Traveling by train is one of my favorite ways to get around in Europe. So I’m very excited to announce that April 2nd, France launched a new budget high-speed train service, which will be run by the national rail company, SNCF. It’s called Ouigo.
Get it – ‘we go’. Pretty clever, huh?
Since Ouigo is aimed at budget travelers, services are considered bare bones, with no bar cart, no food available on board and a one-bag restriction. In similar fashion to the budget airlines, you can bring an additional bag if booked in advance for €5, or if you wait until boarding time, that fee becomes €40. Additional fees apply for things like booking by phone, ticket changes and getting a seat near an outlet.
But one good thing – speed won’t be sacrificed. Ouigo trains will offer the same travel times as the traditional TGV high-speed trains.
This may not be the most convenient option for those heading to Paris, as the Ouigo station is located in the suburbs, near Disneyland Paris. However, for those on a budget, a trip from Paris to the Mediterranean coast can cost at little at €10, which is worth be the slight inconvenience of getting to Paris’s city center via another RER train.
Traveling to cities like Lyon, Marseille and Montpellier should be a bit easier as those stations are a bit more central, but still located on the outskirts, which keeps costs down. Other stations include Nimes, Valance, Avignon and Aix-en-Provence – making it a great way to access many great locations in the South of France to explore both the Provence and Languedoc-Roussillon regions.
You can book tickets by visiting the Ouigo website here (in French). At least one reservation page seems to be in English, so perhaps an English version is in the works. They certainly aren’t winning any awards here for user-friendly website design, but what do we expect for such bargain prices?
So what do you think? Will you Ouigo?
For some, it’s a rare, delicious treat to have homemade pasta. It’s not that hard to make, in fact I’ve shown you how to make homemade pasta before. But if you don’t have the time or desire to make your own, I’ve got the perfect alternative if you live in (or are traveling to) New York City. It’s about as close to homemade as you can get.
Raffetto’s has been a Greenwich Village staple for over 100 years. In 1906, Marcello Raffetto set up his pasta shop on West Houston and four generations later, the business is still going strong.
I can’t even begin to describe everything on offer. All pasta is made in-house and is often still cut on their original guillotine machine, which is by now an antique.
Fresh pasta is cut-to-order by noodle-thickness from angel hair to pappardelle and everything in between. Even lasagna and manicotti. About twenty pasta flavors from the most basic egg and whole wheat share the board with more creative squid ink, chestnut and chocolate selections.
And ravioli? Yeah, they got em. Filled with everything from cheese, spinach, pumpkin to truffles or walnut gorgonzola, a personal favorite.
Need sauces too? They’ve got you covered with traditional tomato basil, pesto, Alfredo or Bolognese. Like it hot and spicy – try the arrabbiata.
They even have vintage wooden apothecary-style drawers behind the counter, full of every type of dried pasta imaginable.
And if that isn’t enough, add gnocchi, cavatelli, Italian cheeses, deli meats, a prepared food section and pantry staples like olive oil, anchovies, and spices to the mix. A virtual treasure trove of Italian food goodness.
Be forewarned – they only take cash – so bring plenty of it. And it’s not a restaurant, so don’t expect anyone waiting tables or serving food, everything is sold to take away.
So, if you find yourself short on time and craving an authentic Italian pasta dish for yourself or guests, pop on by and pick up all the fixings. Mix and match shapes, flavors and sauces to create the ultimate in pasta perfection. And if you want to pass it off as your own, pretending to have slaved all day over a hot stove, then who am I to judge? It’ll be our little secret.
144 West Houston Street
New York, NY 10012
Tues-Fri 9am-6:30pm ; Sat 9am-6pm
Almost every traveler wants to visit the iconic Eiffel Tower as part of their Paris travel plans. So it stands to reason that you’ll be fighting the crowds with the millions of other visitors who have come to enjoy it too.
No one wants to be herded like cattle or waste the better part of a day standing in line, no matter how awesome the view. Your vacation time is precious isn’t it?
But for those who must travel during peak season, here are a few simple Eiffel Tower tips which might get back half your day by avoiding waiting in line for hours.
Time your visit just right
The best time of day to visit is either very early morning or very late at night. It really depends on the view you want. So either get up early and get in line or wait until just before closing. Opening and closing times vary by season, so make sure you check before you go and then plan accordingly.
Take to the stairs
After waiting in line for tickets, if going up by elevator, you’ll wait in another line. There are four elevators – Nord, Sud, Ouest, Est, but there will only be one or two running at a given time – and it’s random. But did you know you can actually walk up as far as the second level?
