Saturday, March 31, 2018

Ciao Venezia!

DAY 1:

As much fun as we had in Paris, it was time to bid adieu. We boarded a plane on Saturday morning and arrived in Venice in the mid afternoon. From there, we boarded a water taxi toward Fondamente Nove. Our hotel was a short walk from the dock, but nonetheless, it was a daunting one with cobblestone roads and plenty of stairs to trek through. Sure enough, we made it to our hotel in one piece.

Riding the water bus over to Venice.

First glimpse on the island of Venice.

First thing's first: Food!

After non-intentionally fasting for the first half of the day, it was time to eat. After scrolling through a couple of my friend's recommendations and arriving to these busy restaurants, we were feeling pretty hungry and out of immediate options. Nearly giving up, we were ready to pick the first available option. My mom somehow came across Farini, a local (and from what we would later learn on a second undoubtably popular) pizzeria in Venice. We didn't know it at the time because we had come during an odd hour, but we'd soon find out the popularity the next day when we tried to come back!

On our first night there, we ordered an eggplant parmigiano, a house salad, and a couple slices of pizza. Wow. The pizza did not disappoint. The crust was crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Everything was made to taste, and we were so impressed. It was the best pizza we had ever had in Italy...I mean it. We had pizza in different cities, but I will say it now that Venice had the best pizza in Italy. Seriously. If you're ever in Venice, go check it out and let me know what you think!

After dinner, we got some gelato at Grom and bought some cookies and sweets at a local shop before retreating back to our hotel. I would later from my friend that there was in fact, an even better gelato shop on the island. More about that in just a little bit.

Pending my brother's arrival to Venice, my parents decided to stay back at the hotel and wait from him. I ended up heading out with a friend to explore the city. We walked around the city where we'd share stories and stop by some popular attractions in Venice. I'm pretty sure I walked across the Rialto Bridge at least half a dozen times that night, which I think is hilarious. I loved seeing St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) with no tourists. It was really peaceful and calm. Overall, an evening walk around the city was a nice way to spend Saturday evening.

DAY 2:

We got up early to head over to St. Mark's Square (Piazza San Marco) for Palm Sunday. After spending much of the morning there, we headed back to Farini for lunch. The line was literally out of the door. We somehow managed to grab a table, which was nothing short of a pizza miracle.

Following lunch, we grabbed some candy at a local shop. They had the best cappuccino chocolate covered almonds I've ever had. No other candy on the island compares! With our hands fully loaded with sweets, we were well on our way to visit the giant hands sculpture on the Venice Grand Canal. It was so surreal to see Lorenzo Quinn's artwork in person. For those of you not familiar with the piece, it is a giant white sculpture of hands rising out from the Venice Grand Canal. The artwork was created to illustrate effects of climate change. 

As somebody who was highly involved in the UNEP and UNDP committees when I was in the Model United Nations program in high school, this is a really important piece of artwork for me. For three years, I had studied and represented different countries in regards to climate change. I'll spare you the details, but I do believe that climate change and global warming is very real.

After spending much of our day on the main island, it was time to go explore Burano. We took a 40-minute water bus to the nearby island where we were met by a colorful array of homes and miniature canals. That was probably the highlight of Venice for me. We saw a leaning bell tower on the island, which at first I couldn't believe until my mom and brother confirmed it. Of course, everyone else on my Instagram poll seemed to think so as well. Thanks to everyone who voted! 

Since the island was quite small, we stayed there for a little over an hour until sunset. There on the water bus back to Venice, I had witnessed one of the most beautiful European sunsets that I had ever seen. It was a mental tug of war whether Cabo da Roca in Portugal or whether Venice had the best sunset. To me, it's like comparing apples to oranges. They're both winners in my eyes. The Venice sunset reflected upon the water which made it turn this beautiful coral color that I'll never forget. Augh, I love Venice.

For dinner, we went to Ae Do Spade where we dined on calamari, prawn spaghetti, and clam spaghetti. The prawn spaghetti was a family favorite. Probably my favorite spaghetti in Italy. Afterwards, we headed to Suso for gelato. Wow. Their "Manet" gelato comprised of pistachio al sale and gianduia was so creamy and amazing. My family really enjoyed dinner and dessert on this night. Special thanks to my friend, Nicola, for sending me all of these amazing recommendations!

Prawn Spaghetti

Manet Gelato: Pistacio Al Sale and Gianduia

Overall, Venice was a beautiful and amazing experience. I loved traveling through the narrow yet colorful streets. Not to spoil the rest of the upcoming blog posts, but I think that Venice is by far my favorite city in Italy. No other location compares to the uniqueness of the architecture and the pedestrian friendly streets. I will absolutely come back one day. 

