Sunday, we hit another Chinatown spot for lunch, Deluxe Green Bo. Steven’s favorite part was that when we checked our temperatures, the results were spoken in an Australian accent. Afer lunch we went to the Guggenheim. Maybe we are old and cranky (and we were soaked because it was still raining), but they had an exhibit that was basically a long podcast, which we felt we didn’t have to shlep up- and crosstown to hear. We did mostly enjoy it, however. It’s just a pleasure to be able to go to a museum at all (masks required). All day we checked and rechecked the weather because we had tickets to the Mets-Braves game. Neither of us have never been to Citifield. I know, crazy, right! Alas, it wasn’t to be. We had pretty much decided not to go since it was cold and rainy, but at least we lucked out in that the game was postponed so we didn’t waste money on the tickets. Instead, we had a birthday dinner for Steven at The Warren in the West Village. The food and drink were spot-on. It’s clear that restaurants are still trying to adjust to people being able to go out as the service was a bit slow, but we were enjoying ourselves and in no hurry. I would recommend it. (Best part…the dessert arrived before the hostess could arrange for a candle, so she brought the candle separately lit it and held it while I blew it out.)

Happily for Steven, Monday’s weather was beautiful. Sadly for me, that meant I had to go to a Yankees game. I know I am biased, but the stadium did not impress and the food was typical 1970s stadium fare. Boooooo! BTW, the Yankees lost to Tampa 3-1 and I wore my Mets hat the whole time. Steven took the loss in stride as always. What a good sport. The game was over by 4 and we hit the road for the 3 1/2 hour uneventful drive home.

Oh, I almost forgot to mention: On Friday, I got an email from my friend (the one who got us thinking about our crazy adventures by telling us it was cheap to live in Burgundy) saying that she has a friend who needs an apartment-sitter for August in Paris. Um, YES! So, instead of leaving for France on August 30, we are leaving on July 27 and spending a month in the 16th arrondissement and environs. Paris nous voilà!

I will leave the verdict on the birthday weekend up to Steven, but I think it was a smashing success! (I absolutely agree, especially since I did not have to endure the Mets game!)

Packing (Extra) Light

As our faithful readers know (thank you, Judie), we are heading out on a grand adventure. So many details to consider and what feels like so little time. I let Steven do most of the thought-spinning since he is so good at it, especially in the middle of the night (I practice two hours a night every night, whether I need it or not). But I am not completely immune. Mostly I am really excited and am trying not to look past the summer, which is going to be a lot of fun amid the packing the house up again.

And speaking of packing (like that segue? Smooth, huh? My wife has the smoothest of moves!), I have been puzzling over what to pack. The weather will be what I consider warmish fall (high 50s to maybe 70), so no winter coat. BUT, then we fly directly back to Chicago in November, so winter coat for me for sure. Hey Chicago friends, want to lend me a winter coat (and a hat, gloves, mittens, long underwear and hand and foot warmers)?

The chart below shows what we’re trying to avoid. We will probably end up paying $100 for a third bag between the two of us … but maybe not. Look at all the money the corporate jackals are making off your inability to wear the same shoes two days in a row!

Infographic: The U.S. Airlines Cashing In The Most On Baggage Fees | Statista You will find more infographics at Statista

I have read many travel blogs and websites on tips for packing light. They pretty much all come down to this: Wear the same clothes over and over, wear your hiking boots instead of packing them (and its corollary: No more than three pairs of shoes) and hope your hotel/AirBnB/host has toiletries. If you must bring cold weather gear, buy backpacking-friendly, lightweight clothes. Remember the limit is, 22 kilos, which is less than 50 pounds. Jeans are heavy, sweaters are bulky, packing cubes give you space to pack more weight, so they’re not good.

Luckily, I’m not a fashion snob, so I’m OK with a few pairs of hiking pants, one pair of jeans and a semi-decent dress (I prefer her indecent dresses) just in case. Or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. We will be putting the clothes in the front of the storage unit so we can refresh before heading to Morocco after our Thanksgiving in the States. That gives us a bit of wiggle room if we find we have packed all wrong (or because I will be bored with my five shirts).