It’s about 670 steps, but it can be done and the line for the stairs is much shorter. You can take your time climbing, stop to admire the views and snap photos others wouldn’t have access to. And let’s face it – it’s a great way to walk off all that delicious, rich French food you’ll be devouring. Go ahead and have that extra pain au raisin, you’ve earned it!
Maybe you don’t want to stop at just the second level and you really want to go to the top. Well, you can still walk up to the second level and then buy a ticket for the elevator to the top level. You’ll still skip the longer ground level elevator line, and be able to make it all the way up.
Dine in style
Another way to avoid the long lines of the tower is to reserve lunch or dinner at Le Jules Verne . They have their own dedicated lift, which of course would have practically no line. Just queue up for your reservation time and voila, you’ll be wisked up to the second floor. If you didn’t get enough of the lovely views during your one-of-a-kind dining experience, you can still get to the top by purchasing a ticket without having to go back to ground level and start over.
Prebook your tickets
The Eiffel Tower now allows you to buy tickets online. You select an assigned date and time, print your tickets and head right for the dedicated prebooked ticket line, thereby bypassing all other lines. Tickets are limited (and occassionally non-existent for certain days/times), so make sure you buy well in advance. The only downside to this is once you buy, you’re committed to the date and time, even if the weather isn’t optimal.
For opening and closing times, online tickets and more info visit the Official Eiffel Tower website.
Need help with your Paris vacation plans? Perhaps a travel consult would be a perfect fit.
Thousands of champagne corks will be popped this year as lovers the world over celebrate Valentine’s Day. But there’s another, more affordable, category of bubbly libations prefect for special occasions called sparkling wine. Throw in a kiss of pink or even ruby-red and you’ll have an even more festive option.
Since many of the best hail from France and Italy, I thought it would be fun to play wine cupid and recommend a few along with ideas for pairing. So grab your sweetie and a bottle, or three, of these effervescent sparkling wines, all under $20, and toast romance in style.
It’s no secret that eating my way through Italy is one of my favorite pastimes. And so far, the food in Rome hasn’t disappointed. Typically, I’m busy checking out wine bars, sampling authentic Roman pasta dishes like Cacio e Pepe or Pasta Carbonara or chowing down on Rome’s version of pizza to go, pizza al taglio.
But life can’t be all about pasta, pizza and wine can it? Who am I kidding, of course it can. But every now and then a girl gets a craving for sweet treats. I know exactly where to get coffee-infused refreshment on a hot day and now thankfully I have a pasticceria in Rome, where I can find wonderful Italian pastries.
Strolling through the Monti neighborhood , I came across a pastry shop called Ciuri Cuiri. I will readily admit, I’m a sucker for melodic names and cute logos. And much like an attractive wine label is often enough to lure me into sampling a new wine, what I saw on the facade had me skipping through the door.
I walked in and found a treasure trove of all things sweet and Italian. Cases overflowing with meticulously prepared mini Italian pastries, cakes, cookies, cannoli and other assorted tasty treats of the Sicilian kind, which makes sense because Cirui Ciuri translates to flower, flower in Sicilian dialect.
After drooling for what felt like hours, I finally decided to sample several bite-sized treats.
A mini cannolo, a ricotta-filled pastry, a pistachio truffle and a chocolate concoction also topped with pistachios.
Oh and how could I forget – they also have gelato, which of course I couldn’t resist.
Yes, I know what you’re thinking – that’s an awful lot of sugar and calories for one person. Keep in mind, I did have help gobbling it down and I did so much walking in Rome, that I’m sure it didn’t even register on the hips.
Next time you’ve had your fill of typical Roman fare, don’t forget to give into your Italian sweet tooth and stop by for a few delectable Sicilian treats.
via Leonina 18-20, Rome
With other locations in both Rome and Milan.
Are you a food lover heading to Rome? Perhaps you’d be interested in your own custom designed foodie adventure. Click here to find out more.
The key to packing light is to be able to think outside the box and find ways to lighten your load before you travel. Thanks to smartphone technology and trillions of available apps it’s easier than ever to replace some of the bulky or heavy gadgets you’re used to packing in your suitcase, with something that only takes up room on your device.