Next up on the blog: Florence! Stay tuned for more stories to come. If you have any questions or would like to leave me a comment, feel free to tweet or message me on Instagram or Twitter @Tran_gerine.

Until next time!




Happy 128th birthday to the Eiffel Tower! It was on this very day (March 31st) that the Eiffel Tower first opened. There's nothing more fitting than a post to commemorate the special day, right?

The park across from the Eiffel Tower.

Last night, I returned to Los Angeles after flying 13.5 hours from Rome. I feel a little bit jet lagged, but nonetheless, it feels good to be home. After traveling for 10 days, visiting 5 cities, walking 88.7 miles, and capturing 3,231 photos, I have a lot of stories to share from my trip. With that said, I will be breaking up my trip into 5 posts, one post for each city.

Flying over the Swiss Alps.

First up: Paris, France!

After a full day at work and two plane changes in Zurich and Rome, we finally arrived in Paris, France on Wednesday, March 21st. Accompanied by my parents on their very first trip to Europe, it was great to finally take a family trip after a two year hiatus. My sister and I surprised my parents with an all expense paid stay at Hotel Raphael on Avenue Kléber as part of their Christmas present. A beautiful and historical hotel built in 1925, it once hosted Hollywood elite such as Marlon Brando, Grace Kelly, Clark Gable, Ava Gardner, and more. The unpretentious classic Parisian interior design and the rooftop views of the Eiffel Tower and Arc de Triomphe made this hotel an easy choice for our stay in Paris.

Hotel Raphael main lobby

DAY 1:

Our first full day in Paris was quite a busy one. With overcast skies and chilly weather on our hands, we bundled up before heading out to grab a quick breakfast at a local cafe before heading off to check off the sights. I enjoyed a quiche, pasteis de nata, and an espresso for breakfast while my parents enjoyed some breakfast croissants with espresso.

Quick note: Due to the citywide public strikes, we had to modify a few of our activities due to delayed openings and limited transportation services.

First up, we headed to the Arc de Triomphe to check out the aerial views of the city. Unfortunately, it experienced a delayed opening on the day of our visit, so we came to check out the exterior of the structure before heading off to the Eiffel Tower.

After about a 20-minute walk, we arrived. It was a surreal experience being able to see it close up. It was smaller than I imagined it to be, but it was nonetheless a great iconic structure to witness.

Next up: Musée du Louvre

I had been looking forward to this forever. I heard great things about this museum from friends and of course the internet. Seeing that I knew I needed at least a few hours inside, I didn't plan our itinerary for much else aside from dinner. My parents really enjoyed taking fun photos outside, posing as statues in front of the glass pyramid. It was quite cute and funny at the same time. God bless them. Haha.

In total, we spent between three to four hours inside. It was there that I found my favorite painting in the entire museum called, "La Jeune Martyre" (which translates to "The Young Martyr") by the French painter, Paul Delaroche.

"La Jeune Martyre" Paul Delaroche 1855

Of course, no visit to the Louvre would be complete without a quick visit to the Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci. I think I was more captivated by the crowd more than anything else of people trying to get a photo of the painting. It was quite comical to see, and it definitely made my day.

Crowd trying to get a picture of the Mona Lisa. Hilarious!

Roaming around the Louvre sure built up quite the appetite. After the museum, we enjoyed a late lunch at Comptoir de la Gastronomie, a popular local French eatery. There, we enjoyed some red wine with foie gras and seared duck. No lie, I was a little bit scared of the medium rare seared duck breast because it was semi-bleeding inside, but nonetheless, the server assured us that it was safe to eat. The meat was quite tender, but nonetheless a very unfamiliar and foreign dish to us. I'm not going to lie...I had to use Google to make sure that undercooked duck was safe to eat, because I know you can't do that same for chicken. Haha.

Foie Gras

Seared Medium Rare Duck Breast

After lunch, we headed to the Notre Dame Cathedral for some more sightseeing. They were holding a mass inside which was cool to see among all of the beautiful artwork and architecture inside. The arches of the cathedral really intrigued me. I can't believe an infrastructure like that has stood the test of time and aging.

Next, we headed to Shakespeare & Company, a small but popular independent bookstore in Paris. I'll be honest. I've been to a lot of wonderful bookstores in my time, and this by far was the most charming. Newer books were displayed in the front of the store, while older and more vintage collections were stored towards the back and upstairs portion of the store. I liked this bookstore more than Powell's in Portland. They had a piano player upstairs, a typewriting station to jot down your thoughts, and an in-house cat napping on the couch. No pictures were allowed inside, so I'm going to let you use your imagination and go see it for yourself the next time you're in Paris.