My current clothing packing list looks like this:

  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 5 bras (including jog bra)
  • 5 pairs of socks
  • 1 pair of running shoes that doubles as an everyday shoe
  • 1 decent pair of shoes just in case
  • 1 pair of jeans
  • 3 pairs of convertible hiking pants
  • 1 pair of Under Armour in case the hiking pants are too light and to double as pjs if it’s chilly
  • 5 cotton, long sleeve shirts
  • 1 sweater
  • 1 sweatshirt
  • 1 sleep shirt

I will need some contact lenses and a few other toiletry items, but they have pharmacies in France.

So, that’s kind of what I’m telling Steven but … I really have a secret plan. (I guess the concept of a secret from Steven eludes her since she is writing it in the blog.) I know he will read this blog, but I am counting on his failing memory. I am going to bring an empty suitcase and buy everything I need in France and Morocco. Let’s face it, it’s not the best to stand out as an American. It’s going to be tough enough with my two months of Duolingo French (Je habite à Clamecy; Je parle français un peu), I don’t need my wardrobe to make it worse. Besides, I plan on working maybe 20 hours a week, unless I get ambitious, so I have to find something to fill my time. Vintage shopping sounds like a great way to kill some time and practice my French.

Any suggestions? All are welcome.

Imposing on Family

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Bye bye New York. Hope to see you soon.

Our last night in New York, I surprised Steven with tickets to Stephen Colbert. We weren’t sure we would get in because we got general admission tickets, not the priority ones, but after luckily standing outside under the overhang for “West Side Story,” since it was raining, we got the coveted wristband. So did a man who had been waiting with us—an actor who plays Vincent Van Gogh in a one-man play by Leonard Nimoy (who also lives right near my daughter in LA). Yes, he did look like him, but no, he was not missing an ear.  A bomb-sniffing dog and metal detector later (How is it that I always manage to be in the line where the person in front of me doesn’t understand how a metal detector works and so needs 4-5 tries to get through it??), we were in the last row at the Ed Sullivan Theater waiting for Colbert.

Aside from the warm-up comedian, Paul Mercurio, who was funny in a get-the-audience-jazzed way, and a round of “Tequila” from John Batiste and Stay Human (who, btw, are really good as far as my untrained ear can tell), the man himself appeared. The show featured Anthony Mackie and Susan Glasser. Mackie was fun and interesting (although he and Colbert spent some time talking in the foreign language of fishing), and Glasser (who writes for the New Yorker about the Washington political scene if you were too lazy to follow the hyperlink) had thoughtful ideas about politics, which we try to not to mention here lest this blog becomes a rant.

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Introducing? I thought NYC was ahead the curve on everything.

After the show, it felt really late. We are used to watching the monologue and Meanwhile and then going to sleep, old people that we are. But, it was really not even 7 p.m. So we walked back toward the hotel and decided that since it was taco Tuesday,  we would indulge. We went to Dos Caminos, because it was around the corner from the hotel. We didn’t realize it is part of a huge restaurant chain (which we tend to try and avoid so we can have a local experience), but it was good and the tequila list was extensive.

We said goodbye to New York on Wednesday and took the Amtrak train up to Boston. I figure with the airport transportation to and from and the waiting etc., the train is an even swap for a flight and it’s more comfortable. (free wifi and more space between the seats made it easy for me to work during the trip- YAY?)

Our lovely niece picked us up at the train and we just hung out with Steven’s brother and caught up.

Steven was working all day Thursday (remember, this is a working vacation) so I worked, too. (I did manage to have lunch with an old friend who lives here and I made sure that we went to a restaurant where I had my choice of MEAT as my brother, his family and Sue are all vegetarians so I am terribly outnumbered.) I did get in a long walk along a path nearby. I forgot the New England look so it a nostalgic few miles for me as I looked at the grand houses, pine trees, and stream. Oh, plus the high school kids practicing lacrosse.