I’m not suggesting becoming a slave to technology on vacation, but there’s no denying that smartphones can definitely come in handy when trying to free up some precious space in your luggage. Whether you’re trying to pack everything in a carry-on bag, or you just want to save a few pennies on overweight bag fees, these packing tips will show you what items to ditch in favor of your smartphone.
photo by vernieman
1. Camera/Video Camera Everyone wants great vacation photos and special moments captured on video. But unless you’re a professional travel photographer, you don’t really need the big bulky camera with multiple lenses and full-size tripod do you? Smartphone cameras have come a long way and they actually take awesome photos – some even do panoramic shots. Take your photos with your smartphone, download apps like Camera+ or Vignette which have filters or attach an Olloclip (only for iPhone) to kick pics up a notch. And since many smartphones have video capability, you can leave the camcorder home too.
2. Flashlight. Many adventure travelers and especially single ladies traveling solo carry a flashlight. It just makes good sense, for safety. Rather than packing an actual flashlight – download a flashlight app on your phone.
3. Guidebooks. No denying those travel tomes are chock full of helpful information. And some even have pretty pictures. But they come at a price. Most reputable guidebook publishers now have downloadable versions that only take up space on your phone, not in your luggage. And that also makes them easier to cart around on a daily basis.
4. Translation Dictionary. Traveling to a foreign destination where you don’t speak the language? A translation dictionary is a must. Rather than packing one in book form, use the Google translation app. It even speaks the language, which no book can do and it translates 50 languages.
5. GPS. Sure you can rent a GPS when you rent a car, but I know many people who pull the one they own from their car at home, load it with maps and take it along on their vacation. Rather than doing that, just use Google Maps on your smartphone. Though maps and navigation aren’t available for every country, the list of countries covered is impressive.
6. Alarm Clock. Believe it or not, not all hotels will provide an alarm clock and many prefer to travel with their own travel version. Downloading one on your phone is a good alternative.
7. Journal. Who doesn’t enjoy taking notes and recording special moments in a travelogue to refer back to year after year? Rather than pack an actual journal, apps like Evernote or TripJournal allow you to take notes with the added bonus of attaching photos and integrating with other apps and social media.
8. Travel documents. Though they really aren’t heavy or take up too much space in luggage, it’s still a good idea to organize travel documents in one easy spot as opposed to having a bunch of paperwork flying about. Apps like Dropbox and TripIt are perfect for saving important itinerary docs and even copies of your passport or credit cards if you should need access in a pinch.
So what did I miss? How do you use your smartphone to help you with packing light?
Ready to take packing light to the next level? Click here to see how I can help you become a carry-on traveler!
I recently attended a screening of Senza Trucco, a movie about woman making natural Italian wine. The name Senza Trucco has a bit of a double meaning. It translates to ‘without makeup‘ – which can apply to both the female wine producers themselves, who are mostly au natural in the film, but also to the wine they produce, since it’s all natural and organic. No chemicals, no fiddling around with it.
The award-winning documentary by Giulia Graglia and Marco Fiumara, follows four women winemakers, who each produce wine from different regions in Italy, through all four seasons. It was an up close and personal look at the wine-making process, their properties, their individual personalities and of course their undying passion for wine.
Since they each are so hands-on, their business of making wine is hard work. Very hard work. Their lives revolve around it. They all live, sleep, breathe and taste wine.
Think making wine is glamorous? Let these Italian women set you straight! Of course, as a viewer, you can’t help but want to visit these wineries, which are scattered among the Italian countryside, and sample the fruits of their labor.
You can watch the trailer here:
The women winemakers featured, in order from North to South were:
Thanks to the organizer, Gianni Lovato, we were treated to a wine tasting from each of the four producers and I was thoroughly impressed with them all. Years ago organic wines tasted like dirt. Frankly, crap. But this genre of wine has come a long way.
If you get the opportunity to see the film, I highly recommend it. I would also suggest you try any of the wines from these producers.
Are you a wine-lover traveling to Italy? Let me design the perfect custom wine tasting or vineyard visit for you! Click here to get in touch.
A few months ago, I attended a fun and informative event hosted by Sud de France which showcased the French wine region known as Languedoc-Roussillon in southern France. First, let me just say – ooohh weee, those French really know how to throw a party!
We sampled food from the region, like black truffle canapes and had a salt tasting from the famed Le Saunier de Camargue. There was an awesome band called “The Hot Sardines” that played Chansons Françaises while people danced, drank and laughed. And there was even a tap dancer!
Part of the festivities included a very informative wine seminar with a wine blending class with a rep from Gérard Bertrand Wines. Yes sir, I got to make my very own blend of three different reds from the region – Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre. Certainly nothing you’d buy in a fine wine store, but not bad for everyday drinking, if I do say so myself.