For dinner, we had a nice quiet evening at Le Train Bleu, an old restaurant situated in the train station of Paris. The interior was very opulent and traditional of French design. Look it up. It's gorgeous! My photos didn't turn out very well, so I recommend you look it up online. At the restaurant, we enjoyed some seared salmon, red wine, and giant chocolate Profiteroles served with vanilla ice cream and hot chocolate served fresh on top. The server liked us so much, he gave us an extra serving (we got 5 in total)! I think that was the best dessert that we had in Paris.

 Not the best quality photo, but the best dessert we had in Paris.

By the end of the day, we had logged in 12.3 miles of walking around the city and were quite exhausted. It was a full but nonetheless extremely memorable day in Paris.

DAY 2:

The second day in Paris was a lot more mellow than the first. A rainy day, we decided to take it easy in the city. For breakfast, we went to Carrette, a popular brunch spot in Paris. It was there that we enjoyed some berry crepes, baguettes, and chive scrambled eggs for breakfast topped off with some espresso. The crepe was light and delicious. I don't usually eat crepes all that often, but I really liked this one a lot. I didn't need to add anything to it which was great.

Following breakfast, we went to the Palace of Versailles. This is going to sound really lame, but totally finished the first two seasons of the Netflix series, Versailles, before I came. Personally, I enjoyed it, and it helped me to understand a little bit more of King Louis XIV's reign. The line to enter the palace was extremely long, even for online ticket holders like us. It took about 45-minutes to get inside.

Once inside the palace walls, we travelled through all of the different rooms with the mass of tourists trying to get a shot of everything. Because it was so crowded, I didn't really take a lot of pictures inside. The only room that really grabbed my attention was the Hall of Mirrors. That was my favorite part of the palace. On the other hand, my parents enjoyed the estate gardens much more. It was really cute seeing my dad and mom walking under the umbrella in the rain. Quite a cute and romantic gesture if you ask me.

After visiting Versailles, we headed back to Paris where we visited Opéra Garnier, also known as the Paris Opera House. It was the setting for Gaston Leroy's 1910 novel, The Phantom of the Opera. Of all of the book to theater adaptations, The Phantom of the Opera is by far my favorite. I cry every time I see it on broadway. Coming here was a very special and awing experience.

Following our visit to the opera house, we decided to give to give the Arc de Triomphe one more chance. Sure enough, it was open and we were admitted inside. The climb to the very top was extremely tiring (284 steps in total), but the views were definitely worth it. It was a gloomy and dark day in Paris with on and off rain, but nonetheless, it offered the best aerial views of the Eiffel Tower and the city.

For dinner, we ate at Les Cocottes, where we dined on lobster ravioli and seared sea bass. The fish was excellent. I can't recommend it enough. We tried to order more, but they ran out of fish! The ice cream for dessert was kind of a let down though. For €9 for a small scoop of vanilla and mango ice cream, the taste and portion of the serving did not justify the price. The gelato in Italy was way better and more affordable...but I'll save that for the upcoming post.

To top off the night, we enjoyed the nightly views of the lit Eiffel Tower followed by a quick trip to Ladurée Paris. There, we enjoyed pistachio, blackberry (my favorite), raspberry, and cafe flavored macarons. I hate to admit it, but as a skeptic of hyped up things, this experience did not disappoint. The macarons were actually better than the ones in Ladurée New York in my opinion. I don't care what anyone says...haha. I think that they are better!

...and just like that. Our three night, two day stay in Paris was over. It went by so fast, but we enjoyed ourselves. I still can't believe we did nearly everything on the itinerary. The only thing that we missed was a trip to Montmarte, but I'll save that city for another visit. My mom also somehow had a 20-minute with our Uber driver who only spoke French one evening which triggered the biggest look of confusion and shock on my face. It was really funny. I low key loved watching my parents trying to speak French. The first time I heard them try to speak French, I thought to myself, "Where did they learn that??" Augh, parents and their surprises...

Before I go, I just wanted to share one funny thing about Paris and Italy. Every time somebody would ask me for my name, I'd say, "Melissa" (pronounced MUH-LIH-SUH in English), and nobody would understand. This happened to me at restaurants, tourist attractions, and on the street. However, when I said, "MEH-LEE-SUH" or "MEH-LEE-SAH", I'd get an "Ahhh" response every single time. It was really funny and cute at the same time. I hope you enjoyed part one of my European adventure. Stay tuned for part two: Venice!

For those of you wondering, I shot my photos on a Fujifilm X-T20 versus my usual Canon or Sony cameras. As a new user, I faced several challenges trying to find the menus and dials to adjust the settings. Aside from those minor things, and the heaviness of the lens, I was very happy with how my photos turned out.

If you have any questions, feel free to leave me a comment via Instagram or Twitter @Tran_gerine.  

Until next time!