Last Full Day: I Don’t Want to Go Home

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Delicious breakfast at Hotel Casa Blanca

We woke up after a good night’s sleep for Steven, finally. I always sleep well, but this is a big deal especially with his muscles aching. Our hotel comes with breakfast, so I ran down to get coffee. The staff is so kind. The waiter/all-around helper, Coca, brought the coffee upstairs for me on a tray.

When we were ready, we went outside and had a delicious, French-inspired breakfast while taking in the view of the Pacific and a big iguana. Ah, this is the life. Oh wait, I meant Pura Vida!

 

We took a long walk on the beach and ended up at an outdoor market/Chicagoesque summer fair. We don’t really need any souvenirs since we already have Costa Rica fridge magnets from our last trip, but we did get some coffee and chocolate grown and made by an American who is from the original hippy generation. A vegan who, with his wife, grows cacao and spices that the sell in the market. He did tell us how not eating dairy wouldn’t show right away, but it would pay off in the long run. He proudly announced that he was 72. I didn’t want to say anything, but I would have guessed 75. So much for veganism when you have spent 40 years in the sun.

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Water apples

We also bought a couple of water apples, which I had never heard of, but which have the texture of an apple but a more subtle flavor and one big pit in the center.

We were chilling on the deck, when we heard that Guiselle and Karl wanted to come over. Excellent! We hung out by the ocean and then luxuriated by the pool before they got hungry. We ended up at Wine & Soul. a wine and tapas bar that was just opening. It seems like lunch places close by 3, but dinner places don’t really open until 5, and we were in that in-between time. We got their just as it was opening, but we didn’t mind waiting. The owner, from Normandy, was very kind and we had a delicious lunch and bottle of Pinot Grigio. Plus, we saw monkeys! First time this trip. After saying goodbye and thanks again to our fabulous hosts, we lounged so more and got ready for dinner. We went to the tiny restaurant Steven mentioned yesterday, Antichi Sapori, where we had delicious plates of gnocchi and were served by the very enthusiastic and very busy owner, who hails from Sicily. His wife does all the cooking and they work nonstop during high season and then return to Sicily to recharge.

We are sad to be heading back to the snow (Sue is sad, I am on the verge of “accidentally” missing the plane and just staying here until the next one leaves… in May).

As an aside: We are not surprised to learn that Tamarindo’s knickname is Tamagringo. As I said yesterday, this is the English-speaking capital of Costa Rica. Beautiful, but very touristy.

Work Day on the Beach

20200206_181324It’s a tough life when you have to work in the sunshine while looking at palm trees, but that is what we did day. That is until about 5 p.m. when we decided it was time to walk on the beach and have an Imperial while we watched the sunset. I am Steven’s driver and nurse, but it’s really not a bad gig. He is only a semi-whiny patient and I am adding up all he owes me while I am the patient, caring wife.

If you think it’s difficult to work when the tropical beauty is calling,  it is. But then you realize you are lucky because you have jobs that allow you to work in the tropical beauty instead of at home where it has just snowed about 6 inches.

Steven is doing much better. He has run out of the good meds (read pain killers) and started taking Advil BUT, he was definitely keen on my running to the farmacia for more muscle relaxants. Did you know you can get muscle relaxants over-the-counter in Costa Rica? Maybe I should have asked for the opiods. Ha. No way. I just read “Dreamland” by Sam Quinones about the opiod and heroin epidemic. You can, however, just ask for the muscle relaxants .(Conrelax anyone? I don’t know what’s in it, but Steven’s aching muscles seem to like it a lot.)

We went back to the beach where we walked yesterday, because why not? It’s convenient, the parking is easy and free, and we can sit at Las Brisas, have a beer in the shade and just chill. I can’t comment on the food, but the chips were crispy and the company was good 🙂

Karl had also warned us about the “watchy” or “watchee” (or “watchie”) who is the guy who tells you where to park and then offers to watch your car so nothing terrible happens like an accidental break-in. The watchee (my preferred spelling) came out after we had parked a few meters away and I waved him off. Oddly, the car was parked just where we left it and was unmolested.