I’ll be doing another post on all the great activities and places to visit within this lesser-known region, but today I wanted to focus on the Languedoc-Roussillon wines.
This wine region, which is really two separate areas of Southern France, has a ton of history. In fact, it’s one of the largest and oldest growing regions, not only in France, but in the world. Some of the over 700,000 acres of vines were planted in the fifth-century BC.
Many years ago, this area was known for producing cheap wine in large quantity. But these days, not only are the over 100 varieties of grapes growing, but the quality and popularity as well. Over one third of France’s wine production now comes from the Sud de France, which produces red, white, rosé, sparkling and sweet wine.
Famous mostly for its reds, the region is really producing some very interesting, reasonably priced wines. And since I’m all about value in both my wine and my travels, this area really appeals to me. I’m a red wine lover, so that’s what I’ll be focused on today – but the area does make good whites and rosés as well.
It was very appropriate to attend a wine blending, because most of the red wine from the Languedoc-Roussillon are blends of Grenache, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan, Syrah, Cab Franc (a fave) and Merlot grapes.
Other than the very diverse soils, one rather unique presence in Languedoc wines is something called garrigue. It’s a term for bushes and herbs that grow wild in the area which impart to the wine a distinctive herbal aroma and flavor. These intense reds that are baked by the hot sun, which shines for over 2500 hours a year, pair very well with local food specialties. Think seafood, fruits and vegetables, wild mushrooms and of course – cheese.
One of the most common types of wine is known as Vins du Pays, which means ‘local wine’. But there are also many appellations, known as AOC wines. Over 36 to be exact.
Though it would take about 40 posts to explain the intricacies of the history, grapes, wine and terroir of this region, I will give a brief mention of a few areas, which are also located near interesting cities, villages or cultural attractions. The goal would be to combine a visit to the wine region with other attractions.
Photo Credit : Flickr
This growing area is located in the Western Languedoc region and near the Canal du Midi, the city of Carcasonne and village of Minerve. Vines have Roman roots and produce full bodied reds, that are required to be a blend. Wines have good structure when consumed young, but aging for 2-3 years results in more tannic, silky wine.
Located a bit closer to the sea, this large appellation is near the towns of Narbonne and Béziers. Here you can find fine red wines that are rich, spicy and full, which age from 3-7 years.
The best way to learn about and sample the wines from this region is by visiting local producers and vineyards during your travels to southern France.
For more information on the region’s wine and food products, visit Sud de France.com
Thinking about a custom wine tour or tasting? Get in touch so we can work together and design the perfect experience!
The original Italian food emporium Eataly was born in Torino, Italy in 2007. The concept was to create a space where people can eat, buy and study all about the best Italian food. An homage to the great food and gastronomy of the country. The name itself is a bit strange. I get it – a combo of – Eat and Italy. Eataly. Clever, but it just sounds odd.
Weird name aside, the concept isn’t going away. In fact it has grown by leaps and bounds all over Italy – and beyond. There are now Eatalys in Bologna, Genova, Milan and Rome. And as a Slow Food supporter the idea really resonated with me.
I’ve visited the Eataly in New York City several times and I have to say I feel torn every time I go. Part of me thinks the prices and grand scale is an overblown Disneyland attempt at the original, catering mostly to tourists. And the set-up and design is confusing, a bit overwhelming, and not exactly user-friendly.
But, on the other hand, there are a few redeeming (and tasty) things I do like, which keep me going back. Here are things I like and I’ll provide some tips for how to “do Eataly”.
8 Things to Like About Eataly
1. The Concept
A place dedicated to all things Italian food – what’s not to love? The concept of being able to dine on almost anything, shop and get educated all in one spot is a good one. I’m especially fond of being able to move around and try different dishes at stations throughout like La Piazza (above), La Verdure, La Pizza and La Pasta or even just grab an arancino or slice of focaccia.
2. The Food Quality
Whether it’s pasta, vegetables, seafood, a mozzarella and salumi board, wood-fired pizza or a dessert treat, all of the food that I’ve tasted has been delicious and top quality. Cacio e pepe (pictured above) is a simple Roman dish, yet very hard to get just right. Eataly’s version was spot on.
3. The Selection of Italian Products
Mamma mia! You name it, Eataly has it. Cheese, fresh and dried pasta, rice and beans; olive oils, vinegars and condiments, espresso. I’ve never seen so many products straight from Italy in one spot. The dried pasta takes up an entire aisle! The selection is bar none.
4. The Birreria
The rooftop beer garden on top of the Eataly building is a gem. Good food, a relaxed and fun atmosphere and gorgeous views of the city and nearby Flat Iron Building. And the beer is tasty too!
5. Big Red
This shiny red workhorse gets me excited every time I see it! I liken it to the same feeling a car enthusiast would have at the site of a new red Ferrari. But since I’m a food-lover, it translates to prosciutto so thin you can see through it. Don’t let the transparency fool you – the salumi on offer melts in your mouth.
6. The Wine Pairings
Eataly highlights a different region of Italy every month (or so), and the wines from those regions are featured and paired with a cheese. This enables you to get a taste of something different and get a bit of education at the same time.
7. The Rosticceria
Nothing better than smelling and seeing crispy-skinned free-range chickens twirling around on a bar, dripping their juices on a bed of golden potatoes. Some selections change daily, and roasted potatoes, cannellini beans and greens all make perfect sides. You can even get these items to-go. Pork-lovers can rejoice – Porchetta is one of the offerings!
8. The Wood-Fired Pizza Oven
The gold-tiled pizza oven, brought in from Naples, is responsible for the tasty traditional Neapolitan-style pizza. That and the simple ingredients – fresh mozzarella, basil and San Marzano tomatoes. Thin, crisp and charred to perfection – that oven is worth its weight in gold.
> Want to see more mouth-watering photos of the food at Eataly? Click here to see a slideshow.
Tips on How to do Eataly
If you love Italian food, there is no doubt you should visit an Eataly. If not in Italy or New York City, there may be one coming to you soon. Rumor has it there are Eatalys planned for Chicago, Los Angeles and Washington DC.
Have you visited an Eataly? Would you visit one in Italy during your travels?
Orecchiette is the pasta shape of the Puglia region of Italy and I was lucky enough to watch it being made by hand in Bari. It’s also the star of the show in this recipe, which also hails from the same area. I had never had orecchiette con cime di rapa before I went to Puglia, but once I did have it, I was hooked.
And when I’m hooked I try my best to recreate the dish when I come home, knowing full well that my success rate is at best about 70% just based on the availability of the exact ingredients I’ll need (because everything is fresher and better tasting it Italy). And perhaps reduced to 50% because even though I do pretty well, I’m not a trained chef and I have no Italian nonna to show me the ropes.
So, I’m pretty happy if the dish tastes half as good as I had in Puglia.
Like many Italian pasta dishes, this recipe is relatively easy and the ingredient list short, but it will take practice to make this because it’s all in the timing and technique. Months later, I’m still practicing.
One of the main ingredients is turnip greens, which is called rapini. You’ll likely have access to broccoli rabe, which will do fine.
I’ve seen many different recipes for this dish and all require cooking the broccoli rabe, which helps to take some of the bitterness out. This can be done by blanching or sautéing it separately or throwing it in with the pasta while it’s boiling, which is my personal preference for two reasons -1. less pots to clean and 2. the pasta can absorb some of the broccoli rabe flavor while it’s cooking.
One surprise? The authentic recipe contains anchovy, which I typically don’t love, but couldn’t really detect. So you can certainly omit it, but experiment with one or two in the recipe – you might like it.
Orecchiette Con Cime di Rapa
1 lb of orecchiette (an artisanal brand from Puglia is best)
2 bunches of broccoli rabe, rinsed well, tough outer leaves and stems removed
4-5 tbsp good extra virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
a few anchovies packed in oil, mashed
generous pinch of red chili flakes (to taste)
Here’s what you’ll do:
While you put a pot of hot water on the boil, prepare the broccoli rabe.
When the water boils, salt it and add the pasta. Stir and cook according to package directions or until al dente. About half way through the pasta cooking time, add the broccoli rabe to the pot and continue to boil.
As the pasta is cooking, in a sauté pan large enough to accommodate all the ingredients, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Toss in the garlic and chili flakes, cook until garlic is softened, but not browned. Add the mashed anchovy and stir until almost dissolved. Keep warm on very low heat to avoid the garlic burning.
Once the pasta is cooked, drain the pasta and broccoli, reserving a bit of the cooking water.
Add the broccoli rabe and pasta to the sauté pan, turn up the heat slightly and stir or toss gently, just until the ingredients are combined, adding a bit of pasta water if it seems dry.
Season with salt to taste and serve immediately.
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