Dogs, Scorpions, Snakes, Sting Rays … and a Brew or Two: Day 4

Image result for scorpion"Before we arrived, Karl had already warned us that maybe we didn’t want to get out of our car when we got to the apartment. Instead, he suggested, we should honk and he would come out to help us because “there are a couple of dogs that may menace you.” OK. Mandy, the maybe part pit bull, seems fine. She hasn’t bothered us at all, except to sniff my hand and turn up her nose.

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Wild animal encounter: El gato Tom

Next warning was about shaking out our towels, clothes and shoes to make sure scorpions didn’t attack. Karl was stung by a scorpion that had crawled into the apartment and settled next to his foot. When he moved, bam, scorpion sting! Very painful, but not dangerous. With his quick wits, Karl grabbed the chair he had been sitting on and crushed that scorpion. Don’t mess with Karl! Or at least, don’t sting him in his own home.

Third, after we had walked along the side of the road (no, there aren’t any sidewalks, don’t be silly), Karl said, “You have to watch out for snakes by the sides of the road.” OK, well, at least there was no story about poisonous snake bites and so far, we haven’t seen scorpion nor snake.

File:Southern stingray.jpgFinally, Karl warned us that if we wanted to go into the ocean, we should drag our feet across the ocean floor. Walking in the ocean is dangerous! Muy peligroso! If we picked up our feet, we might step on a sting ray, and uh oh. Another big ouchie.

The one thing Karl neglected to warn us about was body-slamming waves. Karl!

Now on to the fun stuff:

The good news is that Steven is feeling better (with the aid of painkillers). He can move around as well as an aged grandpa (which is almost is) and he smells like menthol, too. It’s probably because his lovely wife has given him several massages. I swear, his back muscles are like fossilized rope. Yucky.

Today, we went on an outing for lunch in Potrero. There is a brewery, Cerveceria Independiente, with a kind of outdoor food court next door.  Steven treated himself to two cervezas (don’t tell Dr. Oscar). We both had burritos and we shared yucca fries. Those things are good! Way better than papas fritas. It was a hotbed of English. The couple who own the brewery are a Californian and a Texan, the customers all seemed to be English. Hey, I am trying to learn Spanish! I mean: Estoy entendando aprender español.

Day 1: Costa Rica, part II

After taking a 6:30 a.m. flight, we arrived in Liberia, Costa Rica, at 11:30 a.m. You gotta love a country where the immigration people ask you for the address of where you are staying and you say, “No sé, In Playa Flamingo next to the Super Massai,” and he says, “Good enough. That’s an address here.”

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Guiselle, Karl, Steven, Me

The first thing we did after getting through that grueling interrogation was hit the bathroom to change into shorts. Bye bye jeans for nine days! Customs was just as tough. The luggage went through the x-ray machine in 10 seconds and next thing we knew we were at the Budget rental car.

By 1:30 p.m., we were with Karl and Guiselle in Playa Flamingo, Guanacaste, and then we were walking on Playa Potrero. We had a delicious dinner at home, talked until we couldn’t stay awake and ended the day happy and exhausted.

We are a day behind. Stay tuned for Sunday’s adventure …

Obsessed with Lodgings in Italy

Image result for italian villa

I don’t know why I get this way, but now that I know we are going to Italy, I am obsessed with finding just the right places to stay at just the right prices. I know. We have five months! Maybe I am a little crazy when it comes to travel, especially with my niece or nephew, but I want to make sure everything is perfect, I don’t break the bank, and we don’t miss out on a great place to stay because I was disorganized.

As I have mentioned, I prefer Airbnb because we can get two bedrooms (teens need their privacy and alone time), a lounging space, and a kitchen for about the same price I would pay for a single hotel room.

Here’s how I search:

  1. Just as in buying real estate, I go for location, location, location. The first thing I do is research neighborhoods. I am not that picky since every area as something to offer and it will all be exciting and new to me. I prefer to be a bit off the beaten track in a neighborhood where real people live. That’s another benefit of Airbnb. It does mean that it takes a little longer to get to the top tourist sites, but that is a trade I gladly make.
  2. Price. To trick myself into not getting big eyes, I put this filter on immediately. I don’t want to know what I can have for $300 a night, because I am not going to be able to have it. Make sure you look at the total and not the per night price. People set all kinds of cleaning and service fees that can make one place look cheaper up front, but really be more expensive.
  3. Amenities. We need WiFi. Sorry, but this is the modern world, we don’t speak the language, and we are leaving loved ones home. Plus, how would I post the blog? We also want a well-equipped kitchen. I don’t need to eat three meals a day in restaurants. Sometimes you just want to bring a sandwich with you. Then, I think about specifics. I want air conditioning in case of an Italian heat wave. Convenience of public transport is also key since I am almost certain I will not rent a car no matter how enticing driving the narrow, winding roads of Italy seems. Check the list of amenities! I saw one where a visitor said the oven wasn’t working. The owner replied that he should have checked the listing more carefully because the oven was not included in the price although it was pictured. What? Also, make sure the price includes linens and towels, unless you are bringing your own.
  4. Reviews. Yes I read them, using Steven’s rules. Throw out the gushiest and the worst and see what’s left. There’s always one complainer, but if many people mention that the bed was lumpy, it probably is.
  5. Check the specifics. What are the check-in and check-out times? Are they flexible if you have flights that don’t coincide? What is the
  6. Agonize, search a dozen times, make a decision and forget about all the other places you looked at. Let’s face it: We’re going to have a great time whether we stay a few blocks to the east or west, or even 20 minutes by bus. Everything is an adventure when I travel.

 

Travels with My Niece

A few years ago, for her bat mitzvah, I took my niece to Paris. She picked the spot and I am lucky enough to have friends who live there, so we had a homey Parisian extravaganza. Now, with high school graduation just around the corner (wow, that was fast!) we are planning our next trip. Once she got into the college of her choice (!), she was able to pin down a spot: Italy. So right after graduation in May, off we go.

I have only been to northern Italy and that was in a different life, so I am figuring it is a hit-the-hot-spots tour. We already have plane tickets to Rome and back. I have learned from Steven, so I have a spreadsheet with three different itineraries to show my niece. They are basically Rome, Florence, Venice, and sometimes Sorrento/Capri. I am leaning toward a long day trip to Venice from a base in Florence, but Aunt Susie will do whatever her niece prefers.

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Yes to the Trevi Fountain. When in Rome, be total tourists!

When I travel with my niece or nephew (and mostly with Steven, too), I prefer an AirBnB because we can each have our own space and stock up on snacks or breakfast. I get that Americans are spoiled, but I am trying to avoid the places that have a sofa bed as a second bed. I don’t want to sleep on that, and I’m not going to ask anyone else to either. I will write another post on how I go about choosing AirBnBs, but for now: no sofa beds!

Maybe I am weird, but Rome has never been at the top of my list. Now that I know I am going, I am excited. Plus, I grew up in New York, so crowded, loud, frenetic, a little grimy (this was New York before it was invaded by Disney) mixed into my culture don’t bother me. In fact, I like it that way. It’s homey. All suggestions on what we can’t miss are welcome.

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Venice: See it before it sinks

Florence is one of Steven’s favorite cities, so seeing it without him is a little sad, but I am sure that if we went back, there’d be plenty more to see and do. My niece has her heart set on Venice, a place I would skip, but once again, Aunt Susie will do whatever her niece desires. I think we will both enjoy Sorrento and a ferry ride to Capri. I would like to go to Pompei, and while it’s not the top of my niece’s list, I’m sure she will endure.

Oh yes, we might do a little shopping and partaking of the local cuisine.